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.
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.
Kotaku Game DiaryDaily thoughts from a Kotaku staffer about a game we’re playing.
One minute I’m a gnome warlock, delving deep into the naga-infested ocean of World of Warcraft’s Azeroth. The next I’m a red mage with cat ears and a tail, trying to remember my spell rotation in Final Fantasy XIV before the Shadowbringers expansion comes out. There’s brand-new content in both of my favorite massively multiplayer online role-playing games, and I’m having trouble keeping up.
I’ve been playing MMORPG games since the days of Ultima Online, but normally one at a time. I can juggle non-MMO games all day long. I’m currently playing a retro platforming shooter on the Switch (Gunlord-X), a monster truck racer on the Xbox One (Monster Jam Steel Titans), and a tactical fighting game (Samurai Shodown) on the PlayStation 4. There’s no danger of me mixing up those three.
MMORPGs are a different story. I’ve been playing World of Warcraft for nearly 15 years and Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn since its relaunch in 2013. Both games take place in unique fantasy settings. Both feature rich storylines I’ve become heavily invested in over the years. In both games I am part of an expansive community. I’ve got friends on servers and friends in guilds. I wish I could play World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV more.
Except for right now. Right now, World of Warcraftjust released the Rise of Azshara expansion, adding two massive new zones full of quests, gear, and adventure. Meanwhile, in Final Fantasy XIV, the Shadowbringers expansion launches in early access on Friday, and I’ve got a couple of dungeons to complete before I’ve caught up with the game’s story, which I have to complete before I can enjoy the expansion’s new high-level content.
I am hopping back and forth between two very different characters on two structurally similar but mechanically unique games, and I am getting dizzy. Here are some of the fun things I’ve screwed up in the process of playing both.
After a few months away, I’ve finally remembered the button sequence I use to efficiently perform my Final Fantasy XIV red mage’s spell rotation…in World of Warcraft, where it is far from how I play my warlock. I have died several times.
I keep forgetting to summon my demon in Final Fantasy XIV. I have no demon in Final Fantasy XIV.
Did you know that red mages in Final Fantasy XIV often handle rezzing duties in multiplayer trials against powerful boss creatures? I forgot, and I got yelled at last night, and it was completely my fault.
I keep trying to message linkshell members from Final Fantasy XIV in World of Warcraft and WoW guildies in FFXIV.
It’s not always like this. During less busy times, when the lulls between new content grow long, I can slip between the two with ease. But now, standing at the crossroads between brand new Azeroth stuff and becoming Final Fantasy XIV’s Warrior of Darkness, I kind of just want to curl up and wait until the traffic is clear. I won’t, as it is my duty to collect and report on that sweet MMORPG booty. Just forgive me if I mix up my verstone and corruption spells.
Final Fantasy XIV’s next expansion,Shadowbringers, is available for early access next Friday. In the short time left from now to then, I’ve been furiously sprinting to level characters and blaze through story content so that I can have everything perfectly in place for the launch. It’s a process that’s pushed me to my limits, as I grind jobs and characters into tip-top condition.
For some players, getting ready for an expansion is easy. If they only have one character, for example, they can just play through the story until they’re at the end. From there, they level gear or jobs however they want and hop into the new content when it launches. My situation is a little different. I play on a server known for roleplaying, which means that there’s just as much in-character improvisational acting as high-end boss battles. Instead of having one character with which I do everything, I have a stable of characters to use for storytelling purposes, all of whom have their own jobs and gear.
Alts aren’t uncommon in online games, but Final Fantasy XIV makes it easy to stick to one character if you want. Except I don’t want that. I want a kind conjurer to help heal folks, I want a snooty Dragoon to bump into folks on the street, I need villains for multi-event storylines. But this also means that getting ready for an expansion is tricky. The last week or so has been a mad, tiring rush to level classes. I think it might be killing me.
The biggest tasks have been completing the story quest for so many characters and getting their main jobs to the maximum level. Some of this process has been interesting, since it’s pushed me into job roles that I’d largely ignored until now. Leveling Dark Knight was fun; going from healing to tanking was an anxious but exciting experience. But leveling Dragoon, which involved powering up my second Samurai? That’s more like work. It means sitting the hell down and playing dungeon after dungeon. It means running through quests I’ve seen multiple times over, unlocking locations I’ve already been to on other characters, and praying that I get good loot along the way. (Unlike many people on my server, I’m not some type of bajillionaire who can just buy gear.)
