In defense of story as told by Final Fantasy XIV

I was trying to resist saying anything about this topic besides some comments here and there because I feel this is one of those complicated discussions that might not have right answers. Not to mention people have some strong opinions on it.

So, it all began with Aywren defending the importance of story in MMORPGs by using Final Fantasy XIV as an example. Then later on Naithin, as he was returning to Final Fantasy XIV, mused if Final Fantasy XIV has to be a MMO to deliver its story. Then there is Bhagpuss, who hasn’t made a post on the topic yet, asking in a comment in one of Naithin’s posts, if the way that Final Fantasy XIV tells it’s story wouldn’t be best done in a more traditional format like a movie or a book.

I will try to address both Naithin’s and Baghpuss’ positions and give my opinion on the subject.

EDIT: Bhagpuss did write a post on the subject of stories in MMORPGs. It isn’t aimed at any MMORPG in particular, just his instance about linear stories in MMORPGs in general. You can read it here.

Should the story be told in a more traditional media like a book or movie?

Could the story of Final Fantasy XIV be told in a more traditional media like a book or a movie. Sure. Should it never be made in video-game form though? That I disagree with. The emotional investment in the story would be a lot different, even lesser.

To make my point clearer, let me give some examples. When I read the Lord of the Rings, I was fully invested in the characters’ journey to destroy the One Ring. It was one of those stories that really hooked me and made me want to see how it all ended.

But at the end of the day, the struggles they went through that journey were the struggles of the Fellowship of the Ring, not mine.

While in Final Fantasy XIV, if I have to beat a boss to progress on the story I am the one struggling to do it, not some fictional character.

Yes, I know it sounds silly to compare the struggles of fictional characters who had to deal with actual monsters to mine who is just sitting in front of the computer trying to figure out how to beat a monster made of pixels. But in the first scenario I am just passively reading about it. In the second one I am actively having to use my brain cells to progress.

“Ok, but that is gameplay, you don’t need that to get invested in the cutscenes”. Which again I’d agree to a certain degree but…

This one is complicated to explain and this example will be imperfect as I am trying to keep spoilers for the Shadowbringers story to a minimum. If you want to play that expansion and go completely blind skip the next couple paragraphs.

In Shadowbringers the final villain is a guy who did horrible things. The game does a good job of showing that, his motivations, ideology, the events that led for him choosing that path and the tragedy of it all.

In the end we are forced to fight him because there is no other way that story could end. When the fight was over and the cutscenes started playing, I honestly felt bad for him. I even might have cried a bit because of certain other things that happened during those cutscenes. And I am not even the type to cry easily because of stories!

Could that have been done in a more traditional media? Sure, but again the engagement would have been different. I would have only read about someone else’s hero having to fight the villain. It wouldn’t have been my character having to do it.

Would it have made me want to cry? I’d find that it would be a lot harder as my emotional investment wouldn’t have been the same.

And that isn’t limited to the main story quest. There are stories from Job Quests that also hit me right in the feels. The level 50 to 60 Samurai quests are a good example of that.

Also, not all stories in Final Fantasy XIV are of the same quality. I will be the first to admit that the one from the base game isn’t that great, it is not bad and it gets the job done, but it won’t be winning any awards for sure. There were also some job quest stories that really made me cringe. But still, on the average, the quality of the stories have been pretty great in my opinion.

In conclusion, I do believe that the story of Final Fantasy XIV only work as well as it does because it is in video-game form. If it was in a more traditional media it wouldn’t have the same impact on me.

Does Final Fantasy XIV have to be a MMORPG to tell its story?

I will agree that the game’s story could have been told just as well in a single-player game. The only difference is that we would just have different types of boss fights, dungeons to go through and our excuses of why we did so badly in a fight. XD

But is it a bad thing they chose to bring the story to the forefront, make it mandatory and with lots of cutscenes? That I disagree with. Apparently Naithin does too, by the way, before someone misunderstand this and go with pitchforks and torches to his blog.

Considering almost all of the big MMORPGs nowadays are extremely theme park-ish and adding story to the front is also a current trend among them, then I say you might as well go all out with it.

Theme park MMORPGs by their nature are already pretty linear as it is. Adding a pretty linear story on top of that won’t change that much. In fact, as someone who likes the journey, rather than the destination, I’d go as far as to say it makes the journey more enjoyable.

