Author’s Note 2/15/23: This post originally went live on Blogger with broken links for the images. We’ve retained the original warning that detailed the issue. The issue has been resolved since migrating to WordPress.
So, disclaimer: Blogger is undergoing some changes and shifting over to a new UI setting. While it’s been very fun to noodle with the new UI (which has implemented some fantastic and much-needed fixes and upgrades), it has also inevitably come with some bugs it seems they’re still working out.
Unfortunately, one of those bugs involves breaking post photos. 🙁
I’ve wrestled with the system for days while working on this blog post, but the new UI simply refuses to keep my photos on the article, instead replacing them with the blank thumbnails you will most likely see today.
While it makes me very sad to see all the lovely pictures I’d collected for you going to waste, this is unfortunately a problem on Blogger’s end; and, as of this post, there is no recommended solution yet. I have sent feedback to Blogger pointing out the bug, and I’m currently keeping an eye out for any fixes.
In the meantime, I apologize for any broken photos in today’s post, and I ask that you please be patient as I wait to hear back on the solution to this. As soon as the bug is fixed, you can be sure that the blog will return to its beautiful, photo-adorned self!
Thanks so much, and I hope you enjoy the article nonetheless!
This post will contain major spoilers for
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn
You have been warned.
Okay, you may remember last month when I talked about this little game series called Final Fantasy and mentioned their most recent antagonist was kiiiind of my favorite video game villain ever?
Yeah, we’re gonna talk about that some more.
I think Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn has fantastic villains–and arguably some of the best villains in gaming. But you don’t see many singing their praises. There aren’t myriad articles and YouTube video essays proclaiming how great these villains are. So I think they’re long overdue some love for their variety and quality.
Development of Final Fantasy XIV
Now, I will say, A Realm Reborn didn’t start out with fantastic villains. However, those initial lackluster villains were also created in the span of a single year when most games have 3-5 years to develop. This is because the game’s initial iteration, which released in 2010, was… well… not great.
Final Fantasy XIV began with some terrible core issues. These included:
- A combat system purposefully designed to slow players from advancing through the game at their own pace, using timed restrictions on their play and progression.1
- Sorely lacking transportation features: no jumping,1 no rideable mounts (despite chocobos, the horse-sized yellow birds so iconic to the franchise, being visible throughout the world), and forcing the player to run on foot across large maps.2
- A clunky, poorly-designed User Interface that made play difficult.1
- Poor optimization, resulting in lag and other performance issues.1
- A story that, despite being in development for 4 years,1 “felt rushed and thin” to some players, in large part due to “shallow” NPCs that only showed up once and a spread-out story that took far too long to experience.2
Needless to say, the game was tanking after only two years.3 Massively Multiplayer Online games (MMO’s) like Final Fantasy XIV are expensive to maintain, and this one was going to go under.
This is when current director and producer Naoki Yoshida (affectionately referred to as “Yoshi-P”) was brought on to overhaul the game in a single short year. The game was reshaped practically from the ground up: a faster-paced combat system, simplified in-game models and assets allowing regular PCs to run the game, and even a reanalysis of the economy.
But the greatest changes came to the story. Final Fantasy XIV was officially shut down to the tune of an in-game plotline where the world’s second moon crashed to the ground, a cataclysmic event that permanently altered the landscape. The game was then re-released as Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn.
A Realm Reborn’s Villains
All this to say, ARR’s earliest villains show that harried development pace. Though the base game’s mooks of the encroaching Garlean Empire suffice to set up a nifty tale of an adventurer-turned-godslaying-hero, they’re little more than Saturday morning cartoon villains, complete with an evil empire, a racist military leader (General Gaius), and a collection of lieutenant lackeys who worship the ground Gaius walks on. Not exactly a spectacular (or memorable) crew, creating plenty of inside jokes among the fans.
While the best villains do come in during ARR’s later content, there are still some pretty great villains to be had even in the early part of ARR’s story. It’s just not the Garlean army you need to look to; but that’s kind of the point of the whole game: the Garlean Empire has always been a pawn in a bigger chess game. And the ones playing that game are the shadowy, mysterious Ascians.
