Wisdom of Nym: Reconsidering Final Fantasy XIV’s Primals

Book 'em

Back in the early days of Final Fantasy XIV, Primals were kind of a big deal. Not the biggest deal in the game’s lore or the setting, no; it was pretty clear even from the start that we were facing a bigger threat from the Ascians, and while the Empire was opposed to Primals being summoned that didn’t mean we were actually on the same side (especially as the Ascians were very clearly manipulating the Empire as well as helping people summon stuff). But Primals in general were important, and indeed our earliest quests had us fighting them.

But now they’re just… not. Two of them wind up being dungeon bosses in Endwalker and we actually get a bunch of them summoned to help us during the final sequence. We face them in a few trials, but they’re clearly becoming less of a threat over time. So what’s the deal with Primals, what role do they serve in the story, and are we going to see more of them as we move forward? (Also, you know… spoilers ensue from here on out, if you’re still progressing through the earlier main plot.)

To answer that question, the first thing to do is answer another question: Why were Primals ever a big threat? The answer comes down to Hydaelyn, Zodiark, and the nature of how summoning magic works.

Hydaelyn’s hope and goal was always to allow her “children” – the divided people of the Source – to seek out and stop the source of the Final Days at the edge of the universe. Reaching the edge of the universe, however, would require a massive amount of aether just due to the nature of how the universe works and how dynamis works in contrast to aether. As a result, she gathered and concentrated magical energy for a long time, trying her best to keep it from breaking free and being funneled elsewhere.

Primals, however, tapped into that same energy and tore it out of the land, damaging the aether and ultimately serving as a threat to Hydaelyn. Even aside from that problem, Primals are massively powerful beings with agendas based entirely upon the thoughts of their summoners; if a Primal is summoned by a group of summoners who want it to lay waste to their surrounding enemies, that Primal is going to just lay waste indiscriminately. Lastly, and also dangerous, the version of summoning the Ascians imparted included the ability for Primals to influence their followers, meaning that those present for a summoning would be turned into thralls of the Primal, feeding more aether to it, making it more powerful, etc.

Iffy reet.

It should be noted that this process, referred to as “tempering” in the general but sometimes in more specific terms, varied based on the Primal in question. Some of them would enthrall anyone brought to them; others were more discriminating or even displayed no interest in doing so whatsoever. This is especially true of Primals summoned into the bodies of individuals; if Shiva, Thordan, or Tsukuyomi had the ability to enthrall followers, none of them ever displayed an interest in doing so regardless of utility.

Due to the threat of enslavement (which for a long time didn’t appear to be something that could be reversed), fighting Primals was generally seen as a death sentence; it’s hard to fight something that’s not just massively powerful but also can just decide to enslave you at will. Only those with the Echo (meaning a fragment of an Ascian soul from the aetherial sea) are capable of natively resisting this procedure, which made fighting Primals an even bigger deal.

So that’s why these things had been a big deal for a long time. Why aren’t they as big a deal now?

Well, for one thing, the threat of tempering is no longer a thing. While the talismans that Vrtra’s alchemists developed in Endwalker are not in endless supply (they’re made from his scales, for one thing, and those take time to regrow), they’re available in sufficient numbers that when dealing with Primal threats, there actually are means to defend even those who don’t have the Echo. That in and of itself changes a lot of the equations.

For another thing, the main reason that Ascians were spreading summoning rituals was to help create the conditions necessary for subsequent Calamities and initiating the Rejoining once again. That’s… not possible any more. Even if the Ascians wanted to cause another Rejoining between the various shards, which is far from assured, the Zodiark on the Source has been destroyed. He doesn’t exist any more. The stated goal is now impossible. The Unsundered aren’t even there to push for his resurrection any longer.


Third, and equally importantly, the conditions that led to rampant summoning are also no longer as much of a going concern. The Garlean Empire was, in many ways, created as an engine to instill a need to summon into people across the planet. Tribes that they declared as “beast tribes,” desperate refugees fleeing their dominion, and even the occasional unwitting victim all wound up summoning as a desperate effort to stymie their threat. Heck, that was literally their plan in the ARR story – cause a bunch of summonings that inspire Gaius to deploy the Ultima Weapon, which subsequently opens the possibility of using the Heart of Sabik to help force another rejoining.

Indeed, the largest number of summonings unrelated to the Empire came in Heavensward, wherein both Ysayle and the Archbishop were compelled to do so as part of what occurred during the Dragonsong War, which the Ascians were also helping to spur forward because of course they freakin’ were.

The conditions that made Primals a regular and unadulterated threat have generally receded into the background and slowly diminished in importance. That’s not to say that there are no more Primals out there or that they have somehow become super-easy to deal with; rather, they no longer have a unique threat that allows only some people to fight them and there’s less pressure for more of them to turn up.

Plus, from a metatextual standpoint, we’ve gone through most of the obvious candidates for Primal status. Most of the classic Final Fantasy summons have showed up in one capacity or another, even some of the more obscure ones have arrived, and we’ve even wound up with at least one set of flashbacks to the “big six” summons. (Shiva, Ifrit, Garuda, Ramuh, Leviathan, and Titan.) At this point, while there’s still some obscure bits to be mined out, it’s more productive to just start doing new things and finding other threats for us to be thrown against as big trial bosses.

Like the Fiends, perhaps.

Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments down below or via mail to eliot@massivelyop.com. Next week, I want to take a look at what we can expect from patch 6.15 ahead of its arrival as well as the slightly problematic PvP balancing that is also getting changed when that patch arrives. Seriously, who thought Black Mages needed that much help? All right, we know the answer to that question, but just… work with me here.

The Nymian civilization hosted an immense amount of knowledge and learning, but so much of it has been lost to the people of Eorzea. That doesn’t stop Eliot Lefebvre from scrutinizing Final Fantasy XIV each week in Wisdom of Nym, hosting guides, discussion, and opinions without so much as a trace of rancor.
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