Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn’s Story Does Right What the Original FFXIV Did Wrong

While I wait to be ready to write my upcoming preview of the third phase of the beta of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, let’s talk about something that normally doesn’t find much room in previews and reviews due to all the talk about gameplay and other more technical aspects of a MMORPG: the story.

And storytelling is not a secondary element here: we’re talking about a Final Fantasy game, and I’d say it’s very safe to assume that most gamers don’t buy games from Square Enix’s historical franchise primarily for their gameplay, but for their deep and intricate plots and lovingly written and detailed characters, that spark involvement and immersion.

While in Beta 1 and 2 we got some very sparse glimpses on the overarching plots that are supposed to give Square Enix’s upcoming MMORPG its typical Final Fantasy flavor, Beta 3 finally allowed us to see more of what the game offers in terms of storytelling, by making a large part of the main storyline accessible and by unlocking its previously obscured cutscenes.

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The original Final Fantasy XIV made a couple fatal mistakes with storytelling, at least before the new Producer and Director Naoki Yoshida reshuffled the team and steered that trainwreck around.

First of all, our character was not the real protagonist of the story: he was a mute and dull bystander that most of the times just watched the events unfold around him, and just happened to be around to kill stuff when necessary. Even our “path companion”, ended up having a more relevant role in the story, de facto diminishing our character to the role of follower/companion.

The apparent justification for this choice was that in a MMORPG the player character can’t be the “hero”, because there are too many of them, and this would lead to a world with no continuity in which everyone is the hero.

The disastrous result of this kind of implementation was that the story simply didn’t feel involving or epic. There was absolutely no emotional connection with our dull character, and players simply didn’t care about what happened, just clicking through the events in order to get to the next fight quicker and continue with their progression. Even the less relevant class quests were more fun and engaging than the main storyline, and for a Final Fantasy game this is a critical flaw.

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The second large problem with the original game’s storytelling was that the team pushed excessively on abstract concepts. The main character had a power called “Echo”, that allowed him to mentally connect with his peers and view their past like they were part of it. While this could be considered a relatively clever (even if a tad lazy) plot device, it was implemented in an incredibly confusing way.

The effect that marked the passage to the Echo was very subtle and easily missable, meaning that in most cases most players simply didn’t have the slightest idea on whether they were seeing an event happening in the present or from the past. The whole thing was so confusing that many just assumed that everything was present tense and missed a large part of the meaning the story, that didn’t even make sense that way, creating a further detaching effect with their character. Let’s not even go into the fact that this strengthened further the sensation that our character was simply a helpless and half useless bystander.

With the advent of Yoshida-san things started to change: The player character was placed more and more at the center at the events instead of being relegated to the edge, and the writers reduced the “echo” moments radically, giving the story a clearer continuity and more emotional involvement.

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Naoki Yoshida and his team fully realized that they didn’t really need to force a continuity in which no one was the “hero”, and that since the story events unfolded separately on everyone’s screen, they simply didn’t need to justify the coexistence of everyone’s own version of the story. Everyone can be the hero in his own personal version of the world.

After that, the “End of an Era” storyline started to create a deep connection between players, the story and the game itself. They were placed at the very focus of the events that were leading to the destruction of the world (and the closure of the game) , and to its rebirth. It was an unprecedented idea (applied to an unprecedented situation) that turned out epic, involving and at times even moving.

The part below this point contains extremely light spoilers. Nothing said here really mentions any relevant plot events that happen beyond the first story quest, so you should be able to read safely. That said, continue at your own risk.

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Fast forward several months and now we can finally experience the “sequel” of that story. The starting point is simple but very clever. The adventurers that were sent to safety through space and time by Louisoix’s last act of self sacrifice during the last battle of the old game, appear in Cohertas five years later, and return to their home cities to discover that they’re considered missing and celebrated as heroes, named “Warriors of Light”.

It’s hard not to feel deeply moved when you see relevant NPCs remembering the deeds you were part of in the previous game, and every time they seem to be on the verge of actually remembering that you’re indeed one of those Warriors of Light (apparently Louisoix’s spell didn’t just remove them from the battlefield but also blurred the memories of them in the minds of the people of Eorzea), you find yourself sitting on the edge of your seat with a knot in your stomach.

Narration is also much smoother and less confusing because, while the Echo didn’t disappear, now its effect is made clearly visible, allowing players to easily distinguish whether they’re looking at the past or at the present.

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While old players are rightfully celebrated, new players shouldn’t feel left out, as they’re seen as the new generation of heroes, and their deeds are saluted on par with those of the missing Warriors of Light, creating a strong feeling of purpose and a reason to fight.

