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Eorzea Reborn: The Echo and Heavensward Gating

Columns By Victor Barreiro Jr. on July 03, 2015

The Echo and Heavensward Gating

One of the most fascinating things about Final Fantasy XIV for me are the little things in the game – slight alterations to placements of people and changes to what they say – that tell the observant that time has passed in the game.

Without getting into too many spoilers, I’ll just say that one major example is the placement of Crystal Braves in specific regions after that portion of the post-2.0 storyline, as well as subsequent changes in how the Crystal Braves treat you upon specific story points leading into Heavensward.

There is also one other mechanic that some players dislike that I think also sums up this point well: the gating of Heavensward content beyond a literal and metaphorical barrier of story content.

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That said, I think there’s a story function that makes good use of this gating to allow people to metaphorically live past lives and tell multiple concurrent stories within the present Heavensward storyline.

Today, we’re going to talk a bit about the Echo and why, exactly, this gating of content is so fascinating from a slightly metaphysical, philosophical frame of mind.

What is the Echo?

One of the long-standing storyline conceits offered to players since Final Fantasy XIV version 1.0 was the introduction of the Echo.

The Echo is a story function that allows players to not only continuously resurrect after death, but also powers them up in certain dungeons should they die to a boss.

In addition, Gamer Escape explains that from the Echo “is born the ability to relive the other person's past experiences -- to see and feel them as though they were one's own.”

FFXIV Players: Bound in Time yet Beyond It

There’s a lot of mystery surrounding the nature of the echo, but that isn’t the point. The point is we can easily re-live specific portions of our personal gaming history in FFXIV within reason.

For example, I would consider the Unending Journey journal in every Inn that allows players to relive story cutscenes as their character in different garments as an example of the Echo allowing us to live our past lives in a form we wish.

Normally, if we were reading a journal, our memories would allow us to consider a past experience wearing what we wore on that day, but instead the game lets us see even our very first interactions in-game as if we were a level 60 character, should we so choose.

Obviously, that’s a limitation on the technology of the game. The game can only render us in the items we’re wearing at any given time. From the perspective of someone within the game, however, the explanation is simpler still: The Echo exists.

One other example is the ability to run and re-run the same dungeon repeatedly. Technically, we can usually only go through a dungeon twice, in Story Mode and Hard mode, but those would have different stories connected through them.

However, the Echo allows us to go through that same dungeon immediately after we just cleared it: a technological conceit for us as players, but a magical inference to the character as being a Warrior of Light and bearer of the Echo.

My favorite idea behind this, however, is the fact that we can not only go through the same dungeon more than once, but also do following an entirely different tree of character development: the class system in FFXIV is an example of the Echo at work.

I can choose to relive my dungeon experiences as a lancer or a dragoon, or even an entirely different type of fighter or mage-class, from a Warrior to a White Mage.  And all of that progress as different character classes and jobs culminates right now in continuing my personal tale in Eorzea.

The Echo and Heavensward Gating

Heavensward’s gating mechanism is the completion of the 2.55 storyline.

Simply put, until such a time as Square Enix chooses to mechanically unlock the classes by allowing non-2.55 completers to gain access to them, they are essentially time-bound.

The Echo plays into Heavensward gating from a storyline viewpoint by allowing people to go to the future, then strengthen themselves by going through their past experiences anew.

By going forward into the future and continuing the story far enough, I can attain the Astrologian, Dark Knight, and Machinist jobs. I can then use the Echo to strengthen those jobs by barreling through dungeons and other side activities until such a time I feel I have become the person and player I want to be for my run through further Heavensward content.

As people outside the game, we know that it’s mostly a design decision, one that could be overturned should Naoki Yoshida wish it. But at the same time, from the point of view of someone who enjoys the lore, this not only makes internal logic function properly, but it also blows my mind that such a small aspect seeming discarded throughout version 1.0 became such an overarching portion of the game experience for the people in the world.

Alternate Dimensions Unto Thyself

My final “mind-blown” moment was when I thought about the internal logic of the Echo a bit more deeply. Why, for example, is more than one person able to do what I’m able to do? Why do adventurers take an arrow to the heart and still come back? The Echo should be rare, as only three people in the game appear to have it, storyline wise.

The answer is still the Echo, only now we’re going into a realm of possibility that borders on the crazy and weird.

I think every FFXIV player is actually living through the life of the guy in the Final Fantasy XIV trailers. We’re all living through this dude’s past, except we’re allowing ourselves the luxury of imprinting who we are into his memories, and growing stronger as a result.

Every FFXIV player is thus an Echo of the Dude From the Trailers.  More eloquently put, perhaps, is the idea that every FFXIV player is an alternate dimension unto himself.

Of course, there are likely going to be holes in this theory. The first one being the “What about the Fantasia potion, Victor?” argument.

I’d gladly welcome some philosophical musings on the Echo as it relates to the game. I’d also welcome opinions for or against the strict content gating of Heavensward jobs. That said, I do hope everyone enjoys the thoughts I’ve put forth. I’ll see you next week. Cheers!

Victor Barreiro Jr. / Victor Barreiro Jr. maintains the the Landmark/Everquest Next and Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn columns for MMORPG.com. He also writes for news website Rappler (Rappler.com) as a technology reporter.