The latest chapter of the Save the Queen series arrived in Final Fantasy XIV last Tuesday, as part of the last content patch before the Endwalker expansion drops this November. This series features the return of Yasumi Matsuno, who previously collaborated with FFXIV to write an Ivalice-themed alliance raid series “Return to Ivalice” in the Stormblood expansion.
Save the Queen has its own ties to Ivalice, or the Ivalice fashioned for FFXIV’s world. While previous collaborations have feature characters such as Fran or Ba’Gamnan, their roles and relationships are completely different on Hydaelyn. Ashe and Rasler, for example, are brother than sister rather than betrothed. For a long while, many fans have tried to connect the games via charts, timelines, and so on. I posit that Ivalice games, moreso Matsuno’s Ivalice games, are less about connecting a grand history and its actors, and more of a template with which to explore stories about class struggle, revolutionary ideals and idealists, and the wound of broken bonds. Familiar faces and familiar places are but a means to an end.
Rather than alliance raid series, Save the Queen comes in the form of an “Adventuring Foray,” a type of content that was introduced in the Stormblood patch series with The Forbidden Land Eureka. Rather than typical instanced endeavors that largely take place in linearly-oriented dungeons or arena-style trials, Eureka set us loose in a large zone with an independent levelling system and various objectives to earn rewards. One major difference is that zones could be treacherous at times, where enemies with a higher level posed much more of a threat than those in the open world. Some may remember the infamous dragons placed about Eureka Pagos, eager to smite any player clambering by while not in walk mode. Many such challenges required players to group up in a very drop-in, drop-out fashion.
The “FATE” system was adapted for these zones as well, with special requirements to activate some. This led players to work collectively to keep these FATEs on a rotation, and coordinating a “train” of players moving from place to place – a system much like the player-run trains for the Hunt system.
Relic weapons, powerful weapons that could be upgraded gradually over time, were attached to this content. Previously, upgrades involved a soul-draining amount of duties, and while not free of grind by any means, Eureka and forays provided an alternative means which to accomplish them – an in my opinion, a much alternative. This is in large part to the social aspect of forays that isn’t found elsewhere in the game with many players working together and inhabiting a single space rather than four to 24 players in a duty.
Despite my more positive sentiment toward it, reception to Eureka was mixed, with the chief complaint being the long grind, something I could personally overlook. Director/producer Naoki Yoshida, in the months after A Realm Reborn, introduced relic weapons as an alternative progression path to raiding. His philosophy was thus: while high-end raids would be more difficult to complete, they would offer more immediate rewards for those who clear them. Relic weapons, on the other hand, would be a progression path for players that couldn’t commit to raiding but could commit the time to lower difficulty content. “Difficulty” and “time” being the adjustable variables in the equation for content and rewards. Others pointed out that the design of Eureka felt at odds with the other instanced content in the game.
In the Save the Queen series, you can see the developers reflect on the reaction to Eureka. Zones retain the “FATE trains” and dynamic grouping that made the content approachable, but now offer higher difficulty versions that have fun and interesting mechanics that keep you engaged a bit more. One-on-one “duels” are a cool concept to me, and in the latest iteration, you’ll get a buff for cheering other players on to victory. “Lost Actions” are abilities you can only use in Save the Queen zones, and are fun to play with specifically because they break you out of the game’s otherwise rigid tuning and combat design. Most notably, the story doesn’t require nearly as much grind to complete – I was able to knock out the latest chapter in a weekend. Instead of four zones culminating in a 48-player duty, two large zones culminate in 48-player duties, with an additional duty (Delburum Reginae) and trial.
The latest foray is to Zadnor, a region in the northeast of Bozja where the Resistance has driven back the IVth Imperial Legion. The zone itself is cordoned off into three major areas, each gated by the scenario and reaching a certain resistance rank by participating in battles. Once you reach rank 25, the maximum level, you can raid the Dialriada, much like Castrum Lacus Litore at the Bozjan Southern Front. They both play out quite similarly, yet interesting boss mechanics, coupled with Lost Actions and non-uniform party composition keep things from feeling too familiar.
However, if you’re planning to collect a relic weapon, you’ll need to invest a good amount of time in Zadnor, moreso if you’re planning to collect multiple versions. It’s here where the grind becomes palpable, but with ample time before the Endwalker expansion (which renders all but glamour moot), it’s not difficult to make a decision on whether your time will be reward. Personally, I’ll grab my one fully-upgraded relic rather than collecting them all.
Save the Queen centers around the Bozjan resistance and their collaborators, exposing further the tyranny of the Garlean Empire’s occupying force. The story lays bare the horror and tragedy of imperialism, and the ways broken, blemished people can find the will to come together and fight back. It’s here where the themes found in Ivalice creep in. The Bozjans are not always a united people. Deep, painful rifts remain through their occupation, and ultimately threaten their effort to reclaim their homeland. When the wound is re-opened, the resistance finds their forward momentum, but it comes at a great cost. If there’s one thing I’d pick at, it’s the villains of the story, and a feeling of eagerness to redeem them out of what seems to be a need for complexity. It feels a bit superfluous and a bit sudden, as if there was some need for it. Their cruelty lies in their complicity, which is etched in the battlefields you traverse and in the field notes you collect.
All in all, Zadnor is a breezier affair if you’re just down for the story. Those who are here for the relic grind know what to expect from previous iterations. With the shake-up in design from Eureka, I feel it fights into a better space next to FFXIV’s other content offerings without removing the aspects which attract me to it. It’s yet to be revealed what kind of adventuring foray may come in the post-Endwalker patch series, but it seems like FFXIV’s jaunts into Ivalice are not over quite yet.