Kotaku Game DiaryDaily thoughts from a Kotaku staffer about a game we’re playing.
For most of my life, I never quite understood escapism. I knew how powerful video games could be, how seductive and wonderful their worlds were, but I never quite understood the idea of wanting to melt through the screen and leave the real world behind. After I’ve had string of rotten luck and high stress, among the most intense in my life, that has changed. I get it now. I get why folks want to fade away into the digital and why it can be so tempting to lose yourself elsewhere.
For example, I recently got very sick, and during that time, I buoyed myself with Final Fantasy XIV’s latest expansion, “Shadowbringers.” My reward was an RPG campaign that was one of the best I’ve played in a long time. That was my first real taste of how powerful it was to push real-life worries away with a game.
Sure, at previous times in my life, I’ve done this type of thing in small bursts. Played Counter-Strike when I was mad. Played Total War or strategy games when I needed to think a little. Then, this past weekend, during one of the hottest heat waves in New York City history, my apartment became unlivable. Temperatures rose to heights of 97 and 98 degrees, and I had to stay elsewhere. When I arrived in temporary homes, there were games. Fire Emblem: Three Houses, with its tangled tactical webs and charming characters, greeted me side by side with the friends who took me in. And I felt it, truly felt it for the first time: that desire to melt into the screen and leave everything behind. Goodbye Brooklyn. Hello, Eorzea. Hello, Fódlan.
I’ve always thought of escapism as a dirty thing, even irresponsible, and in some ways, I still do. It’s a temporary band-aid on a problem. A way to ignore, to mitigate, and arguably defer responsible action. One more match, one more level. Anything to avoid reality. Yet, as my body truly and genuinely failed me, as I traveled from doctor to doctor and fled my home due to the high heat, escapism made more sense. Sometimes, things just fall apart, and one of the ways that people can deal with that is to put buffers between us and the bullshit. Fight a boss and actually achieve victory, command an army and actually have some sense of control. Video games can offer us a very particular solace when everything is crumbling: they make us feel like we have power again.
In becoming a teacher at the Garreg Mach monastery in Fire Emblem: Three Houses, I regained some sense of agency. Even in a simulated space, in a far distant and fake world, that is intoxicating. And that’s what escapism is: an affirmation that you can have control, that you do matter, and that with some effort and trust, there is a path forward.
Of course, you can go in too deep. You can lock yourself in your room, play games and never turn around from your monitor to get back to solving the real-world issues that inspired your retreat into games. You can wade through dialog trees with fake people instead of having necessary conversations with real folks. There is always such a thing as too much. That’s why I didn’t see the value of escapism before. But I think now I can understand the ways that it can be healthy, at least in the short term. Sometimes, shit goes bad. Sometimes your body breaks down, your house isn’t safe, your mood dips low, and everything seems murky. Fuck it, go run your farm in Stardew Valley. Beat up Nazis in Wolfenstein.
Just make sure to come back again, I guess. Complete the quest, slay the whatever, solve the puzzle. Then come back and solve what you gotta do here.
The Dancer is a new job to “Shadowbringers,” Final Fantasy XIV’s latest expansion. It’s a damage-dealing class that can attack at range and buff teammates. While I play a healer primarily, I have another character for damage jobs. Recently, I leveled my character’s Samurai and Monk jobs to the max level of 80. Monk, frankly, needs fixes. It feels way too slow and lost a lot of fun abilities in “Shadowbringers” in an effort to streamline jobs. Samurai can do a ton of big, bursty damage attacks that I enjoy a lot, but it’s a selfish class. You set up, do your big attacks, and repeat. Enjoyable, but not too dynamic. Dancer is astounding by comparison. Your attacks have a random chance of triggering combo chains that can then trigger even more abilities. It’s reactive; you need to see what abilities “proc” and react accordingly. And you need to periodically play a sort of DDR mini-game to keep your buffs up.
Even playing Dancer at early levels, I’m fairly certain I want to make it my main damage-dealing class. I’ll probably make the swap without too much guilt, but there is guilt nevertheless. I play on a role-playing server, and my regular damage character is a Monk narratively. There’s a certain strange obligation to keep that class at a high level and keep their Samurai skills sharp. I’m also already at the max level for them. Do I really want to grind out Dancer to max, suffering through the randomly generated dungeons of Heaven on High in order to get fast experience? The last time I did that, I nearly died…although that was because I was apparently developing a lung infection without realizing it. Go figure.
So this is where I stand: Dancer is amazing. It’s possibly one of the most fun and valuable classes in Final Fantasy XIV at the moment. Every second with it is a delight, but swapping means repeating a grinding process I’ve done twice already and abandoning playstyles that I’ve grown skillful at. That’s daunting, but I need to give myself the advice I’d give any Kotaku reader: “Play what is most fun for you, Heather.”
So I guess we’re back at it again in the Crystarium.
[/backflips, knocks down the nearest weapon shop sign]
There are many ways to play through Final Fantasy XIV’s Shadowbringers expansion. I am playing as a goggle-wearing Viera Dancer, dancing and damaging my way toward the finish line. I can’t cover all of the job class changes, role-based questlines, and side content before my review drops. But other FFXIV players can certainly tell me all about them.
