For over thirty years, fans of the Final Fantasy franchise have uniquely identified their various heroic avatars with this proud epithet: The Warriors of Light. The Square Enix flagship IP holds a Guinness World Record as the most prolific RPG series of all time and every single one of these titles is implicitly — and often explicitly — centered upon the epic and eternal struggle between the metaphysical forces of Light and Darkness.
We have always, if sometimes tentatively, sided with the Light… That is, until now.
The reveal trailer for Final Fantasy XIV’s upcoming expansion Shadowbringers recently introduced to players an alarming new narrative and aesthetic fulcrum. We — this world’s long-vaunted Warrior of Light — must and will embrace an antithetical and antagonistic notion: to become the Warrior of Darkness.
But why? Out of desperation and necessity? Manipulation and coercion by evil forces? Or are we simply fed up with being treated as a blunt instrument by the self-righteous political factions of the world of Hydaelyn?
Since an aphoristic yet character-defining moment at the climax of 2.0, we have been known from Ishgard to Othard as the the Mother Crystal’s chosen paradigm of transcendent strength and moral authority; unwavering, indefatigable, and frankly, barely human — the Warrior of Light.
It is more than a title–it is our purpose and our destiny. How can we possibly discard this mantle? Many of us are left to ponder in equal measures of gleeful and nervous anticipation what this might mean for what is shaping up to be FFXIV’s most exciting and ambitious expansion since A Realm Reborn (ARR).
What is the Warrior of Darkness?
To fully understand what this tone shift might mean for FFXIV, we need to dig a little through the history of the franchise.
The Warriors of Darkness played an important role with their inaugural appearance, all the way back in Final Fantasy III (1990). An ancient civilisation in this world payed for their ambition and hubris with a flood of light — an eventually world-erasing phenomenon precipitated when the universal force of Light too greatly outweighed that of Darkness. So four heroes set out to fight their way to the figurative dimmer-switch and subsequently became known as the Warriors of Darkness.
In the present age, the pendulum swings back — an encroaching flood of Darkness urges the protagonists upon a quest to restore the Light. Towards the end of their journey, these Warriors of Light reawaken their ancient Dark counterparts whom in turn sacrifice themselves in order to weaken the story’s evil mastermind — the enigmatic Cloud of Darkness — allowing the heroes to ultimately prevail.
Despite the binary relationship between Light and Darkness, the introduction of the Warriors of Darkness into the franchise brings with it the curious notion that they are not necessarily antagonists. Instead, their role is a product of their conditions, specifically the need to restore balance between universal forces. They are equally receptive to help our fight against the Darkness to this end as they once were to combat the flood of Light.
Of course we have already encountered self-proclaimed Warriors of Darkness in FFXIV as early as patch 3.0 of Heavensward; but the story of FFIII serves as a clear albeit general template for their appearance in Eorzea.
Arbert and the First Shard
The cosmogony of the FFXIV multiverse is perhaps the most esoteric of the whole franchise, but to understand in context the role of the Warrior of Darkness we should indulge a small tangent.
Our world is the Source of thirteen reflections, sundered at the beginning of time by the attrition between Light and Darkness i.e. Hydaelyn and Zodiark. Hydaelyn prevailed, Zodiark’s essence was sealed away. From this “sundering,” alternate “reflected” dimensions formed and from them divergent life, civilisations, and histories.
Hydaelyn inspired life and order across these worlds whilst Zodiark machinated to sow chaos and assault the Source with enough friction to gradually shatter the barriers between the dimensions, one by one. This process of dimensional compression is known as the “Rejoining”. Each time the Ascians — eternal servants of Zodiark — succeed in a Rejoining they visit a Calamity upon our world, utterly destroy another as it “Rejoins” and take one more step towards the resurrection of Zodiark.
Still with us? Okay!
From one of these parallel worlds — “the First” — overzealous Warriors of Light thwarted every encroach of the Darkness and vanquished their Ascians utterly. With this victory, balance was lost on their plane; its peoples stood on the brink a seemingly-unstoppable flood of Light whilst mother Hydaelyn met their prayers for deliverance with only silence.
