That’s it. That’s the literal last minute of FFXIV: Shadowbringers. That clip may be my all time favorite moment in an MMO, and I regard it as one of the greatest endings to a story in an MMO, and possibly any RPG, of all time. Because when you get to it, you’ve probably played hundreds of hours, you’ve experienced a wild, wild ride of a story, and the player character’s interaction with the child is the perfect reminder of where your character has been, who your character is, and what you’re capable of in less than a minute as the credits roll, giving time for reflection as you watch names scroll across the screen. It’s perfect.
It took me a long time to get into Final Fantasy XIV, I had been playing World of Warcraft since the end of Burning Crusade, and it took Blizzard itself going into the gutter, and many friends and people online raving about how good FFXIV gets for me to finally give it a shot. I had dabbled in it a bit, getting up to about level 30 in A Realm Reborn before going back to WoW. But, now that World of Warcraft no longer had a grasp on me, I pushed on, hoping the good stuff was as good as people were saying. There is a review floating around regarding FFXIV and its expansions that I feel sums it up best.
- A Realm Reborn: 3/10
- Heavensward: 9/10
- Stormblood: 7/10
- Shadowbringers: 11/10
In retrospect, after completing the game I would definitely rank ARR higher, but going through it for the first time, it is an absolute slog. ARR is a mediocre, but passable story that isn’t really anything to write home about as far as MMOs go. I’d equate it to a pretty lackluster first season of an incredible TV show, because it sets up all the world building and story arcs that everything else is built on. ARR is pretty much a bog standard MMO experience with some Final Fantasy flair and some really cool mechanics. At least when you start. Once you’re through, the deeper into the expansions you go the more you realize just how pivotal it all was to the crazy story that develops. Though in all honesty, I should have expected it since they turned the original failure and shut down of FFXIV to rebuild it into an actual part of the world’s lore.
Hoo boy, when that story kicks off to start Heavensward, they really kick it off in a deeply unexpected and wild fashion and never let up. Something I’ve never seen in an MMO is how deeply character story centric it FFXIV is. It’s the first MMO I’ve actually ever felt the idea that my character has an actual personality and defined motivations that I actually know. I would argue even SWTOR in comparison is more focused on the character’s class than the actual character, and is probably the closest. I’m not even going to touch on WoW because the story in that game is a total joke, and the closest they ever came to toying with the idea of player character story progression was Legion Class Halls and becoming a Class leader. Which they immediately dropped and forgot about the very next expansion. And it’s not just your character. You wind up with a group of characters that are with you throughout your journey, and they grow and change. Sometimes drastically. But after hundreds of hours with them, you’ve definitely grown attached to, and care for a few or even all of these characters (I definitely did), and it’s also reflected in your character as well.
It was Heavensward and Stormblood that got me solidly hooked into the game and made FFXIV my favorite MMO. Shadowbringers however, took it to a whole new level, and made me view it not just as a great MMO, but possibly the best Final Fantasy game ever made. It has a story build up to one of the best character moment payoffs ever in the game’s climax, and it has one of the best Final Fantasy villains ever. As in, if I was in this guy’s shoes, I’d have done the same thing. It’s perfectly believable and understandable why he’d do all this stuff, and it’s a bit tragic that you actually have to stand in the way. And you do have to stand in the way because where you’re coming from is just as valid as where he’s coming from and someone is going to have to give. And in terms of Final Fantasy Villains, the vast majority of them are deeply forgettable and/or have obscure or deeply crazy reasoning for why they’re doing their thing. It’s really incredible that it’s an MMO, a genre not exactly known for its solid villains, that managed to break the mold so hard.
But enough of with the story before I go and spoil everything. Another huge draw for me into FFXIV was how deep it was. The Job (class) system is the best of any MMO period. There’s no need to visit a trainer or roll a new character to try a different class or style. Just equip a different weapon and boom there you go. The crafting is also not just something added on because all MMOs have a crafting system, but rather something that is not only rewarding, but challenging. You actually have to learn rotations for crafting like you’d learn rotations for fighting and it’s worth it to do so. And then on top of the jobs are the myriad of things to do, and it seems I keep finding things to do that are completely optional but really fun to do and spend time at if you wanted to, that provide alternate ways to level or earn rewards or just exist because they’re fun. Things like Chocobo Racing and Breeding. Triple Triad. The Golden Saucer casino. Sightseeing. Housing. Retainers. Beast Tribes. Palace of the Dead (a procedural roguelike dungeon). etc. etc.
All this stuff also adds up to FFXIV being the most Final Fantasy of the FF games. Because it has everything considered ‘classic Final Fantasy’ including crystals, iconic classes and appearances, recurring cameos from various ff games, chocobo racing and breeding, etc. And a story that ranges genres from fantasy to political intrigue, to comedy, to sci-fi, to mythology, to even a bit of time travel. Oh, and it has that classic award winning soundtrack that makes you just stop and listen sometimes (especially Shadowbringers) that is a hallmark of a good Final Fantasy game. It really is hard to think of anything that could beat it as the best FF.