The Latest 'Final Fantasy XIV' Villain Is Populism Incarnate

“Whenever we say light versus dark, each person seems to have this subconscious image that light equals justice and darkness equals evil,” says Final Fantasy XIV director Naoki Yoshida in the first episode of a documentary series on the creation of Shadowbringers. “I kept telling the team we’re changing our perspective for how we’re looking at good and evil.”


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/pkevzz/the-latest-final-fantasy-xiv-villain-is-populism-incarnate
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FFXIV is a game that’s pretty near-and-dear to my heart, and while I enjoyed much of what’s discussed in this article, the feelings that it tries to project–which center around discomfort that our protagonist isn’t “special”–feel like as dismissal of not only the wide variety of players there are in the game, but also feels like it skews toward assuming the worst of them at the same time. Which isn’t to say that makes it bad, because I do like being able to hear what other people are getting from this game, I just don’t necessarily agree with a lot of the points made here. I do think that game showing that other can take up the role of hero as well is definitely a break from some JRPG tropes, I just don’t think there’s as much discomfort here in the particular way this article implies.

Spoiler-y Talk

Some of the details in this article kind of gloss over a lot of stuff that’s established earlier in the game: You’re not the only character with the Echo (at least on the Source), you’re not even the only person considered a Warrior of Light, as every player who played in 1.0 is collectively called the ‘Warriors of Light’ and those with Legacy characters are recognized as such within the story. Implying that the player character is Hydaelyn’s only champion kind of erases the very prominent role Minfilia has in saving an entire planet, and outright ignores the strides that the game is making with Arenvald, a character who is similar to the player in many respects, save for experience. Also, this might just be an unfortunate choice of words, but no one in Eulmore is working to the “benefit” of the poor, and Ardbert and co. were never considered Warriors of Darkness while they were on the First. They were always Warriors of Light on the First, until they came to the Source and titled themselves Warriors of Darkness. The concept of a Warrior of Darkness didn’t even exist on the First until post-Flood.

I also can’t agree that this game focuses much on the working class within it’s main story. While players can get a lot from doing side quests found in the overworld, especially if they do a significant amount, much of the story focuses on the perspectives of those in power. Gatetown was a pretty big deal in that it showed how the poor struggle right at the forefront of the story. Heavensward was a big expansion in terms of a theme of class struggle, but a large part of that was because it was focused on a forever war being perpetuated indefinitely by Catholic elves under false pretenses, and even then the largest showing we get of that is in a riot that happens after the player character is poisoned.

That said, I mostly disagree with two main assumptions.

The first is based mostly in my experience; none of the people I play this game regularly with, or even people I breeze by and discuss the story with, are really upset that their character is no longer a special solitary hero. A large part of the community, predominately RPers, don’t even see their existing character as the Warrior of Light, but rather as an Adventurer just going about their day. When I discuss the story with others, most people are unnerved by the fact that, whatever Elidibus is planning, it isn’t to the benefit of anyone on the First. He isn’t encouraging everyone to be their best selves because he genuinely wants that. One of the first things he implies at the end of Shadowbringers is that if the player character wants to style themself as the Warrior of Darkness, then the only recourse he has is to pit against them other Warriors of Light. If this sounds familiar, it’s because he has already done it before–and if it wasn’t for Urianger and Minfilia being willing to communicate and empathize with Ardbert and co., we wouldn’t even be on the First. As the Emissary, Elidibus thrives off of manipulating others by words alone, but his plans tend to fall apart horribly once people openly communicate with each other in a sincere way. His ultimate goal for this isn’t hard to figure out: He’s going to create these Warriors of Light, then try to manipulate things in such a way that makes them want to kill us. He could do this any number of ways with any number of outcomes, but none of them end well for the people in the First. Most people I know aren’t worried that their WoL isn’t special, they’re worried that the story is going to pen us into a place where we have to kill people we were trying to help. They’re also really worried about the Crystal Exarch, but that’s got nothing to do with this.

