5 Year Ago, Shadowbringers Changed Everything We Knew About Final Fantasy 14

Embrace the Darkness.

screenshot from Final Fantasy XIV Shadowbringers trailer
Square Enix

The new Dawntrail expansion is taking Final Fantasy XIV to the new continent of Tural, but it’s not the farthest from home Warriors of Light have ever been. Five years ago, Shadowbringers took players not just to another continent, but to another world entirely, and rewrote the rules of its narrative in the process. Before Endwalker could finish the 10-year saga of Hydaelyn and Zodiark and clear the way for Dawntrail, Shadowbringers first made players question what makes a hero and delivered some of the most emotional moments in Final Fantasy XIV in the process.

From the start of Final Fantasy XIV, you’ve been a Warrior of Light. Chosen by the goddess Hydaelyn, you battle the followers of Zodiark, god of Darkness, along with plenty of other, more mundane foes. All the way back to A Realm Reborn, quests touch on this conflict, showing the consequences of Darkness most explicitly in a storyline that involves an entire world consumed by it. You could get the impression that it’s a simplistic struggle like the kind we’ve seen in fantasy over and over: Light good, Darkness bad, no further questions asked.

Shadowbringers sends its familiar characters into an unrecognizable world for a new adventure.

Square Enix

That all changes in Shadowbringers. Shortly into the expansion, your Warrior of Light is transported to another world awakening in an unfamiliar place to the sight of beautiful purple-leaved trees looming overhead. Also hanging above is a sky so bright it’s painful to look at. As it turns out, the world they find themselves in is one totally bereft of light, the bright inverse of that world consumed by Darkness.

But while the Warrior of Light might seem to be at home in this light-flooded world, things are not so simple. As it turns out, this world had its own Warriors of Light, but rather than saviors, they’re regarded as the villains who destroyed the world. In banishing Darkness, these warriors let Light take over the world, and without those crucial elements in balance, this world is being choked of life, just as the shadowy world called the Void has been consumed by chaos.

From that moment on, your role shifts. Rather than continuing on in the name of the Light, you end the expansion’s first dungeon by bringing Darkness back to the world in one of the best moments in all of Final Fantasy XIV. From that point, you become the Warrior of Darkness, and Shadowbringers begins its unwinding of everything the story took for granted up to this point.

Shadowbringers great story was matched by challenging bosses.

Square Enix

In practice, it feels much the same. You still descend into dungeons to tackle powerful bosses and gear up for the next challenge, watching copious amounts of cutscenes all the way. But context is everything. Up to this point in Final Fantasy XIV, you’re fighting to prevent calamity. Whether it’s an invasion by the Garlean Empire or an onslaught of dragons, the threat to the world is something that can still be stopped.

In Shadowbringers, the worst has already happened. Rather than attempting to stop a calamity, you’re trying to reverse it. At the beginning of the expansion, most of the world has already given up hope. At best, they’re just hoping to survive until the inevitable end of everything. Back home, the Warrior of Light is seen as the world’s protector. Here, they first need to show people there’s a world left to protect.

The story of Shadowbringers is among the best in all of Final Fantasy.

Square Enix

The main story of Shadowbringers also calls into question assumptions that have been central to the game’s story since beginning. If Light can be just as destructive as Darkness, then looking at the two as simplistic manifestations of good and evil is clearly wrongheaded, and Shadowbringers dives deep into the idea that Hydaelyn and Zodiark may be both more complicated and more similar than they seemed at first. It’s an expansion full of far-reaching implications for the entire game, and it sets the stage for even greater revelations to come in Endwalker.

Dawntrail represents a new starting point for the Warrior of Light after a decade spent on a story that spanned A Realm Reborn and four expansions. But while it’s a clean break, it only feels appropriate that it launches on the fifth anniversary of the greatest Final Fantasy XIV storyline yet. The latest expansion is a major change from the game’s ongoing story so far, and it may not be a trip with quite as much at stake as there has been in the conflicts so far, but Shadowbringers is a reminder that Final Fantasy XIV is at its best when it’s not afraid to challenge everything that’s come before.

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