Gosh, this has felt like a long darn week, hasn’t it? I couldn’t tell you why it felt so particularly long to me, but for whatever reason it did. Maybe it was because I was on the cusp of finishing things off on my Sanctuary and that colored my overall impressions? I honestly could not tell you, but I was definitely eager to talk more about Final Fantasy XIV’s patch but I had made myself a deal that I was going to wait to do so until a week had gone by, and… well, now here we are.
The interesting thing is that last week, I was kind of critical about the main scenario’s dungeon and so forth and over the moon about Pandæmonium in general. This week, though, we’re talking about not mechanics but pure story and lore implications. And my feelings about those? Very different. So let’s dive right in, although keep in mind there will be spoilers here. I mean, of course.
So I’m definitely someone who is in the “Final Fantasy IV is not a game I want to homage” camp, and I was not really sold on the new MSQ story arc when we experienced the first bits of it in patch 6.1. I was really thus going into patch 6.2 without a whole lot of expectations. But this patch did not simply meet those expectations; it exceeded them, then it set the bar higher and exceeded those expectations, then it did a jaunty little tap-dance on the bar and cleared a few more along the way. This patch’s main story just rocked.
Part of why it rocked is that Zero is awesome and wonderful. She’s easily the third time that the game has tried to do the “brooding loner who isn’t really a team player” thing, but unlike Estinien and Thancred, it works immediately and she’s memorable and fun. (That’s not to say that the former have nothing to recommend them, just that they’re better in other roles.) And that would be fine as far as it goes… but the patch also manages to make Scarmiglione and Barbariccia interesting, even with their limited screen time.
Screw that – in fact, the game making Barbariccia interesting at all is an accomplishment. She is definitely the weakest of the four fiends from FFIV, a game that already barely characterized any of them other than Rubicante; she’s just “naked lady with long hair using Aero.” Here, though, she’s an absolute thunderous barbarian lady who manages to stick in your mind despite her limited screen time, hitting a perfect balance of savagery and cold detachment from suffering.
And that’s without getting into all of the subtle bits of lore, the explanations of how the Thirteenth functions, explorations of identity, how Varshahn, Estinien, and Y’shtola all play off one another… honestly, so many parts of this patch were just an absolute delight from start to finish. I loved this story. It makes me excited about the future of the game in a way that the last patch did not, and it definitely showed how much more gas this has in the tank.
Seriously, I can’t explain adequately how much I loved this story. This was great stuff. I might have criticisms of the dungeon leading up to it, but the actual story content was a delight and leaves me wishing that the next installment wasn’t four months away. Well played, everyone. Now let’s keep Zero around for a good long while.
Still as pointless as ever
Meanwhile, in Pandæmonium, I continue to not give the slightest damn about anything going on here. For just, like… so many reasons.
For starters, there’s the existing problem that nothing happening here is actually a question mark in the first place. Time travel mechanics in FFXIV are very set, and they ensure that there is actually no ambiguity about what happens. We know that this all turns out fine because it already happened. No new events can actually take place until the very end, when suddenly “oh, look, it’s in our time,” but there’s no reason we couldn’t have started there.
Well, all right, the reason we didn’t start there was because we had to humanize Lahabrea, since he’s retroactively way more important and we later found out that actually he should probably have had a bigger role than just getting punked by Thordan back in Heavensward. Except that again, it doesn’t actually give us any kind of new information about the character that we didn’t already know. Oh, sure, we found out that he was actually a bad dad to join FFXIV‘s long litany of poor father figures, but that’s not, like… interesting. Frankly, we’ve got like seven of those and some of them are still alive and capable of growth.
Even the actual details of why he’s a terrible dad aren’t remotely interesting, and I don’t care about any of these people. I don’t care if Eric is sad about his dad not loving him because frankly I don’t care about Eric in the first place. There’s nothing to care about. He’s a sulky generically handsome boy in a sea of them, and his motivation is both timeworn and completely unengaging. The most interesting person in this whole story is supposedly dead before it starts even in the past.
Could the last installment theoretically redeem this story? I suppose so, but it’s got very little to work with here. Basically, the best case scenario is that it turns out that Ericthonios is the real villain behind everything, and even that is kind of unengaging to me. I feel as if this has been the opposite of engaging from the start and this wing has not changed anything.
Seriously, though, closed loops in time travel are not good places for dramatic surprises.
Yeah, there’s… sort of a story here? Not really much of one. Not going to lie, I’m including this mostly to mirror the last column’s three main points of attention, but the Island Sanctuary story is so thin as to be nonexistent, and it honestly kind of works there.
Really, it makes no sense that we’re not dealing with gil on this island, and we are once again in the same territory of trying to bend over backwards to make sure that the hypercapitalist engine we feed into with this island is actually not as awful as it could be. But that’s really fine. It’s a set of choices made more for gameplay than for narrative, and it works insofar as it gives you a reason to have a place full of peaceful animals and resources and mammets building things to export. Repeat to yourself it’s just a show and you should really just relax. You know how it goes.
I’m still eager to see more, especially since you do see the whole island by the time you’re done. We can’t build another island, and there isn’t more island to see. What sort of expansions can there actually be? More advancements to buildings, I suppose, but that seems less than compelling…
Anyhow, feedback is welcome in the comments below or via mail to email@example.com. Next week I think I’m going to start talking about making money in FFXIV and the bad habits people get into that make it harder than it needs to be, while also demonstrating my bona fides in that department.