There are some divisive characters in Final Fantasy XIV, but in some ways Hildibrand Helidor Maximilian Manderville stands above all of them – not just because he is probably the divisive character who has lasted the longest, having a major role from the original version of the game up until the present, but because he represents something very different from all of the other divisive characters in the story. All of the other divisive characters in the game are divisive because they’ve done horrible things… and Hildibrand is divisive because he’s silly.
You know that, of course. He’s a Highlander man dressed up in fine clothing with a rose in his lapel. He is ridiculous.
My goal here is not wholly to recount Hildibrand’s history (although I’m going to touch upon that) or to argue that he’s a major lore figure (although that is the case). In fact, I totally understand why some people might find these quests tedious or unpleasant. However, I think that they do serve an important purpose for the game, and not just to be funny or to let people know that it’s all right to laugh at FFXIV sometimes. No, Hildibrand is at once the character that sets the boundaries of the universe… and gives context to the Warrior of Light by comparison.
Originally, Hildibrand was not conceived of as a major character or even really a recurring one. He was made to introduce private inn rooms. But fans immediately loved him, so he got a more prominent role, and starting with the 2.x series he was brought back and given a starring spotlight in his own quest series, which some people find very funny, and some… do not.
I have gone on record saying that my reactions to the Hildibrand stories have varied, to say the least. Some of them are really funny. Some of them are clearly aimed correctly but just miss me. Some of them I find actively obnoxious. But it is undeniable that they are a major component of the game’s overall lore, as just Godbert Manderville alone has wound up in a major place across several story beats and interacting with more sober and serious-minded individuals.
That doesn’t mean that it’s all necessarily the same stakes, mind you; it’s just that when Godbert shows up in a holiday story, it doesn’t have the same wild flights of fancy as Hildibrand repeatedly getting blown up and somehow surviving.
For some people, that’s the big part that makes Hildibrand unpleasant. While the actual gameplay elements of FFXIV are always a thing, as a general rule the game’s storytelling is reasonably grounded in that regard. A sword is dangerous, and people can generally expect to survive only things you would expect someone to survive in the real world… except with Hildibrand, who can apparently get blown up over and over and come back to life through sheer force of will. How is that all supposed to work?
The answer, of course, is that it isn’t. And that’s the point.
It is very, very difficult to tell how much of the Hildibrand stories are meant to be purely diegetic and how much is just exaggeration for comic effect. Is Godbert Manderville actually a terrifying force of nature who can seemingly defeat people with physics-defying suplexes? Or is he really just the manager of the Gold Saucer who talks soberly about the realities of economy in Ul’dah? It’s not as if his personality has changed between the two, but some of these details feel relevant.
But while there is no hard-and-fast answer within the text, that is in and of itself an answer. The answer is that it doesn’t actually matter all that much. Whether or not Godbert is actually a force of unbridled, undressed destruction or something far more mundane is tangential to his role in the story, and you’re not supposed to worry too much about that. If you’re wondering why the Scions didn’t send him to personally fight Zenos at the start of Endwalker, you’re missing the point.
This is where I think Hildibrand actually is hugely important for the game’s overall storytelling. We all know that there is a layer of difference between gameplay and story. In-universe, you are not fighting through the Fell Court of Troia several dozen times because it makes no sense. That dungeon is a contained incident. But clearly you are doing it several dozen times, and you need that for tomestones, and vendors sell you things for tomestones and how does this all work?
Hildibrand is your reminder to not worry too much about this. Sure, the game will have some cleverness at places to potentially explain these things, but if you’re going to tie yourself in knots over how seriously to take any of this, you’re missing the point. Godbert is not actually a primal force of destruction; he’s a nearly naked man who can summon a huge hammer when it makes for a funny story. You know that. Don’t act like it’s somehow confusing or surprising.
Within stories, you are going to have to accept a certain measure of suspension of disbelief, and you aren’t supposed to keep asking, “Wait, why couldn’t everyone have just used this purely mechanical solution to fix this problem?” The answer to that question is simple: because these are stories first, not mechanical engines for problems. And characters pursue logical narrative solutions based on their own internal logic.
And if you’re wondering why you don’t just smash everything? Well, Hildibrand makes that clear, too: because he doesn’t fight.
It’s not that Hildibrand is incapable of fighting; it’s that Hildibrand stands as a foil to the Warrior of Light insofar as his first resort is never violence. It’s almost never anywhere on his list. When he is presented with a challenge, rather than thinking he should face it in combat, Hildibrand goes out of his way to find solutions that aren’t based around battle. He’s an inspector, and he’s grounded in a world where people do not do that.
One of the reliable complaints about the story that people have is assuming, “Hey, the Warrior of Light should easily be able to kill [insert dangerous thing you run away from here].” But that’s counter to the point. You’re not supposed to just kill everything you encounter. Nobody would use that as the default response to everything. Sure, Hildibrand is ridiculous in a lot of ways, but even he doesn’t think that you should assume the correct response is killing stuff just because it’s somewhat more convenient.
Admittedly, usually his non-combat solution is something to the effect of “let me dress up as a geisha and try to infiltrate this meeting.” But it still makes more sense than busting in with weapons drawn, and that’s perhaps worth considering.
I still don’t think making his whole quest chain mandatory for relic weapons was a good idea, but I’ve already talked about that elsewhere.
Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments down below or via mail to email@example.com. Next week, I will of course be coming to you with my impressions of patch 6.25. What did you expect?