The Soapbox: Final Fantasy XIV Dawntrail, mortality, remembrance, and last chances

    
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Earlier this week, at least at the time of this op ed’s writing, I completed the main story for Final Fantasy XIV Dawntrail, and overall I came away extremely pleased. There were certainly some plodding moments in the narrative, but by and large it was a wonderful tale and an excellent setup for more. But I’m not here to talk about that – someone far better at this than me has done so in his own column.

Instead, I’m here to talk about one portion of the Dawntrail narrative, specifically the one that runs through the expansion’s very last zone and how it made me consider some deeply personal matters in my own life. So to that point, this article will feature some spoilers for the last area of Dawntrail and its story, and further I want to issue a trigger warning because this article will touch on the subject of suicide.

With those asterisks firmly front and center, let me elaborate.

The very last zone of Dawntrail sees our Warrior of Light enter a place known as Living Memory, a golden glowing paradise powered by aether that creates beautiful vistas and lets the effectively digitized memories of the long-departed known as Endless live out their days. This zone is beautiful to behold yet also bittersweet, as none of the Endless is technically alive or even real in any corporeal or metaphysical sense.

Furthermore, the aetheric power needed to maintain the whole charade is at a tilting point, which is the primary focus of our character’s journey – we’re there to stop the main villain from killing thousands and using the aether of the slaughtered as a power source. Interweaving the entire zone is a villain who cannot let go of those who have died and would rather destroy worlds if it means the Endless continue to exist in safety and comfort.

One major point of this piece of Dawntrail’s story is seeing departed loved ones and saying goodbye one last time, even if those people are digitized memories projected into another world. This deeply affected me, as I was unable to say goodbye to my brother before he died. And I didn’t get to know it until it was too late.

A few months ago, my brother decided to take his own life. Before then, he was entering a self-destructive cycle that saw me basically cut ties with him to safeguard myself and the small family I’ve been fortunate to build. So when he tried to call me on the phone one day, I didn’t answer out of the desire to protect myself and them. It would be the last call he would make to anyone, as he was saying his final goodbyes before committing suicide.

I admit that as I watched characters get a final chance to speak to long lost loved ones, I was both touched and deeply uncomfortable. I wrestled with happiness that others were afforded the chance yet agonizing that I shunned my only shot to do the same. It’s a guilt that I don’t know that I’ll ever let go. Yet it also reaffirmed the idea of showing appreciation for those whom I’m lucky to be around.

I’m not approaching every encounter with people as if they’ll die the same day, but it all did reinforce how being there is vital and comforting to both myself and those I’m with. I’ll never get that chance with my brother, but I’ll never forget how to be there for those still alive.

Living Memory’s overarching narrative of being a place that fights the inevitability of death is another thing that touches me deeply primarily because I have my own deep-seated fear of death. I don’t want to see the end of my life right now, even if it is hard. I’m one of those people who would probably take the opportunity to be immortal purely because I fear dying so much. So to a degree, I understood the villain’s motivations, even if the methods to achieve them were obviously wrong ones.

Over the course of exploring Living Memory, we were tasked with shutting down power junctions to disengage portions of the zone and thereby turn off the Endless forever, all the while being reminded that being remembered by others is what makes people live on past death. It was repeated so frequently through the whole portion of the story that it was effectively the expansion’s mantra. And it made me appreciate how that really is the best possible comfort one can take when facing mortality. The funeral service for my brother re-established this; he was part of a tight-knit community, and the eulogy his wife gave him will forever ring in my heart alongside the times we faced together.

I don’t mind telling you all that the end of my own life has been coming to mind with alarming frequency. I’m 43 years old now, and the very bare scratches of the nails of age are beginning to cut into the fibers of my being. Moving is harder. Cognition teeters. Sleep is both earlier in coming and worse in arriving. These compounding and slow failings of the flesh have all caused me to at the very least consider my fear of death in my peripheral vision. But with Dawntrail’s help, I’ve been reminded of a tool meant to help face that fear. Or at least an aspiration to eventually move toward.

I don’t intend to make myself known worldwide. I don’t really have the aspirations to be looked at by thousands. But as I went through Living Memory, I began to think about how I could be remembered by the few people I have had the privilege to be in touch with. My reach is lengthened by the digital age, to be sure, but thanks to Dawntrail’s story, I’m now better considering how I can best live on in the recollections of others, however few or many that may be, and it ultimately made me a little more comfortable with dying.

Dawntrail was never going to reach the lofty story heights of Endwalker in my view, but then it didn’t really shoot that shot either, and overall the expansion is better for it from a storytelling standpoint. Even so, the lessons of Living Memory resonated with me deeply to the point that I felt compelled to share them. I suppose this is all part of my own wish to be recalled before I’m gone, but more than that I feel like it’s a reminder that many should hear. Especially those who don’t play the MMORPG.

I’ll remember my brother with warmth. I’ll remain kind to those I love. And I’ll do my best to be a nice memory to the people that I’m close enough to consider friends. I’ll try. Because it’s all I can do as I face my mortality.

Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively OP writers as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews (and not necessarily shared across the staff). Think we’re spot on — or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!
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