Stormblood Retrospective: The Main Scenario

We’re now less than two months away from the release of Final Fantasy XIV’s third expansion, Shadowbringers, but before that we’ll have the end of its second, Stormblood. The final minor patch of the expansion is now live, paving the way for the game’s next major version in 5.0. As I did before at the end of Heavensward, I’m taking this time before the expansion to look back at some aspects of Stormblood, with emphasis on the ways Stormblood built (or didn’t build) on the solidified foundation provided by Heavensward. I began with Eureka, covering it both as exploration content and as the vehicle for the expansion’s legendary weapon quest. Up next on my list is Stormblood’s Main Scenario. Naturally, there are spoilers that follow for Stormblood!

After nearly six years of serialized updates, FFXIV’s Main Scenario has become a sprawling thing, full of plot threads that have sometimes taken years to resolve and others that may only find resolution in the years to come (if they find any at all). In the grand scheme of the game’s story, Stormblood had the difficult task of bringing two of the Scenario’s oldest threads to a close—the liberation of both Ala Mhigo and Doma from Garlean rule—all while setting up Shadowbringers to conclude the Ascian storyline, which has been the narrative’s central pillar since A Realm Reborn. That’s a lot of ground to cover in one expansion, especially since either one of Ala Mhigo or Doma could have served as the centerpiece for an entire expansion, much as Ishgard did for Heavensward. Instead of having a central focus on a place, though, Stormblood attempts to tie together both regions through the theme of revolution. Rather than presenting two separate but similar expansion stories about a revolt against Garlemald—extending the length of the Main Scenario to make room for another expansion—Stormblood attempts to fold both narratives into one. While this is a sound idea in theory, Stormblood’s Main Scenario stumbles while trying to juggle these parallel storylines, providing unequal time to each and never quite tying them together.

The trouble begins almost immediately in the Main Scenario of Stormblood’s launch patch, 4.0. After the explosive conclusion of Heavensward at Baelsar’s Wall, all the Main Scenario’s momentum is pointed toward the liberation of Ala Mhigo. Stormblood picks the story up there, but before the player can become invested in the Ala Mhigan Resistance and its new characters, disaster strikes in a surprise Garlean assault. In the aftermath, the Warrior of Light and the Scions turn instead toward Othard, with a new goal of liberating Doma to force the Empire to fight revolutions on two, ocean-divided fronts. From this point forward, most of Stormblood’s initial main scenario focuses on the liberation of Doma, a stretch that includes some of the expansion’s best Main Scenario content (most especially the segment involving the recruitment of the Xaela from the Azim Steppe). Concluding powerfully with the siege of Doma Castle, Doma’s liberation arc comprises more than half of the Main Scenario journey from level 60 to level 70. Ala Mhigo re-enters the picture only after most of Stormblood’s momentum has been spent, and the last few levels of the expansion have the Main Scenario hurrying through Ala Mhigo’s liberation with half the care and development given to Doma’s, seemingly only so that the expansion could end in a final encounter with Zenos yae Galvus—as if both revolution storylines had to be wrapped up in a neat little bow by level 70, rather than carrying the story through to the expansion’s midpoint, as Heavensward did before.

The Royal Menagerie at the conclusion of Stormblood‘s Patch 4.0.

With the expansion’s primary antagonist dealt with and five chapters of Main Scenario yet to come, Stormblood’s story struggles to find its footing in the post-launch landscape. Patch 4.1 keeps the spotlight on Ala Mhigo, beginning with the hunt for the treasure of Ala Mhigo’s last king, which serves as little more than an excuse to include the patch’s requisite new dungeon (The Drowned City of Skalla) in the Main Scenario. After that unrelated diversion, the real meat of this chapter lays groundwork for the future, seemingly preparing Fordola for a redemption arc that unfortunately ends before it can really begin, with her story continuing outside of the game entirely through a bit of official fiction on the Lodestone community website. Sri Lakshmi makes a second appearance in the process, leaving one to wonder why her primal battle had to be shoehorned into the initial Main Scenario of the expansion, cutting into time that could have otherwise been used to let the post-Doman, Ala Mhigan portion of the story breathe. At the chapter’s conclusion, Raubahn has taken Lyse’s place as the leader of the Resistance (with an emotional scene of Nanamo releasing the Iron Bull from his service), paving the way for a return to Doma and the strangest section of the expansion’s Main Scenario.

Patch 4.2 picks up following a post-4.0 credits teaser in which we learn that both Gosetsu and Yotsuyu survived the destruction of Doma Castle. The teaser itself seemed strange, given the buildup and resolution of Gosetsu’s arc, which comes to a rather satisfying close in the initial storyline. Gosetsu’s death is foreshadowed so effectively and ties in so well with the “liberty or death” element from the Ala Mhigan side of things that his survival feels out of sync with Stormblood’s overall themes. The story that follows, of Yotsuyu’s amnesia and Gosetsu’s failed attempt to redeem her, receives two patches worth of Main Scenario content in yet another instance of the story giving far more space to Doman elements over Ala Mhigan ones. Here, the difference between time spent on Yotsuyu and that spent on Fordola is particularly stark given the similar roles they each played for their respective nations. The chapter has other issues, too, with insinuations of a sexual relationship between Gosetsu and Yotsuyu—that the story plays for laughs—contrasting uncomfortably with the sometimes-unsettling focus on Yotsuyu’s trauma and abuse as the source of her villainy throughout the rest of the story. Despite these issues, this arc does manage to build up to another of Stormblood’s more resonant moments, with the primal battle against Tsukiyomi blending story and gameplay together in impressive fashion. Even so, this segment fails to reach the heights of Heavensward’s final confrontation with Nidhogg, which happened at roughly the same point in the previous expansion’s lifespan.

