Netflix’s weirdest new show, Final Fantasy XIV: Dad of Light, is the best thing that the Final Fantasy franchise has done in a really long time, which is a total shock considering its bizarre premise and its uncomfortable original title: “Daddy of Light.”
The show is inspired by a real-life blog about a young Final Fantasy XIV player introducing the game to his father in a secret project he calls “Father of Light.” Akio, the adult son of Hakutaro, assumes the identity of a beautiful female character and plays the online game to learn more about a man he’s never truly known. It sounds insane, but it works.
Often, the lessons learned in the game inform Akio’s professional experiences and vice versa in a manner that almost never feels unearned. One satisfying subplot explores the awkwardness of being a person into video games struggling to bond with avid baseball fans. More often than not, Akio discovers how to relate to people he doesn’t understand in new ways while simultaneously learning the complexities to his father’s personality.
The family-oriented soap opera drama is intercut with machinima in-game footage from FFXIV with the whole thing centered around bridging the emotional distance built up over decades between father and son in this unorthodox way.
You see, Akio loved games as a kid but was socially awkward, and he never truly bonded with his dad or anyone else. His childhood was characterized by moments not understanding his often silent father, of running around in circles or tossing a ball at the wall by himself.
If Hakutaro said it was okay for Akio to quit kendo, then why was Akio’s father so disappointed in him when he did? Where was Hakutaro when Akio wanted to play catch like all the other kids did? It’s a situation of mixed signals and a lack of understanding that’s intensely relatable for a lot of fathers and sons, especially for gaming enthusiasts with parents that don’t understand the “obsession.”
The game at the core of the experience, Final Fantasy XIV, is an atypical entry in a franchise focused on a single-player role-playing gaming experiences. As an MMORPG akin to World of Warcraft or Everquest, FFXIV has thousands of players playing together on a single continent.
Everything changed for their father-son dynamic when they both suddenly became enrapture by the original Final Fantasy. But real-life happened: Hakutaro had to assume a leadership at work, and gaming was left forgotten until he suddenly quit his job in the present day. Desperate to understand his father’s sudden decision, Akio buys him all the peripherals he needs to get into Final Fantasy XIV: a PlayStation 4, the game, and even a keyboard.
The show explores the real-life implications of being a gamer in realistic ways, too. Without spoiling too much, let’s just say that Hakutaro’s wife is less than thrilled by him spending so much time playing video games when he’s an adult. It speaks to the need for moderation with these all-consuming experiences, but also the opposite point that people who can’t relate to gamers sometimes respond in judgmental ways.
Watching Hakutaro bumbling his way through modern online gaming etiquette is also delightful and funny in the way it’s always entertaining to watch people struggle with technology.
For fans of the series at its absolute best, Dad of Light offers an opportunity to relish in the kind of nostalgia that will forever preserve Final Fantasy as one of the greatest gaming series of all time. Surprisingly enough, all of the themes of hope and self-reliance translate really well into a story about live-action interpersonal drama. Crazy, isn’t it?
Final Fantasy as a game series has always been characterized by its campy tone and epic, inspiring stories. Square-Enix hasn’t delivered a truly wonderful experience with universal acclaim since Final Fantasy X.
Final Fantasy XIV: Dad of Light is now streaming on Netflix.