Viera Dancer Clan Destine is in the home stretch, barreling toward the grand finale of Shadowbringers that Heather Alexandra praised highly last week. I’ve taken to utilizing the game’s glamor system to reset my appearance after every new piece of visible equipment I collect, so Clan looks the same in every cutscene. That’s how wrapped up I am in the tale of the First and the battle against the light.
I would like to shout out the group that ran me through the game’s level 79 Trial last night. As I mentioned in my post about the game’s Trust System, which allows players to run dungeons with NPCs, I get nervous grouping with humans for new content. I worry I will screw up, or tempers will flare and everyone will be tense. Last night’s party, which formed on Goblin 50 minutes before the servers went down, was filled with nothing but pleasant folks encouraging each other to do their best. No one had been through the Trial, an intense two-stage battle against one of the expansion’s most sinister figures. We wiped twice on the second half of the long battle. Each time we discussed what we’d done wrong, sharing words of encouragement. Each time we got a little further. When we finally killed the boss, I wanted to hug everyone in our party. The community that’s flocked around Final Fantasy XIV remains the top of the MMO-playing crop.
With each new story beat comes a surge of anticipation, mixed with dread that the tale will be told and I’ll have to wait for content updates for more. The end of Clan the Dancer’s journey won’t be the end of my Shadowbringers journey, however. I have plans for the moment when the credits roll.
For one, I need to check out the Machinist. I spent most of my time using the ranged damage class when it came out in Final Fantasy XIV’s first expansion, Heavensward. My original character, Back Clawtooth, is still sitting in Ishgard with a rifle on his back, waiting for me to return and take control. He’s going to be waiting for a while, possibly forever, as in order to fully experience the sweeping changes to the Machinist job that were made in Shadowbringers, I’m just going to have Clan grab the quest and start from level 30. Sorry, Back.
I want to play with crafting and gathering a little bit, see how those are going. There are a lot of things to gather and build, so I’ll probably just focus on one of each. Suggestions are welcome.
Other than all of that playing, I’ll also be talking to other players. I am interested to see how healing and tanking jobs look after the changes to those mechanics. I’ve heard from a few Bards that their job has lost much of its utility, with a lot of it going to the Dancer class instead. I’ve got a 60 Bard that I could level up, but time is not on my side, so I’d love to hear from players.
Ultimately, my review is going to be based on my experience, but Final Fantasy XIV is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game, and other players are part of that experience. If I have to play with a bunch of unhappy Bards (as opposed to the Spoony ones), that’s part of the experience.
So feel free to share your Shadowbringers woes with me in the comments. Tag your FFXIV-playing friends. Sit down and have a chat with your parents about how to heal or mitigate damage, and return here with your findings.
As Final Fantasy XIV’s new expansion “Shadowbringers” hits, I’ve seen a lot of curiosity from co-workers and friends about how to get started with the game. With hours and hours of content, tons of jobs to choose from, and multiple places to hop in, it can seem daunting, but it’s still well worth the time. Here’s some advice for curious adventurers eager to start their adventures.
Final Fantasy XIV first launched in 2010 to a disastrous reception before being revamped into Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn in 2013. It was an immediate improvement, bringing faster combat and a more focused storyline, and the three expansions that followed brought further refinement. The most recent of these, “Shadowbringers,” came out just last week, and there are often fun events that keep things fresh, from crossovers with other games to the sudden arrival of new job classes.
Why Play Now?
The story focuses on the player becoming the famous Warrior of Light and getting involved in political intrigue, massive wars, and grand cosmic struggles. The main campaign is a slow burn that builds to fantastic heights and features some of the most compelling villains and allies in all of the Final Fantasy games. The world of Eorzea is sprawling and gorgeous. There’s always the promise of a new, spectacular area on the horizon. The game’s rich lore makes it both exciting and comfortable to be in. You’ll find yourself completing tricky dungeons, fighting ancient gods, and clearing tough raids with up to 23 other strangers (or friends) depending on the circumstances. Square Enix also offers a variety of purchasable level and story content skips that allow you to decide when and how you jump in and how strong you’ll be.
The game’s large community, numbering 16 million registered players, welcomes all kinds. There are communities focused on fighting tough bosses and completing raids, communities for role playing and crafting player stories, and servers for different languages. No matter what you want to do, there are players who will eagerly help you along.
Buying The Game
If you’re curious about Final Fantasy XIV’s world and early combat experience but aren’t yet ready to buy it or pay the subscription fee, there is a free trial. You can only play up to level 35, but you can still sample the starting job classes and enjoy some of the story, dungeons, and boss fights. Be warned that the early portions of Final Fantasy XIV can feel slow, as the story takes a lot of time to acquaint the player with Eorzea’s various governments and major characters.
If you do buy the game, you have a few options. You can buy the starter edition for $19.99 and play the initial story. From there, you can use a cute little backend service called Mog Station to buy expansions. The first expansion, “Heavensward,” is a requirement for some higher-level job classes. It’s a good expansion which Square Enix sometimes offers for free. I suggest picking it up. If you’re in for the long haul, there is a complete edition for $59.99 that has the base game and all three expansions.