Leveling can be a tiresome process, particularly since the wait times for dungeons are long for damage dealing classes. If you’re playing a tank or healer? That’ll actually go well, because you’re never going to be waiting more than five minutes, except if you’re picky about the content you’re playing. But if you’re playing as a DPS character? Grab a book or do something else while you wait. There’s a solution for this, a piece of content where you queue up in an instant. But this particular piece of content also involves one of the most mind-numbing ways to level up: Palace of the Dead and Heaven on High. These are two semi-random dungeons with multiple floors that run with whatever teammates are available. Completing floors is relatively quick at 10-20 minutes per run and the payoff of experience points is good. It’s also repetitive, simple, and exhausting.
In leveling my final classes, I’ve run through a truly unknowable number of Heaven of High floors. I queue up, hop in, fight the same monsters and the same boss, hop out, reset, and do it again. In the last 48 hours alone, I venture that I’ve done at least 80 runs. At first, it was a great escape from all the hectic online chatter after E3. Now? My body is sore and I think I’m dying. Like, I mean that. I think I’m getting sick. I woke up with a terrible headache and completely sapped energy, and while I’m sure most of that is just germs from subway poles and my own bad luck, I also might have pushed myself to the breaking point. I started leveling my second Samurai from level 50 on Saturday. I reached just shy of the max level of 70 last night, stopping only as I felt sickness start to ravage my senses.
My only break from this process was the hard work of covering E3, and a quick turnaround of a review for the fabulous Cadence of Hyrule. For better or worse, most of my characters are ready for Shadowbringers, with multiple jobs finished and most within spitting distance of finishing the story. I still need to finish up a few things, but I’ve basically done it. (I still need to finish up a long roleplaying plot in the next few days.) Yet, as I sit in bed today, head throbbing and hearing various Final Fantasy musical cues dance through the back of my mind, I ask: was my suffering worth it? I have no idea, but I guess we’ll find out once Shadowbringers launches.
Last week, I spent over six hours picking apart Final Fantasy XIV’s new expansion “Shadowbringers” in a lavishly adorned theater space. I played a new dungeon, sampled the new job classes, and examined all the little changes coming to the game. I also had the chance to sit down with producer Naoki Yoshida for a one-on-one interview.
Tired after a media tour stop in London, nursing a cold, and worn out by another day of questions, Yoshida had snuck off for an extended cigarette break. He returned, smelling slightly of smoke, and sunk into the couch in front of me. We had a frank discussion about game design, player expectations, and gender expression in multiplayer games.
Heather Alexandra, Kotaku: Before I start, I want to let you know that I met my girlfriend playing this game, so I wanted to say thank you.
Naoki Yoshida: Congrats! That’s awesome! It’s always nice to hear stories like that. There are people who come up to me and mention how they met in Final Fantasy XIV and they’ve all gotten married and had children. There’s one family that comes to a lot of our events. They have three children, so they’re a bit more than a “light party” at this point. It’s really nice.
Breaking down the new classes:
Alexandra: When I talk to developers who have distinct characters or classes in their games, I like to ask them to describe them in one word. “Shadowbringers” has two new classes, the Dancer and Gunbreaker. What is the one word you’d use to describe each?
Yoshida: For Gunbreaker: trigger-action. The gunblade in the Final Fantasy series is interesting. When you strike with a gunblade, you pull the trigger to enhance your attack. It’s this really unique idea for a weapon. We wanted to recreate that feeling of pulling the trigger and that feeling of impact in Final Fantasy XIV. That was the concept we had for the design from the start.
For Dancer: steps. When you hear the word dancer or dance, I’m sure people have different interpretations of what it entails. They might imagine different dances from around the world. With our dancer, it’s about having dance steps. The player isn’t literally dancing to a beat, but we wanted to recreate the feeling of sensing a tempo and having a certain pace.
On simplifying classes in “Shadowbringers”:
Alexandra: A lot of classes have had the number of steps required to perform key actions reduced. For instance, the standard Summoner attack rotation—which formerly took minutes to perform—hasbeen simplified. How do you find the balance between making something approachable but deep. Do you worry about hardcore players who might feel classes are being simplified?
Yoshida: In terms of simplifying things, that’s very subjective. The majority of team members working on Final Fantasy XIV are also players, so sometimes it boils down to if we think something feels fun to play. The dichotomy of simplicity and complexity…Those things aren’t always what makes a job fun or not. In order for someone to enjoy a system and find it interesting, they need to have an understanding of how those actions work.
With Final Fantasy XIV, which has a pretty long history now, job mechanics have been complex and tangled into each other. We wanted to make sure that we were untangling that. We were looking at it, and it was hard to identify if particular jobs were even fun or interesting to pay, because it had become so complex…If we were to keep everything tangled while also adding more to the jobs, it would accelerate the issue and make it really hard to see what makes each job unique and interesting.
