Spoiler alert – this post has some spoilers for both the Eden raid series in full, including the most recent chapter Promise, and the full Sorrow of Werlyt trial questline in FFXIV Shadowbringers.
With patch 5.4, the Eden raid series has concluded and the Sorrow of Werlyt is down to a single remaining chapter to conclude its tale, which we are likely to see in patch 5.5.
Something I really, definitely love about FFXIV is that it isn’t afraid of exploring deep, dark, harrowing themes in a way that doesn’t insulate players from having to think about the idea being presented.
Both of these pieces of content do this in different, but similar ways. Let’s discuss!
The Eden raid series is one that I was predisposed to like. My first full playthrough Final Fantasy title was Final Fantasy VIII, so when Eden was announced, it really piqued my interest. On the nostalgia notes, it delivered most of what I wanted – we got a remastered version of the FFVIII overworld, a fight that called back to Ultimecia, and a series of interesting character moments including a story conclusion that literally recreates the ending of FFVIII shot for shot.
Gameplay-wise, I don’t have enough exposure to doing FFXIV raid content contemporaneously to say that it is a good/bad raid from a balance and gameplay perspective, but I enjoyed the content a lot and felt like each of the 3 chapters delivered something interesting mechanically.
Thematically, I really love the story being told. Firstly, the ending of the whole saga ties Eden back to the Ascian drama that has been a huge part of the whole FFXIV lore, much less the foundational element of the Shadowbringers lore. Secondly, the willingness to present a romantic gay relationship, even subtextually, is pretty cool and definitely a bit out of Final Fantasy’s traditional comfort zone. Thirdly, the nature of that growing relationship unfolds through each raid tier both with story moments, and the climax of it is actually handled via gameplay, which is awesome and very well done – literally saving Gaea’s memories of Ryne and their relationship via combat. Lastly, I think the other core themes and tie-in to the main story – restoring balance to the Empty – is a good hook and it served to let the team run wild with a lot of new versions of older fights, mixed in which some brand-spanking new bosses that advanced story themes of the Eden raid series and the characters involved.
In the end, what I liked about Eden is that it found a way to lean on fights the game has already featured without feeling like rehashes or remastered versions, while also weaving in new stories, new conflicts, and telling a decidedly different story.
And of course, there was just enough FFVIII nostalgia there for me.
But it wasn’t the most emotionally resonant piece of endgame storytelling I’ve experienced in FFXIV (well, E12 is pretty competitive!). Because…
The Sorrow of Werlyt
Two expansions in a row, now, the FFXIV team has gone back to A Realm Reborn, plucked a villain out of the Praetorium, made them a more complicated and nuanced character, and then set them on a path of redemption. In Stormblood, that character was Nero, and it was good, but more slapstick and distant from any sort of overarching emotional themes.
Gaius in Shadowbringers is deeply emotional, forced to reckon with his failures as a commander, a father, and a human being, and my god does it hurt to watch.
Gaius was cast in ARR as a sort of noble man, one that was weakened by nationalism (an interesting theme to revisit in the last few years) but who had practical limits in what he was willing to do which made him human, and ultimately led him away from the Garleans, as we discovered in the Stormblood patch cycle when he turned up in the Burn.
The Sorrow of Werlyt is equal parts nostalgia trip (as with many things in this game, this specific element casting back to FFVII) and new storytelling. Gaius was a father of adopted children, who are now part of the Garlean forces, working on the weapon project – the continuation of the work on Ultima Weapon their adopted father led.
The story gets dark and sad immediately, as you are forced to watch Gaius basically watch as patch by patch, his adopted children die one by one, due to the nature of the Overdrive function in the Weapons they have made. At the same time, you’re forced to watch as Gaius struggles against his grief while also dealing with the grief he has dealt to others – liberating Terncliff and hearing tales of how his former legion caused untold harm, the guards with you responsible for watching Gaius telling tales of how his actions directly harmed them or those they loved, and yet ultimately, Gaius is trying to make it right. The story does an outstanding job of pushing this theme – the people who hate Gaius are also struggling to reconcile a clearly suffering man trying hard to make amends against their experience with Gaius as a warmongering, bloodthirsty destroyer from Garlemald.
The story has yet to conclude (one more trial awaits in patch 5.5) but the 5.4 trial with Emerald Weapon was pretty great from a story perspective, in that it both shows the children of Gaius as working to make things better in the way their father would have, while those around Gaius are beginning to reconcile what he is and what he has done to them in a way that allows a path forward. The trial also introduces the children’s still-present love for Gaius via gameplay mechanics, which is, again, a strength that I think the FFXIV team has mastered. Further still, the story introduces a compelling pure villain in Valens Van Varro, a smarmy prick that will surely be a good antagonist for us in the future, if he doesn’t meet with some other horrible end in patch 5.5. Coupled with Fandaniel, the main Garlean figures we are being presented with as our likely 6.0 antagonists have far less likeability than the more nuanced presentations of Emet-Selch and even Elidibus, which should make for an interesting story in the near future!
Overall, I wanted to write a little bit about both of these things because they encapsulate what it is I get out of FFXIV that I don’t tend to get from WoW – deeply emotionally resonant stories and gameplay that intertwine to strengthen both elements, and it is something I am eager for more of!