Final Fantasy XIV: Dawntrail Wants To Give You The Best Summer Vacation Ever

Final Fantasy XIV: Dawntrail Wants To Give You The Best Summer Vacation Ever

AFinal Fantasy XIV concluded a massive saga when Endwalker released at the tail end of 2021, and has spent the patches since planting seeds about where it’s headed next. Dawntrail, the long-running MMO’s fifth expansion, is the product of those seeds, and it’s taking players to Tural, a Mesoamerican-inspired land dubbed “The New World.” I recently got the chance to spend about ten hours with a preview build of Dawntrail ( my lodging and travel was provided by publisher Square Enix), which included exploring the expansion’s new dungeon and its two new jobs. I also sat down with game director, Naoki Yoshida, to chat about the team’s goals in representing other cultures.

Though I remain wary of how Final Fantasy 14 might handle the thornier aspects of depicting cultures close to my own Dominican heritage, much of what I was shown does at least indicate that Dawntrail will make for yet another exciting and deep expansion to everyone’s favorite critically acclaimed MMO.

Grab your floaties y’all, it’s summer vacation

It’s a running joke in Final Fantasy 14 that just as things seem to be settling down and characters implore the Warrior of Light (your player character) to rest after saving the world again, another conflict arises that keeps them from getting their well-deserved break. The same seems to be true of Dawntrail, which pulls them to a whole new land to tK TK WHY,. But this latest important mission hasn’t stopped FF14 director Naoki Yoshida from telling players to envision Dawntrail as the Warrior of Light’s summer vacation.

Tural, the new land featured in Dawntrail, seems as appropriate a place as any to spend a summer break. It’s tropical and looks warm as hell, and many of the cultural touchstones that Tural takes inspiration from originated in Mesoamerican countries, like Mexico, where white people are known to vacation. The team has also promised a ton of fun new arcs, including a tournament storyline that I’m sure folks will enjoy and more. Though the preview build that was made available to us was limited in how much of Tural (and its people) we could see and interact with, it looked and felt like a true slice of Central America, rather than a cheap caricature.

This was a specific concern of mine, as well as my joint interviewer and colleague Kate Sanchez of But Why Tho. As Latinos, we’re used to our cultures getting bastardized by dishonest lenses or lazy writing, which often reduce us to tropes and mechanisms rather than see us as diverse and distinct people. Each of us are radically different versions of what a person might call a latino, and we always hope that we’re acknowledged and understood as part of a much larger and richer tapestry than our two individual (and different) backgrounds.

Final Fantasy 14, and Yoshida himself, have faced tremendous backlash in the past over the perceived whitening of previously dark-skinned characters, as well as the conspicuous lack of diverse characters in both 14 and Final Fantasy 16, which Yoshida produced. It made his answers to our questions refreshing, and a little relieving, even if the game still has to prove itself.

Weaving a tapestry

During our interview, Sanchez asked Yoshida about Dawntrail’s specific inspirations, considering the lengths of the Latin Diaspora, which saw Latin American people spread across the world, forming their own cultures and dialects. Dawntrail and Tural feel shaped by two distinct forces: the team’s desire to explore someplace new and different from what it’s always known, and the feedback that it’s received over the curious absences of other perspectives and kinds of people in FF14. According to Yoshida, the team had already been doing exhaustive research into Latin American regions of the world, but as he also jokes, “I’m sure a lot of players have wanted to see tacos being featured in the game.” With cultural touchstones like food in mind, and a narrative that supposedly centers “understanding,” the team set about creating a world that tries to honor Latino culture and its multitudes.

Image: Square Enix

When I asked Yoshida about his and his team’s excitement for exploring a culture so outside of their respective purviews, he stepped back a bit and stressed that the team doesn’t view FF14’s expansion into Tural as some completion of an objective or quota. “I don’t think we want to specifically target this culture,” Yoshida answered via translator, suggesting that he and his team are not scooping up diverse cultures to satisfy some type of quota.

Instead, Yoshida, who’s often viewed by FF14’s fandom with reverence for his devotion to the FF universe, thinks of himself and his team as conductors of the kind of fantasy the players want to see. When he tells us that he wants to gauge fan reactions and continue to tell the kind of stories that they want, or when he mentions earlier in the interview that player feedback about implementing Latin American perspectives helped shape Dawntrail, I believe him. He’s molded FF14 to its audience time and time again, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse, and Dawntrail doesn’t seem particularly different in this regard. Question the efficacy of his efforts all you want (I will continue to), but he clearly places FF14’s community first. Because of that we now have tacos, female Hrothgars (Latina queens), the land of Tural, and what I hope will be an honest portrayal of cultures like my own.

It may come across as a joke, but Yoshida and his team are quite proud of how they’ve treated aspects like food, which are huge touchstones for any culture. Various towns and villages around Tural, such as the hub of Tuliyollal, will have their own respective foods that differ from each other, so don’t expect to find the same dishes or exports in Urgopacha that you would elsewhere., .There will be melting pots, but the team is also taking the time to make sure Tural is broadly representative of many of the real differences in Latino cultures. And for the record, those are some Latino-ass names for those locales, so on first whiff at least, Dawntrail’s passing the smell test.

Time for a summer job

As is par for the course, Dawntrail not only adds a whole new section of the world to explore but entirely new jobs for players to adopt as they tackle Tural’s new challenges. These jobs are the melee-focused DPS Viper and the ranged-DPS Pictomancer, which are so visually and tonally distinct from one another that it’s hard picturing them as a part of the same expansion.

