Very few video games have affected me like Shadowbringers, the third expansion for Final Fantasy XIV, has. I finished the main plot weeks ago, and just seeing people talk about the end scenes still makes me emotional. This is absolutely the best story in the Final Fantasy series, and maybe the best story I’ve experienced in a video game.

I want to talk about Shadowbringers, but I do not want to spoil it. This is an emotionally resonant story, and hearing about it in dribs and drabs would not do it justice. If you’ve played it, you already know what it’s about. If you haven’t, consider it. Granted, there are literally hundreds of hours of FFXIV between a new player and this story (and skipping the previous story, while an option, would undermine it to a large degree), but still.

What sets Shadowbringers apart for me is that it’s about your character, the Warrior of Light. Many people loved the story of FFXIV’s first expansion, Heavensward, but you really played a bit part in it. The big moments mostly involve other characters, though one scene in particular (before a battle on a certain bridge) shows how awesome your character is. Shadowbringers even tops this scene, though.

Prior to Shadowbringers, you spent much of your time killing pseudo-gods known as Primals. You have a rare special ability to resist their mental influence, an ability your main companions (the leaders of a group known as the Scions of the Seventh Dawn) lack, so these battles fall to you. Shadowbringers deconstructs this somewhat by putting you in a position of unique ability to save another world, but at great personal cost. (Not to imply this is a purely selfless act due to it being another world; the fates of that world and your own are intimately connected.)

One of the aspects of good writing is its ability to force you to suspend your disbelief. Obviously the game isn’t going to kill off your character in an ongoing MMO, yet the fear that you could die (or worse) grows to a very real level during the story of Shadowbringers. You are given several opportunities to show vulnerability or a facade of strength, and your long-time companions grow more and more concerned for your well-being. You press on because you must, but at a certain point when a character offers you a way out… well, I considered it for a moment. Not that the game would let you actually choose to do that. But the gesture felt very real.

Another neat trick Shadowbringers pulls off is causing you to feel sympathy for the Ascians: a group of genocidal black-robed baddies that have been behind nearly every evil act in the game since the re-launch. Shadowbringers changes none of that, yet by the end you will understand their motives and maybe even agree with them to some degree. For the first time, I hope the Ascian threat is resolved in some way other than simply destroying them all.

There is one aspect of the Shadowbringers story that really enhanced the experience, but I’m not sure it was intentional. The game pulls no punches from the start, showing the horrific conditions on a world that was nearly destroyed a hundred years ago. Creatures of Light, an aspect you normally identify with, keep the remaining populace in the tyrannical grip of fear. After a strong start introducing this doomed world, things slow down a bit. You learn a lot of lore, but as you get closer and closer to taking out the Big Bad and saving the world, something seems to be missing. Indeed, as the main plot resolved, I felt some disappointment. Things didn’t end as dramatically as I had expected.

Obviously the “end” was not the end, but even so, the game continued to lower expectations a bit. It teases you the whole time by hiding the name of one of the new zones, but that reveal is shockingly anticlimactic. For a time you’ll find yourself wondering where exactly everything is going. And at that point, when I found myself questioning the wisdom of their storytelling, it all came together. I don’t know if they meant to lower expectations like that (and if so, I suppose writing this is undermining their effort!), but it left me in a state to be utterly awed by what followed.

The climactic events of Shadowbringers are amazing, full stop. The way the plot unfolds leading to the final encounters is second to none. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say the greatest sequence of cutscenes in Final Fantasy history happen here. And it’s because my character was at the center of them. Many hours of story culminated in a surprising but inevitable Moment of Awesome that I seriously considered using as my wallpaper.

Shadowbringers is inspiring. This is what video games can be. Playing a character puts you in a unique position to experience story in a different way than a book or a movie. When I was younger, I might consider it somehow crass to have a whole story basically build up to a raw emotional payoff. But what exactly are we looking for from our entertainment, if not that? I almost quit FFXIV before Shadowbringers, and while my reasons were (and remain!) solid, I’m very glad I didn’t. And I’m also glad I had fellow players and friends to share this experience with.

