The Returner: The Alpha and the Partway-Through-Omega

The Returner: Rediscovering Final Fantasy XIV

We’re back, baby! Yes, after a long period of not being able to make time for Final Fantasy XIV — despite my earlier plans to do so — I’m gradually getting back onna this train we’re off. Wait, no, that’s the wrong Final Fantasy. Omegadammit.

Anyway, yes, I finally knuckled down and finished my New Game+ run through A Realm Reborn up to base game Stormblood — the whole game’s story is damn good if you run through it all in quick succession, don’t you know, even the bits of A Realm Reborn that people hate — and am now, as I type this, involved in catching up on things that are brand new to me.

My aim for my overall “catching up” is to do pretty much everything I can aside from Extreme trials and Savage raids, since those still involve a certain amount of organisation even if you outlevel them. With that in mind, I’ve been prioritising Stormblood’s two raid cycles initially: the Ivalice series of 24-man raids, and the Omega series of 8-man raids. At the time of writing, I’ve beaten Ivalice once (though haven’t returned as yet) and have completed two of the three tiers of Omega. So let’s talk a bit about both.

Final Fantasy XIV: Omega and Ivalice
I forgot to take any Ivalice screenshots in the heat of battle, so here’s a cutscene. Final Fantasy Tactics fans will be happy.

For the unfamiliar, Final Fantasy XIV has two types of raids. The 8-man raids are often quite similar to the game’s Trials in that their primary focus is a single, substantial boss fight that lasts around 10 minutes or more in total. There’s sometimes a bit of hacking and slashing through trash before the boss — and sometimes the “boss” is more of an enemy swarm that needs to be dealt with strategically — but for the most part they’re self-contained encounters.

Meanwhile, the 24-man raids are essentially really big dungeons where three 8-player parties work their way through a series of encounters, with several major boss battles along the way. They’re often designed in such a way that the three parties have to work independently at times as well as all wailing on the same boss, and tend to feature some of the best series fanservice.

Traditionally in Final Fantasy XIV, I’ve tended to think of the 8-man raids as being the “hard” raids (even outside of Savage difficulty) and the 24-man raids as being the “easier” and more casual-friendly ones. My thinking behind this is primarily based on probably outdated perceptions: back in the A Realm Reborn days, the 8-man raid The Binding Coil of Bahamut was so difficult that it was, for the most part, on a par with what we think of as “Savage” content today, while the Crystal Tower 24-man raid cycle was… I hesitate to say “easy”, but certainly more accessible to a broader audience.

Final Fantasy XIV: Omega
Even FFXIV knows how dumb FFV’s plot is.

To put it another way, there are people out there who never cleared The Binding Coil of Bahamut despite it having some of the best narrative (and music!) in A Realm Reborn, but pretty much everyone did Crystal Tower. In fact, as of Shadowbringers’ patch 5.3, Crystal Tower is now mandatory before you proceed beyond a certain point in the main scenario — so if you’re the one exception to the rule that “everyone’s done it”, get off your ass and run through it now. It’s fun!

Anyway, this cycle seemed to continue throughout Heavensward. The 8-man Alexander series was deliberately tuned to be noticeably easier for its “normal” difficulty, but it was still arguably a step above the Trials. Meanwhile, the 24-man Diabolos cycle — which, oddly, I find to be one of the least memorable parts of the game when looking back on it retrospectively, despite really enjoying it when it was current — was reasonably challenging, but definitely something you could muddle your way through without too much difficulty.

Part of that is the fact that with 24 people all wailing on a boss, there’s a little more margin for error — in theory, at least.

This definitely feels like it’s shifted in the other direction for Stormblood, though. The Ivalice raids are hard. Not frustratingly so, but they do have a density of mechanics that is… noteworthy. And the implementation of said mechanics coupled with Final Fantasy XIV’s Level Sync system means that for the most part you can’t really just brute force your way through those mechanics either; you have to engage with them properly.

Final Fantasy XIV: Ivalice
This is not Math Boss.

Probably the most notorious example of this is an encounter that has become colloquially known (at least in our household and Free Company) as “math boss”. This boss, otherwise known as Construct 7, features a mechanic where you have to manipulate your current HP value (which is reduced considerably for the duration of the mechanic) using a series of numerical “puddles” on the floor.

As Construct 7 sets off various attacks such as “Divide by 4” you can survive the hit by setting your HP to an appropriate value — for example, in the Divide by 4 case, your HP needs to be a multiple of 4, so if it’s been set to, say, 7, you need to hop in the “1” puddle to make it 8.

On paper, this isn’t a complicated mechanic, but as anyone who has participated in this battle will attest, doing primary school-level math in the heat of battle isn’t the easiest thing, particularly if you’re a healer and thus predisposed to panic if you see the entire alliance suddenly drop down to single-figure HP. Couple that with other fights that involve watching for animation cues rather than the more common floor telegraphs and mechanics icons and you have a series of raids that is still kicking people’s asses to this day.

Compare and contrast with Omega, which is full of fantastic, dramatic and spectacular battles — most of which are gratuitous fanservice for Final Fantasy V and VI — but which, mechanically speaking, is actually rather easy. Each individual boss fight in normal-level Omega is considerably less mechanically dense than pretty much anything in the Ivalice raids, even when it comes to the “final boss” of each tier — historically something of a “prove your worth, human” kind of fight. Quite literally in the case of Omega.

Final Fantasy XIV: Omega
Yes, he does the laugh.

None of this is necessarily a bad thing, mind. I actually rather like the fact that there’s some challenging stuff to do for a large group — and it always felt a little odd to me that the dungeons you throw the most people at were seemingly supposed to be the easier ones. But I guess the original philosophy was, as previously noted, the fact that with more people, you have greater margin for error; even if, say, both your party’s healers go down, there’s always the chance that a healer from another party in the alliance can come and help you get back on your feet.

Conversely, in an 8-player situation, if both your healers go down, you’re generally buggered unless someone happens to have actually held on to the one Phoenix Down item you’re allowed to carry around at a time. Or if your Red Mage remembers that they have Verraise, which can seemingly be a big ask sometimes — muh DPS and all that.

Anyway, I was going to talk specifics about both raid cycles, but I’ve rattled on for over a thousand words already, so that’s probably enough for now — for next time I’ll finish off Omega and perhaps run Ivalice again to be able to talk in more detail about it, and in the meantime I’ve got lots of dungeons and Trials to catch up on, too.

As always, if you want to say hello in-game, feel free to drop Amarysse Jerhynsson on Cerberus a message. Because that’s me, that is. Just don’t ask for ERP unless you have some fat stacks to offer and have secured my wife’s permission first. I am not a cheap date.

See you in Eorzea… and beyond!

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Pete Davison
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