Warriors of Light and Shadow – A Year in FFXIV

Columns of Light silhouette a Hrothgar Dancer

For about the last year and a half I’ve been playing a whole lot of Final Fantasy XIV – Close to 3,000 hours.

That’s according to Steam, although the measure includes a lot of idle time. The last expansion, Shadowbringers, released in July of 2019, shortly before I started playing. I originally bought the “Base game” to give it a shot and join some of my friends, who had played through the first 70 levels of the game in prior years, and were kind enough to wait on me to catch up before venturing into the new content.

FFXIV is the second “MMO Final Fantasy” After XI on the PC and PS2. It launched in an infamously poor state due to a rushed launch window and is a somewhat moving from-the-ashes story, even before you start to explore the game itself.

I highly recommend the Noclip documentary on the history of FFXIV and the A Realm Reborn relaunch.

But one reason to have this long-form venue is to talk about things which have become part of my life in depth. One of the benefits of long-form writing, as opposed to social media posts, is taking time to build the onramp to a topic for those who might not be familiar with. Once that’s done though, I hope writing posts about FFXIV can cover my own personal journey with the title and how important it has become to me.

FFXIV has been a huge part of connecting to and spending time with friends during the isolation of 2020, possibly more than any other single interest. It’s led to meeting lots of new people, friends of friends becoming friends of my own, and joining new communities. A lot of that story, however, is mixed in with the nature of Final Fantasy XIV’s heroes.

Hydaelyn, the world of FFXIV, is both a world apart from every other Final Fantasy, and yet also made of parts of every other Final Fantasy. Called Hydaelyn or just “The Source”, most of FFXIV takes place on three western continents known as Eorzea. Eorzea skews closer to an “ornate fantasy” than the psuedo-modern aesthetics of Final Fantasies like VII, VIII, X or XV, with some notable exceptions.

After the original game’s infamous release, Final Fantasy XIV relaunched as “A Realm Reborn”, often called just “ARR” or sometimes “2.0” by players. ARR encompasses the original main story quest and the first 50 levels or so of the game, which comes to around a quarter of the current content. The Main Story Questline (Abbreviated MSQ) deals with major threats facing the city-states of Eorzea.

Powerful god-like entities summoned by the Beast Tribes called “Primals” threaten to enslave and destroy Eorzea, each drawn from Final Fantasy’s deep roster of iconic Summons

The Garlean Empire, an expansionist nation from the continent of Ilsabard to the north, wages a war of conquest with an army of Final Fantasy series high technology staple, Magitek.

The nigh-unkillable Ascians are mysterious masked spellcasters, whose machinations are intricately tied to both The Garleans and the Primals

But taking all of these challenges on requires the rise of your character from merely an “Adventurer” to a Scion and beyond. Adventurers are part of everyday life on Hydaelyn, handling monsters, bandits, mercenary work, and treasure hunting. The Scions are one step further, a group of magic users, scholars, and adventurers entwined with the city states, who are tasked with facing down Eorzea’s problems at scale – such as the aforementioned Primals.

Ultimately, the player’s journey bends towards becoming The Warrior of Light: An avatar bearing the crystal-fueled magical gravitas necessary to helm a Final Fantasy title and change the world with their deeds.

Beyond ARR and beyond the game itself though, the phrase “Warrior of Light” – Or just WoL – has become the name for player characters themselves.

Final Fantasy XIV players talk about the role of “The Wol”, whoever that might be while someone is playing the game, or sometimes “My WoL”; Their particular characters. Fan writers, roleplayers and casual players alike all seem to swirl around this idea, with different ways of describing their characters inside of and outside of the role of Warrior of Light, or whether their characters are responsible for every deed attributed to this hero.

The latest expansion – Shadowbringers – turns the Warrior of Light as concept on its head, centering the story on the mantle of the Warrior of Darkness and questions about that identity bringing fresh perspective to your heroics and, ultimately, the origin and cosmology of Hydaelyn itself.

Other MMO’s struggle with this idea of the heroic player in the story sometimes, and while FFXIV does not try to answer this question, “how is every player the Warrior of light?”, the game and its community have space to explore this idea and do so somewhat vigorously.

For myself, I tend to come down on the side of my character *theoretically* making a fine Warrior of Light, but I tend to focus much more on his place in the imagined society of FFXIV – He has a job with a Cartography guild, a past as a rebel fighting the Garleans, and connections and plausible reasons to have traveled through all my favorite parts of the MSQ. But the details of exactly which WoL was responsible for the rest and such? That’s most often filler, the kind of things we chat about while waiting on fellow adventurers to enter a Dungeon.

Even if the exact nature of the Warrior of Light is something of a fuzzy subject, it doesn’t keep me from being fond of my avatar, or those created by other players. One thing that has kept me spending so much time in Eorzea – Far longer than is necessary to complete the story of the WoL – is being able to craft a character to express myself while I make-believe and go about chores, crafting, collecting and adventuring in Hydaelyn.

Final Fantasy XIV has given no shortage of ways to express ourselves. While new patches of story and raid content emerge every four to five months, the treasure I’ve been delving for is desirable less for its power and more for its appearance – It’s widely said among players that the real endgame of Final Fantasy XIV is Glamour – Clothes, accessories, and housing items which we use to express ourselves through this game, some of which are the most difficult items in the game to obtain

In fact, while there’s mods who build tools to assist in playing the game, much of the community effort goes into these aesthetic pursuits – Outfit ideas, a weekly clothing-based challenge, and even specialized tools to alter the shaders and lighting engine in Final Fantasy to take more vivid images.

I expect that most of my FFXIV posts will be more like how this one ends – Perhaps a bit less about the game itself, and more talking about and sharing media of Shadow Mountain, my Warrior of Light, and primary avatar in Eorzea for the last year and a half.


There’s more Shadow Mountain on the web at the links below:
Shadow Mountain @ Eorzea Collection
Shadow Mountain @ The Lodestone

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