Epic stories demand epic stakes all the time: evils to face, worlds to save, the chance for you to be, or watch or read along with, a hero who takes it all on and triumphs, only to be called into action time and time again. Final Fantasy XIV does exactly that, but in its latest chapter, it also asks you to do something altogether different: be a hero on their downtime.
This week, the beloved MMORPG released its first major content update since the release of its latest expansion, Endwalker, in December 2021. Patch 6.1, titled Newfound Adventure, picks up where the story of that expansion left off — a climactic culmination of a story Final Fantasy XIV had been building itself towards since it relaunched in 2013.
Endwalker carried the weight of eight years of storytelling on its shoulders, and for the most part pulled that off to tell a sweeping, epic tale of apocalypses long in the making, bold and daring plans of sacrifice hatched across generations of time, love, loss, and saving not just a world, but a universe from complete devastation. It culminates with a fight between you, your best friends, and the magical embodiment of the concept of existential despair transformed into an almighty being capable of drowning and dooming entire worlds with a song of dread. You know, big old fantasy stuff. You’re the hero. Hope and friendship beats evil. The day is saved, you attack, and you dethrone about as close to a capital-G-God as you might get, which is saying something because you kill gods every other week in Final Fantasy XIV.
Newfound Adventure is the direct opposite of that. Your hero might be the ultimate hero, a Warrior of Light now known as the saviour of not just your home but your entire existence, but times have changed for them. Their closest allies, their duties fulfilled, have gone into something of a retirement, disbanding their organisation — the Scions of the Seventh Dawn — to go pursue their own interests. You have changed as well, your very relationship to the world as the former fated guardian of its crystalline deity now upended and transformed with your duty done, leaving you longing for the simple life of being a wandering adventure, as you once were when your journey was just beginning.
You may have also stopped being a Bunny boy scythe-wielding Reaper, and changed class and appearance alike to be a Lion man who summons primal deities for fun and large amounts of damage. But that might just be me.
new patch, new me pic.twitter.com/CDH0btsVcu
— James Whitbrook (@Jwhitbrook) April 13, 2022
Lion man or otherwise, Newfound Adventure tees off a new chapter for Final Fantasy XIV — its developers teasing that this is the beginning of another decade-long saga akin to the escalation from A Realm Reborn, XIV’s reboot, all the way up to Endwalker. But it does so in a profoundly charming manner: by not being the stage-setter for some big, sweeping fantasy story about good and evil. Or at least, not yet. Instead it acknowledges that its world has just reckoned with an escape from calamity, that your character has just saved the universe as you know it, and instead asks: what if you just wanted to hang out and faff about with a few of your friends?
While there is some stage-setting here and there in Newfound Adventure’s new story quests, its primary narrative thread is about your character reuniting with a few of your fellow Scions — Estinien, the brooding Dragoon, and Y’shtola, the powerful Mage in particular — as you try to re-establish yourself as a rumour-chasing, coin-earning adventurer for hire, and also see what they’re up to now that they don’t have to run and fight like the world is literally at stake every day of their lives. Some of them are busy with relief efforts in the wake of Endwalker’s devastation of the world, some are, like you, chasing the life of an adventurer themselves. Some are following old hobbies and studying ancient texts and magical items, for research and perhaps preparation should they ever need to help save the universe again. And some of them are either perfectly happy to drag you into an adventure for that research, like the aforementioned Y’shtola, or some are just eager to be dragged away from that research and do something exciting again, like your fellow scholarly ally G’raha Tia.
It’s all very low stakes. There’s hardly any combat within the story quests of Newfound Adventure, save for a dungeon you trek into, because, well, it’s new content in an MMORPG and you have to have a new dungeon to run around in. And while like I said, some seeds are thrown for threats down the line to make themselves known to you, that’s moreso for the player rather than your character to know. For the most part, they’re just vibing: head empty, having fun, going on little adventures for coin and conversation with old friends. That means you are as well.
Endwalker was an incredibly cathartic release on Final Fantasy XIV’s built-up narrative. The way XIV is structured around heavily gated, linear story-driven content, playing through this sweeping climax of hundreds upon hundreds of hours of storytelling and character work is an emotional rollercoaster for even the least-interested player. Throwing you right back into the deep end of things with big stakes and bigger bads to go smack in the face for loot and emotional satisfaction would’ve cheapened both the dire stakes of that story you just went through, and whatever new threat that could’ve been thrown at you. Final Fantasy XIV understands that you can’t just keep the dial always cranked up to 11, and for those stakes to feel truly dire for you and your characters, there has to be this wax and wane in the sense of scale.
That’s often hard to get right in a world of seemingly endless franchises and sequelization, where the stakes always have to keep building and building and building. And admittedly, “hey, come back to play this game and hang out” may not be as big an immediate sell as “you are the chosen hero who has to save the whole universe.” But Final Fantasy XIV’s position as an MMO, a living story that keeps on going as long as the game does, lets it do something that few epic adventure tales rarely can: sit and see what happens when a world has to go on, when characters have to go on, when the big world-ending threat is dealt with.
Right now, for Final Fantasy XIV, what happens is hanging with your former comrades and chilling out a bit. There’ll be battles to come: right now you’ve earned a rest, and that can be just as satisfying an experience as battling gods and monsters.
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