Some of you may remember my brief description of the Ascians from my entry on one of their members, Emet-Selch, but for those of you who don’t, the Ascians are a collection of thirteen dark-robe-wearing otherworldly beings with tremendous powers. They can teleport vast distances on a whim; they can summon demonic creatures to fight for them; they can possess others’ bodies; and worse yet, they revive after being killed. These robed figures speak in coded language, leaving the player in the dark as to their true objectives.
Though one could argue the Ascians are just as mustache-twirling “evil for evil’s sake” as General Gaius (though you know I’m not necessarily opposed to that…), it’s clear the Ascians are working for more than just world domination, and that mystery makes it that much more compelling for a player considering whether to keep paying their monthly subscription.
You may not know many of them by name, but they make a great slimy shadow organization. Ascians think of you as little more than an insect, which makes it incredibly satisfying when you finally learn their weakness and begin picking them off one by one. Each defeated Ascian feels like another stepping stone to finally returning some peace and stability to the world.
But not even this thinning of their ranks deters the Ascians. They just keep on rolling, manipulating other villains in their master puppet show. The tragic General Gaius is one of the first to fall to their guile and play into the Ascians’ plans, but we see this same story time and again as more villains fall prey to their own hubris and the Ascians’ carefully-laid ploys.
In the first major ARR expansion, Heavensward, the ruler-priest of the land of Coerthas, Archbishop Thordan, pretends to go along with the Ascians’ schemes while planning to betray them. Thordan thinks he can outwit the Ascians; but in reality, he’s the one being played.
Thordan has been perpetuating a centuries-long lie about Coerthas’s origins and foundational religion in order to keep the peace. He claims he’s doing what he believes is right, seeking the power of a god to finally win the seemingly endless war his people have waged against the attacking dragon-kind.
However, Thordan’s no innocent savior; he’s brutal, willing to take out anyone who gets in his way and absolutely unwilling to listen to reason–even if that reason comes from the mouth of his own son, whom he imprisons and submits to torture.
But if evil popes aren’t your thing, what about psychopathic killers and products of military occupation?
Stormblood puts you on the front lines of the war with the Garlean Empire, pitting you against the might of a relentless and scrappy Garlean officer named Fordola. Born the daughter of an imperial conscript who earned Garlean citizenship for himself and his family, Fordola and her parents were still despised as outsiders and savages simply because they weren’t pureblood Garleans.
After seeing the callousness on both sides of the war and feeling like neither will ever accept her, Fordola has determined to play by the rules of a cruel and heartless world of war, tearing down whoever she needs to in order to finally be deemed worthy. Fordola is ruthless and will stop at nothing to succeed, even if she has to sacrifice her own companions to do so.
Or check out Yotsuyu, Fordola’s counterpart in the exotic lands of the Far East. A native to the country of Doma, which Garlemald crushed underfoot twenty years ago, Yotsuyu was abused by her uncle, sold into prostitution, and ignored by anyone who saw her plight. Seething with hatred for this country that wholly destroyed an innocent girl orphaned by the war, Yotsuyu unleashes her cold-hearted wrath on any Doman she lays eyes on, which makes her the perfect viceroy to keep the ordinarily honorable and freedom-loving Domans broken and submissive under Garlemald’s thumb.
And you don’t even find all that out until later! No, you know how we’re introduced to Yotsuyu? She rounds up a group of Doman innocents, orders a young man to shoot another man. When he complies, Yotsuyu commands him to kill his own parents. All this before she encounters a Doman freedom fighter, has him beaten to a pulp, and then grinds her high-heeled shoe into his temple while he lies on the floor.
Yeah, she’s bad.
If you think Yotsuyu sounds crazy, her commander is even more insane. Lord Zenos, the heir apparent to the Garlean Empire, is a genuine psychopath with an eerie amount of charisma. Zenos was raised in a world of violence and has become so glutted on it that he no longer finds pleasure in anything except a worthy fight… which, given his skill, he hasn’t found for a while. His depression results in him offering no quarter and no remorse as he personally leads his troops to victory after crushing victory… even steam-rolling the player character, who has fought the embodiment of minor gods in the past. Still, you put up enough of a fight that it piques Zenos’s curiosity. After he wipes the floor with you, he bids you stand and get stronger so he can finally have a match worthy of his time.
When you eventually do get your rematch with Zenos, his piqued interest becomes a raving obsession as he madly pursues you, his sole reason for living.