Enter the enigmatic Elidibus, white-robed Ascian overlord and self-proclaimed emissary of Zodiark. Elidibus offered to our counterpart on the First, Arbert, a desperate solution. The flood of Light would not only destroy everyone and unmake their world: it would leave them all in an agonising state of suspension between life and death. Such a void would be useless to the Ascians, unable to Rejoin with the Source.
So Elidibus enlisted the disenchanted Arbert and his companions for one final quest.
If they were to sacrifice their mortal lives and allow their spirits to be cast across the aetherial sea, they could enter the Source — our world — and work here to quicken a Calamity, shattering another dimensional barrier. The subsequent Rejoining of their world to ours would save theirs from nightmarish purgatory; instead allowing its denizens the preferable release of death.
With no imaginable alternative, Arbert and company acquiesced to Elidibus’ plot and with grief and fury embraced their new role as the Warriors of Darkness: champions of chaos, a seemingly-necessary evil and direct adversaries to we Warriors of Light here upon the Source.
But they had been deceived.
Upon first learning of the movements of these Warriors of Darkness, Urianger Augurelt — one of our Scion allies — feinted conspiracy with Elidibus and the Warriors of Darkness to play the double agent whilst secretly searching for another solution. He pitted the Warrior of Light and Darkness against one another until they unwittingly completed a ritual which brought them into the presence of Hydaelyn and her own emissary, Minfilia.
There, Hydaelyn explained Arbert’s error and the machinations of Elidibus — she did not intend to let their world drown in Light. Hydaelyn had heard their prayers and supplications all along; she had been but powerless to respond, weakened by the strain of recent calamity and intervention.
She intended to send Minfilia to the First to “take unto herself” the abundance of Light before it could consume their world (the consequences of which we might be finally observing here upon the Source as we approach Shadowbringers).
Despite Arbert’s indignation, he accepted these terms and stood down in exchange for a favour: to take him and his companions home. At this, the tragic Warrior of Darkness turned to us with a final mote of wisdom:
We were blind to the truth once. So I tell you this, as one fool to another. Light, Dark, it doesn’t matter. What matters is how you choose to use them. We made our choice, and you see what came of it. So please… forge a different path. Seize a better fate.
This was the last time we saw Arbert — in patch 3.4 of Heavensward — but it may not be the last time we have heard him speak to us…
The Dark Knight
In the Shadowbringers trailer, we see Daddylander fighting against a Kuribu — a representation of the forces of Light — and switching between each class and job he has wielded in previous cinematics. He is summarily swatted as an Archer, Warrior, Dragoon, Monk, and Samurai before a spectacular and spine-tingling transformation into Dark Knight.
Although the action of the trailer is likely more emblematic than literal (no FFXIV trailer yet has been), this focus on the quintessential Final Fantasy job of Dark Knight is very interesting. Although it had appeared previously, the archetypical Dark Knight of the franchise would have to be Cecil Harvey, the main protagonist of Final Fantasy IV.
The crown of Cecil’s character arc is forsaking the Darkness to become a Paladin, having found the powers of the Dark Knight insufficient to combat Darkness itself. The apex, fighting and defeating a manifestation of his own inner Darkness. As we move into Shadowbringers, it might seem implicit that our own hero must overcome an inversion of the same kind of trial.
The idea of embracing the Darkness should feel particularly compelling to those of us that have invested time into leveling Dark Knight and experiencing one of the better pieces of side-story in XIV. If you haven’t played through it yet, you should.
In every other one of XIV’s narratives, the hero seems resigned to playing a mute sycophant. In our most banal moments, the Warrior of Light seems aligned to Lawful Stupid. The Dark Knight quest line offers us a little more depth — afterwards we can think of our character as a tortured stoic, adopting a posture both burdened and brave, for the sake of those under our protection. We carry the hopes and dreams of an entire world, after all.
