From whence has there been a place where the night sky glows as luminous as the brightest day? From whence has there been records of angels behaving as what we’ve always perceived to be the acts of demons? From whence has there ever been a world in which the starlit night sky had been robbed of its presence?
Thus the beginning of our tale of the Shadowbringers.
FFXIV: Shadowbringers is the latest expansion of one of the world’s top MMORPGs. With Shadowbringers comes new horizons with which to explore and this time it’s literally a new world. With new jobs to trifle with and eventually master, new gear to obtain, new trials to overcome, new lore to learn, new events that will shape the world of Eorzea, and so much more.
Shadowbringers starts out by having you, the player (and Warrior of Light), go out and investigate something only for your next moment to be set in an entirely new world as you were summoned by one of a mysterious figure in order to return balance to their world after a calamity that changed everything. Yes, it is literally isekai in a proper video game form and in an MMORPG no less.
The lands of the new world look great and beautiful, like something that would usually be seen in picture books like the beautiful fairy-tale like domain of the fairies, or the towering woodlands of Rak’tika Woods. There are even some monsters looked very nostalgic as they literally brought the ones found in FFVIII to FFXIV in at least one area I have been to. The new world is called the First and is one of the shattered pieces of the original world which we players hail from and in here our world is called the Source. Everywhere we look it is as bright as the brightest day as the catastrophe that hit this world a century ago was that of a flood of light and it brought about it endless days of light and the absence of the dark and beautiful starlit night sky. What makes matters worse is that there are now monsters known as Sin Eaters, these fiends ravage the skies and land in order to sustain themselves through man by consuming their life force, their Aether! Some of the Sin Eaters are even more dreadful as they can turn others into eaters to join their ranks.
The main story quests have us set out to get used to the new world by briefing us with what has been going on for the past century during which we are sent out into the fields to find our allies and learning about the locals and what has become of them thanks to the eternal white blight of the skies. You’ll see those who are too sickly to even react, those who are trying to get just get by and live out normally as much as they can, and those who seek to join the nobility and live out their days in comfort and decadence. Probably the biggest change in the story is that the game has established for 6 years now that we, the player, is the legendary Warrior of Light, but in Shadowbringers, we must become the Legendary Hero who will save the First from the Sin Eaters and end the cycle of Perpetual Light in the Sky, the Warrior of Darkness. While this duality of being the Warrior of Light and Darkness at the same time is certainly something new and unconventional, it propels the roleplaying factor to new and unforeseen heights that most games never could fully give to the players.
The cutscenes had some great voice acting and even surprised me and my friends when we first heard a kobold spoke, made them sound like a British goblin or a greedy hobbit, however, lip-synching was always an issue since there are even times where the mouths don’t even move for certain characters for some reason, and while understanding that this is a game developed by an international Japanese company, it doesn’t justify the case of the latter and only the former. One of my personal problems with the game since A Realm Reborn is that not all cutscenes are voiced. For a game that makes a ton of money, one would think that they could afford more for the voice acting department as many scenes personally annoy me since I have to read the text instead of hearing the great character voices and then the immersive feeling that I should’ve gotten is never fully achieved or is lost from the onset.
The story of Shadowbringers was filled with themes that were very human in nature. Throughout the story quests, the player is shown how human everyone in the game is, how even if they’re strong and have the power to overcome any adversity, they can only do it if they have someone there to aid them through it and fight beside them. There were even scenes that showed the players the horrors of wars and how even though they’re just NPCs they still feel and have suffered much throughout their lives. In many areas, there’ll be many tales of sorrow like people who have lost friends, family, leaders, and many more. Shadowbringers delivers in delivering these themes and shows to us that even an MMO can have great storytelling and not be marred by the stereotype of online gaming.
The expansion also features a dungeon system called the Trust system. A system wherein instead of queuing to play dungeons with other people, we are able to go into the dungeons with a party with the NPCs that we have grown to know throughout the main story. So once the party is set up which only takes a few seconds, we’d go right into the dungeon in no time at all which says a lot for those who just want to spam a dungeon for leveling or gear farming purposes. The system may not be perfect but the fact that this system was conceived and implemented only makes the game better than what it already is. The Trust system gives the player the feeling that it is a single-player experience despite the other people logging in and playing around you, it truly makes it feel like you really are the main character and that the story really is with you in the center of it all. The system is also great for those who are new to the dungeon, it shows them how the NPCs fare against the bosses and their mechanics which can get pretty hectic. The AI has great positioning and is never really in any danger which makes the dungeon a breeze albeit a slow one since the DPS, Healing, and Tanking can feel lacking.
