Everyone either accepts at this point that Final Fantasy XIV has an excellent story or has decided to die on the hill of insisting that good things are Actually Bad, one or the other. (I can have a little hyperbole this week. As a treat.) But that doesn’t mean every part of the game’s storytelling actually works, and I wouldn’t say it does by any stretch of the imagination. For every Return to Ivalice, there’s a YoRHa: Dark Apocalypse; for every Gnath tribal series, there’s a Vanu Vanu tribal series.
For every first half of Sorrow of Werlyt, there’s a second half of Sorrow of Werlyt.
So today I want to talk about some of the narrative beats that FFXIV has absolutely flubbed. My point here is not talking about plots that I find irrelevant or don’t personally land for me; the Shadows of Mhach line doesn’t land for me, but the stakes work, the plot is solid, and the NPCs are given clear motivations and everything. It just doesn’t quite connect with me. No, I’m talking about places where the plot lacks connective tissue, rushes through things, or otherwise falls flat in notable ways.
The Warriors of Darkness
In this house, like all right-minded people, we love Shadowbringers and all the depth and emotion it invested in Ardbert and his party as well as their ultimate fates. This is quite an accomplishment when you consider that his first introduction was during one of the weirdest narrative cul-de-sacs up to that point, a major antagonist introduction in patch 3.1 followed by complete irrelevance until they were explained and almost immediately dealt with in a way that had no lasting impact on anything until two expansions later.
Seriously, up until Shadowbringers the biggest material impact of the Warriors of Darkness was in giving us confirmation that Minfilia was not coming back and bringing Alisaie back into the main cast. That’s it. It wasn’t even clear how they played into the plans of the Ascians.
I’m not objecting to the fact that they were introduced earlier than they were a major element of the story; that’s fine. But the introduction falls flat because they basically just introduce themselves with a big “hello, we’re your new antagonists” and then don’t do anything. Yes, Ardbert’s line about doing everything right is raw, and it all has more resonance in the wake of Shadowbringers, but that does not retroactively make this storyline relevant at the point when it actually shows up.
It’s a weak diversion that mostly feels like reminding you about things that might be important later but aren’t being actively developed at all until much, much later, and it feels at once awkward and shoehorned. Worse yet, because their second appearance wraps everything up, it doesn’t even leave you wanting to see these characters again. It’s a missed opportunity and a generally unsatisfying beat.
Plus its resolution of Urianger saying “I promise not to lie to you guys again” is then undone when he lies to people again. Just absolute clown tier.
Learning About The Moon
Unfortunately, Endwalker is leaning as hard on the loporrits as Shadowbringers leaned on the Dwarves, and that’s not great. It’s not that loporrits aren’t funny; it’s that they have basically one joke, and that joke keeps being expected to carry way more weight than it can manage. Currently it’s up to one tribal series, two dungeon stories, one major chunk of Hildibrand, and several parts of the MSQ… and the worst part is when we’re first introduced to the loporrits and spend an extended sequence basically touring their facilities for no reason.
From a mechanical standpoint, we know that the moon’s function as an escape ship is not actually going to be used. From a narrative standpoint, though, the Scions who wind up on the moon with us go along with the loporrits for an extended period of time… for no discernable reason. We know that something bad is happening back on the surface, and yet for some reason instead of wanting to go back there, everyone just agrees to play along with moon bunnies for a remarkably long time including a betrayal to no actual end!
The intent from a writing standpoint is pretty clear; after what has happened in Garlemald and with Zodiark, there needs to be a tension break. The problem is that we’re trying to insert a tension break right after we were told, “Oh no, Zodiark’s defeat made everything worse,” so our minds immediately are focused on what’s going to happen and what needs to be done next. If our ominous impact of the return of the Final Days was moved until after some loporrit nonsense, it would probably have landed better.
Still, it’s a flub. And in an expansion that otherwise manages to handle its pacing very well for emotional impact and general feel, it really stands out as a result.
At the start of the game’s story, Limsa Lominsa is a burgeoning self-made empire willing to stomp over treaties with other nations to serve its immediate needs. Ul’dah is a cesspit of corruption where money makes the world go round very explicitly ruled by a sultana who has no control over policy and no clue what to do. And Gridania is a repressive theocracy awash in racism where decisions are handed off to a seemingly arbitrary and wholly unseen set of forces that those in power insist are universally correct.
By this point in the story, though, Limsa Lominsa’s leadership has realized its errors and seeks to give back what it took from its fellow inhabitants of Vylbrand, recognizing culpability and camaraderie with those it once spurned. Ul’dah’s sultana has learned how to seize her authority as well as the need for more than simple opposition or deference, embracing the reality that it is necessary not to simply abdicate authority but actively work the mechanisms of power against those who would use money to abuse it. And Gridania… apparently is stomping around with this attitude.
Seriously, it baffles me that a nation that literally created an arc villain through constant and intractable racism is treated as basically needing no major systemic changes, the padjali are consistently given the moral high ground, and the biggest opportunity to dive into the history of Gelmorra with the Palace of the Dead explicitly forced the elezen investigating their ancestral home out of the picture. And considering how strong the messaging has been in Endwalker that we are wrapping up our conflicts and stories here… seriously, what the heck?
Gridania is awful, and it increasingly becomes unclear whether the writers are deliberately holding back exploring how awful it is for later, never seemed to find a good place for it, or (most uncomfortably) just don’t see anything wrong with it. When every other nation has been forced to confront ugliness at its heart, up to and including expansion lands like Doma, but Gridania’s stories consistently have nothing to do with that… it’s a major problem and a consistent dropping of the ball.
Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments down below or via mail to email@example.com. Before you say it, yes, I definitely could have listed more than three things; I decided to stop here. Next week I’d like to be a bit more positive, and in fact that’s my plan as I basically just talk about what I hope is our next destination when the next expansion rolls around based on nothing more than “this sounds neat to me.”