Shades of a Tortured Psyche
Darkness and Light don’t just form the world, they form the soul. In Heavensward we discovered the Job Crystal of a deceased Dark Knight and quickly realised that the Darkness within us could become a source of incredible strength, if we fed it… And feed it we did, unwittingly using this crystal to produce a tangible reflection of our inner Darkness.
This Darkness helped us nurture and hone our fear, pain, rage, and MCR discography into a weapon of justice.
Our Darkness — which we mistook for Fray, the former bearer of the Job Crystal — expressed itself with a freedom and vocabulary not available to us elsewhere in the game. It openly fumed at the ignorance and ingratitude of NPC quest-givers that presume to expect us to repeatedly risk our life at their convenience.
It told them that we should have let them die rather than thanklessly save them yet again. It laughed at how they trembled and at how the blood covered us after battle. It demanded that we renounce the burdens of others, lest we too die a slave.
Eventually, it grew wild and started attacking our allies. We confronted this facsimile and no longer saw Fray, but the truth: our own Darkness, intent on destroying the rest of our character and taking control. Like Cecil, we duelled our shade — but rather than destroy it, we reconciled. We would continue to wield the Darkness, but we had now developed the self-discipline to keep it simmering beneath the surface.
This is not the only time we have had to deal with misbehaving embodiments of our Darkness. Through the Dark Knight quests for Stormblood, it was not our rage and indignation — it was our regret and guilt. The suffering that we have seen, the mistakes we have made, and the lives that we have been forced to end took its toll.
Our crystal split in two and an ethereal young elezen boy named Myste admitted responsibility, claiming to have taken from it the power to free others from the burden of despair by creating temporary simulacrums of their departed loved ones that might offer a gentle — but false — sense of closure. Incidentally, the victims were all those whose suffering had been caused with varying directness by the Warrior of Light.
Eventually we discerned the true nature of Myste (i.e. yet another reflection of our inner Darkness), reconciling with this shade too, but only after being forced to fight through the ghosts of so many that have died by our hands… a trial for which we had to call upon the strength of Fray one more time.
If we must become the Warrior of Darkness in order to battle whatever comes in Shadowbringers, it will not come without a tremendous personal cost. Whether or not we have since completed the Dark Knight story, we should expect a struggle to steel ourselves before the shadows of our psyche to be a salient and refreshing progression for our too-often silent characters.
An Eighth Calamity
The Seventh Umbral Calamity has been at the centre of FFXIV since 2010. A moon dropped out of the sky and an ancient Dreadwyrm was unleashed to rain death and fire upon the realm. It dramatically remodeled the climate, geography, politics, and personal histories of the world… without intervention, its destruction would have been absolute.
It was the diegetic cause for the remake and relaunch of ARR, smashing Eorzea so hard that the players had to be cast into the lifestream for five canon years (and three real-life years) just to survive it. Since these Calamities have been interspersed in Eorzea’s history by millenia, we wouldn’t expect another for a very long time.
Yet the recent patches leading towards Shadowbringers (and the trailer itself) have included dire warnings delivered by a mysterious yet familiar disembodied voice piercing our mind… warning that we wait upon the eve of another Calamity — this one far, far worse than the last.
As if that was bad enough, it claims we also have a Light upon the horizon to contend with, one rapidly building to a Flood, just like that which threatened Arbert’s world. Twin dooms, apparently, that only we can forestall — and it’s not clear that we will forestall them after all.
Each time this voice reaches us and the other Scions (our main supporting cast of allies), we all experience a brief, crippling delirium and one of them is left in a state of unshakeable catatonia. The greatest scholars of our realm have concurred that their souls have been “Called” from their bodies, but to where and for what end they have not concluded. Nor have they speculated on the identity of the responsible party.