We took a bold step this time. We mustered up a lot of courage and decided to revisit and really clean things up…It’s a matter of asking, “Is this comfortable? Is this still fun for us to play?”
On deciding what new skills to give classes:
Alexandra: As the level cap increases in “Shadowbringers,” there’s potential to add variety to job abilities. Obviously, you want jobs to have distinct identities, but sometimes there are cases where certain jobs are more desired. When you were adjusting jobs like Samurai, were you ever tempted to round out job utility or expand them beyond the roles the community already know?
Yoshida: To be honest, no. We always want to make sure the gameplay for each job is different. With that Samurai example, they have their iaijutsu skills, and those require casting some skills before executing them. That’s unique to them. For Ninja, they have their ninjutsu. It’s important to have different actions for each job. They should feel distinct.
And, really, we find that what players want is for their class to be the best class. They want to contribute to the party, they want to do the most DPS. They want everything! But if we take that feedback and literally apply it, we’d end up with jobs that look really similar. We don’t want that. We want a variety of experiences while still having a balance.
It wouldn’t be good for the game to give too many things to all classes. It drives home the point about wanting gameplay experiences to be unique.
The one thing Yoshida wants players to know:
Alexandra: It’s been a long day. You’re traveled far, you’re under the weather, and you’re answering tons of questions. Probably answered the same questions over and over.
Alexandra: What’s something you haven’t been asked about but want to tell players?
Yoshida: We’ve covered so much through all these interviews. One thing I hear as a worry in the community is the question: “Is Yoshida going to be moving away Final Fantasy XIV?” but that’s not going to happen. I want to reassure people of that.
I do want to have some personal time to go snowboarding more…
I want players to play “Shadowbringers” as soon as possible. I wonder, sometimes, if providing information can take away from some of the fun that’s to be had. I really can’t wait for players to get their hands on “Shadowbringers”and enjoy it for themselves.
Addressing demand for player houses heading into “Shadowbringers”:
Alexandra: Players gave me a lot of questions to ask you, but the thing I heard the most was that they want to know if there will be a new housing area and if the team was looking into new ways to purchase homes.
On my own server, I know groups that organize to help players get houses, but they often lose out to players who might be using bots or other tactics. How is the team approaching this situation heading into the expansion?
Yoshida: World Visits should provide more access to different areas, and we still see that there’s many plots of land available if you look at the data centers as a whole.
We do start to see a bias of less land available if we look at certain servers. For instance, if players are demanding more housing on Balmung, it’s going to be more challenging to fulfill the demand for that server. But if we were to simply increase the number of plots available in the game, servers without as many players will have areas that are very sparse.
For bots, we’ve been making changes to prevent plots of land being purchased by bots, so in many cases it’s probably players stalking and being very meticulous. That being said, the situation isn’t permanent. We want to respond to the concerns and we understand the demand for housing is there. Once we’re able to expand, we’ll make sure to let players know.
On glamours, gender restrictions, and social issues:
Alexandra: The other issue players pushed me to ask about is glamours and expression. Two questions, since we’re almost out of time.
First: Would you ever considered removing job restrictions from glamours like the lock-style system in Final Fantasy XI? Beyond that, are there plans to lessen or remove the amount of gender restrictions on clothing? Things that are not exclusively male or female? I know there’s gameplay reasons for restrictions, but are there chances for expression with less restriction?
Yoshida: It might be a quick question but the answers are definitely not short!
First, to answer about removing the job restrictions, unfortunately, we don’t intend to remove them. The reason is simple. For players who have played other Final Fantasy titles, they’ll easily recognize these gear designs as a way to identify a particular job…You wouldn’t want to see someone carrying an axe casting black magic. You’d wonder: What the hell kind of game is this?
To touch on the second part of your question about gender restrictions, first and foremost, I think there should be freedom in your values when it comes to the different genders. We don’t want to restrict attire and clothing that you wear based on characters’ gender or sex.
There’s two issues for accommodating that freedom. The first is a cost issue. Say you had a dress and it’s originally restricted to female-only and we were considering making it so male characters could wear it. We need to go in and make sure we’re adjusting the design on a male character model and make sure it makes sense on that form. The opposite applies for male only outfits, for instance Hien’s attire. we’d need to make adjustments for the female silhouette…We’d need to adjust for lalafells…If we’re making adjustments to one or two items, that’s easy. But we need to consider just how many items there are, and addressing all of them is not a quick task.
