How do you put a whole world back together? That's the focus of Final Fantasy 14's continuing story following the end of Shadowbringers' main campaign. The Warrior of Light has brought peace back to The First, an alternate reflection of the Source, the world our heroes hail from. Over the course of Shadowbringers, players fought back against a world consumed by Light and won. But now it falls to our hero to return the various elements to their proper place.
From the core of the mysterious object Eden, the Warrior of Light has to imagine the Primals, divine beings that represent fundamental aspects of Eorzea. Players have triumphed over Ifrit, Titan, Leviathan, Shiva, and other Primals in previous Final Fantasy 14 trials and raids; many are all-new representations of classic Final Fantasy summons. With the alien power of Eden at their command, the Warrior of Light has to imagine and defeat new Primals.
The First's version of these gods is wildly different from their Source counterparts. While the original version of Titan is a slow-moving, rotund golem, the First's Titan is a semi-mechanical monster, complete with giant drills that become wheels for a mad dash across the battlefield. Players' first encounter with Ramuh is classic Final Fantasy: an old man with a massive beard and staff he can use to call down lightning. The First's Ramuh retains the beard and staff, but stands in the form of a winged centaur. It feels like Square Enix's art team added complexity to each design, and that's because they did.
"The designs of Eorzean primals follow a 'stripped down of unnecessary elements' philosophy. The design philosophy of those in the First is 'created utilizing unnecessary elements,'" explains Final Fantasy 14 lead character artist Yusuke Mogi. "Although this wasn't a definitive concept we set as a requirement, it was somewhat of a struggle to come up with these new primal designs because the Eorzean versions were so exceptional. People would easily notice what we referenced if we went with a simple yet seemingly high-quality design—minor tweaks to the original designs would just end up creating a lower-quality version of the original."
The gap between most of the designs is wide, like the spindly, beast-like Ifrit players first faced back in A Realm Reborn, versus the upright, almost proper and pretentious version from the First, complete with a mighty crown of horns. Mogi said that the team's vision was to make primals "more like FF summons rather than FF14 primals". We're currently two wings into the Eden raid encounters, with a total of six redesigned Primals, and fans are already speculating who could be next.
While Final Fantasy 14 draws on much of the franchise's long history, the team is also creating and designing their own characters. The Warrior of Light is surrounded by the Scions of the Seventh Dawn, fellow heroes that include the wry sorceress Y'shtola, the Han Solo-esque Thancred, and the bickering twins Alisaie and Alpinaud. Memorable villains include Stormblood's battle-hungry Zenos yae Galvus, who shares an odd, one-sided friendship with the Warrior of Light.
But one Final Fantasy 14 character has blown up in the fandom. In a recent Japanese poll celebrating Final Fantasy's long history, Shadowbringers' villain Emet Selch was voted the 6th best character of all-time, just behind characters like Final Fantasy 7's Cloud and Aerith, Final Fantasy 10's Yuna, and Final Fantasy 9's Zidane. Emet Selch is a character who pokes and prods at the Warrior of Light across most of Shadowbringers' story, before fully stepping into the villain role towards the end. Players loved his dry sense of humor and almost-sympathetic backstory.
Mogi handled Emet Selch's design directly, and he's happy that players really loved the character. "I knew right off the bat that Emet-Selch would be a character I would like after hearing his characteristics and background. I'm glad I was the one who was able to design him," he says.
One major feature addition to Final Fantasy 14 with Shadowbringers was the Trust system. Trusts allow players to solo four-man dungeons, backed up by AI-controlled versions of FF14's beloved supporting cast. Players enjoy the system because it allows them to solo campaign dungeons and continue their story, but Trusts only work on Shadowbringers dungeons. Currently, there's no plan to make Trusts work with older dungeons, which would help players working their way through older content.
"As expected, the Trust system has been utilized by many players, and it also helped greatly in complementing the Shadowbringers narrative," says Yoshida. "We'll keep making the system compatible with future dungeons that relate to the storyline, but it will be quite challenging to make it compatible with past dungeons. We hope to do something about it in the future, but I'm afraid it won't be anytime soon."
Scions of the Fourteenth Dawn
The second set of Eden encounters is kicked off with the introduction of Gaia, a young woman with amnesia and dark powers. Players fought Gaia earlier as the Voidwalker, but that armored fiend gives way to a pale-skinned woman wearing an outfit that could be described as "gothic lolita." While Mogi and others on the FF14 art team designed the other characters, Gaia's design was created by Kingdom Hearts 3 and Final Fantasy 7: Remake director Tetsuya Nomura.
A design from Nomura was actually requested by the Final Fantasy 14 team, as opposed to Nomura approaching them. "When we requested Mr. Nomura to design this character, we explained the FF14 Eden content in full: the narrative, premise, as well as what's going on inside Gaia's mind and where she ends up," says Final Fantasy 14 creative director Naoki Yoshida. "After we received the design, the person heading the Eden scenario decided on her personality, tone of voice, as well as her mannerisms. I feel that these elements created great synergy to form Gaia."
It's not the first time that the Final Fantasy 14 development team has reached out to other creators to contribute to the game. Shadowbringers currently features YoRHa: Dark Apocalypse, a raid designed by Nier: Automata director Yoko Taro and producer Yosuke Saito. The previous expansion, Stormblood, had a raid based on Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy 12 called Return to Ivalice. That raid's storyline was written by FFT and FF12 director Yasumi Matsuno. Matsuno is returning to FF14 with the upcoming patch 5.25, writing the new Save the Queen relic weapon questline, and Yoshida says the further collaboration comes from Matsuno's love for the MMO.
"Mr. Matsuno is a game creator that I look up to, and he is also a hardcore FF14 player. We talk quite a bit about FF14 outside of work as well, so creating that kind of mutual excitement through those conversations may lead to me asking Mr. Matsuno, or even other creators to work on FF14 again," says Yoshida.
When asked about what other creators he would like to work with on Final Fantasy 14, Yoshida surprises, reaching far beyond the confines of Square Enix. "There are many people that I look up to, but personally, I would love to work with the people at Blizzard Entertainment!" he admits. Final Fantasy 14 has already had special crossover events with Monster Hunter World, Dragon Quest X, Yo-Kai Watch, and the Japanese television series, Garo. Could a Final Fantasy 14/World of Warcraft crossover follow, bringing together two rivals?
Perhaps only in my dreams.