Dawntrail's MSQ story is a disaster and waste of potential. [full spoilers] (2024)

I'm writing this thread because I want to discuss the entire story without worrying about spoiling, in a separate thread. But I also want to point to the instances that Square Enix did do right. I hope that people can also discuss the things they liked about the game, because I genuinely believe this MSQ is full of wasted potential. I think it's important to do this because we want to criticize in a way that illuminates the path forward, telling the dev team what worked (for us) and what didn't.There will be spoilers for up to Lv100. You have been warned.

Opinions are my own.

I personally think this MSQ, when viewed as an entire package, is probably worse than 6.x/ARR.
That's how bad it is. I'll split this "review" post into multiple sections, starting with the things that I did like. I'll then talk about the characters, pacing, and plot after that.

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Let me get the things I liked out of the way first.

Because it's only when you see just how great the things they got right were that you realize how much DT was a disaster, because mediocre or even bad writing has a way of making you resent how they wasted the brilliant parts of the story and just how much of a wasted potential Dawntrail MSQ was.

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Zoraal Ja

Dawntrail's MSQ story is a disaster and waste of potential. [full spoilers] (1)

This might be controversial, but I think Zoraal Ja is hands-down the best villain we had in the entire game.

Moreover, Zoraal Ja is my favorite character in the entire Dawntrail MSQ. I think Zoraal Ja is the best three-dimensional villain that we've got who isn't just a moral dilemma villain like Emet Selch.

I admit my bias here, in that I love ASOIAF and am loving the current season of House of the Dragon. I love seeing the conflicts within a family. Some of the best stories in literature use the family as a unit to explore the tension and drama of humanity. This is why Zoraal Ja worked so well for me. He is a villain that only works in context of his family.

We get slight hints that Gulool Ja Ja isn't necessarily the best father in the story. Zoraal Ja feels spurned by his father and does not seem to bear the same love for him his siblings do, despite being Gulool Ja Ja's son by blood. We don't get many details of his relationship with Gulool Ja Ja, but it seems that Gulool Ja Ja wasn't trying to prod his son open and wasn't opening him up as a parent should. Zoraal Ja also did not have a close relationship with his siblings. Koana and Wuk Lamat both describe him as introverted and a mystery.

Dawntrail's MSQ story is a disaster and waste of potential. [full spoilers] (2)

The pressures of his birthright and people's expectations of him also, ironically drove a wedge between him and his citizens. Effusive praise leads to alienation. By calling him a Miracle, he was Othered and treated not as his own person, but as the culmination of people's hopes and their wants. This is also why I hate people like G'raha Tia constantly praising the WoL and calling us a hero. It's not friendly. It's alienating.

Imagine for a moment all the pressures of living up to your heroic father, who united the two continents, brokered peace between centuries-old rivals, and pacified continent-ending threats. Can anyone really even achieve half of what Gulool Ja Ja has done? What will they say if you fail? What would happen if tensions between the tribes flare up again? Will the people who called you a "Miracle", the "Promised", the "deserving heir" start to call you a "mistake"? A "Curse"? The "decay" in the natural cycle of civilization after your father's "growth"?

No wonder Zoraal Ja is not just alienated from his subjects but also his father.

Dawntrail's MSQ story is a disaster and waste of potential. [full spoilers] (3)

In the end, alienated from everyone, he could only trust himself. The expectations turned his father into the object of hate, the source of his woes. The pressures he experienced as the trueborn heir perverted his ideology and drive, compelling him to prove that he is superior. Because if he conquered the world, no one would dare call him the lesser to Gulool Ja Ja.

He sank deeper into this dark path, became a patricide, and nearly became a filicide.

Dawntrail's MSQ story is a disaster and waste of potential. [full spoilers] (4)

In these moments we see how closely the writers stuck to the theme of Zoraal Ja. His backstory and the atrocities he committed are all closely related to theme of "family". His choice of weapons mirrored that of his father. Even his attacks relate to his theme:
Dawntrail's MSQ story is a disaster and waste of potential. [full spoilers] (5)

He hates his son because he hates what his father has done to him. But his father hasn't probably antagonized him or beat him up directly. I can't imagine Gulool Ja Ja doing that to Zoraal Ja when he loved Wuk Lamat and Koana. Zoraal Ja is the product of what happens when lofty expectations and worship alienate someone from their own family. We see this at play with royal families too. Gulool Ja Ja probably just did not have the capacity to reach out to his son, or he was simply too busy to. Much like real world royal families.

I hope Square Enix can write more villains or characters like these in the future. It's deep, dark at the right moments, and speaks to the nature of human conflict. Unfortunately neither Wuk Lamat nor Koana came close to this depth despite getting far more screentime.

