Final Fantasy XIV’s journey to Endwalker: Reflecting on the MMO’s biggest moments
My adult life is defined by a series of patch numbers. It’s a reflex I can’t seem to stop, a messy recollection of story titles meaninglessly recited to friends and strangers alike. You ask me how old my dog is, and I immediately respond, “Heavensward early access began the day before I got him; he was a rescue, so I bottle fed him between my DPS queues—he’s six.” I met my fiance just a couple of weeks before I became acquainted with The Far Edge of Fate, and we bonded over fighting Zurvan and completing our Anima Weapons.
Final Fantasy XIV works that way for a lot of us. A Realm Reborn came out just as I started a new semester in college, and you can pinpoint the exact moment by comparing my grades—a series of straight A’s suddenly dipping to C’s. The strange but endearing habit of recalling life’s biggest moments in relation to what you were doing in the-critically-acclaimed-MMO is one I’ve noticed in plenty of folks around me. I was the Warrior of Light through some of the worst and best times of my life; it’s reflected in how skimming through new patch notes forces a cheeky grin or stirs my anxiety.
Since Endwalker’s big reveal, it’s something I can’t quit thinking about; what are those moments in FFXIV that really stand out? With nearly a decade of history behind me and a year’s worth of playtime, I have too many fond memories, but there are moments that absolutely animate me in conversation. And just as we wrap the Zodiark and Hydaelan era, I’m eager to reflect on the shards that stand out in my memories in this series of babbles.
A Realm Reborn
Over the summer of 2021, FFXIV sold a little too well, and Square Enix wound up selling out of codes for the complete collection. It wasn’t the first time its popularity simultaneously hurt and helped (hello, Endwalker queues), and it certainly won’t be the last. As Eorzea saw its rebirth with A Realm Reborn, player queues soared above expectations, and Square Enix actually paused sales on version 2.0 back in 2013. I have not-so-fond memories of instance servers breaking nonstop and getting stuck in guildhests. Despite being quite ill over server woes, I still couldn’t stop talking about FFXIV and trying to coerce my friends to join. They couldn’t, though, and it would actually be a couple of weeks before Square Enix distributed codes again. I was already level 50 by then.
Anyway, I reckon this all sounds quite familiar to Endwalker’s early access players.
Landslides and Latency
I was never a very good player in A Realm Reborn, but I know damn well I wasn’t standing in some of those Landslides. And if you saw me walk into that bomb, no you didn’t. When I first got into The Navel (Extreme), I spent night after night challenging Titan with my roommates. The server tick in FFXIV can still be pretty cruel on occasion, but the latency back in Eorzea’s infancy sucked. Yet even with all of my complaining up to this point, I never stopped. Titan probably made me a much better player during this era because if you weren’t ten steps ahead of him, you were getting smacked off the edge. There is nothing more humiliating than watching your party clear from the floor, especially since no healer can raise you.
Clear for One (It’s Me, I’m One)
In patch 2.2, Yoshida and his team kicked up the difficulty again and introduced The Whorleater (Extreme). I had no idea how to do it, but I had lost my usual Titan, Garuda, and Ifrit group, and I didn’t really know what to do now that I was suddenly alone. So, I did what any good player would do; I lied.
I love Leviathan EX mostly because it’s quite the spectacle to look at, and it introduced a pretty big difficulty jump. However, I also love Leviathan because when I found a party looking to farm the sea snake with experienced players, I just lied and told them I’d been farming on an alt. I’m not sure why I did it, and I haven’t done it since, but looking back on it is hilarious. I must’ve provoked a million passive-aggressive comments that night, ”Does anyone in the party have any questions about mechanics?” Yeah, I do, and I still don’t know when to hit that barrier lever going into 6.0.
I didn’t know what to expect at the time, but A Realm Reborn’s final patch delivered the beat that really got its claws in me. I remember how fond I was becoming of my Warrior of Light, feeling like she was more than a boring ole avatar and witness to all of these larger-than-life happenings. That was when Nanamo grew on me, too. The entire cast somehow weaseled their way into my heart by this point, too, and Before The Fall was not how I planned to say goodbye to them in the wait for another expansion.
There’s a moment I can’t stop thinking about—you all know the one I’m talking about before I even explain—it’s when Nanamo drinks from that cursed goblet. The look on her face, the moment of realization when she just knew, I’ll never forget it. I know her fate ultimately didn’t pan out the way I think it should have, but the scene and the moments after were still incredible. If I could erase it all from memory to experience it again, I would do so in a heartbeat.
Thordan EX and Alexander Savage
I was pretty damn bad in A Realm Reborn. I struggled with even the fundamentals of my roles, and I never managed to slay Nael Van Darnus before the fight fell out of relevancy. The group I played with was often pretty discouraging, so I broke off again and tried to join groups of strangers needing last-minute volunteers. It never went well, and Alexander Gordias was a disaster for me. I left for a month or two, came back to try Thordan EX, and somehow became more discouraged than ever.
Later on, I felt a little better when I realized Gordias and Midas were nightmarish for most players. There was a lot of just general jank that made the game feel not great, too. I eventually got better in a very short period of time after finding the friends I have now, and I finished Creator. I miss that tier for a lot of reasons, but I’m glad the game has moved on. It’s better for it, but this is just an era of divisiveness and difficulty I’ll never forget. Also, I’m going to be mad about melding accuracy materia to every slot on my Scholar for the rest of my life. Dark times.