Most of these editions come with 30 days of free game time. Following that, you’ll need a subscription. The subscription is $12.99 per month, which can increase if you buy optional services like retainers who can hold your gear in storage. For some, that price commitment isn’t feasible, which is understandable. That said, I think Final Fantasy XIV is worth the cost. I’ve met some of the most important people in my life through Final Fantasy XIV, and it’s hard to put a price tag on that.
Choosing A Server
Each server is a little different, but the most important thing to know is that there are four data centers with individual servers that fall into certain time zones or playstyles. Severs on the same data centers can be traveled between using a new “World Visit” service that lets you explore beyond your home server as a sort of guest. Keep that in mind as you select a data center.
For North America, there are three data centers:
Aether: The most populated data center. Many of its worlds are “congested,” which means it isn’t always possible to make new characters. Aether’s popularity means you’ll find a little bit of everything. More raid content is cleared here than on the other servers. Really good for hardcore players.
Primal: Primal servers are generally laid back, though some are more hardcore than the others. It also boasts a server with some Brazillian players and Australians. You’ll find some memelords from 4chan here and there, but it’s not too prominent.
Crystal: Social players, crafters, and role players will be very comfortable here. While there are raiding teams, there are far less than in other servers. This is where you go if you want to tackle the game’s economy or build player-created stories. Some servers have a reputation for erotic role play (think: cybersex) but that largely happens behind closed doors and is nearly invisible for those not seeking it out.
In addition to the North American data center, there are the Japanese data centers: Gaia, Elemental, and Mana. Europe has two data centers: Chaos and Light. These data centers have some of the newest servers, which means you can get in on the bottom floor of new communities, but that also means things like player housing are limited for the moment.
Play With Friends
As with most MMORPGs, if you know people playing Final Fantasy XIV, it’s best to try to play with them. It will make the early experience easier, and even if you’re somehow not on the same server initially, it is possible to visit other servers on the same data center and transfer to them eventually.
Creating A Character
This will seem more daunting than it actually is. Although each of the game’s eight starting races has different stats, it hardly matters unless you want to min-max to an extreme. Instead, choose what you think looks best or captures your inner adventurer. Each race has two different cultures to choose from, which have slightly different visual designs. Mess around in the creator and see what you like. Trust your gut; Final Fantasy XIV is also about being fashionable and cool-looking. Express yourself!
Nothing is set in stone. There are potions called Fantasia (sometimes given out for free and always purchasable in Mog Station) that let you change your character’s gender, race, and more later on. The only thing that is initially locked in place is your job.
When you choose a job, be aware that they begin in different starting cities. Archers, lancers, and conjurers—the only healing job initially available—start in the cozy forest city-state of Gridania. Thaumaturges, Pugilists, and Gladiators start in the seedy city of Ul’dah. Arcanists and Marauders start in the sea port of Limsa Lominsa. You’re stuck in these areas for a while, and although I recommend choosing the job you like over the city, but it’s still good information to have. Characters have no limit on how many job classes they can take, so it’s easy to dip your toes into the waters to find what you like. Don’t like a job? Just look up where to find a new one and give it a go!
Larryzaur is one of the most entertaining and informative FFXIV content creators out there. Here, he breaks down each class (minus Gunbreaker and Dancer.) Some of the information here is out of date, but this is still a good guide to the jobs.
Know Your Role
Final Fantasy XIV uses the “trinity” of tanks, healers, and damage dealers (aka DPS) for their jobs. Tanks draw enemy attention and guide the party’s progress in dungeons, healers keep everyone alive while tossing out some damage, and DPS mostly hit things with their weapons and sometimes buff the party. There are advanced job classes later on, such as the broody Dark Knight or high-damage-dealing Samurai, but here’s the breakdown for the initial jobs.
These jobs eventually upgrade to better version. For instance, conjurers can become White Mages. There are also quest to unlock other jobs like Samurai, the fortune telling Astrologian, and new jobs like Gunbreaker and Dancer. Because you’re able to travel to all major cities after a little bit of story, I suggest experimenting with each starting job. Eventually you will find the one that suits your preferred play style.
Where To Start
With so much story and the ability to buy story-skipping items from the Mog Station, it can be hard to know where to start. You have a few options, each with pros and cons. Regardless of what you choose, I’ve written a handy section following this one that’ll help you get up to speed with the story.
Start From The Beginning: It’s a very good place to start. You’ll have a comfortable introduction to jobs and lore. The onboarding process isn’t too bad, and you’ll start with easier content that will help you learn the ins and outs of playing. This is also the cheapest option thanks to the free trial or lower-priced starter edition.
PROS: Comfortable introduction to Eorzea and the game’s many jobs. Less intense initial experience. Lower cost.
CONS: The story of A Realm Reborn starts slow and stays that way for a while. You really need to grind through to the end until things start to pop off. The dungeons and boss fights are also much less exciting than what comes after. Wait times for lower-level dungeons might be longer, as the majority of players are mid- to high level.