It gives me even more reason to care about the lands I am visiting, gives me a motivation to beat those villains and for once I actually know why I am going somewhere. Well, besides going there for XP and sight-seeing, that is. :p

Until someone can figure a better way to do storytelling in a theme park MMORPG, I think Final Fantasy XIV might have the best implementation of it.

5 thoughts on “In defense of story as told by Final Fantasy XIV”

  1. I won’t fight you around the movie adaptation. Long form to short form content adaptations almost never go well in my opinion. Of course there are notable exceptions, but they’re notable specifically *because* they’re exceptions imo.

    As a book though, I could make a case for this type of story (it would still, without question, require some refining and tightening even here, but I think that’d be for the betterment of the story almost regardless of the media).

    I feel that video game stories work best when there is at least the illusion of your character having sufficient agency to direct the outcome of the story. That, to me, is the single greatest determining factor in whether a story is best told in an interactive format such as a game or whether it would be equally at home in a more linear media such as a book.

    I would argue that despite the interactive components of FFXIV, you have essentially nil opportunity to change the course of… anything. You either succeed on the set path, or you try it again until you do and then you move on.

    I thought the Lord of the Rings example you raised to be an interesting one, as my experience of that book — and many others — was a bit different. I still remember the first time I read LoTR, having my heart in my throat at numerous points of the story for the characters. And in many other books since. My eyes have developed more leaks due to nearby camped-out onion cutting ninjas for books than has ever been the case for gaming. Not that it’s *never* happened, just less frequently by quite a notable margin.

    But that just goes to show — not everyone reacts in the same way to the forms of media available to us. There will be those, like yourself, who find FFXIV’s best possible form, to be in that of a game. And then others, like Bhagpuss and myself, who could garner equal (if not possibly better) enjoyment from it in another form.

    I think it’s great that this diversity exists, and as you noted (hah, thank-you!) I don’t want anything to change about FFXIV. I’m perfectly able to enjoy it for what it is. But perhaps this might shed some light on at least where I’m coming from, and I suspect Bhagpuss too — but it’s possible his reasoning is entirely different to mine. 🙂

    • I agree that it could work as a book, or even a manga or anime adaptation, with some tweaks here and there. But I still think my personal engagement would be different for the reasons mentioned above.

      I also agree that stories in games work better when there are actual choices that matter in the story. And that is an important point, the choices *have* to matter.

      One of my nitpicks with current Bioware is for all the big deal they make about the choices in their games is that in the end it doesn’t really matter much. For example, in Mass Effect 2, regardless of your relationship with the Illusive Man, you still start Mass Effect 3 the same way and have to go through the same fights.

      Even who ends up dying in the Suicide Mission of Mass Effect 2 doesn’t change things much as you still have the same cutscenes and fights, except that it will be with a generic NPC stand-in instead of a companion from the previous game.

      And don’t even get me started on Bethesda.

      So, if your choices won’t matter at all, at least be honest about it.

      I guess another reason for our different outlooks is due to gaming history. I got hooked into RPGs because of games like Final Fantasy VI in the SNES. And the storytelling was pretty linear back then too, except with a lot less elaborate cutscenes. XD

      The only western RPGs I played at the time were games like Eye of the Beholder and I had absolutely no clue what I was doing in those games much less be able to tell what the story was about.

      It took me years to play a game which gave me actual choices that actually mattered in the story and I don’t even remember which one it was.

      But yeah, I agree it is great that these differences exists, and more importantly, that we can discuss them with respect to each other’s positions and opinions. It makes the world a more interesting place. 🙂

  2. I’m going to back off this debate for now. I don’t actually play FFXIV and I’ve neither played through these stories nor watched them on YouTube. It’s getting increasingly untenable for me to debate the issue of whther mmorpgs are better or worse for having a linear central storyline now it’s become so concentrated on FFXIV, specifically.

    For the record, though, I did do a post about the general topic, following on from Aywren and Naithan’s posts. It was this one.

    • Fair enough. I wrote about Final Fantasy XIV because it is the one that I had the most extensive experience with and the only one I really care about right now.

      I will edit my post to include a link to yours.

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