Pitting our heroes, the Scions of the Seventh Dawn, against an apocalypse called The Final Days, it’s no surprise that Final Fantasy 14: Endwalker is a game of huge scale.
Acting as the concluding chapter to the Hydaelyn-Zodiark story arc that’s been ongoing since A Realm Reborn launched in 2013, it had to tie-up nine years worth of plot threads and sees you galavant across the globe, hop up for a jaunt around the moon, and then shoots you into space. Oh, and there are several Gods to kill for good measure. But it’s not the epic battles or high stakes that make Endwalker worth playing, it’s the small moments – the hugs between loved ones and small smiles from old friends that truly make it special.
“At the end of the day, no matter how grand a certain history might be, it is the individual lives of the people that form those threads of history,” Natsuko Ishikawa, lead story designer, told VG247 in a recent interview.
Endwalker is filled with huge moments like battling through dungeons filled with abominations and a sky filled with fire, but the scene that sticks with me most is an embrace between one of the Scions, Urianger, and the mother of his best friend, Moenbryda, who gave her life for their cause back in A Realm Reborn.
It’s a regret he’s carried with him for years and has been unable to face her parents because of it. Over various expansions, he’s made the odd brief mention and mournful stare – but in Endwalker he’s finally forced to confront his greatest fear.
As Warriors of Light we’ve journeyed alongside Urianger for years, so the moment when he finally encounters Moenbryda’s parents I could feel my breath catch in my throat with the tension.
But soon her mother pulls him into her arms and Urianger’s frame, stiff with shock, soon melts into both relief and grief as they share tears. It’s such a small moment, but the intimate tenderness of it is such a beautiful companion to the grand adventure the game takes us on.
“When Urianger from the Scions of the Seventh Dawn cries when receiving a hug from the mother of his close friend – I believe that encountering such events and coming into contact with each of the lives that make up that history is what it means to ‘live in that world’,” says Ishikawa.
That is to say: by showing us these small moments between characters it gives context to what we’re fighting for and what we stand to lose.
Right before the Warrior of Light and the Scions make their final push to face Meteion at the far edge of space, they pause to savour one last night together. You sit and linger with a drink alongside Y’shtola, Urianger and Thancred as they reflect on how time has changed them and their outlook on life. Nothing really happens, there are no great revelations, but that’s the point.
In that moment your companions let down their guard and get to just be your friends, and all of a sudden you realise that this is what you stand to lose. The world is a huge place filled with millions of people that will all die if you fail, but it’s this one small drink with your mates that makes you really feel that weight. This small moment shows just how real these characters and their lives are to you. Even in the face of despair they’re there alongside you.
Endwalker may contain some of the biggest twists and dangers we’ve ever seen in Final Fantasy 14 to date, but it’s the quiet moments that truly make it.
Here's hoping little moments like this set the scene for whatever Yoshi-P, Ishikawa and the rest of the development team is cooking up for the future of the world's favoruite MMO.
You can check out our full interview with Naoki Yoshida and Natsuko Ishikawa in our big Final Fantasy 14: Endwalker interview at the link.