FF14 player counts around 21 hours of cutscenes in Dawntrail—making it the second longest expansion next to Endwalker—and I can't for the life of me tell you why

Alisaie, a headstrong ally in Final Fantasy 14: Dawntrail, looks skeptically while standing in the middle of a beautiful blue forest.
(Image credit: Square Enix)

I've had time to finish Final Fantasy 14: Dawntrail's main story—which landed to a bit of a mixed reception late last month.

Before I have a good moan about it, though, I think our recent Final Fantasy 14: Dawntrail review (written by contributor Daniella Lucas) isn't wrong in its assessment by any means. Things absolutely pick up in its latter half, there's a lot to like, and I would be lying if I said I wasn't emotionally invested in Wuk Lamat's journey. But that might be why it's bothered me so much.

While I had a good time overall, it's one of those stories that's marinated poorly in my head. The more I think about it, the more frustrated I get with its issues—which isn't surprising. I'm the kind of person who gets more irate the closer to greatness something scrapes. To me, 'almost fantastic, but overall fine' feels more criminal than 'just bad'.

High up on my list of mopes is the MSQ's pacing. Now, granted, every single FF14 expansion does a bad job of this: Shadowbringers had a literal trolley problem take up hours of screen time, Heavensward starts off very slow, and Endwalker made you listen to a few hours of a climactic, "yeah, we're doing it!" music while you were helping a bunch of nerds piece a spaceship together.

In the past, though, that pacing's been mitigated by strong character development, beautiful dialogue, and a pretty good use of time spent with side-conversations and self-contained plots.

Alas, the beat-by-beat storytelling of Dawntrail was just plain weaker than usual—all of the pieces were there for something fantastic, and there were some very high points, but they just didn't come together to form a proper whole for me. As such, that pacing problem, usually dismissible, was a huge part of the buzzkill.

If you feel similarly, it might surprise you to find that those issues also have some measurable roots. The vibes weren't just off, they were downright stretched thin.

That's thanks to FF14 story scholar Cyberfunk3 on Reddit, who has worked in conjunction with jesterxgirl to produce the following Google sheet measuring the total cutscene length for every expansion and (almost) every patch quest to date.

Now, granted, this isn't actually a perfect measurement on its own. Cyberfunk3 has measured their cutscenes using the auto-scroll function (which clicks through non-voiced dialogue at a pace of your choosing) at around +5 speed. The average person will likely read faster than that, or skim over redundant information, which Dawntrail unfortunately has a lot of. Still, it works well for the objective of comparing the expansions to each other.

Cyberfunk3 has found that Dawntrail has a hefty 21 hours of cutscenes total by this metric. It's only beaten out by the game's last expansion, which served as the finale to around 10 years of storytelling—Endwalker was completely rammed with significant plot points and tear-jerking payoffs (and also bunnies, but I felt they were a nice breather from the rest of that story's grim tone).

This is astonishing to me, because when I think of how dense Endwalker's story is, it becomes just as clear how poorly Dawntrail uses its time—and justifies my lingering feeling that so much of it could've been salvaged in the editing room.

Wuk Lamat, one in line to become Dawnservant, grins widely as she rides a parade float through one of FF14: Dawntrail's earlier zones.

(Image credit: Square Enix)

An even more interesting comparison happens when you put Dawntrail next to Stormblood, an expansion with a similarly mixed reception. Compared to Stormblood, Dawntrail has nine and a half hours more cutscenes—almost twice as many.

In a further explanatory thread, Cyberfunk3 also discovers that, despite Dawntrail and Stormblood having roughly the same amount of quests, Dawntrail has about 12 minutes of cutscenes per quest completed. In contrast, Stormblood averages less than six per turn-in. Meaning, despite having similar problems, Stormblood was overall—if the stats are to be believed—twice as economical with its storytelling than Dawntrail was.

As for why Dawntrail was so long? I really couldn't tell you. Throughout my playtime, I'd often find myself deeply invested in a plot line or character moment, only to then be dragged back, nails-on-a-chalkboard, to some clunky exposition the next quest over. Characters kept going through information I was already familiar with, giving the same speech I'd already heard three times, and stating the obvious with criminal frequency. Meanwhile, side characters like Alisaie, Alphinaud, Erenville and (most disappointingly) Krile were almost silent until the game's final act.

Dawntrail likely has a bigger cinematic budget, sure, but I don't think this is the root cause either. While there were some beautifully-animated moments in the expansion, I actually felt like the overall quality was lower because of how many of them still relied on the cookie-cutter animations and nods.

On the plus side, Bakool Ja Ja is fun (and eerily thirsted over), and I still think there's room to save the lingering characters and plot points in future patches—not to mention, everything outside of the MSQ has been superb, including side, role, and crafter/gatherer questlines. I'm going to sit on my complete thoughts for a while yet, but I just can't help but wonder what the Dawntrail I could've played would have been like if Square Enix had simply pruned it just that bit more.

Harvey Randall
Staff Writer

Harvey's history with games started when he first begged his parents for a World of Warcraft subscription aged 12, though he's since been cursed with Final Fantasy 14-brain and a huge crush on G'raha Tia. He made his start as a freelancer, writing for websites like Techradar, The Escapist, Dicebreaker, The Gamer, Into the Spine—and of course, PC Gamer. He'll sink his teeth into anything that looks interesting, though he has a soft spot for RPGs, soulslikes, roguelikes, deckbuilders, MMOs, and weird indie titles. He also plays a shelf load of TTRPGs in his offline time. Don't ask him what his favourite system is, he has too many.