I’m Begging Final Fantasy 14 Players To Just Read The Dialogue In Dawntrail

I’m Begging Final Fantasy 14 Players To Just Read The Dialogue In Dawntrail

According to some players, Final Fantasy 14’s new Dawntrail expansion has a story problem. It’s boring, plot points aren’t explained properly, and it is by and large unimportant, or so go the criticisms. Of course, what those complaints don’t tell you is that a lot of the people behind them are also skipping through large swaths of the story. It’s not a new problem to Final Fantasy 14, but it is one that Dawntrail is bringing back to the forefront. Some Final Fantasy 14 players have a problem of their own, and it’s a lack of willingness to engage with the game’s methodical storytelling in its entirety.

The discourse over how Dawntrail, and Final Fantasy 14 at large, tells its story heated back up thanks to a post on X from a user complaining about story-critical information being put in non-voiced cutscenes during the latest expansion. For non-Warriors of Light, FF14 tells its story in three main ways. The first is voiced cutscenes, which are typically climactic story moments brought to life by the game’s wonderful cast. Second are non-voiced cutscenes, which use text bubbles at the bottom of the screen for dialogue between characters. Finally, the most low-stakes dialogue and story details are typically communicated outside of cutscenes through text bubbles when picking up quests. As demonstrated by the initial social media post, many players have created a hierarchy in their heads of how story-critical each type of cutscene is to determine if they can skip it or not.

It should surprise no one that skipping large swathes of dialogue can make it hard to understand the tale Square Enix is trying to tell. As an MMO, FF14’s narrative threads sometimes play out over an entire expansion, or multiple expansions. In the case of Dawntrail, the MSQ (or main story quest) consists of 100 individual quests that will take most players roughly 50 hours to complete. Most of the cutscenes throughout will not be voiced, which for a certain type of player means that a majority of the game is skippable purely because it requires reading. That’s a fundamentally flawed way to interact with the game, as it assumes one of its primary ways of communicating with the player is meaningless.

Image: Square Enix

To try and give credit to the argument that unvoiced cutscenes are skippable, I think it’s fair to say that many of these can feel like massive exposition and lore dumps. I get that running through such a long story can be tedious, but this attitude ignores the fact that you typically need some exposition and table-setting in a plot to reach a point where a climax can happen. All of the highest narrative moments of FF14 seen in expansions like Endwalker, Heavensward, and Shadowbringers rely on meticulous character and world-building that takes place in seemingly boring quests filled with dialogue you have to read through.

Also, Final Fantasy 14 doesn’t force you through as much nonsense as some seem to think. The MSQ is labeled as such because the devs have created a critical story path. If you want to learn about the nitty-gritty lore of a new location and the various groups living and fighting within it, that’s what side quests and the game’s Unending Codex are for. But everything done in the MSQ is purposefully crafted to lead you along the story’s emotional highs and lows. Yes, that sometimes includes dialogue you have to read. It’s already labeled as part of the MSQ, I don’t know what more some players need in order to understand that it’s probably important.

This failure to engage with Final Fantasy 14’s storytelling on its own terms seems to be rooted in a need to rush through the expansion as fast as possible, as well as a lack of value placed on anything without voice acting. To do some math, Howlongtobeat.com has an average playtime of 50 hours for the main story of Endwalker. A YouTube compilation of all the voiced cutscenes from that expansion is a little under 16 hours long. That means you’re spending roughly one third of your time in voiced cutscenes, while the other two thirds are mostly spent actively questing in the world. Dungeons, Trials, and even boring fetch quests make up a large part of that remaining two-thirds, meaning that unvoiced cutscenes make up a relatively small percentage of playtime. Credit where it’s due, that’s in part because each expansion has upped the amount of voiced cutscenes. Shadowbringers, the expansion immediately before Endwalker, had roughly nine-and-a-half hours of voiced cutscenes. While the revelation that unvoiced cutscenes are relatively few may make you think it wouldn’t be a big deal to skip them, I’d argue that it just means they aren’t as much of a hurdle to the attention span as some suggest. Yes, the voiced cutscenes may be where the most iconic, action-packed, or emotionally resonant moments typically occur, but as I’ve said, they only work with the weight of all the unvoiced dialogue that helps to establish the conflicts playing out and how much is at stake.

Square Enix

It’s not that Final Fantasy 14’s storytelling is perfect. I think Endwalker suffers from bad pacing, though it still manages to pull off its emotional finale. But the discussion of un-voiced dialogue as something we should be able to skip without any impact on our investment in and understanding of the overall story isn’t in the same ballpark as real criticisms of the game’s narrative. It’s a dissatisfaction with the vehicle through which that story is told.

I think Dawntrail is getting accused of many of the same flaws that A Realm Reborn did, and there is a reason for that. Both ARR and Dawntrail are the beginnings of larger stories. It took a decade and four expansions for every story thread whose groundwork was laid in ARR to pay off. Because of that, ARR is an introductory arc that on its own may feel unsatisfying, which is why it’s so derided despite being so essential. Dawntrail is in the same place now. It’s laying the groundwork for the next decade of FF14. That doesn’t mean it sucks, it just means it’s part of an as-of-yet incomplete tapestry.

The rushed mentality of so many players, that they must skip through the perceived unimportant scenes to finish a painstakingly crafted expansion in the course of a weekend, is part of a larger issue with a lack of patience in the grand storytelling the game is constantly doing. Eorzea is a living, breathing world of players and NPCs that is meant to be the setting for a wondrous adventure. Adventures like that need breathing room, which requires breaks and time, not just to get through but to digest. It’s no wonder that a scarfed-down meal doesn’t agree with players, it’s not meant to be consumed that way. As simple as it sounds, what players need is patience.

I’m sure Dawntrail has its issues, and I bet the story isn’t perfect (based on early impressions), but the only way you can know that and really engage with it is if you read the fucking text.

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