The new jobs are also really fun to play around with. You got the Gunbreaker, a tank class whose weapon is the ill-practical but completely cool Gunblade. The Gunbreaker unloads skills at a fast pace which make it feel like a DPS class rather than a tanking one. It has the ability to heal itself over time or give it someone else which is unique. It uses the basic skill rotation in order to fill its cartridge slots which it can use to unleash more powerful skills. The Dancer class is a support type RDPS much like the bard. The dancer focuses on entering into a dance and picking a dance partner to enhance said partner and the dancer itself during battle by hitting a random sequence of moves. While the usual pattern for players is to activate skill A and then activate skill B, the dancer activates skill A and then skill B unless skill C or D becomes highlighted then chain it with the next skill or another skill depending on how the game’s RNG system works.
When it comes to the music department, Shadowbringers delivers on some of the highest high notes in any videogame. It mixes the themes of the area and the creatures there, and mix it with the Final Fantasy vibes that we’re accustomed to. Like in the trial with Titania, the battle music was something you would expect to hear of fairies singing tales of whimsy but combine with Rock music with the flair of epic fantasy that no track in the Fairy Tail anime can compete with. During the trial with Innocence, the battle music really had a drive of its own and made us in the party even more pumped while fighting an Archangel. There was even one postgame dungeon where the rock music was so good that it literally made the run feel fast. I could only imagine that my teammates were banging their heads in real life just jamming to it, we even got wiped twice because the healer sort of confessed he got distracted by it.
One of the little touches Shadowbringers adds is that some of the main character NPCs that we have come to know throughout the game’s story have made changes in more ways than one, it’s these kinds of changes makes the game feel so alive. For example, in A Realm Reborn we know many of the prominent members of the Scions of the 7th Dawn like Urianger, Thancred, and Y’shtola to name a few. For Urianger, he sports a cowl and wears goggles and is an Arcanist, in Shadowbringers, he has a whole new makeover, he now shows his full “handsome” face and is now walking the path of the Astroler class in order to seek guidance and knowledge from the stars. Thancred has now changed to being a Gunbreaker in order to take some damage and protect someone dear to him. Y’shtola who was a conjurer dressed in white, is now a sorceress in black robes who is known in the First by her alias Master Matoya, especially for her followers the Night’s Blessed.
Another small thing Shadowbringers does in its story that can easily be overlooked is that it made me feel like I grew as the Warrior of Darkness. There was one Antagonist who somehow always showed up when I was about to reach the goal. His name was Ran’jit and he fought me and my allies and was easily able to beat us at first but after each region, I became stronger and once it was finally time to bring the Night Sky back to his homeland, we fought one-on-one. It was a battle that was nothing short of epic and fun for me personally as it really drove home that I was not as weak as I used to be compared to when we first fought and that I had become strong enough to overcome him on my own. For each time he challenged us, we would grow stronger for it.
The dungeons in Shadowbringers are some of the best dungeons I’ve ever played in a game. While the usual pattern has almost always been to look at the floor and watch out for the highlights to avoid the boss skills, in Shadowbringers some of the skills of the boss requires us to watch his body language which shakes things up a bit and make the experience feel fresh instead of the usual mundane feeling we get in previous dungeons. During the final trials, the mechanics became so wild that it felt like they were all over the place but were still easy enough to pick up given a second chance. They were actually so much fun that I personally didn’t mind wiping multiple times because of how wild they are. The dungeons are also beautifully well designed and make one feel really immersed in the lore and the world that Shadowbringers has to offer. Even the final dungeon was something that caught me off-guard in the sense that it evoked a lot of mixed feelings within me. As I proceeded to make my advance against the monsters, I could see the suffering, the despair, the chaos, and so much more. Upon reaching the final part of the dungeon you’ll be witnessing a catastrophe of planetary proportions take place right beneath your feet. Nothing short of an incredible and emotional stage that would setup the final battle with the expansion’s main Antagonist.
Speaking of the Antagonist, Shadowbringers has nothing short of some of the best antagonists I’ve ever seen in any form of media. First, we have Vauthry, on the surface, he looks like nothing more than a grotesque personification of gluttony while having the ability to control the Sin Eaters. Throughout the story our hatred of him continues to rise as we eventually resign ourselves with the thought that him seeing the error of his ways is beyond reach, once we reach his conclusion we will have eventually come to the realization that he bears no real sin, he was in actuality innocent for there was no other path that was set for him beside the one that he walked during the story’s course. Vauthry is a character you can’t help but hate but feel sorry for once you have concluded his tale.