A much quieter villain with no less intimidating presence is Zenos’s father, Emperor Varis, the leader of the Garlean Empire. Varis enters the story softly: a silent coronation after the passing of his late grandfather. Initially we know little of him besides his desire to increase Garlemald’s military operations. He’s spoken of only in distant snatches of conversation for much of the story until suddenly, you meet him face to face. He’s tall and imposing and frowning as if everything in the world were beneath him–yet he deigns to talk with you. Still, you’re nothing but a child who had momentarily caught his attention, and he leaves with a dramatic sweep of his cape. Varis is soft-spoken, but there’s power in his voice, and his very presence remains unnerving despite his limited appearances in the story. His underlying wrath certainly helps.
When you finally free two lands from the Garlean Empire’s clutches, Varis brings the hammer of his army down on Eorzea with thundering force, so much so that even the allied four citystates of Eorzea aren’t certain they can repel him. The leaders are stunned when Varis seeks an audience with them just before a decisive battle begins. It’s a genuine attempt to sue for peace, though the true shock is yet to come: Varis reveals he’s knowingly been in league with the Ascians the entire time, attempting to subjugate the world in order to turn it over to them. The Ascians promise to reforge the world so there is only one single perfect species. Do this, Varis believes, and there will be no more wars, no more disagreements… for all will be equal, all will be the same. His admission stuns the leaders and player, who refuse him outright.
But the crown jewel of Final Fantasy villains–who Japanese fans voted even higher than Sephiroth4–is Emet-Selch.
We’re introduced to Emet-Selch as he struts around the Garlean throne room like he owns the place, leading Emperor Varis around by the nose. After seeing what a powerful presence Varis is, we know Emet-Selch must be someone pretty important (and dangerous) to be able to treat Varis as little more than a semi-disobedient child. We quickly learn Emet-Selch is actually Varis’s allegedly deceased grandfather, the former Garlean emperor… and an Ascian.
Yes, the Ascians have been behind every single aspect of the Garlean Empire, right down to forging the empire specifically to wage war against Eorzea. The Ascians (including Emet-Selch) seek to cause mass chaos in each of the existing thirteen worlds. With each world that’s destroyed by the Ascians’ machinations, they come that much closer to their true end goal: restoring the world to the way it once was, including merging the various people groups back into one single race like the Ascians themselves. Ascians see the world as a broken, incomplete form, and they seek to rejoin the fractured worlds into one, asserting that though it will kill the “fragmented” people therein, it will return all the ones they lost in a great calamity long ago.
Emet-Selch is working to bring about this very thing.
I’ve gushed already about how entertaining of a villain Emet-Selch is, but all his enjoyable qualities only make it that much harder to accept the suave, sarcastic, snooty, exasperated Emet-Selch could truly want to eradicate life on thirteen worlds. But Emet-Selch is as determined as he is playful, and at the end of the day, neither you nor he will back down. Still, Emet-Selch’s sheer charisma alone has caused some fans to proclaim the Ascians are justified in their goals! If that isn’t the mark of an alarmingly compelling villain, I don’t know what is.
Love them or hate them (or love to hate them), you can’t deny that almost all the major villains in Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn make you feel something. Even if that’s a burning desire to argue over how one is inferior to your favorite ARR villain.
Or you can just direct that burning desire to rant about how disappointingly bad Ranjiit is in comparison to any of these guys. Or to rave about how Gaius instantly became cool as soon as he took off his dumb Garlean helmet and started slaying Ascians.
Y’know. Whatever floats your boat.
Notes and References:
- Speakers Network, “The Fall and Rise of Final Fantasy XIV | Episode Two | The Realm Awakens,” YouTube video, 17:55, December 17, 2016.
- Speakers Network, “The Fall and Rise of Final Fantasy XIV | Episode Three | A Realm in Peril,” YouTube video, 16:40, January 5, 2017.
- L.D. Nolan, “Live-Action Final Fantasy XIV Series In Development From Witcher Producer,” CBR.com (blog), June 27, 2019, accessed June 23, 2020.
- Natalie Flores, “Forget Sephiroth, Final Fantasy 14’s Emet Selch is the series’ best villain” [sic], VG 24/7 (blog), February 4, 2020, accessed June 23, 2020.
FINAL FANTASY is a registered trademark of SQUARE ENIX HOLDINGS CO., LTD. All Rights Reserved. And I am not affiliated with them.
From Him, To Him