The Returner: I finally finished Stormblood

The Returner: Rediscovering Final Fantasy XIV

Last night, I decided to knuckle down and completely finish the main scenario of Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood once and for all. I knew I didn’t have a ton left to complete — I’d already gotten through the postgame cycle’s equivalent of “The Final Steps of Faith” and thus was into the part of the story that would lead into the next expansion — so I knew I just had to sit down, get on with it and do it.

I’m glad I did, because the final two patches worth of Stormblood’s postgame storyline only emphasise what I’ve already said: this expansion marks a point where there is a significant improvement in an already solid single-player offering.

Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood

Perhaps notably, when I wrote that last piece about Stormblood’s post-game single-player instances, I hadn’t yet reached any of the “Role-Play” sequences. These are parts of the game where rather than controlling your own character, you take on the role of one of the other main characters in the story as they get on with something. To the best of my recollection, this is the first time in Final Fantasy XIV where this happens; there have been previous occasions where you’ve been accompanied by NPCs or perhaps been able to take temporary control of things, but this is the first time where you’re actually given a completely new character to play with.

Now, this potentially could have been quite a daunting prospect for anyone who hasn’t played the jobs that the various other characters fall into. If you haven’t played Samurai, how are you going to handle Hien? If you haven’t played Arcanist and its variants, how will you cope with controlling Alphinaud? If you’ve never White Maged, is Y’shtola going to be too much to take on?

Rather wisely, Stormblood takes the option of simplifying all these characters enormously from the “full” jobs. That means there are, at most, four buttons to use for each of them — and more complex mechanics such as Samurai’s various combos are simplified in a way that just uses a single dynamic button rather than you having to set up your own layouts. In fact, I liked Hien’s implementation so much that I kind of wish they’d added the ability to make “combo buttons” to the interface in general; it would certainly save some room on the ol’ hotbars — and the code to do so is clearly in the game already, since it’s also used in PvP.

Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood

Anyway, these “role-play” sequences allow for some excellent dramatic moments where you take on various challenges in a very different way to how you’ve handled the rest of the game. In essence, as well as allowing you a heavily simplified taster of jobs you might not have played as, it’s also challenging you to take on an encounter with a very limited toolset at your disposal. This places an even stronger emphasis on doing mechanics than the game already has — and there are some wonderfully designed fights to take on, particularly towards the grand finale of Stormblood’s patch cycle.

Probably the highlight of these was the “finale” encounter, in which you initially start off playing as Hien alongside Y’shtola and Yugiri, and your job is simply to survive until the Warrior of Light (i.e. you) arrives. This is not an easy task, given your opponent, but with the little meter ticking along until “Warrior of Light’s Timely Arrival” at the side of the screen, there’s not much you can do other than engage with the mechanics, get as many hits in as you can along the way and, as usual, Try Not to Stand in the Bad Stuff. So you fight; you fight with all your strength and those four buttons you have at your disposal — and it’s delightful.

I’ll refrain from spoiling too much of the narrative context for the benefit of those still to catch up, but I will say that postgame Stormblood did an excellent job of offering a feeling of a “final boss” encounter much better than both A Realm Reborn and Heavensward’s postgame stories did. Neither of those were any slouches, mind — both The Chrysalis and The Final Steps of Faith are some of my favourite encounters in the game — but the grand finale to Stormblood’s postgame places the emphasis squarely on just you, the Warrior of Light, and not those pesky “adventuring companions” you had to share the limelight with on those two aforementioned occasions.

Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood

Now that I’ve reached the conclusion of Stormblood, I look back on it very fondly — but I also find it interesting that it’s probably the expansion of Final Fantasy XIV that seems to get talked about the least. Everyone whinges about A Realm Reborn these days (even though its “rags to riches” story remains of critical importance to the Warrior of Light’s overall narrative), everyone jokes about the free trial going up to the end of Heavensward, everyone talks about how good Shadowbringers and how Endwalker made them cry… but very few people seem to mention Stormbood.

Having not yet played through Shadowbringers and Endwalker, I can’t comment on this with authority, of course, but I’m certainly leaving my time with Stormblood behind with a sense of fondness in my heart. Some of my absolute favourite bits of the game have come in this expansion, and in a variety of forms — as well as some genuinely excellent narrative moments, Stormblood also boasts my favourite “normal battle” and “dungeon boss battle” themes from my progress through the game, and The Garlean Territorial Anthem for Gyr Abania and Surrounding States is still an absolute masterpiece.

Plus, as for all the revelations that come towards the end of Stormblood’s postgame narrative… well. That’s some top-notch villainy going on right there — and I can’t wait to discover how it proceeds from hereon. But that’s a tale for another day — first I need to figure out where all the Scions have gone, and investigate this mysterious “beacon” that can supposedly be found near the Crystal Tower… wish me luck!

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Pete Davison
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