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Final Fantasy 14 has properly clicked for me as I catch up before Dawntrail

To the moon and back.

Final Fantasy 14 Endwalker
Image credit: Square Enix

It's finally happened. I've made it to the moon.

Back at the start of the year, we collectively wrote a piece about our gaming resolutions. Usually resolutions are made to be repeated every year and never achieved - but not this time. I said I planned to get up to date in Final Fantasy 14. I'm determined to make that happen.

And so now, in my quest to whip through the Eorzean adventure before the release of Dawntrail next month, I have finally made it to Endwalker. At long last, it's clicked.

Final Fantasy 14: Dawntrail full trailerWatch on YouTube

As a big fan of the single player games but not MMORPGs, I was initially hesitant to begin Final Fantasy 14 a few years ago. I didn't quite know what to expect and its world seemed impenetrable to me: the Jobs! The duties! The terminology! The menus! The hundreds of hours of required time!

"Don't worry," my friends would tell me, "it gets good after a couple of hundred hours". "Just get to Shadowbringers, then you'll understand".

The problem is, I've forever been playing catch up. Working my way through Final Fantasy 14 has felt like a part-time job, a chore where I'm always awaiting what comes next. With so much story to experience, characters to meet, places to visit, dungeons to explore (not to mention the myriad side activities), I've ploughed on with the mindset of "just get through it", fuelled by a desire to understand what everyone else seemingly does, to see why it's Square Enix's most popular game, to finally finally get up to date.

Thankfully, I've now got to a point where I'm really enjoying Final Fantasy 14 and that's down to a few changes. Some of those are thanks to Square Enix, others are my own.

Final Fantasy 14 screenshot showing cat main character with a scythe on a boat with others behind him
Final Fantasy 14 screenshot showing cat main character with scythe looking out at a palace on the moon with the earth in the background
My cat boi on his adventures | Image credit: Square Enix / Eurogamer

For many, the Shadowbringers expansion represents the pinnacle of the game. I can see why. It's a big step up from the previous expansions, with a shift to a new world, a cool story concept, and one of the game's best villains in Emet-Selch.

For me, though, while Shadowbringers was a big shift forwards, Endwalker trumps it - at least so far. Visually it's spectacular, from the Ancient Greece-inspired scholarly halls of Sharlayan, to the colourful Thavnair reminiscent of India. And then the moon! The intricate design of The Watcher's Palace set against the celestial sky is breathtaking and makes the trip to its surface worthwhile - even before the forthcoming graphics update. The music too is gorgeous and hearing each piece in context has brought back fond memories of seeing pianist Keiko and soprano Amanda Achen perform at Fan Fest. And I love the rock theme so very much.

More so, the storytelling feels improved. The plot itself is clear and nicely wraps up events from across the game so far, and the script oscillates between mournfully existential and genuinely funny. One minute I'm touched by a tearful moment involving soup, the next I'm laughing after throwing balls at a bunny. As with the development team's other big recent game Final Fantasy 16, the pacing crescendoes from quieter moments to big, elaborate set pieces that (recency bias allowing) feel more memorable than in previous expansions. That's ten years of developer expertise for you.

With Shadowbringers, I also caught up with the Duty Support system that allows players to complete dungeons alone. I know, I know, I'm that horrible person that plays an MMO alone. Yes, it's called a multiplayer game for a reason, but story is what really drives my interest in the Final Fantasy games. Duty Support not only means I can explore dungeons at my own pace, I'm joined by NPCs from the story rather than other players rushing for XP. Since playing this way I've developed a much stronger connection to Alphinaud, Thancred, Y'shtola and the rest, and I'm now more invested in the Endwalker story as a result.

Final Fantasy 14 screenshot showing a vineyard with low poly grapes
Don't mind me, just catching up on a dated meme | Image credit: Square Enix / Eurogamer

Besides the lengthy required time to catch up, perhaps the biggest hurdle to enjoying Final Fantasy 14 is choosing the right Job. There are 19 to choose from, each with their own playstyle, and it's only taken me a few hundred hours to settle into one I like. In hindsight, swapping to a healer halfway through my playtime was not very beginner-friendly, but at the start of Endwalker I decided to switch to Reaper. It's a DPS Job that not only satisfies my inner-goth as I don shiny black armour and wield a giant scythe, but is far easier to get to grips with. Instead of panicking over balancing healing and damage-dealing, I can focus on my ability rotation, dodging attacks, and - you guessed it - enjoy the story more. Coupled with a move to PlayStation and controller play - why didn't I do that sooner?! - playing Final Fantasy 14 has now become relaxation instead of a chore, cosied up on the sofa with a cup of tea and a world to immerse myself in.

This all has led to a changed mindset for me. I'm no longer playing simply to catch up, chasing an end with shifting goal posts of each new patch, waiting for the moment it gets good everyone told me about. With hundreds of hours under my belt now, I feel more confident in my ability and have learned to just sit back and enjoy the moment, soak up the atmosphere, and appreciate the storytelling along the way. It turns out, playing Final Fantasy 14 has become a bit of a metaphor for life really.

I've still got a fair way to go in Endwalker but with Dawntrail just around the corner, I'm excited to finally be up to date, to experience the latest addition to the game alongside the rest of the community. And once that's complete, maybe I'll dabble in some raids and eventually get over my fear of playing online.

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