I’m a writer. So, naturally, story in an MMO is highly important to me. From quest text, item descriptions, event dialogue and cut scenes, good writing, character development, lore and NPCs can make an otherwise mundane game into something engaging for me. Lack of these things tend to cause me to drift from a game sooner or drop it all together.
Putting together a cohesive and immersive story in an MMO is no little feat. This is no single player game where one script easily fits all. This is a living world where a story has to not only allow your character to rise above the ranks, but explain why all those other adventurers are out there, and how they, too, are taking on the same dungeons and bosses with you.
I’ve seen plenty of games that struggle with this, and a few that do it well. And while the story in FFXIV is not perfect by any means, I feel it accomplishes what it attempts to do.
The Final Fantasy Way
My first exposure to console RPGs was the original Final Fantasy for the NES. However, I didn’t get sucked into the genre until Final Fantasy II (FFIV) for the SNES. Back in the day, that was a story with characters unlike anything I’d ever played. It left such an impression upon me that it remains my favorite old skool game, and has provided inspiration for many of the online projects I work on even today.
FFXIV may not be able to achieve the massive story that the single-player entries in the series can, but the moment I stepped foot in this game, it felt like a Final Fantasy to me. In fact, it felt more like a Final Fantasy than any of the new FFs have in a long time. It’s part of what made me stick to it.
Without giving too much away, I’ll say that FFXIV was able to not only make my character special in the eyes of the world, but give an explanation for why there are so many other adventurers that are also special. I felt their concept of Warriors of Light was pretty cool, especially seeing that the game points back to events in the final battle of FFXIV 1.0.
If you haven’t seen that final battle, it’s well worth to watch, even if you have no knowledge of FFXIV.
There are things I will admit. The somewhat archaic language takes some getting used to… I still laugh when I hear an NPC say “I must needs…” about anything. But overall, the translation is very solid. FFXIV is a game that quietly proves that it doesn’t take itself too seriously under it all — just look at the names of the FATES and scenario quests sometime, with all the allusions to pop culture that you could ever want.
FFXIV also doesn’t seem to know when it wants to use voice overs in cut scenes and when it doesn’t. This is very inconsistent throughout the story, which seems to bother some people. Also, I won’t say the voice acting is terrible, but it’s also not fantastic. Neither of these turned me off, but I did want to make note of them.
The story heavily relies on cut scenes, which are generally the quality you’ve come to expect from a Final Fantasy game. I liked that when you unlock a cut scene, you can always go back and rewatch it in your inn room. This becomes a necessity near the end of the game when cut scenes become so long that other folks just don’t have the patience to wait for you to finish them in end-story dungeons.
That’s another beef I have. I love the cut scenes. I like the idea that everything — and I do mean everything — has some sort of story element behind it. But the final two dungeons of the main scenario were plagued with cut scenes that popped several times, often the moment a party member rushed into a boss room. I found this frustrating, because these dungeons are also notorious for speed runs, and no one wants to stop for the story person who wants to watch cut scenes. I can’t really say I blame them, though. Not when scenes were popping at the rate they were, just about every important encounter.
The final cut scenes racked up over 45 mins to an hour long all together, and were worthy of the Final Fantasy name. Bad guys provided fairly understandable motives. People were double crossed. Bosses had several stages to fight. And, as usual, the last boss is not the last boss. Your character gets huge props for what they’ve done in the world, and you finally find out the secrets behind who your character is and why they have the abilities they do.
On top of that, if you hang around till after the very lengthy credits roll, you quickly come to realize this is not the end. Oh no. It seems like just the beginning.
Character Development and NPCs
Now, on to something Final Fantasy also does well: NPCs. In my older age, a game has to have well-crafted characters for me to do the following: be able to pick them out visually from other characters, and remember their names. If I can see a character’s face and put a name to it halfway through a game, then it’s done something right for me. So many times, that doesn’t happen — don’t ask me to tell you names of any characters I hung around with in ESO betas, or even many of the NPCs in LOTRO, Everquest 2 or a number of single player games.
FFXIV chose to make your character a mute, whose interaction with the world consisted with facial expressions and (most often) a silent nod. Contrasted with games, such as GW2, which put words in your character’s mouths during cut scenes (and not always the words you think your character would say), I think it worked well. You still get a sense of character development, even as they meet new people, become a part of new groups, and explore new situations.
Side Stories and Seasonal Events
Some people grump about the seasonal events in FFXIV because they’re not these hugely long and involved things, like in Guild Wars. While I used to feel that Guild Wars was the king of seasonal events, lately, I’ve felt that GW2 events are going a bit too far and become much more complex than they need to be. Most of us just want to log in, have a little fun, get a seasonal item for decoration or wearable, and call it a day. I don’t want to have to grind achievements and see the celebration items I really want gated behind cash shop purchases and RNG chest unlocks.
Compared to that, the zany (and often short) little quests that FFXIV offers for holidays are a welcome change. Everyone has an equal chance to the special items. Basic quests are rarely too time intensive, and most of them are quite funny if you relax and realize that none of it’s serious business.
At first, this sense of humor took me by surprise. But now that I’m used to it, I look forward to the quirky events and side stories, such as the Hildibrand questline (which I just finished this weekend). Awarded to players who complete the main scenario, and updated in content patches, this is the ongoing story of the misadventures of agent Hildibrand and his assistant — which leads to some of the zaniest things (dapper zombies, anyone?).
All In All
Sure, FFXIV doesn’t have a perfect story. Sure it’s inconsistent with voice acting and has several other flaws. But what it attempts to do is enjoyable. It got me to come out of my shell and actually play dungeons with PUG groups just so I could see what happens next (you don’t know how hard that is for a game to do). It also got me to stick with the game through to level cap (another thing that is an achievement for most MMOs). And seeing that the story doesn’t end with the main scenario by a long shot, I can only look forward to what new adventures wait!