As far as we can tell, the threads between body and soul have not been broken — which is to say they can return, in theory — but the threads cannot be traced beyond the barriers of the Source. It seems, then, that the Calling may have pulled the souls of our friends into another world entirely…
So who exactly is Calling us? Some posit that Alphinaud (another of the Scions) has learned some alarming secrets during his recent time behind enemy lines and has found a way to Call from a post-Calamity future, hoping to prevent this outcome in the present. They cite that it sounds kind of like Alphinaud, but older; and that the voice insists to us multiple times that “history must be changed”.
If this is the case, current-Alphinaud has become a casualty of future-Alphinaud’s intervention — he lies catatonic with the other Scions.
Unhelpfully, most of the game’s cast has changed voice actors at least once since ARR. That said, each replacement voice seems selected to sound as close to the last as possible. The voice speaks of a Flood of Light, a phenomenon we have heard of in only one other place…
In the Shadowbringers trailer, the same voice commands us to become the Warrior of Darkness. Our friends’ souls are evidently being pulled into another world, and in the most recent story patch (4.5) our hero’s thoughts drifted to someone we have neither seen nor mentioned since he left our plane in 3.4. So where does this lead us?
After cross-referencing with multiple localisations (English, Japanese, French, German and Korean), each voice sounds less like that of Alphinaud and more like that of someone else: Arbert. We also see in the trailer that Minfilia — last seen in the company of Arbert — has returned, if in a form not quite her own…
Some of you may disagree, but it certainly is a curious pile of coincidences.
The Flood of Light
Observations from other characters have concurred with the warnings of this voice; noticing a thinning of the aether (the lifeblood of our world) across the three Great Continents. This phenomenon was previously recorded only shortly before the last Calamity.
Concurrently, the power of Light upon our world has escalated to a “deluge”… but a deluge from where? From the recent and pending victories of the Warrior of Light? Perhaps from Hydaelyn’s promise to take unto herself the blinding Light of the First? We’re guessing some combination of the two.
Its purpose was never to bring order, but chaos — to this end, its puppeteer has recommenced the mass-production of a deadly nerve gas: the Black Rose. An insidious weapon, the Black Rose kills without leaving a trace of injury (curiously, the condition of its victims appear not unlike the targets of the Calling).
Aside from the immediate effects it has on a population, Solus muses that it could have a very interesting interaction with the recent abundance of Light. A Black Rose-fueled Calamity, then? Followed unwittingly, it seems, by a potential Flood of Light? Or perhaps Solus is making a gamble on us to choose between these two outcomes, that we will allow — even assist in — the provoking of a Calamity if a rejoining will bring enough balance to prevent this Flood.
Perhaps this is what it means to become the Warrior of Darkness, as it did for Arbert. Having worked for so long to avert the next Calamity, perhaps we will be forced to betray Eorzea in becoming its instigator and champion… Perhaps we won’t realise this until the Light has already begun to consume our world.
Wielding Darkness vs Dual Disasters
The Warrior of Light seems ill-prepared to mitigate a Flood of Light — the aspect of our powers renders them impotent. We have relied for every victory so far upon the Crystals of Light, drawn to our hand by that of Hydaelyn, but now we must embrace something new, or in the case of Dark Knight story veterans: allow something monstrous and barely contained to break free.
If we must forsake for now our Crystals of Light, perhaps there is another power that can fuel our violence: as our functional antithesis, it should be no surprise that the Ascians carry Crystals of Darkness… There is a certain presumed-dead villain turned emerging-antihero currently hellbent on their destruction. We’re sure he’d be delighted to help us hunt them down.
However it happens, Shadowbringers means that for the very first time, the hero of a Final Fantasy title will become a Warrior of Darkness — forced to betray, forsake and undermine everything “good” that we have so far worked and been used for.
We’re on the brink of a Calamity; given that the last time this happened it came with a transition from the disastrous 1.0 to the relatively-miraculous ARR, we should pay close attention to whatever comes next.
Shadowbringers arrives July 2 2019 with early access beginning June 28 for all pre-orders, available now. The story continues with “A Requiem for Heroes: Part 2” next month.