Start From “Heavensward”: Using a story skip and level boost, you can hop right into the game’s first expansion. This is where the story really starts to find itself, but you’ll lack some important context as a newbie. If you don’t want to press through the slower main story, this is an excellent place to start.
PROS: Exciting story with a lot of twists and turns. Jobs and quests are still low-level enough that it’s not too overwhelming. Gorgeous environments and music.
CONS: The learning curve will be steeper, and you might find it harder to jump into dungeons or other content. Lack of context prevents the story from hitting quite as hard.
Start From “Stormblood”: With some boosts and skip, you can leap over “Heavensward” and play “Stormblood.” The story is a bit more grounded, focusing on a gritty war between the good guys and the evil Garlean Empire. This is where you’ll get the most context for “Shadowbringers,” the most recent expansion. Attempting to start with higher-level content is a huge risk, though, and this might actually be the least interesting expansion.
PROS: Great way to quickly learn who the important characters are and learn the world’s current state of affairs. Dungeons and bosses will really test your skills.
CONS: Not really the best of the expansion stories. It will be really hard to leap right in without spending some time learning the job classes.
Start From “Shadowbringers”: It’s also possible to start right at the latest expansion, but without a lot of investment in the prior storylines, some of the magic will be lost. Also, it’s hard, and if you don’t know your job’s abilities, you will get your ass kicked.
PROS: Honestly? Don’t do this. You should definitely play it, but don’t start here.
CONS: See pros.
The Story Thus Far
Note: If you story skipped, you can watch the story by going to an inn and reading The Unending Journey in your room. It’s not everything you need to know, but you can jump to important scenes from each expansion to see what you missed. If you’re super interested in lore, there are two real-life books called the Encyclopedia Eorzea that outline the story and world history as well.
In A Realm Reborn, players mostly try to stop the rise of creatures called Primals, dangerous godlike entities summoned into the world. Joining up with the brave Scions of the Seventh Dawn, the player thwarts the Primals and learns that a shadowy group called the Ascians is causing everything. The evil Garlean Empire, led by General Gaius van Baelsar, revives an ancient super weapon called Ultima Weapon, which the player defeats. The rest of the story deals with beating up some Acians, a shadowy group causing most of the chaos, and ends with the player blamed for a major political assassination.
In “Heavensward,” players flee to the snowy nation of Ishgard and get embroiled in the scheming of various noble houses and the theocratic clergy. The Warrior of Light contends with the dangerous Archbishop Thordan, who wishes to become a powerful god-king. Thordan is defeated, but the dragon lord Nidhogg, whose kind is in a forever war with the nation of Ishgard, robs the player of their powers. After a quest to earn them back, Nidhogg is defeated in a super-sad but awesome boss fight. Meanwhile, a radical terrorist incites war between the Garlean Empire and the occupied nation of Ala Mhigo.
The war kicks off in “Stormblood.” The player clashes with the empire and face a stunning defeat against the emperor’s son Zenos yae Galvus. Scattered, they slowly build a coalition of rebels and resistance fighters who unite to drive the empire out of Ala Mhigo. We learn that the empire was founded by Ascians for the purpose of causing a world-shaking calamity. The war continues while the empire works to build a dangerous chemical weapon, and one by one, the Scions start to fall into comas as their souls are pulled to another world. The empire and the good guys face off in a huge battle, with each side ultimately falling back. The Warrior of Light nearly falls into a coma, and it’s clear that something else is threatening the world.
This all comes to a head in “Shadowbringers,” where the player is summoned into another world called the First. A massive imbalance of cosmic forces has created dangerous beats called Sin Eaters. This is, of course, an Ascian plot, and the player (along with the other Scions) set off to defeat powerful “Lightwardens” and return the world to normal.
Important Things To Know As A Newbie
First, there is a series of tutorial quests called the “Hall of the Novice,” which you can access to learn more about your job once you reach level 15. You’re also able to use a content-finding tool to play whatever dungeons you have unlocked. Playing lower dungeons is a great way to learn your job, especially if you level skipped.
When you do run a dungeon, let people know if it is your first time. Most players assume everyone knows the details,but let folks know you’re new and 99.9 percent of folks will walk you through what you need to know. Beyond this, consider watching dungeon and raid guides from YouTubers like MrHappy or MTQcapture. They’re brief and informative, telling you everything you need to know about whatever you are facing. Want to learn a fight and without having to chat? Check out their channels for whatever you need.
Know what quests to take. Quests that unlock new content have a blue icon and a little plus sign. These can unlock dungeons, raids, and other neat areas like super fun amusement park the Golden Saucer. Quests with an icon that looks like a flame are main story quests; run through these to level up and enjoy the narrative. Normal exclamation marks are side quests. For a breakdown of the HUD and other markers, consider this official FAQ.
To level up, run your daily roulettes. Your duty finder allows you to do “roulettes,” which select random dungeons, boss fights, raids, and more for you to complete. These grant more experience than normal and will help speed up your leveling considerably. You’ll also earn currencies that you can spend to get quality gear. Between this and the main story quests, progress is very easy.
