My brain is having trouble accurately remembering the ARR quest line. I know that we all love to bash WoW’s hit and miss storyline management, but FF14 really takes the cake in terms of WTH moments. The good news here is that with 30 years of FF games to reference, this isn’t exactly weird. It’s the opposite really.
Calling back to FF7 for a minute, I still recall the jarring view once I left Midgard. The tone of the game changed as the scope went wide. And the Midgar Zolom (the 100 ft fire breathing snake, impaled on a stick) still is etched in my skull. FF6’s World of Ruin was like playing a 2nd game, with a different set of rules. Zozo still kicks butt! FF13’s resurrection bit. Cloud of Darkness. The whole Yu Yevon / Dreamer set up. Garland being Chaos started it all off. FF likes to go one way, then throw something on the table that changes the context of the adventure. You think you’re doing these steps for one reason, but some reveal occurs and you find out it’s a whole lot bigger.
What I find really interesting here is that FF14 continually puts you front and center in all of this. Sure, there are factions and leaders and villains, but the whole storyline is about your impact on that world. There’s no NPC that magically jumps into battle with super nukes that you go ga-ga for. This gives the appearance of player agency in the world. You even get prompted for dialogue options. Now, the reality is that there is no agency and everyone gets the same storyline, but your experience is shadowed enough to give a positive impression.
One of the interesting quirks of FF14 is that it’s very terrestrial – or at least will be up until the moon expansion. You never feel like “this is the entire world”, as there always seems to be something about “over the horizon”. The leveling process is fractured, in a sense, in that it moves you around the world on a fairly linear path. The MSQ forces you to experience it a certain way. The closest to this is likely LOTRO, where you are following a story in acts. You are given clear instructions to go here, do this thing, talk to this person, and then most likely travel to the other part of the big map for the next bit. It’s quite jarring frankly, where the journey itself is more important than the character level associated with it.
It really is closer to the traditional FF games here in that sense. There wasn’t anything preventing you from grinding crazy levels early to smooth out the process later, or skipping levels to plow through at low levels. Those numbers acted more as a difficulty modifier to the main story line, which you never really could skip. Compared to the giant in the room, retail WoW is focused entirely at bringing people to the end state gate and then hoping for the best. There’s plenty of reasons for this… prime that FF14 has so many classes and only forces the MSQ once, while WoW forces you to repeat the content for any alt. There’s no way people would purposefully sit through all them again for FF14.
I’m still making my way through the 3.2 content and it’s really striking the fundamental differences here. It’s heavy handed and slow here, full of exposition. The opposite of the fast food buffet we see elsewhere. It’s also consistent and logical – in as much any fantasy setting can be. I’ll be keeping some pulse check on these story beats as I progress, but for now, it’s super refreshing.