Final Fantasy XIV - Shadowbringers

I’m a little behind the curve. I wanted to complete Final Fantasy XIV‘s Shadowbringers expansion before the Endwalker expansion launched, and I didn’t quite make it. I came pretty darn close, though. I completed Shadowbringers about a week ago, and I’ve been processing the experience ever since. And man, what an expansion!

Now, I’m going to attempt to break this down without giving any major spoilers. I might leak out a tiny thing or two here and there in my excitement, but I won’t reveal anything that will ruin the game for those of you who haven’t experienced it yet. This will be relatively spoiler-free… Relatively

First off, Shadowbringers is extremely ambitious, in a way that previous Final Fantasy XIV expansions weren’t. It doesn’t just expand the world we already know; it gives us a brand-new one. And that means that instead of sticking to a handful of consistent themes — half of Stormblood’s new areas are desert, for example — it gives us all of the themed areas we’d expect from a full JRPG. You’ve got open fields, desert, forest, an enchanted castle, and a final area that defies all expectations. Just exploring this world is incredible.

And I have to say, these are some of the best areas in the game so far. Il Mheg features massive fields of flowers surrounding a pixie castle. Amh Araeng is more desert, but it’s also littered with ruins, which is something we don’t see a whole lot of in previous desert areas.

Final Fantasy XIV - Amg Araeng

And Rak’tika Greatwood? That might be my favorite area in the entire game. We’ve not really seen much in the way of thick, dense forests since… well, the Shroud in A Realm Reborn. Sure, there’s the Chocobo Forest in Heavensward, but that’s not really much of a forest, is it? Rak’tika is filled with massive trees and gnarled roots. It’s also home to Fanow, which I lovingly refer to as “Bunny Lothlorien.”

All that is to say that the scope of this expansion is massive. Square Enix basically gave us an entire new JRPG inside of an already massive MMORPG. MMO expansions don’t generally shoot for the stars in this way. Shadowbringers does, and it actually pulls it off!

As for the story? Well, that’s fantastic too. I love the premise of returning the darkness to a world where light drenched everything, destroying the entire world except for a small inhabitable sliver. It’s a reversal of the traditional “bring light back to a darkened world” trope, and it manages to feel fresh here. And the expansion’s opening moments are absolutely incredible.

Final Fantasy XIV - Y'shtola

Now, I do have to defend my opinion a bit, because it runs contrary to something I stated previously. Back when I played Stormblood, I complained that the story takes us away from the main conflict a second time (after Heavensward), and that you can justify doing this a single time, but doing it again starts to feel tedious. I stand behind that to some extent, but Shadowbringers proves that Final Fantasy XIV can do it a third time without breaking the momentum of the main narrative. The difference, I think, is that while Stormblood rips us away from Ala Mhigo halfway through that particular arc, Shadowbringers works really hard to wrap up all of Stormblood’s main conflicts before pulling us into a new world.

I will say that I think Heavensward might still top Shadowbringers as far as story is concerned, but Shadowbringers improves on every other aspect of the game. The dungeons are better, the areas are more beautiful, the side quests feel richer, the reputation grinds are less grindy, and the pacing is pretty much perfect from start to finish (in comparison, Heavensward gets off to a pretty slow start, I have to admit).

And let’s not forget the music. I was admittedly a bit skeptical of bringing in electric guitars for, say, the main battle theme, but it really, really works here. And let’s be real: The Rak’tika Greatwood theme is a banger. I get why people make fun of the “La hee” yodel thing, because this is in no way subtle. However, it works, and it creates a mood for the forest that’s unlike anything else in the game. When this track plays, I picture the Ewoks celebrating at the end of Return of the Jedi, just rocking out as hard as their little Ewok bodies will allow. I love it.

And let me just state that Emet-Selch and Vauthry are both fantastic villains. Emet-Selch is almost likeable, in a creepy way, and the fact that he sort of follows you around — and even helps you out occasionally — lends him a dynamic that we haven’t really seen in the game thus far. And he gives us some much-needed insight into the world of the Ascians, which allows us to actually understand what they’re trying to accomplish.

And Vauthry is just a giant baby man who was raised to believe he was a god, and he’s horribly sociopathic as a result. Because he’s such a spoiled brat, seeing him throw massive temper-tantrums is always thrilling and satisfying. A villain with nothing to lose can be terrifying, but how much more terrifying is a villain who realizes they are failing to live up to impossibly high expectations and just completely breaks down in front of you?

I’m two years late to this particular party, and I know I’m not the first person to just gush over how amazing Shadowbringers is. It’s kind of a meme in the FF14 community at this point. But still, Shadowbringers is incredible, and it’s worth pushing through Stormblood to get to.

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