Tsukiyomi’s demise.

All of this sets up a renewed focus on the Garlean Empire, which had set up Yotsuyu’s transformation into Tsukiyomi to create a pretext for a new invasion of Doma. On the other side of the world, the Empire threatens the same for Ala Mhigo, alongside the specter of an apparently risen Zenos yae Galvus (and possibly two of them, with his body and soul seemingly separated). With Patch 4.4, the Main Scenario enters the now familiar transitional period, with things moving toward the next expansion, and here the worst of the Main Scenario’s longstanding pacing issues rear their ugly head once more. This chapter of the Scenario is essentially dragged out over the course of three patches, all of them months apart from one another, which forces the story’s momentum to a glacial crawl. One by one, the principle Scions begin to fall into mysterious comatose states under the power of a mysterious, otherworldly voice. Their individual blackouts span several months of real time, however, spread out over both Patch 4.4 and Patch 4.5 Part One, creating a sense of waiting for the inevitable rather than any effective narrative tension.

The Main Scenario’s conclusion, in Part Two of Patch 4.5, sees the Garleans strike once more at Ala Mhigo, with the player taking control of Doma’s Lord Hien to fend off a risen Ascian Zenos until the Warrior of Light can arrive to save the day. Contrary to all expectations, the Warrior of Light arrives not to save the day but to fall in battle due to the untimely intervention of the mysterious figure behind the maladies of the other Scions. The hero survives through another intervention, this one from Estinien, who swoops in to spirit the Warrior of Light to Ishgard to recover. The rest of the chapter provides a little time to reflect on the journey so far and the one to come. Patch 4.5 Part Two is thankfully better paced than those before it, but compared to the pacing of 4.4 and 4.5, its brevity is almost jarring. Had the patch not been split off from its natural home to pad out content releases before the launch of Shadowbringers, the final patch would have otherwise been the perfect capstone to the events of the expansion. Instead, it feels almost like an epilogue given its length and isolation from the rest of the narrative. That said, the final confrontation with Zenos bookends the expansion in a satisfying manner, and by the end of it all, it’s hard not to reflect on the Warrior of Light’s own isolation as the Main Scenario sits on the precipice of Shadowbringers, with marketing at least suggesting something of a heel turn for the protagonist by becoming the Warrior of Darkness.

My Warrior of Light, Alahra, looks upon the Crystal Tower, where Shadowbringers is likely to begin.

While the whole of Stormblood’s Main Scenario is not without high points, the meandering roads it takes to reach them ultimately harm the whole piece. Strict adherence to previous expansion formulae, with dungeons and trials—like Drowned City and Sri Lakshmi—occurring in awkward places, robs the story of valuable time that could otherwise be used to flesh out underdeveloped elements, particularly on the Ala Mhigan side of things. In other cases, the formula acts to suck the wind out of the story’s sails, as in the case of the carving up of the Main Scenario’s final chapter, which would have worked better as one unified whole (or at least split into two more equal parts). Other elements, mainly Doman ones, receive such focus that one could be forgiven in believing the developers had little interest in Ala Mhigo and its people to begin with. With so little care paid to the Ala Mhigan story, the overall Main Scenario might have been better served instead by another subplot entirely: one more thoroughly linking Heavensward’s Warriors of Darkness (who hail from the version of Hydaelyn that serves as the setting for Shadowbringers) more directly to the next expansion. Stormblood as released could only set this link up in awkwardly paced chapters after begrudgingly getting Ala Mhigo out of the way.

Overall, Stormblood does manage to tie up the loose ends it needed to for the arrival of Shadowbringers, and it sets up the next expansion far better than Heavensward managed to do for Stormblood. In that regard, the game’s story has found important momentum despite its various stumbles along the way. With all the game’s myriad, meandering plot threads now tied up and tied together as needed, Shadowbringers will hopefully be able to conclude the long-running Ascian and Garlean storylines, now clearly one and the same, in spectacular fashion. A more singular focus should result in a better Main Scenario, with the team no longer needing to juggle so many adjacent plot lines at once, but the fruits of their labor won’t be wholly seen for another two years, assuming the same number of patches in Shadowbringers that we saw for previous expansions. From this vantage point, at least, Shadowbringers looks like it could offer some of the Main Scenario’s best, even if Stormblood’s Main Scenariosuffered to set up that foundation.

Thanks to the support of Fashion Ninjutsu’s patrons, I’ve been able to put more time and care into this expansion retrospective, with special thanks going to current $5 patrons David Haig, Francisco Galicia, Nomolun, and Zayla Rose. If you’ve enjoyed this retrospective and would like to support future ones or other content like Mog Station Reviews, you can offer support of your own on Fashion Ninjutsu’s Patreon.

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