The second issue I have is with idea that the Ascians can ever create a valid narrative in which they are the heroes of the story. I would argue that they could certainly create a narrative, but any validity that they could have had has pretty much burned up on impact considering they’ve enacted six successful planet-scale genocides and multiple smaller ones on the Source, based upon both their orchestration of Calamities and their manipulation of current civilizations. Oh, and also they turned the thirteenth into a void inhabited with dark creatures who seek only to consume living beings, aether and all, as their first attempt at a Rejoining. Personally, I don’t care how many folks on Twitter are interested in Emet-Selch and Zenos in that way, or how hard they stan. Nothing the Ascians do will ever make the narrative they’re trying to pitch valid in my eyes at least. I’m not buying what they’re selling.

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People are free to RP how they wish, but they do so in opposition of the story itself. You are not just some adventurer going about their day, you are THE Warrior of Light and hero of all Eorzea. By the time of Shadowbringers you are basically the most important person in the world.

So I actually agree with article in the sense that one of the things I’ve really enjoyed about the recent story Revelations is that it’s gradually knocking down your importance a peg. You are still the hero of Eorzea thanks to your deeds and accomplishments, but it’s not because you are a special chosen one destined to be the hero.

Also the Ascians will never be the heroes, but Shadowbringers, and Emet-Selch in particular, did create an understandable point of view and motivation for their actions, where they had absolutely none before. The story still clearly wants you to side with our protagonists point of view, the Ascians continue to be the antagonists of the story, but I know I felt some empathy for Emet-Selch by the end of Shadowbringers, which was a monumental accomplishment in my eyes considering they were the most one-note evil bad guys ever up to that point.

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I’m afraid I can’t really agree with your second point, unfortunately. I checked out on Emet-Selch around the time he called all my friends sub-human to their faces. I certainly understand where he was coming from, but that’s about what I was willing to give.

As for the idea of RP being in opposition to the story, I’m a bit up in the air about it. I think the importance of the story varies from player to player, and I think it’s a valid point of view that, if you’re not really interested in the role of Warrior of Light being applied to your character, then that’s that on that. And that doesn’t even touch on the very real existence of players who have literally skipped every single cutscene in this game because they don’t actually care and want to make their own stories rather than be beholden to the role assigned to them by MSQ. Or they just don’t care any only want to do end game raiding content. That’s just MMOs, and I’m not sure that those players can be said to be in opposition to a story they don’t even know much of the details of. Not to mention that without run-of-the-mill adventurers in the world, your player character, from the perspective of the main story, wouldn’t have any help in several dungeons and fights that imply that you’re not fighting various enemies on your own. I don’t think that people who distance their characters from the MSQ are doing so in opposition to it, I think that their doing so enhances the world being collaboratively built behind the scenes by players and the world being given to us by the developers of this game.

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I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with playing it like that, but if you’re doing an analysis of the story you can’t bring your own personal RP elements into it. The story absolutely paints you as a special one of a kind hero. Any time the game talks about other players THEY are the random adventurer friends, not fellow Warriors of Light, and their deeds are never as important as your own.

The only time the story ever suggests different is actually the very end of Shadowbringers when it’s implied that the other players that appear are actually fragments of yourself. But that’s still showing how much more your character matters than everyone else.

Spoilers

Within the MSQ, there’s Arenvald, who I mentioned, and while he doesn’t have the same level of esteem as you, he has all the makings of it (martially gifted, has the Echo, etc.) and I don’t doubt that he’ll gradually become a character that takes over for you when you can’t be there. That’s part of what he’s being implied as doing now if you speak to him in Rhalgr’s Reach. Krile also has the Echo and is a wildly accomplished researcher. Ysale had the Echo, was the vessel for the primal Shiva, and also had a substantial following of people who were willing to turn themselves into dragons to protect her. Her intervention at several key moments in the story turns the tide of a forever war and sees it to its end. Minfilia literally stops an apocalypse on the First and reincarnates herself time and time again to maintain that stopgap. I would argue that the MSQ paints the player character as a special hero, but you’re hardly the only one. In fact, within the First The Minfilia serves just as crucial a role in the mythos of that world as the Warrior of Darkness. And none of the characters I mentioned here have larger-than-life origins either.

