Wisdom of Nym: Pandæmonium’s flop in Final Fantasy XIV


Raid series in Final Fantasy XIV have had a complicated history from a story standpoint. The Binding Coil of Bahamut was an interesting attempt, but it ultimately tries to serve too many masters and pay off too many story threads at once without ever coalescing well, never you mind that it was less accessible and part of the generally disjointed transition from 1.0 to 2.0. Alexander not only has a huge red herring with the primary antagonists being the Illuminati, it ultimately deletes itself from existence and thus serves primarily to explain how time travel works here. Omega is a lot of filler before a solid final arc, and Eden is a fair bit of filler itself and not enough time spent on the central character relationship that provides the core emotional throughline.

And now we have Pandæmonium, which was a gigantic waste of time from a narrative standpoint.

I really don’t like Pandæmonium for a lot of reasons, and I feel that examining why it doesn’t work narratively is interesting in the wake of other stories that generally have worked. There are a lot of bad decisions and dumb things that make it not work, but a lot of them all come back to the same reason this series was originally conceived: backfilling Lahabrea to be more important and better characterized.

Every major narrative arc for FFXIV in the main scenario, of course, has involved a main villain. Whether or not you like all of those villains is kind of irrelevant here. Everyone loves Emet-Selch as a villain, Zenos has a lot of people who like him (including a fraction of people who are really weird about it) and a lot who don’t, Gaius van Baelsar is complicated, etc. But Lahabrea is, in many ways, an interesting case. He’s the greater-scope villain through the base game through to the Thordan fight in Heavensward, then Thordan punks him and kills him more or less by accident.

Then, retroactively, we find out that he was one of the three unsundered Ascians and he was actually a really big deal, whoops. But he hadn’t been written that way because the writers were still developing exactly what the Ascians were up to and why they were weakening Hydaelyn and so forth, so his death should have been a bigger deal… but it wasn’t.

Now, I don’t think this was a bad decision in and of itself. By the time the writers did know how important Lahabrea was supposed to be, they probably also knew they didn’t want to have two arcs where an Ascian was the main villain. Making Lahabrea as important as he was made sense insofar as it served an economy of characters. The only problem was that Elidibus and Emet-Selch were established as characters, and Lahabrea was basically just a floating moustache being twirled during his appearances.

No, we already made the Cats joke.

Pandæmonium is, in that sense, a retcon. It’s about sharing Lahabrea’s actual characterization and trying to create a line where you can at least figure out why he acted the way he did during his story sequences. And in that goal? It does succeed. You do get a sense of who he was.

Unfortunately, it also doesn’t totally explain why he was that way. It offloads that responsibility to other causes. “Oh, he was extremely passionate about what he saw as his duty, and he never fully understood how to integrate his emotions after he cut them out for a long while, which was altogether because his ex-wife went crazy when a rock fell out of space.”

But even more importantly than that, it’s asking a question that was absolutely a question worth asking – but not one with an answer that actually mattered. It’s the sort of thing usually best offloaded into anniversary stories. And in order to make it even work, the writers had to introduce countless workarounds and compromises that resulted in a completely weightless story without strong emotional bonds beyond aesthetic interests.

For example, you have to set it at some point during the past because currently Lahabrea is dead. But we also know that time travel in this universe works on a fixed loop, so nothing in the past can actually alter the present in any fashion. So you have no stakes because by definition there can’t be any assumed danger since everything already happened. That means you have to create some way to bring it into the present so there canbe stakes, but you also need to create a character for the player to theoretically be worried about since you don’t know his fate, meaning we need a woobified idiot in the form of Erichthonios…

Each decision necessitates making other decisions that can’t ultimately result in solid storytelling because all of it is bent around the fundamental problem of backfilling a character who should have been retroactively more important. And that’s why retcons usually result in poor storytelling: Instead of actually telling a narrative that people want to share, they’re focused around explaining away elements of existing stories.


By the end of Pandæmonium, we’re fighting a villain whom we’ve met only just now, whose goals are just “become a god” for no stated reason with vaguely defined causes, most of which are all external anyway. We don’t have a reason to oppose Athena beyond “she’s doing bad stuff,” and her reasons for doing bad stuff compare poorly even to Zenos (who is often accused of having a paper-thin motivation, which I disagree with but is still worth pointing out). And while there is, technically, a sense of urgency because at least now the story isn’t a foregone conclusion…

Well, we’re not fighting to save any of the characters we’ve gotten to know because all three of them are long dead and we’re just dealing with vague recollections approximating them. We’re just basically beating up some lady who went nuts because otherwise she’ll do a bad thing – the sort of thing that we could have come to understand over the course of a raid series, but instead we had to learn about Erichthonios’ daddy issues for two prior wings.

I do appreciate that the goal was to create something unique to FFXIV here, rather than inserting another raid series based on outside stories like familiar big summons or superbosses. But so many compromises had to be put into place to make this story work at all that it winds up… well… not working. It becomes a mess of continuity backfills. And it’s a shame when every other part of these raids – from mechanics to visuals to music – is working so hard to wind up being really cool.

And yeah, there’s something weird in the idea that the weakest part of a raid series entirely based around FFXIV itself rather than external elements from elsewhere in the franchise is… the story. But here we are just the same.

Feedback, as always, may be left in the comments down below or mailed along to eliot@massivelyop.com. (If your feedback is that you are thirsty for Dad Lahabrea, however, please keep it to yourself. No shaming, just no need.) Next week, let’s talk about classes and jobs as we get closer and closer to an expansion that does nothing different with either in all likelihood.

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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