When I first heard of Dad of Light, Square Enix's new miniseries about Final Fantasy XIV, I'll admit that I rolled my eyes along with everyone else. The title alone is the kind of thing you probably can't tell people outside of the gaming community about with a straight face. Hell, even within the FFXIV community, it's pretty cringeworthy. But the idea behind the show — of a shy young man who introduces his emotionally distant father to the world of Eorzea in an attempt to get to know him better — is undeniably heartfelt, and in my experience as a fellow Warrior of Light, absolutely genuine.
We're introduced to Akio, the main character of the show, through a flashback where he recounts how his father, Hirotaro, bought him a Nintendo Famicom and a copy of Final Fantasy III when he was a boy. The two bond over the game, but as Akio grows older and his father gets promoted at work, they become distant. In the present day, Akio has a job of his own and barely speaks with his father, a state of affairs he regrets. One day, Hirotaro suddenly quits his job, and Akio strikes upon an idea to take advantage of his father's new wealth of free time using a certain familiar MMO. He buys his father a PlayStation 4 and a copy of Final Fantasy XIV as a retirement present and then secretly befriends his character online and helps him through the game, hoping that his father will open up to him in the process and that they'll be able to mend their relationship.
Over the course of this short, seven-episode series (episode eight is a recap/side story episode that can largely be ignored), we see Hirotaro at first overwhelmed and struggling to stay motivated in the game. But with Akio's careful guidance, he becomes hooked — even a little obsessed at one point. We also see Akio grow as a person thanks to this experience, making friends and excelling at his job in part thanks to what he learns from his father. By the end, the two come together in the face of a personal crisis, and the conclusion is undeniably heartfelt and sweet.
It's not a total slam dunk, though. The show looks and generally feels like your typical Japanese drama, which may be a good or bad thing depending on whether you like that type of media. The machinima sequences involving FFXIV gameplay can come off as awkward, in part because of limitations of the in-game engine and camera, but also because the characters role-play their conversations and activities, which the vast majority of FFXIV players don't do. And because of the short length of the series, there are supporting characters and plot threads that feel a little abandoned.
I can easily deal with these little quibbles, though, because the overall story is so sweet and utterly relatable to me as a dedicated Warrior of Light. Of course, my relationship with the game is not the same as Akio's. I can only dream of getting either of my parents invested in a video game, let alone an MMO like FFXIV. But I have experienced firsthand how playing FFXIV can lead to lasting and strong friendships, both in game and in real life as well.
To illustrate this, I would like to talk a little about my own time in Eorzea. And let me begin with a salient and bold statement: I started working for RPGFan because of FFXIV. I was still very new to the game when I met several editors for the site, and we quickly became friends as they helped get me acclimated; FFXIV was my first real MMO experience, you see, so I was doubly green and needed all the help I could get, not unlike Hirotaro. Eventually, this friendship led to me joining the site as a podcaster, and now I've spread my wings in a variety of areas, including streaming and reviews. And it probably would never have happened if not for FFXIV.
Now, I should say that in my three years here at RPGFan, the trajectory I took to join the site is fairly atypical. So, as a disclaimer, please don't rush to subscribe to FFXIV in the hopes that it will magically allow you to join our ranks — besides, there's a far easier way to get that process started here that doesn't require a subscription to an MMO. The circumstances that led to me joining the site were rather serendipitous, all things considered, but the point is that it was through playing FFXIV together that I became such good friends with these people, and those friendships in turn had a real-life effect on me.
I'm hardly a unique case when it comes to the concept of in-game friendships turning into real-life relationships. I've seen people who met playing FFXIV start dating and even get married in real life. In fact, I was a bridesmaid for a friend who met her husband in game, and let me tell you, it was a pretty magical moment to finally meet both of them in real life at a monumental event that wouldn't have been possible if we hadn't all been playing this MMO.