And that’s the whole point: whether you’re a returning player that saw the last battle of the old Eorzea, or a new player braving Final Fantasy XIV‘s world for the first time, you are the hero. The events revolve around you, not around other people you care little about with your character reduced to a mere bystander that just happens to be there as he looks wide-eyed on all those glorious heroes doing the actual exciting stuff.

I won’t spoil the actual events, but your character’s effort don’t go unnoticed, and connection between player and character is built properly by giving the latter the role a true Final Fantasy  protagonist. You’re not the Final Fantasy XIV equivalent of Barret, Zell or Wakka anymore, but you’re like Cloud, Squall or Yuna, and it feels a lot more fulfilling and engaging.

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Ultimately the original Final Fantasy XIV had many flaws, but the real, crippling weak link was the all-important story, that simply makes or breaks a Final Fantasy game. While we still have to wait for this August to see if Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn will pass the test of gameplay, we can pretty much say that it didn’t repeat its predecessor’s fatal mistake: the story is there, and it’s that Final Fantasy we know and love. No doubt about that.

Editor’s Note: If you didn’t play the first Final Fantasy XIV and plan on playing A Realm Reborn, you may want to check out the eight episodes of our The Story So Far column, that will get you up to speed with the story and help you enjoy the plot of the new game better, considering that it’s a direct sequel.


Join the Discussion

  • foureyes oni

    i don’t think the story was why people didn’t like ffxiv. i’m pretty sure of it. lol. now the main reason i didn’t like it was lack of content. there was like absolutely nothing to do when it first came out.

    • Giuseppe Nelva

      Many didn’t like the game for a variety of reasons, but the story was definitely a critical flaw, and for a Final Fantasy game, that’s a more relevant flaw than lack of content or clunky gameplay.

      • foureyes oni

        For a final fantasy game yes but for an mmo its not as big an issue. The game was nowhere near being finished when it was released all it really had was the beginning of a storyline , the world , and its monsters. No special dungeons, raids, summoning monsters to fight, materia crafting , or mini games it was a pretty bare game. The story just felt like an introduction to some massive event like i would say your 6 hours into an 40 hour rpg. The only real problem i had with the storyline was that it was spread so far apart between levels that i would forget the feeling of the story.

        • ChadAwkerman

          I agree that the story IS important, especially for a Final Fantasy game, MMO or not. But, I do get what you are saying, foureyes. An MMO has the luxury of adding story in stages. Most MMOs with heavy lore do this.

          I don’t really think the story, per se, was one of the big reasons why FFXIV bombed originally. With an MMO, even a Final Fantasy one where the story should be a big part, it usually lives and dies by the gameplay and content (of which, admittedly, the story is part of).

          Personally, I don’t care if a game has an amazing story, if the gameplay is lackluster and the content is lacking, there isn’t much there to keep me playing.

          • foureyes oni

            kinda felt weird saying that the story was not a big issue when i love reading. It should be one of the major elements that draws you into that world initially and keeps you talking about.

        • Giuseppe Nelva

          But FFXIV wasn’t just a MMO. It was a Final Fantasy MMO. It’s primary target was Final Fantasy fans, not just MMORPG players in general.

          Even if the story could have been seen as an “introduction”, misplacing the main character role away from the player simply made the whole story feel diluted, and you can be sure that a lot of Final Fantasy fans would have been a lot more lenient with the game if the story was more engaging.

          Final Fantasy XI had a much more engaging story from the very beginning, and didn’t launch in a much better condition than Final Fantasy XIV. Yet it persevered.

          I’m not saying it’s ok to provide a MMORPG with no content and bad gameplay as long as it has a good story, but a Final Fantasy game without a good story, no matter if it’s a single player RPG or a MMORPG is like Call of Duty without guns.

          • foureyes oni

            i think the whole misplacing the character role was because they couldn’t figure out an effective way of putting them in the cut scenes convincingly. it was less make this your story but more follow this story that is happening around you. honestly the character i lovingly leveled felt like a random unimportant stranger following the news instead of a major player in world events. the story was okay (not legendary ff quality stuff) i just didn’t feel invested in it with the way they included me in it. and time for bed.

  • Nicholas Perry

    “Everyone can be the hero in his own personal version of the world.”

    That’s the problem with MMOs and story in general. It’s just as generic and boring as the other option. Stories as it stands are far from the reason to play ANY MMO. The gameplay pacing and interaction with people from the real world break any semblance of immersion and plot pacing within the story.

    Which is why I wish games like FFXIV and Aion for example were single player offline games. Because they have good stories, but it is absolutely impossible for me to truly appreciate or get immersed in any way in the story of an MMO other than the world history.