I first picked up Final Fantasy XIV when A Realm Reborn launched because I’m always up to give any new Final Fantasy game a try, and the original launch had missed me somehow. ARR also hit at a good time for me. I was happily going along with World of Warcraft and Guild Wars 2, but Star Wars :The Old Republic had lost its draw for me by that point. As a result, I found myself with some time to put towards another MMO. As much as I enjoyed FFXIV, there were a few things that kept it from really clicking with me enough to keep playing it long-term, but I have kept coming back to it over the years. I recently started up again, but to my surprise, all I want to do is play FFXIV. I’m not even exaggerating. So, I wanted to take a moment and discuss why this time is different.
When I first started ARR, there was a lot I enjoyed about the game. One thing that was a bit weird for me was the need to level two different jobs to learn the one I actually wanted. In my case, I wanted to play Bard, which meant I had to level up Archer and Pugilist. I didn’t mind Archer too much because it was directly related to what I wanted to do. But Pugilist was the opposite of what I wanted to do. I did it, though, and did enjoy it when I finally became a Bard. The process to get there was just frustrating. Thankfully, the jobs all received a revamp in Stormblood, and all the original jobs now only require one base job before learning the more advanced job.
One of my early frustrations during ARR feels like it should not have been a big deal in hindsight, but was a huge frustration at the time. I was not fond of having to dismount every time I wanted to talk to an NPC. I would not be dismounted automatically. Instead I would receive error text and had to dismount before actually talking to them. This is one of those things which seems small , but really frustrates me every time I encounter it. Even to this day, it’s a huge annoyance when it happens whileI’m playing a game. This was thankfully changed a while ago. Now when I try to talk to an NPC, I dismount automatically, which is much better.
The biggest issue with ARR not pulling me in as much as possible at the original launch was how many cutscenes have no voice-over. It wasn’t just that, though- it was how cutscenes would switch between voiced and unvoiced seemingly at random. When I first logged into my first character, there was that whole initial cutscene where “someone” was talking to me, and it was all mysterious. It then cut over to me riding on a wagon, and a peddler was talking to me. But suddenly, there was no voice. I honestly thought something had gone wrong with my sound because I wasn’t expecting that at all. This kept up throughout the story, and it was always jarring because there seemed no real consistency to what had voice and what didn’t.
Thankfully, with both Stormblood and Shadowbringers, there is a lot more voice-over in the main story quests, which makes a world of difference. I’ve still run into a few critical conversations which felt like they should have been voiced, but for the most part, the delineation between what is voiced and what isn’t feels much more natural now. Perhaps I’ve just adjusted to the unique FFXIV mix of voiced and unvoiced content, but it isn’t getting in the way of enjoying the story anymore. Additionally, discovering I can toggle autoforward on in cutscenes has helped a lot. Not having to click after each voice line allows the cutscenes to flow more naturally.
Another blocker in the past was, although I did enjoy Bard, it never really felt like it fit me well. I made a secondary character (back when ARR launched leveling up alt jobs on one character was a royal pain) who I made a Lancer because that seemed like it would fit me a bit better since I tend to prefer melee. However, it also didn’t grab me, and I eventually decided to set FFXIV aside as a “not for me” game. I also returned for Heavensward and enjoyed the story, but it still didn’t grab me the way I had hoped.
I next came back ahead of Stormblood because I knew I wanted to play Samurai, and the teased story seemed interesting. Of course, returning meant I needed to finish Heavensward and get my Bard fully leveled to learn Samurai asap. That part was a bit of a slog, but it was well worth it when I learned Samurai. I had finally found a job that was a perfect fit for me and had a ton of fun. The whole job questline from 50 – 60 was also fantastic, and I enjoyed all of it. Well, there was one job duty that kicked my butt for a while. If I remember correctly, it was the level 57 quest where I had to go on a boat and fight two different bosses which were quite difficult for me.. That took a lot of work to get past, but it also taught me how to make the most of Samurai. I definitely was frustrated with this quest for awhile, but it taught me to play better so it was a worthwhile frustration.
