The Mamool Ja have been a feature of Final Fantasy XIV since the game’s relaunch in 2013, so in a way it’s kind of fitting that Dawntrail is bringing us to their homeland at long last. But it becomes kind of weird when you realize that unlike the vast majority of the non-Spoken races in the game, Mamool Ja are in no way original to FFXIV. They actually come from Final Fantasy XI… and in a very different context from their existence here.
It’s not really controversial to say that FFXIV has had a long and complicated history with these races, and while the overall theme has not changed much insofar as racism is bad, the way that the game talks about them and contextualizes them has evolved in ways that haven’t altogether been reckoned with. So let’s start by looking at the history of the Mamool Ja as a concept and then start unpacking their importance in Dawntrail.
The Mamool Ja were originally created as part of FFXI’s Treasures of Aht Urhgan, the game’s third expansion and a massive change in direction compared to its immediate predecessor, Chains of Promathia. It’s easy to forget now that we’re all long past the point, but when it launched, Chains of Promathia was wildly controversial and generally regarded as terrible. It contained no new jobs or even much in the way of new systems; it involved exploring zones that were mostly level-locked well before the game made gear auto-sync to lower levels, and it featured a story that was good but also pretty hard to get into in the first place.
In short, if you weren’t already rocking a solid static party, CoP was a complete non-starter for you. So ToAU was very much a philosophical reset, and that meant a lot of things, among them including several completely new beastman races (which is what the game called them; there’s another whole column to be written about how the whole progression here is weird when juxtaposed with the text).
Trolls were basically You Tried as a race to the point that most players probably don’t remember they existed until shown a picture. Lamia were specifically kind of their own thing and weren’t properly a new thing. But Qiqirn and Mamool Ja? Those were memorable, although the latter was the race that more tended toward open antagonism.
During the relaunch, there was a general push to draw in as much stuff that players hadn’t seen to liven up FFXIV’s presentation alongside what was already there. So aside from Goblins (which had already been imported from FFXI), Qiqirn and Mamool Ja were also brought into the game, with the former ranging pretty much everywhere and the latter being confined to La Noscea.
The backstory there is… well, it’s pretty true to Limsa Lominsa. In the wake of the Calamity, Limsa Lominsa needed some additional martial prowess to deal with all of the various problems going on across the landscape. So it hired the Mamool Ja mercenaries. Then when it came time to pay them, Limsa Lominsa decided it was cheaper to just… not do that, and then it had marauding Mamool Ja to deal with.
Now, the lore is a touch vague on this point because there are basically two ways to read things. The first is that the Mamool Ja decided they could extort Limsa to pay more money than was originally agreed upon, and the second is that Limsa just refused to pay its debts properly because it figured it didn’t have to. And the second is backed up by the fact that up until remarkably recently, Limsa Lominsa’s approach to the Kobolds had been to form a peace treaty and then immediately break that treaty the second it was more useful to break it.
Personally, I’ve always read it as kind of being a matter of both. I find it hard to believe that Limsa Lominsa had one blanket contract with every Mamool Ja on its shores, so it seems entirely reasonable that it happened in stages. It hired one group, other groups flock to the country, some of them demand money they weren’t owed, and it becomes official policy not to pay so everything becomes a giant mess – which explains why so many of them show up as antagonists.
But they’re not actually inherently antagonistic, and we’ve known that for ages; they’re pretty common in Tural, which is why a pair of them are part of the general Blue Mage entourage. And they’ve kind of been out of focus since the base game, as we have gone back to Limsa Lominsa more than once, but a lot of that has been centered around dealing with how awful Limsa is to the aforementioned Kobolds rather than its other sins vis-a-vis the Mamool Ja.
Oh, and sometimes they have two heads. There’s a reason for that, but we don’t know what it is at this point, although it’s clear that both heads have their own personalities and minds. And they know how to use totems? I guess maybe they’re Ogres? I don’t know.
So what makes the Mamool Ja so unique out of the non-Spoken races so far? Culture. The Eorzean city-states all have an openly antagonistic relationship with other races for various reasons; Amalj’aa, Ixali, Kobolds, and Sahagin are all treated as enemies by their closest nations. The Qiqirn are seen as a nuisance and a threat in Ala Mhigo, the Ananta are grudgingly accepted for helping the resistance, and the Goblins get a little freedom of movement but not much. Even the Lupin and Arkasodara have to justify their place within local society; the Lupin have to be military forces for Doma, and the Arkasodara are allowed in, but their immediate cousins aren’t.
The Mamool Ja, though… they are part of the dominant culture. It’s not that occasionally some of them are allowed into the capital city; one of them is actually the main ruler of Tuliyollal. Here, the term “beast tribe” never entered common parlance. The Empire’s split of people between Spoken and Not does not apply to this land. And that’s going to produce a very different sort of culture and worldview.
In fact, there’s a poetry to the fact that we’re also doing this after an expansion in which we dealt with the ashes of the Empire. No longer will the encoded racism of the old order be responsible for how the various peoples move forward. Now it’s time to reach new heights, explore new foundations, and… actually still probably have the Mamool Ja as a specific group of questgivers because of the structure of the game. But at least they’re not going to be looked at as explicitly other.
Yeah, maybe I really need to do that column about the weird disconnect here.
Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments down below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. (And this week it’s less personal, so you can feel better about it.) Next week, naturally, we’re going to be talking about the latest letter from the producer. Please look forward to it. (The letter, or the column? Both.)