The only difference between you and the others is that, by virtue of your player character being a player character, they simply have the luxury of being mechanically unkillable. If I’m being honest, I don’t think an MMO can make a lasting critique on the player character being special, because MMOs rely on player characters to continue their story. A better critique on this subject could and probably has been made in other JRPGs, though admittedly I wouldn’t know as I don’t often deal my cards to that end of the genre spectrum. Also, that’s off-topic, so I’m leaving that as is.

But while that was some of the point of my post, my main point in mentioning the diversities of player experience was that I disagree with the article in it’s assumption that the unease of the player is borne from their character no longer being considered a singular entity, not only on the basis of the differences we see within various segments of the player base regarding how important the story is to them personally, but because I’ve seen different causes for concern among the people I play this game with. This was always and is always going to be the case with MMORPGs. My experience is never going to measure up inch-to-inch with anyone else’s, but I may as well go ahead and share it.

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Those characters have their roles and accomplishments, but I don’t think the game ever treats them as being on par with the Warrior of Light. You are pretty much the center of everything. They only really exist to support you and ultimately they almost always defer to you when it comes to important matters. Despite most of the Scions having far more experience than you do the story very quickly treats your character as above them in importance.

Obviously you are free to take the story how you will, but I think it’s pretty easy to see where this article is coming from in regards to the story and player, so you shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss it. The story absolutely supports this interpretation at least as much as your own.

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Well, yeah. I don’t agree with all the points made in the article, but I wasn’t writing with the intention of dismissing it entirely. Tho, considering how much I wrote in opposition to the points it was making, it does actually seem like that. So that’s completely my fault, actually. I’ll work on my articulation and brevity in the future, so that the posts I make more clearly convey my intent. Thanks!

I think the thing that’s caused me to bristle as I read this article is that it doesn’t really bring up the problems being caused by so many people deciding to become heroes.

Not everyone can go out and become a great adventurer that saves the town, not because they don’t have the potential to do so, but because there need to be people keeping the town running in the first place. When you’re alerted to the fact people are becoming heroes, it’s coupled with the fact that it’s creating a shortage of labor in the Crystarium. So many people at once becoming adventurers creates a shortage of the valuable labor keeping day to day life operating.

That’s where I think the discomfort of the situation comes from ultimately. A society needs plenty more ditch diggers than it needs heroes, and you’ve inspired a lot of people to become heroes instead of ditch diggers. You can’t even say, “Hey we really can’t have ALL of you go out and become heroes” because they’re just following in your foot steps.

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The discomfort for me didn’t really come in the loss of being a ‘chosen one’ as much as the reasons behind it all. If we hold that Elidibus’ absolute goal is for something dark and evil down the line that probably involves the deaths of many, then seeing him inspire others to go out and do good has an air of intense falsity to it.

It ties far more into the politics of today I think in seeing common, good people manipulated and tricked by others into doing what they see as good while furthering an illicit agenda. It feels like an attempt to encourage rampant individualism (or maybe narcissism?) where people feel they are entitled to everything they want in life, it’s just what they want is adventure and to make the world a better place. This leads to the message that LaSauce pointed out where it almost results in a breakdown of society due to a lack of labour.

And if the circumstances were different this might be amazing! At the end of the plotline you even get a chance to wholeheartedly encourage Theyler and his friend as they set out on their adventure so it’s great the game gives you the chance to acknowledge this. It’s strange, weird and scary knowing that there might be something vile in the future based on the machinations behind it but for the moment it can be wonderful to watch people follow their hearts (to an extent, to be clear Theyler and his friend have combat skills from working in the guard).

I think what they’ll likely do is either introduce a grand threat that crushes the new idealistic generation of warriors and turns them on the main cast demanding answers but I’m very interested to see what they do next with this turn.

Wasn’t rampant do-gooding the cause of the Flood of Light that overtook the First in the first place? A massive influx of new heroes doing random acts of kindness seems to be the same playbook as the Ascians’ original plans and I’m not sure why the Scions aren’t instantly recognizing it as such, within the fiction.

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