If you’re interested in making items, know that there is a high barrier of entry to crafting. Unlike combat job classes, which you can jump into at higher levels via level skips, you have to start from scratch and build up as a crafter, no matter what level you start at. Buying materials is expensive, and you’ll really want to play as a gathering job like a miner or botanist to get what you need, but you’ll still have to trudge through the early stages of crafting. Reaching the levels required to make quality goods and make a huge profit takes a large time investment. Success as a crafter means taking on tons of jobs and leveling all of them in order to produce what you need. Just don’t be afraid to ask for some help.
Don’t Be Shy
Introduce yourself to people! Try new job classes and allow yourself to get swept away by the adventure. MMOPRGs are intimidating, but as long as you’re kind, you’ll receive kindness in return. Final Fantasy XIV offers spectacle, cool player events, tough boss fights, and more. Soak it all in and embrace the chance to really grow, not just as a Dragoon but as a person.
It’s not just Heather. It’s Heather and the countless other players who’ve managed to get ahead of me since Shadowbringers’ launch. It’s the people in my Free Company who hint at the cool things I haven’t seen yet (looking at you, Syg). It’s the people running by me in-game who are level 80 to my level 78. It’s folks on Twitter who respond to my screenshot tweets with posts like, “Oh neat, you’re getting near the end,” Brant.
I don’t hate these people. I could never hate them. We’re all playing and enjoying the same game. They’re just playing it faster than I am. And that should stop, somehow. I haven’t quite figured it out yet. Maybe progression servers where no one can play more than two hours a day? That seems reasonable.
I don’t get jealous when others progress faster than I do through single-player games. Hell, I never finished The Last Of Us, and I’ve never once felt like throwing heavy things at people who have. But when I am surrounded by living, breathing evidence of my personal lag, I get testy. It looks like my little World of Warcraft gnome is running through Mechagon Island having the time of her life, but behind the keyboard, I am loudly cursing at people who’ve gotten new mounts and equipment before I have.
All that these poor people are guilty of is having more free time than I do. Maybe I should be happy that I have such a full life that I don’t have as much time to dedicate to a massively multiplayer online game. That seems healthier than combining curse words with body parts that don’t go together, calling players that can’t hear me things like “shit elbow” and “fuck neck”.
Ultimately, my anger and frustration is with myself, and it eventually subsides. In a week, I’ll have finished Final Fantasy XIV Shadowbringers’ story, and I’ll stop wishing serious internet and/or power outages on my friends and co-workers. Love you, Heather.
It’s hard for any story to end well, and even harder when it’s set in the constantly changing world of an MMORPG. Lengthy questlines that require years’ worth of player investment are hard to sell. Final Fantasy XIV’s latest expansion, ‘Shadowbringers,’ makes it work with an emotionally charged climax that helps create one of the franchise’s hardest-hitting finales.
As my co-worker Mike Fahey regales Kotaku readers with his travels through ‘Shadowbringers,’ I’ve managed to play through the story and have been eagerly awaiting the chance to talk about its conclusion. Many Final Fantasy games have memorable endings, from the distant time skip at the end of Final Fantasy VII to the bittersweet conclusion of Final Fantasy X’s romance. Final Fantasy XIV has always been an odd duck within the series. Its story starts slow and takes time to get going, carefully setting up the world of Eorzea and its intricate politics. It’s only in the expansions that Final Fantasy XIV has really found its narrative chops, building on the initial framework to tell stories of warring nations and scheming gods. It’s been a long, slow burn, and ‘Shadowbringers’ is where everything explodes.
Final Fantasy XIV’s story has involved a massive conflict between dragons and snowy theocratic nations, as well as an ongoing war between the good guys and the evil Garlean Empire. But over the course of many expansions, it’s become clear that these have all been caused by the plot of scheming, god-like beings called the Ascians. In ‘Shadowbringers,’ the player character travels to an alternate world besieged by monsters called Sin Eaters. It’s all part of an Ascian plot to cause destruction in one realm and have it snowball out to consume the rest of the universe.
For a while, the plot follows a standard role-playing game structure. You travel the world to hunt down “Lightwardens,” powerful Sin Eaters responsible for upsetting the world’s balance. You travel from location to location with your party of brave heroes, righting wrongs and defeating nasty bosses. What helps make things interesting is how you are accompanied by one of the Ascians, the snarky villain Emet-Selch. He brings a dynamic to your group of adventurers that’s both adversarial and genuinely playful. At the end of the game, after a few additional plot twists, he reveals why he and the other Ascians are causing so much destruction. They are the survivors of a long-dead civilization called Amaurot who sacrificed most of their population to birth a god in the hopes of saving their world. Eventually, fearful of this god, other survivors summoned a different god. They fought and fractured the lone world into multiple worlds. Emet-Selch and his allies want to revive all of the innocents lost in this struggle.
