FFXIV Dawntrail Feels Like a Throwback to '90s RPGs

For better and worse.

Elven character with long silver hair sits at a bar with glowing lights, holding a pineapple, surrou...
Square Enix

After just five hours into Dawntrail, I had been persuaded by a sentient piece of corn to spread the delicious word of corn-based foods, and gone on a Zelda-like trade-athon that had me turning a ball of wool into a jug of premium alcohol. It’s immediately clear that Dawntrail is a shift for Final Fantasy XIV, both in terms of storytelling and style. We knew that going in, but what surprises me is how much the expansion feels like it’s trying to emulate the happy-go-lucky RPGs of the ‘90s boom, right down to the starry-eyed hero. It’s an interesting change that gives Dawntrail a whole different vibe, for both better and worse.

Perhaps the biggest RPG trope out there, very much popularized by the 90s, is the youthful hero who wants to change the world. The kind of protagonist that is full of hopes and dreams, means well, but is just a little dense in common knowledge or social cues. Think of Grandia’s Justin, Final Fantasy IX’s Zidane, or Tales of Symphonia’s Lloyd. All these characters do have their own unique elements, but they largely fall into that same category.

Wuk Lamat is arguably the protagonist of Dawntrail, you’re just seeing her story from your character’s perspective.

Square Enix

Of course, you are the “main character” of FFXIV, but arguably, you aren’t the protagonist of Dawntrail. It’s an interesting narrative choice that almost makes your character feel like a party member helping a new addition named Wuk Lamat, who’s the absolute center of everything in Dawntrail.

Wuk Lamat is the daughter of the king of Tural, and one of four candidates competing for the throne in a competition called The Rite of Succession. You travel across the vast ocean to help Wuk Lamat in this task, and it becomes increasingly clear that this is her story, as much as it’s yours. Wuk Lamat has built a party, and this is a story about her growth as a character, how she goes from a naive child to someone worthy of ruling a country. It’s hilarious how much Wuk Lamat feels like that stereotypical RPG hero, but it’s also part of her charm.

Dawntrail goes much deeper than that, though, as so much of the expansion’s first half feels like something ripped right out of one of those classic RPGs. The first dozen hours are squarely about exploring Tural, meeting its various peoples, and doing a bunch of fetch quests to help them solve their problems. Then you have some hilarious cameos from the other Scions, like how Estinien the Dragoon shows up out of nowhere, fights the king, and then bounces until you meet him again hours later. He’s basically the late-game party member who shows up early, does a cool thing, and then joins your party sixty hours later.

Estinien pulls a move from Sailor Moon’s Tuxedo Mask, and shows up to do absolutely nothing.

Square Enix

Dawntrail is constructed like a classic RPG via slow methodical worldbuilding, traveling the world region by region, and even a crazy mid-game twist (which I won’t spoil). These choices feel entirely intentional on Square Enix’s part, but it’s not surprising to see Dawntrail already being met with mixed reviews on Steam.

This more classic approach in Dawntrail is a stark contrast to past expansions, which focused more on political machinations, the ensemble cast, and heady philosophical themes. The story is more grounded, and because of that, it seems like a lot of the writing and activities you do can feel poorly paced or less meaningful. The big problem is this “classic” style of narrative is grafted onto the foundation of an MMO, which makes the slow storytelling feel even more sluggish, as you’re forced to do a variety of fetch quests or follow characters around like a puppy.

Dawntrail’s story isn’t bad, and it starts layering in some interesting ideas the further you get, but this drastic change in pacing and tone absolutely won’t work for everyone. More than anything, it’ll be interesting to see how Square Enix reacts and adjusts to Dawntrail’s reception, and if that changes future plans at all.

Final Fantasy XIV: Dawntrail launches on July 2 for PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.

Related Tags