But this week's plan wasn't to talk about the patch; it was to talk about beastmen once again. Regular readers will note that I've already spoken about beastmen once before, taking a look at the often fascinating societies of non-human creatures living outside of the major cities. (I'm using "human" as a blanket term here for hume, elvaan, tarutaru, etc.) Today, I want to look at this in a bit more depth. What exactly do both Final Fantasy XIV and Final Fantasy XI use the beastmen for in terms of storytelling? What makes them compelling and interesting?
"I... am not... an animal!"
One of the things that I mentioned liking about the original beastmen was the fact that they are clearly meant to be related to a sort of animal. The Quadavs are turtles, the Yagudo are crows, the Mamool Ja are snakes, and so forth. FFXIV's tribes aren't quite as good about that, and until you've heard the Ixal called bird-men several times, you won't see it. Afterward... well, OK, I'm just going to say it's hard to design bird-men in a way that doesn't look like the Yagudo and give it a pass.
Of course, that's neglecting the fact that several of the beast tribes don't resemble any animal but rather are clearly different from the player races. Goblins are pretty far removed even from Tarutaru or Lalafells, even if you can't point to them and draw a parallel to an animal.
Mentally, however, these races are easily on par with player abilities. Some of them might have odd ways of speaking, certainly, but once you overcome the language barriers involved, there's nothing preventing an Ixal from discussing matters intelligently with a Hyur. But in both games, one way or another, the beast tribes are marginalized and set off from the other races, rarely even welcome within the city limits. In FFXIV, it's as a reaction to the Empire's distaste of these "lesser races" and a long-standing distrust; in Final Fantasy XI, it's mostly due to a casual racism and disregard that's permeated three of the four major nations for years on end. (Windurst genuinely does try to treat the Yagudo as a neighboring nation, to its credit.)
The interesting part of this is that in both games, the issue is handled very gently and delicately, with the metaphor working as neither a direct stand-in for real racism nor an idealized justification. Without a doubt, San d'Oria has spent a lot of time antagonizing the Orcs and hunting them mercilessly; at the same time, the Orcs are aggressive and would do the same if roles were reversed. FFXIV's Sylphs are almost able to communicate effectively with the player races, but there are such huge chunks of their experience that are so alien to humans that the relationship is strained at best. We're shown the tragedy of the lack of communication, but at the same time we're shown that everyone can't just be friends after centuries of bad blood and poor choices on both sides.
Through a mirror darkly
What's equally interesting, however, is that beastmen have another parallel to player races: They have the same mechanics.
In FFXIV, this is a bit less pronounced than in FFXI. But in both cases, while the beastmen have some abilities that are unique to the race standing in for some class abilities, they do have a class. They use the same weapons that players do, in more or less the same manner. Beast tribes aren't just similar to players in culture but similar to players in the sense that they adhere to the same rules of the universe as players.
This might not seem like an important distinction, but both games make a big deal out of tying classes to something in lore, making these game mechanics an ingrained part of the actual world players inhabit. And most monsters do not have jobs, even humanoid ones. The fact that beastmen have specific classes, that you can recognize a Goblin Red Mage or an Amalj'aa Pugilist, means that the game reinforces the idea that these creatures are part of a larger society -- a society that stretches into the parts of the world where the cities do not have purchase, places with different rules of behavior, places where you are the interloper.
If you want to be really advanced in your literary analysis, you can even go so far as to point out that the important difference between most beastmen and players is that the beastmen don't come marching into your home city to kill you for shinies. That analysis is a bit harder to hold up when you look at what keeps going down in Whitegate, but you can still go there.
Ultimately, that's the big part of the beastmen that's held up through both games -- the idea that they are these alien species. The player races are slightly different, but there's nothing searingly unusual about them; heck, FFXIV downplayed the feline aspects of the miqo'te and made them a bit more human-looking. The beastmen, though, function in ways that are completely separate from what we're familiar with, and yet they're still intelligent and capable of behaving as members of society.
They feel like, well, fantastical other races. And is that so strange?
As always, feedback is welcome in the comments or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week... yes. The patch. I can't say I will have gone through everything (definitely not the Ifrit battle, for instance), but I'll try to go through what I can.
From Eorzea to Vana'diel, there is a constant: the moogles. And for analysis and opinions about the online portions of the Final Fantasy series, there is also a constant: The Mog Log. Longtime series fan Eliot Lefebvre serves up a new installment of the log every Saturday, covering almost anything related to Square-Enix's vibrant online worlds.