Final Fantasy XIV: A Look at Story

Tai as a Dragoon with a lance of light.

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.

Story Overview

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. 

Funny FATE names.

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.

Cut Scenes

Interesting question from the big bad guy…

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

You mess with Tai’s friends, you mess with him.

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

Hildibrand in his most natural pose.

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!

Tai is a Manderville man.


    1. Thank you! I was commenting on how the way the FFXIV avatar smiles reminds me a lot of how Tai would actually smile.

      Of course, there wasn’t a class that fit him well, but the Dragoon armor looks nice, and is his color. He just gets flak from Zeb about it (who is a White Mage, of all things).

      Couldn’t find a good cheek scar in character creation, so had to settle with one on the nose instead.

      Tai also has Paladin unlocked, though he swears he’s not one! 🙂

  1. Ok, I’ll admit: you’re starting to win me over to this game (which is a problem, since it would require me to purchase a new computer).

    But here’s my question: What about gameplay? How do the game’s systems stand out from other MMO’s and in what cases are they comparable to other games? Principally: What is there to (dis)like beyond the story elements?

    1. Totally depends on what you prefer in a game, so I can’t say. What’s fine with me, may not be your idea of fun.

      The game is old style trinity play (Tank/Healer/DPS). It’s tab-targeting with a little bit of action thrown in (meaning, red circles on the ground that you have to “dodge”, though the game doesn’t really provide a dodge mechanism). Expect to be running out of red circles. A lot. The battle system can be considered slow compared to other games, and most of your major skills share a global cool down.

      The class system is nice in that you can level all classes on one character. However, after your first class, and despite the bonus experience you get, subsequent classes tend to be much slower and more grindy. They’re doing things to help this (challenge log), but it still may be a turn off.

      There’s not really any variety in builds. In fact, there are no builds at all. You can use some cross class abilities – only a select few based on what you’ve leveled and what the game allows. Rather than really providing variety to your build, it’s more like a requirement people expect you to have (which requires you to go back and level other classes to get the skills).

      So, everyone is pretty much the same, except for gear. At level cap, the gear level keeps rising, and you will be required to grind stuff (dailies and dungeons) to get it. Since I’m more casual, and don’t mind taking my time, this grind hasn’t really bothered me that much — there are a variety of ways you can earn it, so if you choose to grind a single dungeon over and over, then that’s all on you.

      Hmm.. forced dungeons. Dunno if that’s an issue. But at this point, forced dungeons means often forced PUG groups. I ran into some really nasty elitist folks last night for my first attempt at a hard mode dungeon, for instance. This game is very, very end-game focused, which I don’t find a positive, but I understand why people approach it that way.

      Melee DPS have it rough, and are often looked down upon. Tanks tend to be in short supply because PUG groups expect immaculate speed runs, even during story-mode dungeons. I’d love to learn to tank, but don’t dare step foot in a dungeon without folks I know and trust. I know the consequences of not being a speed tank. 🙁

      That being said, I’ve met very nice people, too. And if you have a good guild, this shouldn’t be an issue.

      FFXIV is not everyone’s cup of tea, and even I take the good with the bad. I can’t promise that you’d like it, even if I enjoy the story elements. I’m not sure that I’d plunk down cash for a new machine just to play any one game, anyhow. Also do keep in mind, you have to buy the box and there’s a sub. XD

      Oh, and lag? I don’t know how FFXIV would handle you attempting to connect to a US server, for example. I have an issue where the game stutters and lags so bad, I’ve had to purchase Ping Zapper just to ensure I can even play and do dungeons. Syn doesn’t have this problem. I, and many others do, and we’re located IN the US! I don’t see this issue being fixed, and it’s one major annoyance for me. Without Ping Zapper, FFXIV would be unplayable for me. I’d be very concerned about playability for you due to my own lag experiences.

  2. Thank you for the elaborate reply. Just to be clear: I certainly don’t plan to buy a new machine for just one game. I have have a number of games on my digital shelf awaiting a more powerful machine, though. For now, these questions are purely based on game mechanics curiosity.

    A lack of build variety is a major letdown for me. I love theorizing about different strategies and building fun combos (GW1 as the prime example).

    Regarding combat, red circles are nothing new. WoW did them to death already. I don’t mind slow combat, but what about crowd controls, (de)buffing and other ways to control the battlefield? And are skills (and possibly other mechanics) generally interesting or just basic damage (or healing)?

    And what is there to do beyond combat?

    1. Not really a lot of crowd control elements in this game. Mages get a sleep spell and that’s the extent of what I know about it (but it’s rare to see it used in the parties I’ve played in). There are some interrupts. But enemies become immune to crowd control and interrupts the more you use it on them. So you can’t expect to control the battlefield for an extended time. Mostly it’s tank/DPS/heal.

      Summoner has some debuffs and DOTs, and a few other classes have a few debuff skills. Though, from what I see, most parties just push damage. Each class does have its own flavor to battle, but even classes like Dragoon, who has Jumps, have their major skills on such a long recast timer that the cool stuff doesn’t come as often as I’d like.

      Aside from battle?

      There’s a strong crafting component. Fishing. Eventually they’ll be adding the Golden Saucer, with mini games and chocobo racing. There are treasure hunts (high level gatherers find treasure maps). Leveling your chocobo companion. Leveling your retainers and sending them on ventures. Working up rep with the Grand Company. Hunting logs. Challenge logs (weekly challenges) and dailies where you earn rep with different tribes. Personal housing is upcoming, so decorating that eventually. I always have plenty to do, but I am a pretty casual player.

      Patches come every three months or so, and have added a ton of new content since I began playing. New classes on the horizon, as well as a new expansion confirmed.

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