In terms of values and our players, it’s a time when there’s a lot of changes in perspectives, but we can’t ignore the people who refuse to make changes in their values. There may be players who do not want to see male players wear attire that’s traditionally worn on females…We do want to respect freedom of self expression and that people want to dress the same way, but we do need to consider and be mindful of those who look at people dressed in a certain way and manage how they perceive things.
Let me give an example: I was heading to the office on a Saturday and I saw a situation that made me very sad. I was trying to go into the office and I was waiting at a red light. I saw a high schooler coming from the other side of the road in their school uniform. It seemed that they were biologically male at birth but they were wearing a sailor fuku, which is traditionally female attire. In Japanese high schools, there’s more and more schools that are accommodating for freedom of not being restricted to a specific gender for your uniform…That person probably wanted to present the gender they identified with in their heart…On the other side of the road was a mother and a daughter. The daughter was perhaps 5 years old. As soon as the mother saw the high schooler, she shielded her daughter as if she didn’t want her daughter to see. The high schooler must have been very hurt. Situations like these still happen and there’s areas where there’s not as much understanding.
We need to see more change in the values people have, and we need to consider for Final Fantasy XIV how we push forward in-game and how we represent it.
That being said, we want to address this, and I think it will be gradual…For instance, for the Ceremony of Eternal Bonding, we’ve already started to make adjustments. Once we officially release this, you won’t have gender restrictions. If you both wanted to wear a dress, that’s perfectly fine. If you want to both wear the tuxedo, that would also be fine…That’s not available in game yet, but we have done the preparations for it.
You may be familiar with the [Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade] where we had a Final Fantasy XIV float participate. After that event, players in the Korean regions were very uncomfortable with it and people made complaints about now wanting to see that. “This is disgusting!” Things like that. It’s been very tough.
Change is happening. People are becoming more aware and understanding. Values do shift, but I think the pace…is very different depending on individuals. It’s a difficult and delicate situation. It requires us to understand and know how things are around the world.
Alexandra: One thing before I go: What brand of cigarettes?
When a new rabbit-eared race called Viera was revealed for Final Fantasy XIV’s upcoming Shadowbringers expansion during last month’s Paris Fanfest, only female versions were shown, but players were hopeful that the male version of the Viera would be announced at the Tokyo Fanfest this past weekend. Instead, Square Enix added a whole new race, the exclusively male Hrothgar. So, now there are two gender-locked races instead of one. Great.
Introduced in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and popularized by Final Fantasy XII’s Fran, the Viera are a race of tall, lanky bunny people. According to lore, male Viera exist but they live in separate settlements and do not appear in public. In a recent interview with GameSpot, Final Fantasy XIV producer Naoki Yoshida cited this lore as the reason why playable Viera can only be female.
But the lore hasn’t stopped players from clamoring for and anticipating the reveal of playable rabbit boys. When asked about the possibility of male Viera during a Q&A session at the Paris Fanfest last month, Yoshida said he could not comment and that players would have to wait until this weekend’s Tokyo event for more information. Many took that comment as confirmation male Viera would appear. They did not.
Instead of playable male Viera, Yoshida introduced the male-exclusive race Hrothgar. Modeled after the bestial Ronso from Final Fantasy X, the Hrothgar are thickly-muscled cat men, some of whom sport horns à la FFX’s Kimahri. While Final Fantasy lore features both female and male Ronso, in Final Fantasy XIV they will be a male-only race, included as a counterpart to the female-only Viera.
This is, frankly, some bullshit. First off, adhering to the lore only matters for the Viera? Players cannot be male Viera because of lore, but they also cannot be female Hrothgar because, what, it wouldn’t be fair to everybody who wanted to be a male Viera? Nonsense.
Secondly, Final Fantasy XIV already has a humanoid feline race in the Miqo’te. Ironically, when Final Fantasy XIV first launched back in 2010, the Miqo’te were a female gender-locked race, a counterpart to the male-only Roegadyn. After the game was shut down and rebooted as A Realm Reborn in 2013, male Miqo-te and female Roegadyn got added, thanks largely to fan outcry.
Now fans are outcrying again. Reddit threads about the new race reveal (thanks to reader Connor for bringing these to my attention) are filled with angry comments. There’s an extensive fan-created poll gathering data about how players feel about the gender-locking, and how it affects their feelings about July’s Shadowbringers expansion.
Fortunately, director Naoki Yoshida told GameSpot the team is taking player feedback under consideration. The developers have a good track record when it comes to dealing with players’ complaints, like their approach to fixing issues with player housing, or their response the first time Final Fantasy XIV had a pair of gender-locked races. Let’s hope players don’t have to complain too loud and long, and I can get my bunny boy on sooner rather than later.