The Viper has a rogue, swashbuckling pirate vibe to them. If you’ve seen the promotional materials for Dawntrail, then you’ve seen the stand-in for the Warrior of Light in the Viper’s garb. The Viper’s gimmick is complicated, and so is making the most of the Viper’s extensive kit and skillset. Their weapon has two shapes, beginning in a one-handed form before one of your weapon skills transforms it into dual blades more fitting of an archetypal RPG rogue.

Whereas most jobs quickly settle into familiar skill rotations that can churn out the most damage, the Viper’s rotations are complex and branching. You can wail on the same command and get a satisfying combo going, but changing even one step of it for an alternative attack might generate an entirely different buff and subsequent effect. For most classes, this could be confused for a dropped rotation, but Viper feels infinitely more improvisational in the way that most of its individual skills still feed into its deeper capabilities. It will certainly require someone with a deep understanding of how to maximize DPS to wring everything from the Viper class.

Image: Square Enix

The entire time that you’re attacking as a Viper, you’re also building two gauges. One allows them to generate and store three charges of the aforementioned weaponskill that transforms the singular blade into dual swords, unlocking a whole new set of abilities that can generate even further combos. By the time that I got comfortable with the Viper, I was able to maintain lengthy combos without any dropped inputs that featured various weapon transformations. The job’s second gauge keeps track of something called Serpent’s Ire, which generates a certain amount of meter based on the rotations that you pull off. Getting to 50 (or half of the gauge) allows the Viper to go into a high-powered state that transforms most of their existing abilities into moves called generations and legacies. You’ll see skills labeled first through fourth generation, and you’ll want to do them in order, but every use of a generation move will also unlock a complimentary follow up legacy technique. In this situation, I fell back on a combo that executed the current generation and its accompanying legacy before moving onto the next until I had an eight-step combo which culminated in a pure burst of energy and a hefty chunk of damage to whoever was on the receiving end.

Viper is easily the most involved DPS I’ve ever played, especially considering the fact that I’m so used to jobs like Samurai where I’m able to just check out for the most part. It certainly runs the risk of alienating folks who were hoping for something flashy and immediately accessible, but I think if you’re looking for a deep job that requires an immense amount of thought and micromanaging, Viper will do the trick.

Pictomancer isn’t a straightforward gig either, but it’s at least a few difficulty notches below Viper’s branching combos. Pictomancer’s skills are all colors that are approximations of spells and elements seen in FF14, such as the color red and fire. The execution of a combo ending in blue will generate charges that can be used to deploy Holy, otherwise known as white here, and players can also use area-of-effect variants of the same colors to also generate the same charges while taking out multiple creatures.

Pictomancer can completely swap their palette though, allowing for entirely different elements which generate a darker charge used to deploy Comet instead of holy. While players can bounce between the palettes, Pictomancer’s most wild gimmick allows it to draw aspects of monsters and make them real, such as a damaging gale from a monster’s wings or the sting of its bite. First the player has to draw the aspect to unlock its skill, which adds the drawing to a series of canvases on screen. For example, the Pictomancer can draw a comically large hammer, which they then expressively swing like a cartoon character. Filling every canvas eventually allows the Pictomancer to deploy a high-damage attack that combines them all, but upon its use, the canvases are cleared to begin the cycle again. And this is only just scratching the surface of the Pictomancer’s intimidating range of abilities.

Business as usual

For all of its extravagances and new jobs to play with, the main content of the preview, a lone dungeon, was the most familiar part of the whole Dawntrail affair. Beginning in the midst of a chase along a river, the dungeon moved through much of the same motions of dungeons I’ve encountered before, and players shouldn’t expect much to be different here, though it was still an exciting mission by all accounts.

Image: Square Enix

You are routed through a series of three boss fights, and each has their own set of mechanics that need mastery for you to survive. The first fight was pretty standard, attacking with large AoE techniques that needed to be dodged while simultaneously doing damage. The second fight featured a monster that would summon large vines from underground and risked flattening players.Without the usual ground markers telegraphing their attacks until the last minute, you had to actually size up the vines and the directions they were facing in order to avoid heavy damage or being reset if you were playing solo. The final fight featured my favorite mechanic of the entire dungeon, which was a moving tornado that also then shot out AoE techniques in a star like pattern around it, which called for precision to avoid.

I had a blast playing through it numerous times over, and its last fight was a particularly delightful, dizzying dance, making Dawntrail’s dungeons about up to snuff with the exemplary stuff you’ve come to expect from the game by now.

Elsewhere, I got to see some of 7.0’s other shiny new features, such as the overhaul of FF14’s graphics. Though I’ve never found the game to be anything short of pretty, MMOs aren’t often known for their visual fidelity, especially as far as character models and environments. But FF14 has taken some mighty big steps with 7.0, which renders Tural’s countryside with stunning vivacity. Fields are much more lush as well and even just the detail on my beautiful female Hrothgar character (also new to Dawntrail) was several notches above the models currently in the game. Fidelity isn’t usually a point of emphasis for me, but I can’t deny that FF14 has successfully glowed up, and even more changes will continue to roll out over the course of the next few years.

All in all, Dawntrail is shaping up to be a promising expansion. Though Yoshida’s warned that it may not necessarily mark the start of FF14’s next sweeping saga, it is still a big step for the game and its team, which appears to be stepping out of its comfort zone with Tural. I will be watching it carefully, but if our conversations have illuminated anything, it’s that the team’s aware of what a big deal it’ll be to get this right. So much else about the expansion, including its intense new jobs and vibrant locale, that this team knows what it’s doing. Now all that’s left to do is see if Dawntrail successfully gives its players the best summer break ever when it arrives on July 2, 2024.

Disclaimer: This article is based on the play of an in-development build of FINAL FANTASY XIV: Dawntrail, and content in the final version is subject to change.

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