You may recall that recently my enjoyment of Hololive English VTuber Amelia Watson’s streams on the subject of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion inspired me to turn off my minimap in open-world games from hereon. And one of the games I was most curious to try this in was Final Fantasy XIV.
Final Fantasy XIV had always been a game in which I was heavily reliant on the minimap, you see; completing quests was, more often than not, a case of following a marker on said minimap and then doing something at that location — be it fighting an enemy, speaking with someone or interacting with an object.
But I’d always been conscious of the fact that by fixating my gaze on that top-right corner of my screen, I was probably missing out on some of the gorgeous scenery in the incredible world that Naoki Yoshida and his team had put together — not to mention some of the interesting paths through the scenery that the designers had put together.
I’ve previously mentioned how much I appreciate the fact that Final Fantasy XIV’s Heavensward expansion and onwards prevents you from making use of flying mounts until you’ve thoroughly explored and “completed” each zone on foot, and this very much comes into focus when attempting to play the game without a minimap. So let’s follow a practical example from my ongoing New Game Plus run through the expansion, since I’ve actually had some time to play this week!
I’d paused my run because I knew the next thing I needed to do was the Thok ast Thok trial in which you face off against Ravana. This isn’t an especially difficult fight, but the endgame trials of A Realm Reborn had shown me that a not particularly well equipped level 70 character (such as I am) is not really sufficient to take on Final Fantasy XIV’s 8-player content — aside from the finale story dungeons Castrum Meridianum and the Praetorium, which are designed for entry-level 50s with terrible gear.
As such, I thought taking on Ravana solo would probably be an exercise in frustration, so I queued up to do it “properly” before doing anything else.
All together now, sing it with me! Blood trickling down from my fullers! And blood trickling down from mine hands! Yes, blood trickling down to Hydaelyn! Until I alone stand!
Yeah, you’re nothing, you big bug. Get outta here, I’ve got exploring to do.
I was immediately presented with my first challenge. “We should rejoin our companions,” says Ysayle, wandering off into the void NPCs disappear into when they think they’re out of your eyeline. “Speak with Alphinaud”, added the objective list at the side of the screen.
Had it not been a couple of weeks since I’d had the time to sit down with Final Fantasy XIV properly, this would probably have been less of an issue. However, I couldn’t remember where I had left Alphinaud, so it was time to take to the skies and investigate.
It didn’t help that this Final Fantasy XIV zone was, at the time, covered in the thick, smoky fog of late evening, limiting visibility somewhat, but gaining some altitude was still enough to be able to survey the zone somewhat — and I recalled that Alphinaud was probably hanging out either at the dragons’ tower Anyx Trine, or the Vath settlement where we had plotted to overthrow Ravana.
I couldn’t remember where the Vath settlement was, though. I knew it was hidden behind a rock somewhere — a really nice touch that means when you’re exploring on foot, as you would be at that point in the story “first time around”, you don’t even see it until you’re right on top of it.
Still, I took the opportunity to look around the zone and see what I could see, and noted this ruin I hadn’t really noticed before; since it was named Anyx Minor, I assume it had some connection to the huge Anyx Trine tower. Interesting little Final Fantasy XIV lore tidbit I probably wouldn’t have stumbled across if I was just following my minimap.
I eventually found the damn place after looking behind every suspicious-looking huge rock in the zone, and found one potential issue with my “rely on visual navigation” thing — the one thing you do find yourself missing with the minimap turned off in Final Fantasy XIV is a compass. Sometimes you know the place you need to be is just north of where you are… but if you don’t know which was north is, that’s not much help!
“Let’s go to Anyx Trine,” says Alphinaud. We’d made a deal with the dragons, after all. I was pretty confident that I would be able to find my way to Anyx Trine without difficulty, since it’s an absolutely huge landmark that is visible from a fair distance away, whether on foot or in the sky.
Sure enough, there it was, rising majestically from the morning mists. This leg of our journey was no problem whatsoever; we’d been given clear instructions to go to a location we’d previously been to, and said location is easy to spot.
Vidofnir, impressed with our triumph over Ravana, suggests that we head into the sacred dragon cavern of Mourn and search for the altar named Halo, which will guide us the way up the sacred mountain of Sohm Al, at the summit of which we will be able to seek out Hraesvelgr and parley with him.
Ysayle, being someone who has got along with dragons a lot longer than the rest of us, conveniently knows that the entrance to Mourn is on the second floor of Anyx Trine.