Dawntrail's MSQ story is a disaster and waste of potential. [full spoilers] (6)

Also he's just a badass with a badass theme (but some people might understandably think it doesn't fit FF14). I don't think we've really seen that many badass villains like Zoraal Ja since Gaius and Ravana.

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Krile Maya Baldesion

Dawntrail's MSQ story is a disaster and waste of potential. [full spoilers] (7)

Krile's theme this expansion is also "family", though less deep than that of Zoraal Ja's development. That in itself is not a bad thing because she didn't get that much screentime. Rather, the mystery around Krile's birth and family was intriguing enough to be something that drives the plot forward. I thought that the resolution was sweet and added some needed depth to Krile as a character. I also liked how the mystery around what Galuf, her grandpa, was doing in the New World eventually led to more mystery around her family, and that this neatly ties into the central plot of this expansion surrounding Alexandria.

Krile, in a sense, is a plot device to get us invested in Alexandria and the New World. It's disappointing that we didn't get to see her becoming more fleshed out because Wuk Lamat was the protagonist even though Krile's story is much more intriguing and ties much more heavily with Alexandria.

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Erenville (Elene'shpya)

Dawntrail's MSQ story is a disaster and waste of potential. [full spoilers] (8)

I also liked Erenville's character this expansion and I especially liked the dynamic between Erenville and Cahciua. They were a very believable mother-and-son pair, and you could just imagine someone in your life that you know who constantly broods, keeps his feelings to himself and has a doting mother that intuitively understands what his son feels. Cahciua knows that Erenville loves her even if he doesn't necessarily express it openly.

I thought that Erenville was an example of a good character who has flaws but doesn't veer into the territory of becoming a caricature. He isn't a complete mute despite his introversion and does tell his mom his feelings. He found it difficult to let his mother go, despite knowing that his mother is just a memory now. He was in this awkward position of never getting to properly mourn his mother once he intuited that the Cahciua we see in Heritage Found is not necessarily his mother.

Dawntrail's MSQ story is a disaster and waste of potential. [full spoilers] (9)

Dawntrail's MSQ story is a disaster and waste of potential. [full spoilers] (10)

I like the subtle foreshadowing and slow character buildup that we got throughout the last third of the story with Erenville. It's nuanced and believable. He humanly griefs for his mother in his own way and his character flaws doesn't make him a flawed, unlikable character, but human.

I also liked that his silence and slight facial animations and body language (like facing away from the party, or lagging behind us in the MSQ) tell us what his emotions are without, you know, really telling us. This is a rare case of "show, don't tell" and it absolutely deserves praise.

Krile and Erenville should have been the main protagonists of this expansion.

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Heritage Found

I thought that Heritage Found had the best pacing in the DT MSQ. We are quickly introduced to plot points that develop throughout the zone and the story at this point hooks you with many intrigues and mysteries:

Just who is Sphene? What is her goal?

What are the regulators?

How do they get souls?

Why is Cahciua in a robot?

There is the issue that the writers treat us like babies and have to explain certain concepts again and again. For example, Cahciua first explains what regulators are, and then we are treated to a demonstration by one of the hunters, despite us already seeing its effects in the last boss of Vanguard and with Zoraal Ja. This level of repetition is obnoxious and frankly insults the player's intelligence.

But if you cast that aside for the moment, what makes the fifth zone good is that there are many intrigues pushing the plot forward at the same time. You as the player want to know what exactly is going on and want to see how things will play out. This is absent from the rest of Dawntrail, outside of a few crumbles related to the Golden City in the third zone. Crucially, this intrigue does not need to be high-stakes. Cahciua's appearance as a robot is an intrigue that is very low-stakes compared to the Final Days, but it works because it's related to someone you might care about - Erenville, ties in with the main plot, the Endless, and is something fairly unique and interesting in itself.

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Wuk Evu

Dawntrail's MSQ story is a disaster and waste of potential. [full spoilers] (11)

I thought this was genuinely a funny comic relief character. He doesn't outstay his welcome and I liked his quirk.

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Now, the bad.

I thought the rest of the Dawntrail's MSQ is mostly a disaster. I'll not go into each issue in that much depth (compared to what I wrote about Zoraal Ja) because I think they are fairly obvious to most players. I went into greater depth about the good parts because I felt that it's important to explain what the MSQ did well so this was constructive, and more importantly highlight just how pitiful the waste of potential really was.

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The visual novelization of FF14 has never been worse.