Emet-Selch conjures a recreated version of Amaurot. The final dungeon of ‘Shadowbringers’ (at least until patches inevitably add more) is set in an illusory version of Amaurot’s final days when horrible monsters and falling stars destroyed the world. It is sincerely one of the most powerful and visually lush experiences I’ve ever had playing a video game, particularly after playing countless hours of Final Fantasy XIV and getting invested. Warped beasts chase citizens through the smoldering streets as Emet-Selch’s voice rings out to recall the end of his people. This is underscored by Masayoshi Soken’s score, which remixes a sullen piano tune from the overworld and turns it into an orchestral piece with pounding drums and crescendoing strings. You can watch the whole thing as I play through on my White Mage in the video above. There’s a small moment we pause, because a first-timer had stopped to admire the area and express their awe in chat. That happens a lot when you run through this dungeon.
The first time I played, I found myself overwhelmed by how all of these pieces came together. The moment felt both like a triumphant dash toward a dangerous rival and a terrible lament for a doomed people. I played through with other people, and we kept pausing between tricky bosses to express our awe in chat as we moved deeper and deeper into the burning city and eventually up into the starry heavens themselves. Below us, the entire planet glowed with fire and death. I can’t think of a moment like it in all the years I’ve been playing games with others.
Watching Final Fantasy XIV bring everything together is one of those moments. Final Fantasy XIV often slips into cliche territory, But watching Amaurot burn was different. It was heartbreaking. I came to understand Emet-Selch’s anguish. When the final battle followed—where multiple players are summoned to face Emet-Selch’s true form—it was a damn good boss fight but also sad in its own right. I never felt for Sephiroth or Kefka or Seymour. I didcare about Emet-Selch. That’s impressive, and discovering a moment like this in a game I’ve been playing for so long was heartening.
It’s easy to get cynical about video games, especially if you have to play them more for work than for personal enjoyment. Every now and then, you have a moment that reminds you Why You Do This Shit. The ‘Shadowbringers’ ending was one of those moments: a mixture of joy and sadness, empathy and disgust. It came paired with challenging encounters and memorable reaction from other players. I needed this shit. It was like exhaling after holding in a large breath. I won’t soon forget it, and I’m grateful for it.
It’s ridiculous. Every time I log in to work my way through Final Fantasy XIV’s latest expansion, I find more things to gush over. Rather than spam my Twitter followers with GIFs and references to Shadowbringers, I’m using the third leg of my journey towards a full review to get all the goodness thus far out of my system.
Having converted to the new Dancer job, which I love, and changing my character from a cat person to a bunny-like Viera, the new player race that’s slowly growing on me, I’ve spent the past week diving deep into the continuing story of Final Fantasy XIV. Shadowbringers takes the player’s level 70 hero and transports them to a whole new world where they’ve got ten more levels of heroism to do. I’m currently at level 77 out of 80, having performed many heroic feats such as defeating massive beasts and finding a nice pair of goggles for my character to wear.
While I will do my best to avoid spoiling major plot points, there will be images and events in this log that could spoil elements of Shadowbringers’ story. Here is a warning so I don’t feel too bad about it.
Spoiler warning received? Excellent. Here are the good things so far.
Final Fantasy XIV is very good at storytelling. Maybe not the first 20 levels or so, while the player is being introduced to basic information like Eorzean geography and who the bad guys are. It takes time for the full story to unfurl, for lovable characters to be loved and hateable characters to be despised. But once a player starts approaching level 50, the game’s original level cap, they’re fully committed to their role as the game world’s greatest hero, the Warrior of Light. By the time they’ve caught up to where Shadowbringers begins, the level 70 hero has saved the world multiple times and freed two countries from the grip of the evil Garlean Empire.
Then, just as players are beginning to learn of the connections between the Garleans and an ancient race of chaos bringers called Ascians, who’ve been plaguing characters since the game’s 2013 launch, the Warrior of Light is transported to a different world with a whole new set of problems. Called The First, it’s a planet that’s on the brink of being engulfed by the power of light. With all but a few landmasses wiped out of existence by a surging flood of light, the regions that remain haven’t seen the night sky in over a century. Mindless creatures called sin eaters roam the land, driven by a ravenous hunger for the ether within living bodies. This is what happens when the balance between light and dark tips dangerously in light’s favor.
It’s an outstanding stage for a Final Fantasy adventure. Players travel The First’s different regions to restore the balance by taking out massive boss Sin Eaters called Lightwardens. Were a normal person to kill a Lightwarden, they would take on the light and become one themselves, but the player’s character possesses the ability to absorb and contain the light. When a player kills a Lightwarden, it stays dead, and the day/night cycle is restored. Hooray!
As awesome as those massive battles are, they aren’t the best part of the story. There are plenty of dramatic story beats, narrative twists and turns that will certainly catch seasoned players off-guard, but it’s not those either. It’s learning about the little people living in The First’s remote towns and villages. How they’ve dealt with never-ending light. Where they find comfort and succor in the face of their world’s impending doom. How they react when the light goes off and, for the first time in their lives, they gaze upon the sunless sea of the night sky.
I’m getting goosebumps thinking about it. Best move on, so I can go back to finishing up the story.
The Horror And Sadness
How do I explain the moments of heart-breaking sorrow and stomach-dropping feelings of terror and disgust evoked by Shadowbringers’ story without mentioning specific events? This expansion does not shy away from endearing players to a person, place or thing and then stripping it away in the blink of an eye. Nor does it flinch at taking an already dystopian society and dialing the suffering and injustice up to “oh god, I think I’m going to be sick.”
