Final Fantasy 14’s series of main scenario quests tower above most of the entries that came before it. Full of political intrigue and stakes that consistently keep the tension high, not to mention a charming cast, the MMO holds its own as a meaningful installment without relying too heavily on hamfisted fan service from other titles. Don’t get me wrong: the online Final Fantasy has plenty of nods to every game that came before (and after) in the form of sidequests, raids, and even item descriptions cleverly tucked away for eagle-eyed fans to discover. The game doesn’t rely on nostalgia to deliver a story worth telling in the main questline, though.
That being said, some of my favorite parts of Final Fantasy 14 have been when the raids are used as an excuse to turn encounters into some sort of hodge-podge nostalgia mess from my childhood, throwing in obscure references and entire boss fights from older games with little or no purpose.
The main scenario is all well and good (the biggest draw for me, actually,) but it’s about what you expect from other Final Fantasy entries in terms of subtle nods to those that came before it. The raid content, however, is a whole other ballgame. No, not every battle is ripped straight from your memories, but plenty of these encounters look like Final Fantasy 14 being given the Dissidia treatment – and these are when I love the MMO the most.
Let’s walk it back a little. We’ll skip over the 8-main raids from A Realm Reborn and Heavensward and touch on Stormblood’s Omega series first since it does this the best. While the third and final tier didn’t hit any personal high notes, the entire premise and first two series of raids from the Omega trials are still some of my favorites. Omega itself is revealed to be a creature from another world, older than your beloved Eorzea, and is compelled by the urge to find the most powerful beings to challenge. It threatens to destroy your home should you choose not to participate in a series of trials it’s produced by pitting you against beings from realms outside of Eorzea. And, well, you guessed it, those other worlds are other Final Fantasy titles.
Are the plot twists and themes from the Omega raid anything to write home about compared to the tales from, say, the Shadowbringer’s Main Scenario Quest? No. But Shadowbringers also doesn’t have a reason to shoehorn in a boss from Final Fantasy 5, and the fight against Exdeath in Final Fantasy 14 is still one of my favorites, even three years after it came out. Also, Halicarnassus is the best third raid boss in the game; I will not be taking any questions.
In Omega’s second tier, I vividly recall first watching the reveal trailer for the patch that would carry Kefka. It wasn’t a subtle nod tucked away in passing reference, it wasn’t a design inspired by Final Fantasy 6, it was just Kefka. He was there, theme song and all, and when the trailer hit its final notes and revealed his terrifying silhouette and chilling laugh, I knew I had to raid that tier.
The Shadowbringers Expansion delivers on this again, with some similarities to the Omega story. If you’ve ever played Final Fantasy 8, then the journey into the Eden raid series is a delight. The most glaring element here being Eden itself, which smacks you about in the face with the element of subtly, as the very first encounter with Eden Prime takes the Guardian Force animation straight from Final Fantasy 8 and recreates it. Force Your Way from Final Fantasy 8’s OST blares in full force through the fight with a new, orchestrated version from composer Masayoshi Soken, too. The entire thing is just an exercise in tickling the parts of your brain that remember hanging out with Squall and his buddies. I think I cried most of the way through it just because I really like that song and figured I’d never hear it again. I’m a simple woman, really.
And while there isn’t boss after boss ripped straight from Final Fantasy 8 in the Eden raids, there’s plenty of music, and the storyline seems to hit some of those same thematic elements from the older title. In the savage version of the final encounter, Eden’s Promise: Eternity, Gaia takes on a different form than in the normal version and mimics the big baddie from Final Fantasy 8, Ultimecia. From the music to the names of attacks in her kit, Gaia’s encounter feels like a wonderful homage to the final showdown with Ultimecia and Griever.
Nostalgia props of plenty of elements through every Final Fantasy game, but the one for one recreations of previous titles are often left to fan service fueled spin-offs like Dissidia and World of Final Fantasy. Final Fantasy 14’s balance between steeping itself in older throwbacks and creating something fresh is only something it can do because it’s an MMO, afforded countless hours of extra content outside its main storyline.
Ultimately, I think I really like it this way. I realize some prefer the days of The Binding Coil of Bahamut raids, which told its own more original story, and that’s fine – I loved it too. But using the optional fights as a vehicle to deliver both bold recreations and subtle nods to past entries keeps the fan service packaged off to the side in a way that doesn’t feel like hamfisted distractions to your main task at hand while also reminding us of the games we loved before. As we wrap up the Eden raid series and look to Final Fantasy 14’s next expansion in the form of 6.0, I hope raids inspired by previous entries continue to be the norm.
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Andrea Shearon is a news editor at TheGamer who loves RPGs and anything horror related. Find her on Twitter via @Maajora.
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