Excellent destruction, very top-notch work
I mentioned in the intro that Final Fantasy games kind of require the whole world to fall apart sooner or later. This has been done with varying degrees of success, with Final Fantasy VI setting the bar by letting you try to stop it and fail completely. (Spoiler warning for an 18-year-old game, I guess.) Sometimes it's mostly an implied end of society via war (Final Fantasy XII), sometimes it's vague and not terribly ominous (Final Fantasy VII), and sometimes it leads to worlds literally colliding (Final Fantasy XIII).
FFXIV faces the unique problem of making it clear that everything is falling apart while at the same time giving players the room to actually play the game. And for much of the events, this has been accomplished through a very simple method: the sky. Dalamud has been hovering there for a while, first vague, then obvious, then ever-larger, and now omnipresent. But there have been other hints, chiefly that patches have kept pitting players against increasingly powerful incarnations of the Primals and the Empire -- back and forth, bounced against two forces driving the land to the brink of destruction.
Now we're past that brink and past the final save. Now, anything goes. And so the walls have been broken down, and suddenly, the cities aren't safe any longer. There are fairly safe regions, but you can also see swarms of drakes and Imperial soldiers in the streets of Ul'dah. The latest update has even allowed you to start mounting in the city, recognizing that the boundaries between where you can and can't go have become increasingly thin.
On the ground level, this is immensely effective. It drives home just how alien the world is becoming as you witness aggressive monsters roaming once-docile streets beneath a stormy and ominous sky. About the only place that doesn't seem to be completely damaged is Mor Dhona, and that's mostly because tension was already business as usual in those parts. The steady updates have provided a much-needed feel of the world falling apart and safety becoming a much more relative concept.
I don't actually know what's happening
There's also been some pretty good storytelling going on regarding the Grand Companies. But here lies something I do have to take issue with because it's been a single vertical storyline pitting us against Van Darnus in the end... with no direct impact on the bottom level.
Now, I like the idea that beating Darny-boy does not, in fact, stop anything. Far from being a load-bearing boss, the dude has already set stuff into motion that we're going to be cleaning up for a long while. But the fact of the matter is that if you missed a step along the quest line, you were locked out of the story progression, especially since the game's population is pretty thin and not really blessed with the time to repeat this content endlessly. Miss a moment and you miss a whole lot.
I'm not saying that Darnus Darnus Bo Barnus should be hanging around a shed outside of Gridania and going down after two punches. I'm lamenting that the only way to get the picture of what was going on was a single vertical branch rather than a journey through more horizontal progression to see what was going on in the world as a whole. Separate lines make sure that everyone gets in on the story, even if not everyone gets a cage match with the capital-B bad.
The ramp effect
One thing is being handled perfectly thus far: the conclusion. Even if you've missed some parts of the story, you can be there for the big finale, a last desperate stand in Mor Dhona that will be running this weekend. And it promises to be a good chance to go out with a bang because, you know, that big event in the trailer? That last stand against the Empire when everything falls apart? That's what's going on here.
Yes, this is the end of the world that you're going to be saved from.
But we don't know what happens next, exactly. Are we going to be thrown into a ball of timey-wimey stuff and sent back in time or to an alternate universe? Will the calamity hit and then pass? Will it be five minutes in the past or five years? What's going to happen when that moon hits the ground?
I don't know. But it's really cool that the game has slowly turned a nebulous doom into a very immediate and present threat, and that covers a multitude of sins. No matter what happens with the next version, any other game will be hard-pressed to match this level of concluding event.
As always, feedback is welcome down below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. I know I say it every week, but it bears repeating. Next week, in wake of the shutdown, I'm going to shift gears and talk about what I'll miss from the old version. (I already did a column on the stuff I won't miss, after all.)
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.