(Hello from Final Fantasy XIV’s version of Rapture/Columbia)
Hrm, I think I just did.
Old Friends, New Looks
Over the past six years of Final Fantasy XIV, players have made many non-player character friends. Particularly members of the Scions of the Seventh Dawn, a group of powerful heroes to which the player has belonged since very early in the game’s initial story. Fortunately for players, the entity responsible for their being transported to The First was a lousy shot and managed to bring over a good number of Scions before bagging the Warrior of Light. And since time conveniently runs differently between the player’s homeworld and The First, the Scions have been wandering about the new world for upwards of three years. The most important implication here is that each of the NPCs gets a makeover.
It’s nice to see old characters in new clothes. Sometimes very nice. For example, here is the quixotic elven sage Urangier before Shadowbriingers.
And here is Urangier as he appears in Shadowbringers, having switch job class to Astrologer and become everyone’s elven daddy.
This entire section was mainly an excuse to drool over Urangier’s makeover. It’s a very good thing.
Final Fantasy XIV looks good. It’s always looked good, and it continues to look good. But there’s something about the art direction in Shadowbringers that feels a step above older content. Take the GIF that tops this post, for example.
The framing, the textures—it’s such a wonderful moment, I had to grab it and save it. In the game, it’s just a few seconds of incidental animation during a much longer cutscene, but it stole my breath.
Here are a few more of my favorite images, presented without context.
Imagine riding along in your favorite online game, grooving to the orchestral soundtrack. You cross the line into a brand new area, and hear this.
The song is called “Civilizations,” and it is everything. The chanting, the vocalizing, the woodwinds, and the beat come together into something magical. The expansion’s soundtrack is filled with music that stops me in my tracks whenever I hear it. “Civilizations” is just one example.
And This Other Song
This is another example. It’s the new battle music. This plays when players fight random creatures wandering the lands of The First.
That’s metal guitar and some operatic singing. That’s music to kill by.
The Strip Club
This one’s for the role-players in the audience. Atop the tower town of Eulmore, there is an establishment called the Beehive, where the upper crust go to enjoy the fine art of pole dancing.
It’s not as classy as some of the game’s player-run brothels, perhaps, but it has a certain purple charm. It’s sure to be a go-to location for roleplay of a more risque nature. Or maybe that’s just me.
Things I’ve Already Covered
Some things about the Shadowbringers expansion are so good they got their own posts. These include:
I’ve not found a lot to complain about in Final Fantasy XIV’s Shadowbringers expansion. The new races, rabbity Viera and lion-like Hrothgar, feel a bit tacked on, which I’ve covered. Login queues are in effect, but not particularly obnoxious. On my home server of Goblin I’ve normally got between 20 and 40 players waiting to log in ahead of me, and the wait is only a couple minutes. Oh, the new Gunbreaker job class has led to a lot of people dressing up as Squall from Final Fantasy VIII, standing around and trying to look cool with their fancy gunblades. That’s bad, right?
Look, I still have three levels and a chunk of story to work through before I reach the end of the expansion’s initial content. Surely I’ll find more to not like by then. Wish me luck.
With their distinctive cactus appearance and signature pose, Cactaurs are one of Final Fantasy’s most iconic creatures. The top-heavy Gigantender, introduced in Final Fantasy XIV’s latest expansion, is doing the best it can to live up to that legacy, bless its giant plant heart.
Cactaur are called Sabotenders in Final Fantasy XIV, using the Japanese name to differentiate them from the endless parade of cactus-shaped creatures and summons that have appeared since the creatures debuted in Final Fantasy VI. Garden (rock garden, I suppose) variety Sabotenders are a common sight on the MMO’s continent of Eorzea. Gigantenders are native to the Shadowbringers’ expansion’s land of The First and are adorable enough that I just want to sit in The Fields of Amber and watch them nearly topple all day long.
I spent an hour grabbing the perfect animated GIF of the large, awkward creatures in their natural habitat. I initially misjudged the distance between the Gigantender and my character due to unfamiliarity with the first-person camera. I was too close, and a battle commenced.
Battle did afford me a close-up look at the creatures.
But I could have done without the heartbreakingly-cute squeaks and squeals the Gigantenders make when they die.
These big cactus boys don’t deserve to be on the receiving end of my Xena-style Dancer weapons. We should preserve them and their kind, so they may flourish and perhaps, one day, perfect that Cactaur pose.
Except for this giant red one. It’s a Maliktender, which only spawns every four to six hours and rewards players with a bunch of goodies. That one has to die. The rest get very careful hugs.
Final Fantasy XIV Shadowbringers launched in early access this morning, and as it is with every FFXIV expansion, players are of two minds. Half are flooding into the expansion’s new area, The First, eager to begin their journey as the Warrior of Darkness. I’m with the other half, a rolling horde of Gunblades and Dancers, rapidly levelling the expansion’s two new job roles before tackling the new lands.
