As we approach the final major patch of the 3.x, Heavensward series for Final Fantasy XIV (with just a few weeks to go before Patch 3.5 Part 2, if the team keeps to schedule), it’s really starting to sink in for me that we’re at “The End.” As the game’s first major expansion, Heavensward had a lot to live up to, and carried a pretty heavy burden, as far as solidifying the game’s foundation for the future goes, and now that it’s nearly over, I’ve been thinking a lot about what the expansion did well and what it didn’t. Sporadically over the next couple of months I’m going to collect some of my thoughts on various legs of the game.
It’s not much of a big secret that the main thing I do in the game (outside of glamour) is work on the longform weapon quests, whether the Zodiac weapons in 2.x or the newer Anima weapons in 3.x. As of last week, the Saga of the Anima Weapons is now complete, and so naturally, I’ve been thinking a lot about the questline, especially in comparison to the Zodiac counterpart from A Realm Reborn. This post is going to be a long one, but the accompanying screenshots serve as something of a look back on my Ninja glamours over the course of Heavensward, and I hope those will at least break up the wall of text a little (and I find it interesting to see that for the last three stages, I’ve been wearing the Shire Emissary’s Jacket at the point of completion).
Anyone who made a Zodiac weapon in ARR pre-nerfs knows that the quests were positively brutal in their grinds. Even after some stages were nerfed, the grind could be grueling. From hundreds of Brayflox Hard Mode runs for Mythology to purchase Animus books to camp FATEs for hours on end to throwing millions of gil at top-grade Materia for the Novus stage (Materia which could fail, just like normal Materia melds!), there was a lot of pain to be had. Just about every step except for the very last (which was more of a victory lap like the last step for the Anima weapon) was just plain rough, and that resulted in a lot of feedback.
This feedback really impacted the design of the Anima questline. The Luminous Crystals stage could be done on any job (allowing the use of FATEs for leveling while also working on the weapon). Most of the stages offered multiple productive avenues for completion (including broad swaths of the game at time, such as with the i210 Anima stage tapping Hunts, Tomestones, Beast Tribe Quests, Alexander, and Treasure Maps). Punishing random elements (like Materia breaking for the Novus Zodiac stage) was generally removed—or where present, generally took the form of bonuses instead of penalties. In general, stages were also much shorter. The recent i270 “lights” stage was only about 1/6th as long, at its most efficient, as the original Nexus lights stage in ARR, thanks to generously increased progression values for in a relative sense. Additionally, in general, the Anima questions leaned heavily on Tomestone costs, to the point where several stages (i210, i230, i240, and i260—half of the total steps) could more or less be completed passively just by doing other content one already does and letting Tomestones steadily accumulate.
All these changes (and others I didn’t touch on in a similar vein) resulted in the class being far more player friendly this time. One can make regular progress on the quests just by completing daily Roulettes regularly. By contrast, while most Zodiac stages had heavy Tomestone costs (in a relative sense, often worse than those of the Anima ones), they usually also had something specific you had to do outside of those costs, such as the Animus stage, which had the player fulfill a daunting list of objectives (each itself a few hours of work, or more, if you weren’t lucky with FATE spawns) nine times on top of tomestone costs that, adjusted for ease of acquisition, were about as bad the worst stages of the Anima step. On top of this, nearly every Zodiac stage required spending a lot of time on the weapon’s associated job—you had to be really sure you liked the job you were making the weapon for! The Anima questline has a bit of that (with the biggest chunk of it being part the i270 stage), but a great deal of the time I’ve spent working on Anima weapons has been on tank and healer jobs to get around queue times for Roulettes, even when working on one for say, Ninja or Black Mage. That feels quite off.
For me personally, though, that’s ended up diminishing the overall quest in a lot of ways. Since half of the quest can be done passively and there’s generally very little use for Tomestones outside of the capped one in Heavensward (part of a series of strange design decisions I may talk about in more detail in another post), I’ve created five Anima weapons (with a sixth in the “gather everything I need from Tomestones” stage) mostly without ever really trying to. While I always push myself to complete my weapon for my main job, I’ve mostly let the rest accumulate in a slow burn automatically as I complete other content. That’s had the effect of really lowering the feeling of investment I’ve had in each weapon, as points where I decided to invest in them have been fairly rare. By expansion’s end, I will have made three (or perhaps even four) that I’m doing because I might as well spend the Tomestones on something. That doesn’t feel very legendary to me, for a questline that so heavily leans on weapons from mythology that have always held lofty places in the Final Fantasy series as a whole.
