In a development shocking to absolutely no one, Stormblood is fucking awesome. I started Final Fantasy XIV’s second expansion mere days ago, and it’s already made the leap from, “this is not Heavensward. I want Heavensward back,” to, “Ok, give me more of this.”
I was prepared for Stormblood to underwhelm me. In the FF14 canon, it just doesn’t get as hyped up as Heavensward or Shadowbringers. Plus, I had just started the expansion, and the good shit typically doesn’t happen until later in the game. However, whatever lessons Square Enix learned from A Realm Reborn and Heavensward, one of them was, “Don’t make Ash wait for the good shit.”
I knew shit was on its way down when, after starting the “In Crimson, It Began” quest, I got a warning message that there would be several cutscenes in a row. The message is a big red “plot happening now!” flag and the game graciously letting you know to budget your time accordingly. In ARR and Heavensward, those messages preceded significant events, like one of your friends dying or all of your friends dying or…just anybody dying. But in Stormblood, the message splashes across your screen whenever you’re about to spend more than four minutes in a cutscene, major character death no longer required. I prepared myself for another exposition-heavy-but-consequence-light-cutscene when, guess what, the major character death plot point comes back!
In the cutscene, you are aiding a well-hidden camp of freedom fighters in their struggle against the evil Garlean Empire. However, it turns out your camp isn’t hidden as well as previously thought. The Empire shows up, kills a lot of people, including a guy you were just starting to get to know, and you—the Warrior of Light—get your ass absolutely handed to you by what looks like the primary antagonist of the entire expansion.
I loved this moment in Stormblood. Not only because it happened so early in the game but also because it’s the first time I’ve felt truly powerless as the Warrior of Light. I’ll admit it sounds strange to talk about any kind of agency in a video game because you’re ultimately at the mercy of the game’s scripting, but follow me on a role-playing journey for a little bit.
Now, I’ve felt powerless in other situations, but it was a passive powerlessness. When little Noraxia died and Minfilia was taken prisoner, I wasn’t there. When Haurchefant died, I had already defeated every challenger up until that moment but was thwarted by a scripted scene that I had no power in.
This time, I actually fought and lost against Zenos yae Galvus during “In Crimson, It Began.” I was actually in control of my character, using all 63 levels of my strength and abilities, and yet I still failed. The scripted “you are actually supposed to lose this fight” is old hat in video games, but I think this is the first time it’s employed in FF14 to devastating effect. I love that shit. I eat it up because it makes the hero’s growth and eventual victory after that moment feel so much more earned.
After getting thoroughly sonned by a man wearing too much damned armor, the game sends you to another land to assist in yet another rebellion. But before you can get to the distant shores of Hingashi, you have to secure passage first, requiring you to complete a series of “go here and talk to this person” quests. Quests like these annoy me. I see them as nuisances that function solely to pad the runtime of the game. But while I was in the middle of what I thought was tedium, I made a startling connection that absolutely delighted me and made me regret not paying as close attention to that kind of smaller, insignificant quests in the past.
In order to get to Hingashi, your next destination, you have to go by sea, and the only people who are willing to brave the empire-infested waters are pirates. You’re introduced, or rather re-introduced, to such a pirate—Carvallain de Gorgagne. I remembered Carvallain from when he was introduced to me way way back when I was deciding which Grand Company I would pledge. He seemed like a nice guy, and he stuck in my mind because he was a dark-skinned Elezen, something not wholly rare but uncommon among FF14’s NPCs. I decided to pledge the Immortal Flames and quickly forgot about him.
Meeting Carvallain again, he is the only person able to take you to Hingashi but won’t, remarking on how unprofitable it is for him. At this point, I’m barely paying attention to what’s going on, clicking through dialogue thinking, “Hurry up, I want to get to samurai land.” I focus my attention at just the right moment when Tataru, your group’s resident schemer and gossip, makes a casual reference to House Durendaire of Ishgard’s long-lost heir. Carvallain suddenly agrees to transport us, Tataru grins, and I lose my fucking mind.
Back in Heavensward, I made the decision to become a healer full-time, an astrologian specifically. Meaning, for all of that expansion, every now and then, I’d take a break from the main story quest to hang out with the astrologian trainer, Jannequinard de Durendaire. Jannequinard is another dark-skinned elf who is the unlikely heir of House Durendaire after his elder brother goes missing at sea. See where I’m going with this?
When Tataru let that little story about House Durendaire’s heir slip to Carvallain, I felt like I was watching my brain make synaptic connections in real time—they have the same dark skin the same deep red hair, oh my god are they…? Even typing this now I’m grinning like an idiot because I am still amused by the fact that the dark-skinned elf I was talking to was the long-lost brother of the guy who was basically my best friend for all of Heavensward. I ran to the wiki to ensure I wasn’t totally off base, and when I pulled up Carvallain’s entry, I squealed with delight.
“Oh my god that is his brother!”
Carvallain’s my favorite character now, and I hope to see more of him. Square Enix has been really good about making their characters acknowledge events that have happened to the player, so I hope I get to see the brothers reunite.
It’s the littlest thing. And yet, once again, the details are what got me. Making the connection between Jannequinard and Carvallain is so easily missable, especially if you haven’t played the astrologian quest line. But if you are able to put them together, it’s like finding a hidden gem that’s for you alone. Square Enix, yet again, has done something so small that’s made Eorzea feel like a living breathing place that I never want to leave.