FFXIV Guide is Now Archived

After several requests, I have decided to put the old FFXIV guide back up for those who still want to use it.  It will not be updated and is a wholly separate instance of the site without several features (such as users and checkboxes), but the data is all there, as I left it.  Please don’t expect any updates or anything, but enjoy the restored guide.

The guide uses the same URLs but at a new domain:  Links to the old site should redirect you to the archive.  Similarly, Google searches should likely still work.  Let me know if there are any major bugs in how the site works.

Finally, I want to apologize for so hastily removing it.  I’m glad you guys care enough to speak up about it!

Releasing FFXIV Data

So, retiring the FFXIV guide has proven to be an unpopular decision.  I am honestly kind of surprised by this, but it’s certainly nice to see that there are other people out there who cared about something besides endgame.  So I thought I would toss those who still want to use the guide an olive branch, and provide the data used to actually generate it.

This data takes the form an Excel file, and has everything that was on the guide and a few things that never quite made it.  It’s obviously not as nicely cross-referenced as the site, but it’s fairly complete.  (Well to be totally transparent, it’s complete for pre-Heavensward. Most of the items and recipes were updated for 3.0 and maybe 3.1, and a few random tidbits like quests have been updated for some of 3.2.)

If some enterprising soul wants to use this data for their own site, they have my blessing.    For my part, I’m going to publicly promise not to try to make a guide for an MMO again, and hopefully if/when I stupidly go back on that decision some day, someone will link me this post and slap me.

Get the FFXIV guide data (3M)

EDIT: I also put up a publicly editable Google doc, in case anyone actually wants to keep this up-to-date or make it more human readable.

Out With the New, In With the Old

Today the Final Fantasy XIV guide is officially retired.  I considered leaving it up as-is, but it’s already two patches behind and will only get further out of date. The reason for this is that I cancelled my account. While I still love a lot of FFXIV, the time investment requirements just keep increasing and it no longer seems worth it. Truth be told, I hate how much of my time MMOs monopolize so I’m kind of happy to have cut the cord.

With all that extra time, I’ve veered pretty hard into retro RPG territory. Playing Dragon Quest V made me go out and complete my collection of old Dragon Quest games, and I’m currently up to the third. I’ve even imported SFC copies of V and VI, because as I said, I’ve gone a bit crazy.

I’m not sure how much time I want to spend making Dragon Quest guides, but the original Dragon Warrior is actually quite sparse on information so it seemed fitting to at least make one. I don’t want to turn my back on Final Fantasy or anything, but right now I want to play new (to me) retro games, and I’ve played all the old FFs quite a bit.

So far, not having MMOs in my life has given me a lot more headspace to work on the site, so I’m hoping to crank a few guides out in the near future and fix up some lingering issues. I won’t make any promises, but it does feel good to be back in the swing of this crazy hobby of mine.

Timing is Everything… in FFXIV Gathering

I’ve always been pretty proud of my FFXIV timers page, but I have not updated it for Heavensward… until today!  The biggest issue with the previous format is that the one-hour unspoiled point slots in Heavensward didn’t leave enough space for much text, so I switched that particular display to a 12-hour version.  Every HW unspoiled node appears at the same time AM and PM currently, so this works.  Of course, as soon as a patch breaks that pattern – which could happen as soon as tomorrow – then I’ll need another plan.

But that’s not all!  I also added ephemeral points to the page.  Since, unlike unspoiled nodes, those are actually spread out throughout the day, this may be a very handy reference.  The bunched-up nature of the HW unspoiled nodes just makes it even more painful that I haven’t added an alarm feature yet.

Of course, the timers page is great, but sometimes you are looking to craft something and just want to know when the material you need is available.  Unspoiled and ephemeral node timers now have countdowns on the gathering point list.  There is a similar feature on the fish guide, though that remains woefully incomplete at the moment.  The countdown will also show up on individual gathering log and fish guide pages.  It even appears in cross-referenced tables, as you can see here.