You can go on for hours without hitting a single combat ability other than Sprint in the MSQ. Combat instances are far and few between. We had one at Lv92, Lv95, and Lv98... and that's it. (Correct me if I'm wrong)

Most of the combat in the MSQ are also just the tired old cliche of waiting by a purple pyre and killing 2 or 3 mobs. There's next to no innovation on this boring formula that has persisted for over 10 years.

The few spices added to the MSQ like shadow missions from EW (where you shadow a person stealthily) are very sparingly used (2 total, I believe), and they did not bother adding anything else to spice up the gameplay.

The last zone, which is supposed to be the most tense, instead has us go through the entire zone without a single instance of combat (correct me if I'm wrong) up until the final dungeon (unless you do the sidequests).

FF14 is supposed to be a video game, not a visual novel.

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Pacing is atrocious.

Next to nothing happens in the first four zones, most of the story beats are wrapped up in the fifth zone, and we other than some character payoff in the last zone which can be condensed into a single hour, next to nothing happens there too.

The character payoff in the last zone is completely at odds with the supposed tension caused by Sphene's retreat into her reflection. We pursue the villain into the last zone, with her threats of consuming the souls of another reflection or of the Source, and we... eat popcorn and chitchat with Endless? Because Wuk Lamat wants to understand the Endless? What?

Dawntrail's MSQ story is a disaster and waste of potential. [full spoilers] (12)

Is this what you do when you're trying to stop someone from reaping the souls of an entire world?

The pacing is even worse in the first four zones. The first level has us spending an hour bartering for better goods. We get it. The Pelupelu loves bartering and their culture is bartering... There is no need to spend an hour on this. This isn't about the stakes. It's about hammering in a simple point over, and over, and over, and over again. Stop treating your players like idiots and move the plot along once a point is established.

Finally, there is next to no intrigue in the first four zones. There is no mystery pushing the plot forward other than the Golden City, which we get in mere crumbles. The plot only really starts at the end of the fourth zone, as we go into Vanguard.

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Endless is unoriginal.

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Are we really getting Amaurot/Elpis 2.0 now? Sphene (Emet Selch) seeks to preserve her subjects, the Endless (the Ancients) through the massacre of others. What? What is the point of going through this same plot again?

You would think that the concept of artificial intelligence, memories, and identity would be something that the story writers can chew on. But they really just made it into Ancients 2.0 and barely explored this potential.

What about showing the dark side of removing traumatic memories? For example, a story beat about a man removed from his wife's memories as punishment for a petty crime, now finding himself spurned by his wife, desperately trying to reconnect with his wife while she threatens to call the guards.

Or what happens when you gorge on souls that are not completely clean? (See the notes in the dungeon Origenics). What happens if you hold the memories of another person? And what if those memories were traumatic? Do you suffer?

Why are these not explored at all? When you do explore these philosophical/psychological conundrums what is the point of even introducing these ideas? We already know about soul transferal from Stormblood. What is the point of expanding on it if you're going to... do nothing with that expansion? If you're going to play with the theme of memories, could you at least go beyond Emet Selch's nostalgia 2.0? Because we already have toyed with that idea/theme. It's called Amaurot.

And why do the Endless all want it to end? Why are they exactly Ancients who feel satisfied, fulfilling their life's goal, and are ready to go back to the Lifestream? What is the point of repeating this story beat that has already been explored? The writers could have added a twist, something to differentiate between the Endless and the Ancients... but they did not.

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Understanding cultures is done in the most uninspired way possible.

It's really tiring to follow a story all about understanding cultures and celebrating diversity when the cultures and diversity are all generic, hom*ogeneous, sterile tropes.

So the Pelupelu likes bartering... And? We needed to do 2 hours of their story to understand that? Moreover, the Pelupelu's love for bartering is frankly disrespectful because surely there is more to them than... bartering. We are really playing a game that claims to celebrate diversity while essentializing these other cultures now? Is this what Square Enix thinks what celebrating diversity means? To make a lot of diverse... tropes??

About the only culture that was even worth spending your time understanding was the Mamool Ja. The rest are bland tropes.

Dawntrail's MSQ story is a disaster and waste of potential. [full spoilers] (14)

As a result what we get is the most superficial lesson on "unity through diversity". Of course, it's really easy to celebrate that diversity when all that means is that you cook your food with different spices while I celebrate this wholesome and harmless festival.

As an aside, it's also very confusing when, apparently, there is a limit to what the protagonists are willing to accept. Suddenly, in Solution 9, they start criticizing their culture and show real hesitancy in accepting their culture... What.

I suppose this theme of appreciating different cultures would resonate with 4 year olds since all the difficulty and dilemmas of bridging divides is not present. Or well, if lingering resentments are present, we just need to tell them that we want to understand them and everything gets solved magically.