Unfortunately, the story of Stormblood was too slow to start. I also think it didn’t help that my time playing through the story up until Stormblood had been so fragmented over the years because I didn’t remember a lot of the background leading into it. However, I discovered the Hildibrand quests during this time, and I have never been so thoroughly derailed from the MSQ before. I don’t think I have ever played through content so campy and hilarious in any game ever before. I quickly finished everything. Somehow, I missed the Hildibrand questlines added in Heavensward and Stormblood, but I will go back for those! By the time I reached what I had thought was the end of the Hildibrand story, I was pressed for time and didn’t get to log into FFXIV as much as I wanted to, so I let my sub lapse.
Shadowbringers didn’t bring me back again only because I knew the time to play was just not there for me, and I didn’t feel like I could play enough to warrant paying the sub fee. I felt the tug again when the Endwalker trailer dropped. After all, FFXIV knows how to put out exciting trailers. My exact reaction was, “I have no idea what’s going on here, but I want to!” They always get me. However, I still didn’t have the time to play, so I thought this would be another expansion that would pass me by - which felt like a big deal on some level. I felt that if I let two expansions go by in a row without returning, that somehow meant FFXIV was truly over for me. That isn’t logical. Obviously, I could always come back anytime. Nonetheless, it felt like a big deal.
Then August came, and I found myself without much drive to play some of the other MMOs I usually play and thus looked at FFXIV again. I discovered I had two weeks of free playtime available, and I figured I’d give it another shot. I’d force myself to focus on the MSQ, and if it could hook me in two weeks, then I’d keep at it, and maybe I’d buy Endwalker. Remember how I said that the Stormblood story started slow? Well, that hadn’t changed. I hadn’t gotten very far with it, so it was still very slow-moving, but I pushed through and discovered everything changed when I got to Doma.
The change first started when I met Yugiri and Gosetsu. I only vaguely remembered them from previous encounters in the story because it had been years at that point, and I spent a lot of time not thinking about the FFXIV story or characters. Nonetheless, I liked them both from the first meeting and just really wanted to help them. However, for me, it was all about Hien. I adore everything about Hein and how they chose to tell his story. It was so refreshing to meet a leader who felt the weight and importance of choosing to fight the empire or not. I love that although he was willing to fight the empire he didn’t want to force the consequences of that choice on his people if they preferred to maintain the status quo.I also really respected his choice to stand by the Mol, despite that objectively being a bad choice since they were considered weak. Add the beautiful voice acting in the English version to that, and I’d do anything for him.
From that point, Stormblood took place at a gallop and was an excellent ride. However, I have learned that I need to stop thinking, “Oh, I’m almost done with this story, so I can just finish it up real quick,” because invariably when I think that I am almost done, I have at least two more hours before the storyline finishes. This was especially bad near the end of the Stormblood launch content. I swear I ran around thinking, “ok, this will be the final fight,” for four hours. It didn’t help that NPCs kept saying various forms of “This is it!!” and “One last fight to go!” I do like how the story took some time to breathe and take stock before getting to the end because it made everything feel satisfying. I wish the messaging about how close to the end I was had been messaged a bit more clearly.
Whereas Stormblood took a while to get into the meat of things, Shadowbringers rolled from the first moments. I’m currently working through the 5.2 content, and things have not let up for one moment. I also think this is one area where I benefited a bit from hopping in and out of FFXIV the way I have. I had never done the Crystal Tower content before, so when I completed Stormblood, a message popped up saying it was highly suggested to finish that before proceeding to Shadowbringers. This was awesome because the whole Crystal Tower storyline was fascinating, but also, all of it was fresh in my mind when I went into Shadowbringers, and all of it has been relevant.
As I close in on finishing my goal of completing all of Shadowbringers before Endwalker early access, I’m also incredibly aware there is a ton of other optional content I haven’t seen at all yet. It can honestly be overwhelming at times thinking about everything I can do but haven’t yet. Plus, Samurai is even better at level 80 than at level 70, and I’m also leveling Gunbreaker, which has been a ton of fun as well. This is the most invested in Final Fantasy XIV I have ever been, and I don’t see that slowing down anytime soon.