Square Enix recently celebrated the 4th anniversary of the launch of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, but for many “Warriors of Light” (a nickname given to each character in the game’s story, which is often used to indicate their players as well) have begun their journey much earlier than that.
Like many others, my own “Warrior of Light” moved his first steps on the continent of Eorzea almost exactly seven years ago, when the first version of the game launched on September 30th, 2010.
Abriael was a brave lad since the very beginning. In the first day, without even taking more than an hour to level up a bit, he walked all the way to the northern land of Cohertas, avoiding hundreds of monsters along the way that would kill him in one hit, just to be among the first to stand in front of the gates of Ishgard.
At that time, those gates were firmly closed, like a promise that remained unfulfilled until they finally opened five years later, with the release of the first expansion, Heavensward.
In the meanwhile, Abriael struggled and grew. While the first version of the game, which many call “1.0,” was rough and released way before it was ready, I still connected with it, and enjoyed it in my own way. I met characters and friends (both players and NPCs) that are still by my side today, and many that are now long gone.
As the realms of Eorzea rallied and fought against the Garlean Empire, as Dalamud appeared in the sky and started becoming bigger, signalling the impending catastrophe, as we fought Nael van Darnus, the story weaved itself into our souls.
We stood at Cartenau when the artificial moon burst open, revealing Bahamut inside, and we cried when the screen went black, and Louisoix gave his life to save us all.
We went our separate ways when our Warriors of Light were stuck in limbo for over a year, as we waited for A Realm Reborn. Then we cried once more – with joy – when a brave new world opened in front of us, and we stepped back in a renewed Eorzea.
Old and new friends were there waiting for us, alongside old and new enemies. Many were gone forever, but many more had joined for new adventures.
Together we finally pushed the Garlean Empire beyond our borders, we faced intrigue and murder, we fled past the gates of Ishgard as the world turned against us, and we returned heroes once more after fighting and triumphing in the Dragonsong War.
Afterwards, we turned East, finally driving the liberation of Ala Migho and Doma, fulfilling another promise made seven years ago, and living one of the best stories that the Final Fantasy series ever delivered.
During these seven year, the emotional connection with the world of Final Fantasy XIV has grown stronger and stronger, making it feel nearly a real part of our lives. Characters made only of pixels became friends and enemies, whether they were driven by other players or simply by the brilliant minds of Square Enix’s writers.
This is ultimately the mysterious power of MMORPGs: creating our own characters and sharing them in worlds populated by millions of others contribute to make them feel more real and present. Their stories don’t exist only in our minds, but unfold in a world that has presence. Gradually, they become our stories.
We don’t cry when we think about the battle of Cartenau because it was particularly moving on its own, but because it’s part of our own journey. We were there, standing side by side, until the last moment.
We don’t cry when we remember Haurchefant and Ysayle just because they were compelling characters (and they certainly were), but because they were our friends.
All of those emotions found their climax for me a few days ago, when I attended the first Final Fantasy XIV Orchestra Concert at the Tokyo International Forum in Japan.
They say music is the perfect catalyst for feelings, and while different people are more or less sensitive to it, the concert was truly an emotional journey for the thousands of Warriors of Light sitting in the audience.
The program celebrated the story of Final Fantasy XIV through its beautiful score, bringing back vivid memories and glimpses of all the events we lived in Eorzea. Some were happy, some were sad, and due to how solid the connection with that world and events is, it was truly an emotional rollercoaster.
The audience was enthralled as the program carried us through our adventures in A Realm Reborn, all the way to the end of Heavensward.
While reliving our adventures, we were also celebrating the years of hard work of the development team, represented on stage by the ever-charismatic Director and Producer Naoki Yoshida, the almost superhumanly-creative Composer Masayoshi Soken, and songstress extraordinaire Susan Calloway, whose voice has become the voice of Final Fantasy XIV.
While it was intended as a surprise for the audience, it perhaps was not too surprising to see Final Fantasy maestro Nobuo Uematsu on stage as well, and his legacy and art were greeted with all the enthusiasm they deserve.
Through the veritable storm of emotions, perfectly conducted by Hirofumi Kurita and executed by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, there were moments of brightness: everyone laughed and cheered as Yoshida-san, Uematsu-san and Soken-san walked among the audience playing a quirky tune themselves, like a band of roving moogles.
Those moments starkly contrasted with the nearly physical sensations of nostalgia and grief summoned by images of Haurchefant’s passing and perhaps even more Ysayle’s sacrifice, underlined by Shiva’s moving theme song Oblivion.
At that point, I had completely given up holding back my tears, and I was crying with no real restraint. Glancing around me, I could easily see that I wasn’t the only one, and I certainly didn’t find many who weren’t at least misty-eyed.
The whole performance, majestic and touching, offered a near-perfect match between music and images. It was a celebration of our long journey, and perhaps an exciting promise of many more miles that we’re going to travel together with the other Warriors of Light, led by Yoshida-san, Soken-san and Uematsu-san, smiling and crying at the echoes of Calloway’s angelic voice.
At the end, following several much welcome encores, the audience answered overwhelmingly, with several minutes of applause. Before all was said and done, as the roaring clapping continued, many (yours truly included) stood up. Standing ovations are very, very rare in Japan, but the Final Fantasy XIV Orchestra Concert certainly deserved it.
Final Fantasy XIV is currently available for PS4 and PC.
If you want to hear more from Naoki Yoshida himself, you can read our recent interview from Gamescom. You should also check out our review of the latest expansion, Stormblood, and the latest information on the upcoming update “The Legend Returns” which will be released on October 10th.