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Wuk Lamat is obnoxious and should not have been the protagonist.

I won't belabor this point, but Wuk Lamat is a cliche, anime teenage girl protagonist who is far too naive and unsuitable to be leader. The only development she got was that she is more open to asking for help... which doesn't really make her a much better character.

She does become less obnoxious in the latter half of Dawntrail, but the writing is worse. Because she turns from being annoying to be nearly a Scion clone, effusively preaching understanding, empathy, and consensus.

Her flashes of anger towards her brother are the one redeeming quality of her writing. Without that she would really just be a Scion clone.

Now, of course, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with having an annoying character. What the real issue is is that Wuk Lamat barely gets punished for her naivety and hotheadedness. In fact, quite the opposite: we are forced to cheer for her inanities.

The dual issue of stale, children's storybook cultures and Wuk Lamat is crucial for this setup to work for the writers. If the cultures aren't just tropes and lingering resentment is hard to erode, Wuk Lamat would surely be punished by her naive attempts at bridging divides. The writing of Wuk Lamat can only work because the entire first half of the story has been reduced to something more apt for a 4 year old.

It's ironic that the story subtly chides Alexandrians from avoiding trauma and stress through memory erasure but does the exact same to us through its writing in the first half.

The story would have been far better if Wuk Lamat was a side character and we mainly followed Krile and Erenville.

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Bakool Ja Ja's transition makes no sense.

He goes from villain to protagonist real fast. Seemingly in the space of a single cutscene at the Skydeep Cenote. It would be believable if he just goes from villain to dejected loser because the story does hint at his dejectedness. But he goes from villain to... supporting us in a single cutscene? What? The buildup is really poor.

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The story deals with the theme of death like we're little kids.

(copy-pasting some of what I said elsewhere)

When I heard that Dawntrail would reference FF9 I was hoping that the core themes and tone would be similar, but they are very different. FF9 had a much darker tone despite the visual style, and it was great at tackling the core theme of death. DT doesn't seem invested in going that deep into the theme other than a gauntlet of sending off satisfied Endless (read: Ancients).

People in Elpis and last zone die satisfied. They are fulfilled and are happy moving on.

A lot of deaths in FF9 are the opposite. They suffered and died without dignity, and have unfulfilled dreams. The last two bosses also have a death drive, opposite to Sphene.

The last zone in DT is about happily letting go, while FF9 is about dealing with the suffering of death and the dark side of what the presence of death does to people. Sphene seeks to preserve lives because she values lives. Someone like Brahne is moreso motivated by the fear of her own death.

There is a lack of a death drive or the ugliness of the fear of death in DT. (People like Zoraal Ja are not like Kuja - Kuja was self-destructive, Zoraal Ja was not except by accident). If you refrain from exploring the dark side of death you cannot convincingly do the theme justice. Death is something that animates so much of our vices as humanity. The dark sides of this fear of death and the twisted death drive and self-destruction are ignored in the story. The lack of stakes and the lack of fearing that any of the protagonists could die undermines this theme even further.

*Death drive is the primal instinct to destroy everything, including yourself.

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Scions are pointless.

I don't think much needs to be expanded on this. Scions have gotten barely any character development and they are even more pointless now in this expansion. They have completely outstayed their welcome in the story. You can find more discussion here: https://forum.square-enix.com/ffxiv/threads/486946

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Cheap attempts at baiting a cry out of the player.

Personally, I'm sick of the constant cheap and transparent attempts at baiting out crying from the player. A lot of it doesn't actually hinge on the writing itself but the usage of tear-jerking music, as if we should cry on cue when we hear that soundtrack.

The last zone, Living Memory, is full of these transparent attempts. I think some of them are great emotional scenes, like the one with Erenville and Cahciua, because of the build up to that scene. The story gave Erenville and Cahciua proper development and depth so that they feel like real people we know. But others, like Wuk Lamat and her caregiver are just not really hitting anything for me because there's next to no buildup.

Dawntrail's MSQ story is a disaster and waste of potential. [full spoilers] (15)

This isn't because I dislike Wuk Lamat as a character. It's because we barely know Namikka. There is nothing that characterizes her other than "Wuk Lamat's caregiver/mother figure". And when the music comes in I just feel more like the writers want me to cry rather than actually caring about what's happening on my screen.

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We're playing a prop in the story.

The Warrior of Light has virtually zero agency in this story. It would be fine if we were a side character in this arc, but we are less than a side character... we are an extra on the set.

Not only do other characters barely acknowledge us other than giving us menial tasks, we also have no agency of our own, not being able to criticize Wuk Lamat or Koana, not being able to express hesitance at what we're doing, et cetera.

