FINE, I Actually Got Emotional At An MMO Expansion: Final Fantasy XIV Shadowbringers Musings and Review
WARNING: Spoilers for Shadowbringer’s base expansion story ahead.
I’ve been the perennial Final Fantasy XIV hater for what feels like forever now. I found myself constantly ranting about the slow GCD, A Realm Reborn’s awful pacing, and how being forced to Naruto run as a Ninja destroyed my headcanon for my character. So many complaints in retrospect, but now…
Now I have seen the light, and, ironically, all I had to do was look in the shadows to find it.
Shadowbringers is a deeply emotional experience. The story is very tonally dark; moreso than any other expansion released so far. Your own personal Warrior of Light is ripped from their home world of The Source and transported to The First; a reflection of the The Source that was shattered away during the equivalent of a godly slapfight. The main difference? The First is a world so flooded with the light that there is no night sky; only the foreboding presence of the eternal day to remind the inhabitants of what they’ve lost, and whoo boy they’ve lost nearly everything.
The WoL arrives to broken and dying world. The denizens have no absolutely hope for the future. Everyone alive knows that one day they will die, and so too will their world eventually. Sin Eaters, beings of pure light that feed off the aether of those who remain, will eventually transform all life into mindless killing machines on the star. Succumbing to their basest instincts, transformed Sin Eaters will cannibalize their loved ones and destroy eveything they hold dear.
Pretty shit deal, right?
Shadowbringers is an emotionally tense, incredibly well written story that had my emotions ping ponging between hope and despair throughout the entirety of my long stay in The First. Seeing the brutality of someone being turned into a Sin Eater firsthand caused me to audibly gasp, which is no small feat. Knowing that this was the eventual end for every person in this world made me feel genuine sadness. I got quite attached to these normal people struggling their way through an unforgiving hellscape, and there was no way in heaven that I was going to let them all die like this.
These were real things I felt during the story of an MMO, a genre where I had previously experienced nothing but frustration at hastily thrown together storylines that only existed to justify extending a subscription. Shadowbringers is tight. Nothing felt out of place in the story; it was as if a master author planned every event out years in advance, and is finally seeing their sadistic plans come to fruition. Sure, there were moments where I went “oh this is the part where they pad out the story because it’s an MMO and it has to be long.”, but the story beats themselves were infinitely better than anything else I had seen in the genre. It’s not even close how much better Shadowbringers’ writing is, and 90% of it is because of the incredible exploration of the series primary villains, the Ascians.
Look, they’re not that bad okay. They just want to end the world as we know it, and kill everyone. Each of them has gone about it in different ways, but none have felt terrifying or real until the introduction of Emet-Selch.
I could gush about Emet-Selch for days. He’s just that enticing of a main villain. Square Enix did an incredibly good job of humanizing both him and his race of immortals. I lost count of how many times I went “Yeah okay, I understand why he’s doing what he’s doing now. It’s pretty justifiable when you look at it that way.” during his explanations of his race’s plight. That's the brilliance of him; he is a mirror into the player’s actions. The player is willing to do anything to save their home. Whether its killing God or taking down an entire race of “evil” doers to save their friends, they’ll do it. Selch is one in the same; he’s just a man doing whatever he needs to do to save those he loves. There are no villains in Shadowbringers, just two opposed sides who want to live, and it’s done so beautifully that I bet I’ll find myself mulling over it years later.
Also the dungeons are entirely too cool. The last half of the story dungeons and trials are essentially just every JRPG’s final boss fight back to back, which means they’re cosmically epic. Multi phases with some actually hard mechanics have finally shown their face in this MMO and by god am I feeling the combat system now. Fighting the personification of Forgiven Innocence to save a world is about as JRPG as it gets, and I gobbled it up like a madman. No fights have felt this cool to me since I played Kingdom Hearts as a wee lad and struggled against Ansem for hours. Not to mention the final fight, which is so freakin’ amazingly grand that I don’t even want to spoil it. Just play it, trust me.
For the first time in my 20+ MMO playing years, I’m excited to see more of a story in a genre that doesn’t particularly focus on stories. I still have five more patches to go until I’m fully caught up and ready for Endwalker, and I’ve never been more excited to see where the insanity goes next. On top of Square Enix writing, I get to play through the Nier raids and see what sort of insanity Yoko Taro introduces into the universe. This combination of JRPG stories feels like a dream come true for me.
Shadowbringers finally made me a believer. Final Fantasy XIV is a fantastic game, and the undisputed king of the MMO genre as it stands, and I hope it lasts forever.
Please give me more.