I decided to take this part of the journey on foot for a more authentic “Final Fantasy XIV first time around” experience. Halfway up the enormous staircase, I found myself wondering why dragons needed stairs, then remembered that at one point humans and dragons actually lived in harmony with one another — and indeed that this the whole point of much of Heavensward’s story.
The “first floor” of Anyx Trine is actually nothing more than a landing, so to make it clear when you’ve reached the correct floor to enter Mourn, there’s a convenient little dragon floating outside who tells you that you’re in the right place, and that the entrance you’re looking for is a “bridge beyond this chamber”.
Sure enough, there was indeed a bridge beyond the chamber — albeit one that perhaps wasn’t obvious at first glance due to its heavy slope — and, beyond, I assumed, was the cavern of Mourn.
Indeed, it was, but it seemed to be a rather large place once inside. Where was I actually supposed to go? Resisting opening the big map to make sure, I simply pressed onwards into the cavern in the hope of seeing something that looked like an obvious landmark.
It didn’t take me long to find it — an obvious doorway at the far end of the cavern. On top of that, the fact the location title on screen indicated that I was in (or, more accurately, beneath) the foothills of the mountain I was hoping to climb suggested that I was on the right track.
Was this actually the right place? It looked important, but I couldn’t see any sign of Vidofnir, who was supposedly waiting for us.
Cautiously approaching, I soon spotted the iconic Final Fantasy XIV “Destination” marker, as well as the dungeon entrance to Sohm Al that I’d unlocked on my previous playthrough. Sure enough, the on-screen location title indicated that I had indeed found the altar known as Halo.
Vidofnir shows up in a cutscene to congratulate you on overcoming your small trial, and invites you to ascend the mountain of Sohm Al, warning you that it is a sacred place for dragons, and that Nidhogg’s minions will likely not appreciate you intruding. But you have a job to do, so it’s off to the Duty Finder with you!
This led on to two things I wanted to test: firstly, can you navigate through a Final Fantasy XIV dungeon without a minimap? And secondly, can a poorly equipped level 70 character handle a level 53 dungeon solo?
I kind of already knew the answer to the former. Final Fantasy XIV’s dungeons had been fairly rigidly linear for some time prior to Heavensward. Several of the initial A Realm Reborn dungeons had offered multiple routes or unconventional means of navigating through them — The Thousand Maws of Toto-Rak and Haukke Manor spring immediately to mind — but these had seemingly proven unpopular with players, so most dungeons thereafter had simply unfolded as linear strings of encounters.
A bit of a shame in some respects, but understandable; more labyrinthine dungeons are seemingly best saved for single-player experiences — or at least the parts of Final Fantasy XIV intended to be experienced solo, such as the open world content.
I found my way to the first boss without any difficulty and splattered them solo easily. That seemingly answered my second question, so it was onwards to the rest of the dungeon.
Sohm Al is a rather fun dungeon in that it has some interactive “background” elements throughout, such as these dragons who fly past the path you’re taking, out of reach, and take pot shots at you as you’re attempting to fend off the foes near to you. Despite these hazards, the path is still clear and linear throughout, however.
Once again, I was reminded that not staring at that minimap in the top-right corner of the screen allowed me to enjoy the scenery. And there really is some spectacular scenery throughout Final Fantasy XIV — particularly in the more tightly designed dungeons.
The fact that such beautiful locales are rendered by an engine originally designed for the PlayStation 3 (albeit with some upgrades over the years) is testament to the fact that good art design always trumps the latest tech.
Finally, we were nearing the top. The other nice thing about Sohm Al is that as one of the few “transitional” dungeons that mark the first time you move from one zone to another, the scenery changes as you move through its various areas. Towards the base, the scenery resembles what you’ve seen in The Dravanian Forelands; towards the top, it looks more like The Churning Mists, which is the zone you end up in after you’ve beaten the dungeon as part of the story.
There was an angry dragon to slice and dice first, though — would I survive her relentless Comet attacks, chop her wings off and kick her to the ground, or would she crush me beneath a wave of meteors?
I think you all already knew the answer to that.
So what conclusions can we draw from our adventures today? Firstly, that it seems reasonably possible to navigate through Final Fantasy XIV’s world without making use of a minimap — so long as you’re provided with a suitable indication as to roughly where you should be going.
Worst comes to worst, you can always pop up the big map window and see where you are, which way you’re facing and which way you’re going — but for the most part, the zones are filled with enough landmarks to make visual navigation eminently possible for all but the most out-of-the-way, obscure quest objectives.
So with that in mind, that’s how I intend to play for the immediate future! We’ll see how long that lasts as I proceed further into some of Heavensward’s more confusing zones — and beyond!
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