I’m pretty excited for 3.1, even though it will probably force me to do a bunch of guide updates.  I’ve been avoiding trying to gather data on extracurricular activities, so don’t expect data on Lords of Verminion just yet.  Though if it’s fun enough, we’ll see.

Final Fantasy VI Guide is Live! (But Not Finished)

I’ve had a Final Fantasy VI guide in the works for quite a while, but my complete and total addiction to Final Fantasy XIV has gotten in the way of its release.  Well, now that FFXIV is in a bit of a lull until Heavensward, I managed to finish up the data collection.  There’s still a bunch to be done, mostly in the form of adding various graphics to the cards, but it’s still a lot of data.  I put in a number of features I like but haven’t seen elsewhere, like average magic points per encounter group, and a by-item guide to everything you can bet for it (both to get it and using it as the bet) at the Colosseum.  Enjoy!

FFXIV 2.3 Updates, FFVI Progress

The FFVI guide data collection was going well until FFXIV patch 2.3 came out and derailed all my momentum.  Them and their fun quests!

Fortunately (?), I’ve done most of the basic content in 2.3 and I (still) have no particular interest in grinding out any of the high-level stuff, so hopefully I can get back into the FFVI groove.

First, though, I wanted to mention the updates I’ve made for FFXIV.  All of the new items, recipes, dungeon drops, and so on are in.  Unfortunately a lot of the newer systems use a lot of data I can’t practically gather.  Desynthesis (or “desynthisis”, apparently) is a good example – even if I had the time to desynth everything, I’d need three characters to do it.  I did at least add whether an item can be desynth’ed to cards.  I’m trying to decide if it’s worth adding a desynth column to item lists themselves, or perhaps having “items this class can desynth” lists on class pages.  That seems largely redundant with crafting lists in general, but perhaps “items this class can desynth that it can’t craft” would be better.  Of course that wouldn’t tell you that culinarians can’t desynth food and alchemists can’t desynth potions, both of which seem pretty relevant.  I’m open to opinions here.

More Colors for Cards!

Having all gray cards seemed a bit dreary, so I went ahead and added a bit of color to the FFXIV cards.  Much of it is mostly aesthetic, making visual information that’s already available on the card.  (For instance, hostile monster cards are red, while passive monster cards are blue.)

The one exception is something I find very helpful.  Armor is now color-coded based on who it’s for.  The colors are based loosely on the in-game role colors (blue for tank, red for DPS, green for healer), with a few changes to add some granularity.  The primary change is that magic DPS is purple instead of red, since magic DPS uses an entirely different set of gear than other DPS.  Different shades are also used (dark blue is for tank gear that is also usable by Lancers, bright red is used for ranged DPS).  This change should make it very easy to see at a glance who a piece is made for.  As a general rule, the color coding should correspond somewhat to who can roll “Need” for a given item on the loot list.

More Items, Better Data

The guide underwent a pretty comprehensive update overnight, adding a whole bunch of new data and tables.  The new stuff is focused on where you get items: from Grand Companies, from trades of other items, and from FATEs.  I’ve also filled out the class quests and job abilities that were missing.  For the most part, the guide should be functionally complete, but there’s still plenty of content left to be added.  Next up: convenience tweaks for gatherers, and better card color-coding, especially for gear.

Interactive Recipe Breakdowns

I’ve added a feature I’ve been thinking about for some time, and I think you’re going to like it.  The site does a good job of telling you where to find or purchase all of the materials needed for a given craft, but it’s not as good at helping you make a shopping list for crafting.  Well, no more!  Now every recipe page will break down each material, and you can select how you intend to get each one.  If you want to focus on your crafting class to the exclusion of everything else, choose to buy items from vendors, or choose ‘other’ and get your materials from the markets.  If you want to level a range of crafting and gathering classes, you can pick which ones you would like to use in the craft, and the system will break down the level requirements for each.  It’s that simple!