Fan Festival 2016
Fan Festival felt like it represented a lot of this rapidly intensifying love I had for the MMO. I went with one of my best friends, and we added more to our party in Las Vegas. There’s something really magical about being surrounded by a room full of folks just as smitten as you. I remember sitting at the front of the crowd, eagerly waiting for my first look at what would be Stormblood. There came Lyse, slinging punches at the Warrior of Light we know from cinematic trailers, and everyone around me (very loudly) shouted “Dancer!” over and over again. Well, reader, as you may know now, Lyse was indeed not a Dancer.
That moment did a lot of good for me, my relationship with the game, and how I meet folks. I haven’t been to Fan Fest since, but god, when it’s safe again, I’ll do it even bigger this time.
The Warriors of Darkness
Early on, FFXIV introduces us to the idea that there are these fragmented worlds, and the two big gods don’t seem to agree on how to approach them. However, our first extended taste of something weird is really going on comes with the Warriors of Darkness and their introduction. It was easier to surmise Hydaelyn failed their world, the Ascians interfered, and that some of these other shards we knew about were not faring so well. Regardless, the story seemed a bit meandering, and I couldn’t quite put two and two together.
But meeting them is something I’ll never forget after Shadowbringers. I go back and watch those Heavensward cutscenes—that’s why I include it for this expansion—and my heart just hurts. It all makes sense; it’s the long payoff if you stick around for the ride. So I’m sorry to the FFXIV team for every annoyed post I made about these beats back in the Heavensward era; I see it now.
I reckon at least half of the people here skipped everything just to scroll down and look for this. Yes, I was also there for Raubahn’s frustrating instance lockout. I remember the emergency maintenance, the chaotic attempt to line up and go in organized by players, all of it. I still beat that expansion in around three days, but I spent a weekend locked in my room sitting like some little healing-obsessed Final Fantasy gremlin.
Even with today’s Endwalker problems, I can still see how they’ve learned from the hell that was Stormblood launch. You don’t see any single instances at the beginning of the story locked behind one NPC anymore, huh?
The Unending Coil of Bahamut (Ultimate)
I didn’t do Bahamut’s Ultimate trial at launch; I’m just now venturing into Ultimate content within the last year after sticking mostly to Savage. However, I’m absolutely fascinated by the grind and the road to figuring out how these fights work.
When Square Enix revealed Bahamut’s Ultimate raid, I couldn’t stop watching groups trying on Twitch. We had entered an era where Savage was cleared in a couple of days at most, and the idea a new fight would take weeks created quite the spectacle. I remember standing in Kugane one night when everyone began shouting in chat that someone had done it, then rushing to Twitter to see the clear photos. The community united over this whole thing, and every time one comes around, I get more excited for it than I do for the content I attempt, like Savage. I’ve started working on my own clears now, but nothing quite beats the magic of that first time Square introduced this to us and how players raced to the finish line.
June 28, 2019
Going into Shadowbringers, I was in a pretty bad place personally. My anxiety around the expansion was through the roof, as I placed a lot of hope into this thing being something to cheer me up. I didn’t think it would, even braced myself for disappointment. Nevertheless, I installed the game as soon as I could, logging in when the servers went live for early access, and I’ll never forget that sense of wonder.
There’s something magical about walking to the Crystarium for the first time. I don’t want to call it the game’s best moment; it’s not special in that sense, but there’s something enchanting there I don’t think we can recreate. They don’t need to, either. It’s just your first meeting with the Exarch, wandering through an alien world, the sense of adventure and curiosity. It lasts maybe 20 minutes, but Shadowbringers welcomes you with a promise that you’re going to remember version 5.0. Those memories turn my stomach into knots every time, and your walk to the Crystarium is something you just have to do to understand. The magic can’t be articulated.
I could write endlessly about Shadowbringer’s finale. My musings on Emet-Selch, Elidibus, grief, sacrifice, the final days—each little piece its own beast to explain. Since I don’t have that space in this piece, I just have to describe how I felt at the end.
I had two family members sick while I experienced 5.3; that’s what I remember most about this era. Everything was out of control in my life, and I was cuddled up in a blanket playing after work trying to hold myself together. I cried, endlessly sobbing over the fate of Elidibus in a cathartic fit. It felt like Emet-Selch and the Warrior of Light had given him permission to move on, to let go, to rest. I never quite know how to explain my feelings around FFXIV briefly. But, if you asked me to try, I’d tell you to commit to seeing Elidibus’ final monologue. It’s required reading for anyone interested in games writing. There’s a hurt in that performance that sits with me still, a year later, and I find myself going back there to enjoy the team’s artistry in creating Shadowbringer’s last moments.
The Critically Acclaimed MMO, Final Fantasy XIV
Today, Endwalker launches officially after a weekend of early access. It’s been a rough one, maybe not its worst, but still frustrating for a community so eager to see how this story ends.
But as I’m now halfway through both the journey and a box of tissues, I can’t help but look back on how I arrived here. These moments stand out not even as all of the game’s best, but as things that were just so formative to me on a personal level and to the community that I recall them with ease. Of course, it’s not comprehensive, and I love how this varies from person to person.
My love for this MMO’s world, story, and community keeps hitting new highs. None of this is what I expected as a broke college student trying to run the beta on old junky hardware. I’d love to go back and show that girl what it is now, but instead, I’ll take feeling overly emotional on a Tuesday afternoon about a game update. While you’re in those long lines to get in, I hope you can remember what has made the experience special so far and what this looks like for you, personally. And for those of you just getting started, don’t worry, soon you’ll recall where you were when the Warrior of Light went to the moon and how you felt in those moments.