Final Fantasy XIV fosters these relationships through in-game friends lists, linkshells (AKA chat channels), and Free Companies (the FFXIV equivalent of guilds). The latter two allow you to easily communicate with others via text chat, which can be great for asking questions, setting up parties to run instanced content, or just getting to know people. A lot of Free Companies (or FCs) also have either a website, Facebook group, or outside chat program like Discord set up so that members can communicate, organize, and generally hang out even when not logged in to the game. It's difficult to play FFXIV without getting to know at least a few people, though there are those who prefer to play mostly alone (and for those players, doing so is a completely valid way to enjoy the game, though it's not the focus of this piece).
In Dad of Light, the members of Akio's FC are essentially his wingmen. They help him come up with the plan to bond with his father over FFXIV, and they provide aid to both father and son as Hirotaro stumbles through the early content in the game. While I've never personally experienced anything quite like this in game, it's true that an FC can be a source of support for players. When I don't know where to find a quest or locate a particular item or monster, odds are that someone in my FC does. When I've had a tough day and need to vent, I know there are people in my FC who will listen and help me feel better, and when I just want to chill out and have some fun while running daily roulettes or farming extreme primals, well...FCs can often get pretty kooky — at least, the FCs I've been a part of have.
And then there's raiding: eight players taking on the toughest challenges Eorzea has to offer. Raids generally require good communication between party members in order to succeed, and even then they can be simply brutal with their mechanics, damage output, and DPS checks. While FFXIV is getting better and better about facilitating matchmaking between strangers, a lot of people who want to raid join or create a static, which is a group of eight players that agree to meet at specific times to work on raid content. Some groups are really focused on progressing as quickly as possible, while others move at their own pace and try to have fun at the same time. Regardless of the kind of group you have, meeting up regularly and taking on difficult content together can strengthen bonds of camaraderie and friendship. And when you finally emerge victorious over a challenging foe, the sense of accomplishment and pride is damn near palpable.
Dad of Light demonstrates this at the end of the series with a dramatic rendition of Akio and Hirotaro's attempts to down Twintania alongside members of Akio's FC. Twintania is a giant dragon boss in Turn 5 of the Binding Coil of Bahamut, the first series of raid challenges in FFXIV. By today's standards, she's incredibly easy to fight, but at the time when Binding Coil was still current content, she was a deadly foe. It's actually a little hilarious to see Akio and his father struggle so much with the fight (and even more hilarious to see them win the day with a Bard offensive limit break, which didn't exist at the time that Twintania was still current content), but their determination to win in the face of exhaustion from so many attempts and the elation they feel when they finally clear the fight is probably familiar to anyone who has ever raided in an MMO.
Of course, it's not always sunshine and rainbows in Eorzea. Statics can break up, linkshells can fall into disuse, and FCs can become veritable wastelands. Getting to know people also means conflicts are inevitable, and that can lead to hurt feelings and broken friendships in short order. I myself have experienced more than a few instances of all of these, and it can be hard to deal with, especially if things end on a bad note. In that respect, I suppose life in Eorzea is little different from real life, and that realization can be frustrating too because we often play games to take a break from the day-to-day grind and have a good time. People don't really want or intend to create drama when they're playing a game for fun, but it happens regardless, and can feel at times like it's hard to escape from. However, like real life, there's always another day; and if there's one thing FFXIV is getting better and better at, it's that it is easy to meet new people.
None of this is likely surprising if you've ever played an MMO before, of course. Personally, FFXIV is my first real experience with the genre, and that makes it something special — which is probably why I ended up liking Dad of Light so much despite the cringeworthy name. It's definitely meant to be a promotional tie-in for the game, and I wish that it had been longer and developed a few plot threads a little better; but it's also an easily digestible, sweet miniseries that is based on a true story told by a Japanese FFXIV player. More than anything, though, it captures the love I feel for the game and shows how FFXIV (and video games in general) can bring people together. I hope that the real-life Akio and Hirotaro have gone on to tackle more challenges in Eorzea side by side. If we're lucky, maybe we'll hear about those adventures someday; or perhaps we'll hear someone else's story. The possibilities with FFXIV seem appropriately limitless.