After a couple of years as a Miqo’te (kitty person) Red Mage, my character, Clan Destine, is reborn once more. My first stop after launching Final Fantasy XIV this expansion morning was the city of Limsa Lominsa, the starting point for the quest to become a Dancer. Unable to handle the pressure and responsibility of tanking as a Gunblade, I opted to stick with my specialty—causing damage from afar. The Dancer is a job that mixes buffing party members with ranged combat using circular, Xena-esque throwing blades. Becoming a Dancer is as simple as watching a cutscene and saying yes to a revealing gold and maroon dress.
Along with two new jobs, Shadowbringers adds two new playable races to Final Fantasy XIV, the rabbit-like Viera and the powerful lion-like Hrothgar. Both races are gender-locked, meaning Viera can only be female and Hrothgar can only be male. This bothers me, but I spent the $10 in the Square Enix online store for a potion to change my race, and it would be a pity for it to go to waste.
Behold, my new bunny Dancer. Note the she isn’t wearing the hat she was before I changed her race. That’s because the two new races don’t have headgear modeled for them yet. Every other race in the game can wear whatever on their head, but it was too complicated to do all that for a pair of rabbit ears. That’s ridiculous. I mean, they could have at least made the hat for the new job fit, right? Bah.
Rather than starting over at level one, like some of the other classes, Dancer and Gunblades start at level 60. Unlocking a whole new job at such a high level is daunting. When playing a job from level one, players slowly unlock new abilities. New skills unlock gradually, giving players a much greater sense of how everything comes together than, say, dumping more than 20 fresh skills into a group of hotbars and letting them have at it.
From what I have figured out through playing a couple hours and running through a short tutorial battle, Dancer combat has two phases. First there’s the actual dancing. That starts by hitting the “Standard Step” skill. There are (initially) four additional dance skills that activate at random once the Standard Step is pressed. This mid-steps amplify the effects of the dance. The “Standard Finish” ability ends the dance, doing damage to the player’s enemies and a 60-second damage-increasing buff to the player and their chosen partner. A partner is a party member designated as the recipient of the Dancer’s buffs using a skill called “Closed Position.”
In between dances, which each have a 30-second cooldown, the Dancer uses combat skills to do damage from afar. There is a chain of combat skills for single opponents and one for groups of mobs. It seems pretty clear cut, but I might be missing some nuance. There are some utility skills I’ve not used yet, like a group shield and group buff, and there’s a nifty dash the Dancer can do to maneuver out of danger quickly. I need to get some more dungeon time in, but for now I’m cautiously pleased with my leaping lapin.
As I said, Dancers start at 60. The new story content for the expansion starts at level 70, leading players to the new level cap of 80. That means in order to enjoy the new content as one of the two new jobs, players have to grind 10 levels. The best way to do that looks like this.
Some of the fastest experience point gain in Final Fantasy XIV, outside of running random dungeons, is participating in FATEs (Full Active Time Events). These are special events that pop up across adventuring zones at regular intervals, requiring large groups of players to complete and rewarding large amounts of experience points. Players can form parties and travel from one FATE to the next.
In situations when a substantial fraction of the game’s player base finds themselves at level 60 needing to make to level 70 as fast as possible, the organized chaos is gorgeous. Enemies spawn in massive waves only to be rapidly wiped out in a hail of special effects. Pulling the camera back a bit reveals it’s not quite as hectic as it seems.
But where is the fun in that? Look how beautiful this mess gets.
That’s where I am as I embark on my Shadowbringers adventure. Or that’s where I was before I disconnected and tried to get back on and started getting lobby connection errors. I managed to make it halfway to level 62 in my rolling mob of Dancers and Gunblades. I’m sure it’ll still be there when I get back on.
Today, Sony Pictures Television and production company Hivemind Entertainment (the company behind Netflix’s forthcoming adaptation of The Witcher and Amazon’s The Expanse) announced a partnership with Square Enix to develop a live-action Final Fantasy TV series based on the online role-playing game Final Fantasy XIV.
The live-action television series will tell an original story set in Eorzea, the world where Final Fantasy XIV is set. What the series will focus on is still under wraps, but per a press release it will explore “the struggle between magic and technology in a quest to bring peace to a land in conflict.” It’s still in the development stage—which in Hollywood means “writing, but with more meetings”—so there’s no word on who will be cast, nor is there any footage to speak of, and there won’t be for some time. Same goes for what network or streaming service you’ll find the show on, or a premiere date.
Given Hollywood’s long history of optioning and announcing video game adaptations that never actually come to fruition, there’s no guarantee that this ever actually happens, but Netflix did distribute Final Fantasy XIV: Dad of Light, a live-action show about a father and son bonding over the game, in 2017.
Also promised are all the series longtime calling cards: “magitek and beastmen, airships and chocobos” as well as “the live-action debut of Cid.” (Presumably they mean Cid Garlond from the game, although it could very well be just another Cid entirely. Final Fantasy has never been shy about introducing new Cids.)
Early as it may be, a Final Fantasy XIV TV show is a pretty cool idea—Eorzea is a great big world full of classic Final Fantasy trappings and nods to previous games in the series. It could be great! It could also be a disaster. Final Fantasy projects have a habit of being dramatic productions right up until the very end.