Catching Up With Final Fantasy XIV – A 1000+ Hour Journey

The critically acclaimed Final Fantasy XIV. For years, this MMO has triumphed as one of the best of the genre. An impressive feat—especially considering its beginnings. Heck, you couldn’t name a better zero from hero story than the fall and rise of Version 1.0, dare I say.

Now, I have dabbled into Final Fantasy XIV. Many times, as a matter of fact. But always ended up dropping it for one reason or another. Still, after a group of close friends gifted me the Complete Edition and offered to help me get through it, I thought to myself: Maybe now is the time.

Since then, I have accumulated over a thousand hours and have made so many memories that I couldn’t help but share this long journey in the form of a featured article. So without further ado, this is my story about my journey through Final Fantasy XIV’s story.

WARNING: This article contains several spoilers from all of the Final Fantasy XIV expansions. You have been warned.

Chapter 1: A Realm Reborn

Starting things off, we have…Version 2.0: A Realm Reborn, the starting point of your journey in Eorzea, as people call it. Now, this is probably a take that is as cold as an iceberg in Antarctica, but A Realm Reborn really, really put my patience to the test. I truly did not like it.

Suffice it to say, the incessant fetch quests and many, many tutorials were not very fun to go through, and I’m not alone in this. Lots of people share my feelings. One of my friends called it a “necessary evil” while another described it as a “very long tutorial”. And both are equally valid. Now, since its release in 2014, A Realm Reborn had dozens of patches that cut out a lot of pointless fluff, and some dungeons received some much needed streamlining, which was welcome.

I definitely consider myself lucky that I technically did not have to deal with any of the quests that had to be removed, but I was still definitely sighing a lot of the way through, and I would not blame any poor soul who has to go through A Realm Reborn and be mauled by the same side quests and tutorials. In fact, I would not shun anyone who tempts themselves into buying a story skip for Heavensward, especially if you don’t have the patience to go through it.

That being said, the story did get somewhat more thrilling when I got to the final cutscene in what Final Fantasy XIV dubs “Post Realm Reborn”, which are the series of patches that set you towards the next big expansion. And honestly? It sort of felt like I was seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.

Chapter 2: Heavensward

Version 3.0. Heavensward. By this point, I have been playing Final Fantasy XIV for about a month, which made me think that Heavensward would be just as long as A Realm Reborn, if not much more. But, I was surprised when I managed to go through this expansion in just shy of two and a half weeks. Perhaps it was the story? Well, let me break it down.

Despite the slow burn at the beginning, the halfway point is when the story really started to pick up for me. Of course, it did have its fair share of annoying quests (and honestly, this is a trend shared by most of the expansions, as I discover later), but compared to A Realm Reborn? It truly felt like fine wine.

And of course, I cannot miss the Dragonsong War, which spans the latter portion of “Post Heavensward (quotes because the game doesn’t necessarily call it that). I absolutely enjoyed seeing the conclusion and I was on the edge of my seat when a character I had taken a liking to, met an untimely demise.

At the time, I was with some friends on a Discord voice call, and I was really taken aback on what just happened. And this is not something that happens once. The entire expansion is filled with twists and turns. It’s called the “award-winning expansion” in many circles, and it does that title justice.

Chapter 3: Stormblood

Next up we have Version 4.0: Stormblood. An expansion that practically has two whole arcs in it, though both of them share a common theme: Revolution, seeing as its Japanese subtitle translates to “The Crimson Liberator”. As the Garlean Empire starts to become more of a threat, the story has you practically liberate two whole nations: Those being Doma, and Ala Mhigo. 

Now, unfortunately, here’s where I will probably anger some people, but I wasn’t too thrilled with the Ala Mhigo sections of this expansion. They weren’t bad, but they also weren’t good. While it felt exhilarating to finally see Ala Mhigo liberated, I didn’t feel as much joy as I did when I saw Lord Hien and the many nations of Doma celebrate their freedom. Which is why this made Stormblood fall a bit short in my list when compared to Heavensward.