What's even more insulting is that during the precious few times we are able to express disapproval, we immediately get overriden and treated like a child... "But you love adventure don't you? Fuzzy little WoL, you love adventure! Who's a good boy, you are, you are, go get that adventure!"

The one character that treats us as more than a prop was Gulool Ja Ja, who invites us to a duel, asks us what we think of Wuk Lamat, and treats us like a friend. I think that's about all the agency you'll ever get in the story.

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Party dynamics are the weakest it has been in the story

It is not just the Warrior of Light that has turned into a prop. It's also the rest of the Scions. Most of the Scions have been relegated to 'cheerleader' status. Differences between the Scions have been flattened into nothing beyond a throwaway line about Y'shtola liking to explore interdimensional travel or that Alphinaud can heal during a cutscene I guess.

There is no tension in the party. What's worse is that Urianger remarked on how competing against us for Koana has stirred him... but then we see virtually none of that in action other than them throwing rocks down in the Lv91 dungeon. In fact, we just go right back at cooperating real soon as if we aren't on different teams at all.

You can't even have a friendly competition among the Scions, apparently.

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Conclusion

Dawntrail is by far the worst story I've experienced in a video game in a long time, plagued by shoddy filler, horrible pacing, and a story that is written for 4 year olds. What's worse is that the few, precious brilliant instances of good writing, like Zoraal Ja, are undercut by the rest of the story being so weak, and frankly, a tedium to get through. The brilliant character of Zoraal Ja, Krile, and Erenville truly don't deserve to be placed in such a dumpster fire.

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Links to other story criticism/review threads:

"Reviews" from players

My critique: THIS THREAD

Vyrerus' critique: https://forum.square-enix.com/ffxiv/threads/503436

Brignadalee's positive review: https://forum.square-enix.com/ffxiv/threads/503359

Evesin's list: https://forum.square-enix.com/ffxiv/threads/502773

Threadoffate's positive review: https://forum.square-enix.com/ffxiv/threads/503375

Demigenius89's review: https://forum.square-enix.com/ffxiv/threads/503299

Xil-Ventus' review: https://forum.square-enix.com/ffxiv/threads/503049

ChidoriYumitori's review: https://forum.square-enix.com/ffxiv/threads/502933

Railynx's impressions: https://forum.square-enix.com/ffxiv/threads/502841

General megathreads

JP megathread: https://forum.square-enix.com/ffxiv/threads/503084 [NOTE: It's in Japanese]

Underwhelming story: https://forum.square-enix.com/ffxiv/threads/502404

Wuk Lamat: https://forum.square-enix.com/ffxiv/threads/501967

Dawntrail story enjoyers: https://forum.square-enix.com/ffxiv/threads/502830

Specific MSQ issues

Why is ARR-tier story acceptable in the first place: https://forum.square-enix.com/ffxiv/threads/503195

6th zone discussion: https://forum.square-enix.com/ffxiv/threads/503132, https://forum.square-enix.com/ffxiv/threads/503400

Gameplay of MSQ: https://forum.square-enix.com/ffxiv/threads/502927, https://forum.square-enix.com/ffxiv/threads/503076

JP sentiment: https://forum.square-enix.com/ffxiv/threads/503449, https://forum.square-enix.com/ffxiv/threads/502989

Low/High stakes/Vacation: https://forum.square-enix.com/ffxiv/threads/503312, https://forum.square-enix.com/ffxiv/threads/503069, https://forum.square-enix.com/ffxiv/threads/503042, https://forum.square-enix.com/ffxiv/threads/502999

Pacing: https://forum.square-enix.com/ffxiv/threads/503290, https://forum.square-enix.com/ffxiv/threads/502886

Characters

General issues with characters: https://forum.square-enix.com/ffxiv/threads/503057

Issues with Scions: https://forum.square-enix.com/ffxiv/threads/503434, https://forum.square-enix.com/ffxiv/threads/503233, https://forum.square-enix.com/ffxiv/threads/503410

Issues with WoL: https://forum.square-enix.com/ffxiv/threads/503080

Krile screentime: https://forum.square-enix.com/ffxiv/threads/503202

Erenville: https://forum.square-enix.com/ffxiv/threads/503335

Wuk Lamat: https://forum.square-enix.com/ffxiv/threads/501967, https://forum.square-enix.com/ffxiv/threads/503184, https://forum.square-enix.com/ffxiv/threads/494447

Zoraal Ja: https://forum.square-enix.com/ffxiv/threads/503207

Dawntrail's MSQ story is a disaster and waste of potential. [full spoilers] (2024)
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