The other Antagonist that really shines and propels Shadowbringers to even greater heights with his presence alone is Emet-Selch. He is one of the Ascians, one of the dark figures in the world of FFXIV who seeks to bring chaos and destruction into the world, or so we thought. Emet-Selch may be an Ascian but he joins us in our plight against the Lightwardens albeit in the role of an observer. He shows to us that the Ascians are not evil and that they are very much like us, they feel, they weep, they live, and they mourn for those they hold dear in no manner any different than us. He regales us with his insight and history throughout our journey, we learn a lot from him, we can easily sympathize with him, and through everything that we go through with him he shows to us that if we were in his shoes we’d have probably done the same things as he and his allies have been trying to do throughout the story. Emet-Selch’s open-minded approach to proposing an alliance with us, seeing our perspective, and his natural charisma make him one of the most memorable antagonists I have personally ever encountered in my life. He is someone you can never truly hate, someone you can connect with, and someone who can resonate with us, at least more so than any other character FFXIV has ever introduced thus far.
Shadowbringers’ final stage also evoked some of the most awesome feelings I’ve ever gotten when playing a videogame. Never before have I felt so in tune with my character and felt truly special in an MMORPG which is something World of Warcraft could never give the player since you were always considered just one of the adventurers that were helping out the true main characters. During the final stage there was a moment that brought back the chills one felt when they saw the Shadowbringers trailer, that awesome epic moment that leads up to the final fight that shows how you truly are the Warrior of Darkness and shows you that no matter how powerful you are, you can suffer through all of it alone. All of that leads up to the final moments of the game that can leave one full of mix emotions but most of all, one of sorrow.
Throughout my entire run in Shadowbringers I’ve done some of the most outrageous things that one could only expect from a fantasy anime. I’ve fought angels, become a Warrior of Darkness while still being a Warrior of Light, went to war against a nation, met some miners and fixed a trolley, raided a temple Indiana Jones style, witnessed a Junji Ito and Final Fantasy 7 scene combined, fought zombified masses, fought fairy frogs, fought Titania (the King of Fairies), got a ghost stalker, fought a ghost Paladin, went toe-to-toe with a Gary Stu Kung fu general, ended the aristocracy, met a time traveller, looked like a giant dwarf, help create an enormous construct, literally caught a mountain, founded an underwater Zanarkand, witnessed the end of the world, literally divided Heaven, restored the balance of Light and Darkness in the world, and become the Shadowbringer. Yes Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers was nothing short of the epic fantasy adventure that I’ve always wanted and could probably ever want. It made me feel weak when I needed to feel weak, strong when I needed to, and overpowered when I needed to, this is something that is almost always never balanced properly in videogames, but Shadowbringers delivers probably the most perfect equilibrium for it.
While the tale of Shadowbringers was nothing short of one of the greatest videogame adventures I’ve personally ever had in life, it certainly isn’t over yet. If Final Fantasy XIV keeps it up by bringing us things that we can really sink our teeth into and getting us hooked on the amount of content that they have to offer like what they did here with this expansion, then it’s safe to say that the future is only looking ever brighter than even the perpetual light in the sky before theShadowbringers came to the First. It took me a while to be honest to like FFXIV since the base game was a really slow burn but in the expansions and especially Shadowbringers, it has me completely enthralled. After experiencing just the main story alone, it has left me wanting for more and there’s definitely a lot more content that I could go through to cope with the wait for the next big expansion. There’s also the New Game+ feature that allows players to replay story missions with their overpowered gear that will come out in one of the major updates in the nearby future.
FFXIV: Shadowbringers is a tale that shows us how much we need the Darkness, how balance must be kept in check, how vulnerable we all are, and how we can’t stand alone. We need others to guide us and help us push through all the things that would get in our way. This expansion is the amalgamation of what we could ever want in an adventure and what we could probably ever want in a Final Fantasy game. So come hither future Warrior of Darkness, join us in our epic and dark tale of friendship, hope, despair, wild and crazy banter, death-defying battles, and become one of the next Shadowbringers!
Disclosure: This review is based on a review code provided by Square Enix. Read our review policy to know how we go with our game reviews.
Tested on: PS4 Pro