When it comes to Doma however, I absolutely fell in love with its aesthetic. Not only did Kugane quickly become one of my favorite hub towns, but it was also Stormblood that introduced me to my most favorite dungeon: Shisui of the Violet Tides. And that’s not to forget the many side-quests that tap into Japanese mythology, which were absolutely amazing.

When it comes to Post Stormblood, it was also a mix of good and bad, but perhaps due to my already existing bias, I found the parts involving the aftermath of Doma much more interesting than Ala Mhigo. That being said, I can understand why that region is important to the story, but still, I just wasn’t as invested as I’d like to admit.

Chapter 4: Shadowbringers

With over halfway of the expansions finished, it’s time to move on to Version 5.0, Shadowbringers, which many Final Fantasy XIV players consider to be where the story really peaks. And boy, they were not kidding. Shadowbringers managed to dethrone Heavensward from my top list alarmingly quickly, and it’s part in thanks to how this story heavily focuses on character development between the Scions of the Seventh Dawn, your companions whom you’ve been fighting with for a long time now. 

And of course, Shadowbringers introduces Emet-Selch, one of the fanbase’s most liked antagonists, and it’s evident why. Unlike your typical villain, Emet-Selch is very sarcastic and even drops you with some lore bombs that honestly made me fascinated every time he was on screen. His Japanese voice acting was also second to none.

And then we have the finale of Shadowbringers, which absolutely hit me. Like a giant-sized whip lashed my back at terminal velocity. This is where the history entered a territory where my mind couldn’t keep up with all the things happening at once, and with how many plot points were being introduced. “I’m in for a ride”, I said.

And then we have the ending cutscene, which is when I cried. No, I’m serious. The final cutscene of Shadowbringers had me crying, something that never, EVER happened with any of the games I’ve played. I’m not going to spoil what happens in it, but I felt floored.

This definitely made the move to the Post-Shadowbringers patches definitely interesting, because by this point, I’ve started to notice a pattern with Final Fantasy XIV’s story structure. Most notably, what each patch covers. The first three patches are almost always an “aftermath” story of what happened in the expansion, with the point four and onward patches setting the stage for the next big thing™. And speaking of which…

Chapter 5: Endwalker

Here we are at the final stretch of the game, and that is Version 6.0: Endwalker. “Finally I will get to know the meaning of the moon that has been haunting me every time I boot up the game!” I thought, as I hit my fourth month since the start of my journey. 

Being the expansion that is meant to end everything that was introduced in previous patches, Endwalker, for me, had a bit of an issue where it sometimes felt it didn’t know at what sort of speed it was going to. Of course it needed to pump the breaks on the story, or else it would just be a traumatic expansion from start to finish, but there were some parts that I definitely felt were a bit strangely paced, especially when compared to Shadowbringers.

The soundtrack however, is one of the best parts of it. Endwalker has one of, if not the best original soundtrack I have ever listened to, and even as I write this chapter, I listen non-stop to Close in the Distance. While the ending didn’t make me cry, as many thought I would, it did trigger some feelings that really felt foreign to me. It’s been four months, and from complaining about Realm Reborn, to my mixed feelings in Stormblood, I have arrived. At the end of the plane. And as the credits rolled and the iconic credits picture rolled, it felt great. Especially with how the bosses were full of unique mechanics.

Chapter 6: Post-Endwalker & Side Content

Normally, I would place Post-Endwalker in its own paragraph, but there’s a particular reason as to why: From Patch 6.1 and onwards, Final Fantasy XIV introduces a completely new story that takes place after the events of Endwalker. And I mean, completely different. As its “Newfound Adventure” name implies, it feels like a book has just closed, and a brand-new, blank one has opened.

From here, I started catching up with a lot of the content that the game offers, before we hit the next major expansion, which is set to come in Summer 2024. And this is where all of my hours pile up at the moment. I have triumphed over the Forbidden Land, Eureka, grinded for three weeks to level up all of my crafting classes to LV 90, and made a plethora of new friends along the way.

Needless to say, while it was a daunting journey that took me over 1000 hours, I can definitely say that each and every hour didn’t felt completely wasted, and part of that is thanks to all of my friends who helped me. And now, we close the chapter on this for now, but you can bet that I’ll have a lot more to talk about when Dawntrail comes.