The obvious narrative reason, of course, is that it would be really boring if the players all started a million miles from anything of importance. And there's certainly the inspiration of the game to be considered: Greece's city-states and their war against the Persian Empire. But there's more to it than that. Eorzea has, mostly through accident, become the lynchpin of a bigger struggle and the home to something much bigger than itself.
Oddly, much of that struggle really doesn't concern the more humanoid inhabitants. It concerns the beastmen.
It would be lying to say that the people of Eorzea have an amicable relationship with the beastmen, but there is a certain level of understanding. The beastmen harvest and provide the crystal shards that fuel much of the crafting in the city-states, which means that as distasteful as some of their habits may be, they're a necessary evil. It means that while Gridania and the Ixali fence at one another, there's no real concentrated effort for one side to wipe the other out.
Actually, that summarizes the state of affairs between the nations pretty well, prior to the current conflict. Every so often, one nation would invade another, there would be an active war, and then everyone would simmer back down to a mild hatred and get on with business. It's not a peaceful state of affairs, but it's a maintainable one mostly because the beastmen never really had reason to call upon their deities, the Primals.
The crystals are the essence of the Primals. To the beastmen, the Primals are gods. To the Eorzeans, they're dark rumors that no one is terribly eager to investigate. And to the Garleans, they are an affront to existence itself.
Garleans refer to the beasts as eikons and see them as nothing more than horrid magical abominations, fit only for removal. If the beastmen covet these beasts, then the beast tribes must be put to the sword. And if city-states are going to actually allow these creatures to take root in their land, well, they're as bad as the devil-worshipping beastmen to begin with. In other words, to the Empire, Eorzea is the center of a disease that needs to be stamped out promptly before it threatens the whole of the continent.
So they pushed, and then they stopped at Ala Mhigo. And now there's been a very long span of time for the various city-states to try to get themselves together and fend off the assault.
The efforts have gone... well, not exactly poorly. But the three Grand Companies each illustrate a core problem with the situation. Every Eorzean citizen wants to ensure that the land is safe, but no Ul'dahn is going to march off and create a Gridanian army because everyone knows where that army will be pointed the second the Garleans are pushed back. And so the three Companies march into battle with an uneasy truce, but with every single Company having aims beyond simply defeating the Empire. The Adders want to push all intruders from the Shroud, the Flames wish to ensure that the economies of the other great nations are reliant upon Ul'dah, and the Maelstrom looks to go from defending to conquering as fast as possible.
Oh, and there's also the not-so-minor issue that even bigger portents are appearing on the horizon. Portents of something big happening in Eorzea, ones that nobody is really entirely clear on. Oh, sure, there are prophecies and some suggestions, but as with many unique events, no one actually knows what's going to happen when the age ticks over. In fact, the only thing that seems clear from what we know of version 2.0 is that it's going to be big and painful, and the best Eorzea's citizens can hope for is that it's worse for the Empire.
At which point they can start pointing their weapons at each other.
In short, Eorzea is a focal point in the world of Final Fantasy XIV by a combination of bad luck and unique geography. What comes next remains to be seen, but it's always possible that the wide world might be in even worse shape after the new age rolls around. We'll just have to stick around on this unusually busy little corner of the world and see what's next.
I hope you enjoyed today's more lore-flavored look at the game; comments, of course, can be left in the comment field or sent along to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week I'm a little unsure about, but I think I'm going to talk about incentives for grouping, how to work them well, and where both of the games this column covers miss some key points.
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.