With the Zodiac weapons, I had finished four by the end of 2.x, and each one was a very conscious, deliberate decision, both because of much greater time investments being needed and also because you had to go out of your way to work on them. That sense of decision is greatly diminished by the Anima questline’s overall structure, and while it’s been nice not to have to break my back grinding on them this time around, I’m overall less happy with the end product. I really feel the questline as a whole needed to contain job-specific elements every step of the way (outside of the banal act of progressing the quest steps at the appropriate NPCs). The i200, i270, and i275 stages are the only points at which you’re required to work as your job to make progress, and overall they make up a very small chunk of the questline. Since the majority of the questline is Tomestone-based, and Roulettes are the most efficient method of gathering them, pushing for Tomestone stages outside of them often feels like a mind-numbing slog (I’m looking at you, Aetherochemical Research Facility).
A lot of my complaints, of course, come down to personal idiosyncrasies. I have a lot of time on my hands, and I have for many years spent much of my free time playing MMOs, on top of that. That leaves me with time to kill, and I’ve always really enjoyed having long-term goals to work on in games as a way to spend that time. For players with less time or less inclination to sink their time into XIV above all else, I’m sure the much more casual structure of the Anima weapons has been very welcome. For players with less tolerance for grind than I have, I’m sure the much more laidback aspects are great.
For me, though, I can’t help but feel something’s missing. When the i210 stage was first released, I saw someone somewhere joke that the quest title “Soul Without Life,” was an apt description given how blatantly grindy that first capstone stage was. At the time, it didn’t really bother me: I basically just admitted to actually liking a good grind a paragraph go. But as I began to think back on the quest as a whole (somewhere around the i260 stage on Ninja), I started to associated it more with that moniker. The Anima questline has in many ways felt very empty. I think that’s exacerbated by the fact that, more or less, the general narrative of awakening a weapon to life in some way was the same for the Zodiac weapons. While the Zodiac weapons never had a physical manifestation, we were still bringing their consciousness to life.
On top of that, the general beats of the quest were repeated over and over. At every overarching stage, we made a vessel to house the Anima, and then we enhanced that vessel in some way. Then, a couple months later, we’d make another vessel, and enhance that one. We did this a total of four times over the course of Heavensward, which sort of undermined the sense of building a permanent weapon to me. It also meant that in general the way the story unfolded was far too predictable, which left me wholly uninterested in each new step’s narrative trappings—the words were different but the actual point was always the same. There was a similar breakpoint in the Zodiac questline, but for the first half of it we were working with the same weapon (this also had the nice effect of us getting progressively more vibrant particle effects, culminating in the Nexus stage, which are the coolest ever—fight me).
So now with two i275 weapons complete (and a third I’ll probably finish this evening), I find myself overall disappointed. While I’m still happy with the time I spent to make the weapons so far, I’m overall far less excited about them than I ever was about each Zodiac weapon I completed. I’ve rarely felt that sense of satisfaction during the Anima Saga that I got out of the Zodiacs with every completed Zeta. After the backbreaking grinds of ARR, I told myself I would only do one weapon in Heavensward, and I find myself wondering if I should do that in Stormblood for real this time, except the thought’s due to lack of inspiration rather than fatigue.
I’m optimistic, though, looking forward. We know that the heretofore standard model for the Zodiac and Anima weapons is going away in Stormblood—at least in part. The questline in Stormblood isn’t going to be focused around revisiting old content. Instead, we’re getting a whole zone, the Forbidden Land of Eureka, that’s going to serve as the quest’s foundation. That hopefully means content specifically designed for the weapons, and hopefully less reliance on universal currencies, which should go a long way toward making the weapons feel really special again.
From what the developers have said so far, my thoughts turn back to Final Fantasy XI, which leveraged new content for its legendary weapons much more readily. Relic weapons were primarily forged in Dynamis, Mythic weapons in Salvage, and Empyrean weapons were mostly focused on Abyssea (at least, for all of their base forms: each of them has further upgrade paths that corresponded with level cap increases and, after Seekers of Adoulin, item level increases). I don’t know what the focus is for the more recent Aeonic weapons since I’d stopped actively playing before they were introduced, but the original trend was for each expansion’s weapon to work with new content, and you most certainly couldn’t do any of them passively in any real sense. If Eureka takes inspiration from XI’s weapon quests in that regard (much as XIV has taken inspiration from XI for things like Diadem, Aquapolis, and Deep Dungeon), we’ll see something with a lot more soul to it.
So I think Stormblood’s questline will have the potential to be much more fulfilling. The devil is in the details, of course, so we won’t really know until a couple years from now, when we’re looking toward the release of whatever FFXIV’s next expansion is. Now, if you’ll excuse me…despite my overall negative impression of the quest…I still have several Anima weapons to wrap up!