After a brief delay, Final Fantasy 14: Endwalker is finally set to launch into early access this week, and anyone who's had any form of interaction with me recently knows how utterly hyped I am. Despite knocking around in the game on-and-off since 2014 this is actually the first time I'll be around for an expansion's launch. It's exciting!
With Endwalker set to wrap up the game's decade-long story, I thought it'd be nice to look back on some of my favourite bits from the critically acclaimed MMORPG. Be it a beloved character, gripping story arc or an iconic cultural moment, here are five of my favourite things to come out of Final Fantasy 14—from its not-so-humble beginnings in 1.0 all the way through to Shadowbringers.
Of course, there are spoilers! So gaze below at your own risk.
I couldn't make a list of the best Final Fantasy 14 moments and not include one of the game's most recognisable characters. Haurchefant is introduced during A Realm Reborn, but the events leading up to Heavensward and the expansion itself are when I really became attached to him.
He's one of your biggest supporters throughout the end of A Realm Reborn and Heavensward, even veering into being a massive flirt if you listen to his Japanese voiceover. But his never-ending optimism, warmth and charisma make him so utterly likeable. He always trusts you, cheers you on from the sidelines and begs his father to grant you shelter in Ishgard, a place that is typically frosty towards outsiders. He's so nice that I was almost convinced he was going to betray me. He never does.
Instead, he dies trying to protect you. Even in his final moments, he asks you to smile, saying how it's more befitting of a hero. It's a majorly gut-wrenching moment, and I remember Haurchefant's passing as one of the first times I lost a character I really cared about.
The impact of Haurchefant's death is still pretty major today. You're able to visit his grave, and it's not uncommon to peep an in-game house that has some sort of shrine set up in dedication to him. It even extends to real-life tributes, particularly during the game's annual Fan Fest events. Former PCG colleague Steven told me how Fan Fests he's attended will start with someone laying down a picture of Haurchefant, with players bringing flowers and all sorts of offerings throughout the weekend, quickly becoming a mass of gifts honouring someone who doesn't even exist. I can't think of another character that's had quite the community response, and he'll remain in our hearts.
Soken's live performance
If you've played through Shadowbringers, you'll be all-too-familiar with the song Civilizations that plays whenever you're in The Rak'tika Greatwood. It's one of the expansion's more recognisable tracks, mostly thanks to the fact you're greeted with a pretty loud "LA HEE!" whenever you enter the area for the first time.
During the 2021 Fan Fest, composer Masayoshi Soken took to the stage, one otamatone slung over his shoulder, another in his hand. "Do you know... La Hee? I will play La Hee."
There's so much to unpack in this three-minute video. Soken's goofy passion for his own song, his impressive ability to somehow play two otamatones while singing. The camera occasionally cutting to pianist Keiko, who looks equal parts confused, pained and like she's about to lose her shit. Soken dipping immediately after the song finishes—there is not a moment in this video that doesn't put a huge smile on my face.
It was also during this Fan Fest that Soken revealed he'd been battling cancer throughout the majority of 2020, finding himself in and out of hospital throughout much of it. This performance was his first public appearance since being in remission, which makes the entire thing even sweeter. Seeing him belt out his own song feels cathartic, and it was great seeing him on stage having a fantastic time.
There are so many fantastic moments in Shadowbringers, I wasn't sure how to narrow it down to just one. After feeling a lull with Stormblood's messy narrative, Shadowbringers successfully hooked me right back in, solidifying itself as my all-time favourite expansion. The entire story is filled with heartbreaking, dramatic moments. I nearly put the events of 5.3 in here because of how brilliant that entire patch is, but in the end, I had to go back to the start of this expansion.
Tesleen is one of the first new characters you meet in Shadowbringers, having formed a close bond with fellow Scion Alisaie. She's an incredibly kind woman, taking care of people who have been corrupted by light (which is bad in this expansion) in their final days.
What was supposed to be a simple escort mission ends with Tesleen being stabbed by a Sin Eater, beings who have become too corrupted by light and turned into monsters. She succumbs to her injuries and we're forced to witness her horrifically painful transformation, all while she apologises to Alisaie for what just happened. The moment is incredibly sad and shocking, making me quickly realise that this expansion was not here to mess around. You later face Tesleen as one of the bosses in Holminster Switch, Shadowbringers' first dungeon, putting her to rest. Defeating her hurt, even though I knew it was the right thing to do. I'll never let myself get attached to a side character so quickly again.
Good King Moggle Mog XII
Final Fantasy 14 is filled with genuinely fantastic trials—I'll never forget the chills I got facing off against Ramuh for the first time, or how dazzled I was by Lakshmi. But for sheer absurdity alone, Good King Moggle Mog XII wins by a mile.
Every other trial in A Realm Reborn feels menacing, accompanied by heaving-hitting, ominous soundtracks. Good King Moggle Mog takes 'This is Halloween' from A Nightmare Before Christmas and gives it a kupo-fied makeover. What you get is a weird, jaunty and horrifically catchy tune that still lingers in my head seven years later.
It's also an interesting fight in that you don't just face off with the King himself, but several of his loyal subjects. Each one needs to be taken down in a specific order and, back when gear levels were a little lower, it was the difference between a smooth run or multiple wipes.
The whole thing is a bit more like comic relief than the trials that come before and after it, and feels like an outlier in that regard. But it's still one of my favourite trials to this day, and I'm always happy when it pops up in a roulette.
The destruction of 1.0
This, in my opinion, is still one of the most badass things a game developer has ever done to its own creation. As most people know by now, Final Fantasy 14 was an absolute state when it was originally released in 2010. Horrible combat, UI, uninspired zones, a weird experience fatigue system that would literally stop you from playing... I could go on.
Anyone who played during that time can tell you how not good it was. When current director and producer Naoki Yoshida took over from Nobuaki Komoto and Hiromachi Tanaka, he did his best to bring the game into a more enjoyable state. Unfortunately, it was a bit like trying to slap a bandaid on a bullet wound. The game's foundations were too busted to gradually fix with patches, and the decision was made to can 1.0 altogether and rebuild Final Fantasy 14 from the ground up.
Instead of simply pulling the plug and walking away, a plan was formulated to build the shutdown of 1.0's servers directly into the game's lore. A series of patches were released up to the game's final day, building up the looming threat of Eorzea's destruction. The final days of 1.0 show the impending threat, all while the fantastic Answers plays over crashing thunder.
It's both beautiful and haunting to witness, and everything fades to black before the final cutscene plays—what becomes the beginning of A Realm Reborn—as Square Enix flips the switch.
Turning the destruction of a live-service game into lore is bloody clever, and I think putting so much care into how 1.0 was laid to rest despite everything shows how much the team wanted it to succeed. It also gave a good launching point for 2.0 to continue, without completely throwing away the story that had already been crafted over two years. Perhaps that is the greatest thing about Final Fantasy 14: It destroyed its own world for the sake of its inhabitants and, many years on, we still celebrate it.