The WARRIOR OF LIGHT enters the solar of the Waking Sands for the first time. It is empty of people. Their gaze is drawn to the broken staff hanging in a frame above the desk in the center of the room.
MINFILIA: “Did you know Archon Louisoix?”
You turn around to see a woman standing behind you. A choice dialog appears:
- “No, I can’t say I did.”
- “I know of him…”
- “My memories are hazy…but I was there, at Carteanau.”
- “A great man, who believed in the people of Eorzea…believed so much that he faced down Bahammut and gave his life for it.”
- “Few don’t. The man who stood between Eorzea and Bahammut, and gave his life in the doomed attempt.”
- “Truly? I did not realize… Then perhaps it is the will of the Mothercrystal that brings you to us.”
Minfilia turns her gaze to the broken staff as she speaks.
MINFILIA: “In the wake of that day, the Path of the Twelve was decimated and the Circle of Knowing scattered across the realm…if those names mean little to you, do not worry. What matters is that we are the ones that are left.”
She turns back to you.
“Forgive me…as you may have surmised, my name is Minfilia, and I lead the Scions of the Seventh Dawn. Would you please take a seat? We have much to discuss.”
FF14’s Endwalker expansion, released November 2021, put a capstone on a story over ten years in the making. Over those years, the bonds formed between the Warrior of Light and the Scions of the Seventh Dawn have grown to the degree where they could believably be called the player character’s found family. (Zenos, if you had managed to hurt the Twins with that stunt you pulled on me, there would have been such rage.) But it’s also well acknowledged that in terms of writing, A Realm Reborn, with its tight production timeframe and writers who had yet to find their footing with the characters, was a flawed product. Time and character development have worn away many of the early warts and the writing does get genuinely good leading up to Heavensward, but one character who should have been the beloved heart of the Scions got cut out before she could have a chance to shine…and it hurts every other part of the story connected to her since.
Pray return to the Waking Sands…and let’s talk about Minfilia.
Minfilia (Minfilia Warde, if you knew her before A Realm Reborn, or Ascilia, if you knew her as a child), is a young woman who was orphaned as a child when would-be revolutionaries of the downtrodden class set a monster loose in the streets of Ul’Dah during a parade. Ashamed that their plot had gotten out of hand and caused this tragedy, a couple of the plotters took her in. Somewhere in the years before we meet her, Minfilia bore witness to a mysterious meteor shower which awakened in her the gift of the Echo and a line of communication to Hydaelyn, the voice of the world’s Mothercrystal. In the game storyline before A Realm Reborn, she leads an organization called the Path of the Twelve, which gathers adventurers and others blessed with the Echo. (That means you, Player Character.) The Path of the Twelve had the first encounters with the primals, the manifestations of gods summoned by the Eorzean beast tribes which would continue to be central to the plot through A Realm Reborn and beyond, and they sought to work with the beast tribes as allies, which put them at odds with the Garlean Empire, who deemed all primals as “false Eikons” and used that animosity as part of the justification for their world-conquering expansionism and whose attempted incursion into Eorzea had been recently thwarted.
That’s the part of the story you know if you were, in fact, there at Carteaneu, as a 1.0 player. If you are like me, and like most people who came to the game during or after A Realm Reborn, this is what your first meeting with Minfilia looks like:
Even ignoring the voice acting quality (another thing A Realm Reborn suffered from, in spite of voice actors otherwise known for stellar performances), ten years down the road, watching this scene again made me cringe. It is everything all the writing advice says not to do for an infodump: one character giving a long speech rattling off a laundry list of exposition. And your subsequent interactions with her mostly consist of you being called back to the Waking Sands via linkpearl to receive your next assignment and get exposition dumped on you. There’s very little basis on which to form an attachment with her. She gets kidnapped twice between the start of A Realm Reborn and Heavensward, and to her credit, she does show considerable courage under fire, but as one of the few non-combatants of the Scions, it puts her in an unflattering damsel-in-distress role without much emotional investment from the player to make up for it. She does get a little bit more to do in the patch storyline leading up to Heavensward: some of her 1.0 backstory is revealed (though it’s almost as infodump-heavy as her introduction), she is clearly interested in the secrets of the Echo, the primals, and the black-robed Ascians who are inciting much of the trouble, and is willing to put herself at least adjacent to the front line to get them. If we had more time with her, perhaps we would get to see her character blossom in the way we did for the other Scions since.
But we don’t get that time. Because at the end of patch 5.5, the lead-in to Heavensward, as you and the Scions, accused of murder and treason, are scattering and fleeing for your lives, Minfilia hears a call from Hydaelyn…and vanishes. And it’s the last time we see her in the flesh.
Mind, her story doesn’t end there. In the patch story for Heavensward, we learn that she was transported to the aetherial sea (caught up in a teleportation spell the others were trying to escape through) where a weakening Hydaelyn calls Minfilia to be her avatar. One patch later, she intervenes in an incursion by the so-called “Warriors of Darkness”, refugees from a parallel world being swallowed by a flood of Light, the power associated with Hydaelyn. to explain that their world’s destruction was not Hydaelyn’s will, and offers to intervene to save it, knowing she will likely never return to the Source. Finally, two expansions later, we come to Shadowbringers, where we get to visit that light-flooded world ourselves and learn that she sacrificed herself to halt (but not reverse) the Flood and reincarnated multiple times over the course of the next hundred years to be a champion of Light, and we meet her current incarnation, who is ultimately freed from the cycle and allowed to become a character in her own right. These are all good story beats; Shadowbringers is widely regarded as one of the best stories in the history of FFXIV, arguably in the history of the Final Fantasy series, and that argument is not without merit. Yet, we spend it constantly hearing from the other characters how great Minfilia was, and it rings hollow. Because we never really got to know her ourselves.
So if I had a time machine, a job at Square-Enix, and sufficient time and budget to rewrite A Realm Reborn, what would I do? Give her what the expansions gave to the other Scions: time to develop her character.
What can I infer about her character, with the benefit of hindsight and ten years of patch content?
- Her strength lies in being an organizer and a uniting force. The people who know her as adopted family say that as a child, she was always cheerful and dedicated to whatever task she set out to do.
- She’s the non-combatant in a room full of superpowered warriors. She’s the only non-Sharlyean (a culture of elite scholars) in the leadership structure of the Scions besides Tataru, the secretary. She likely has insecurities about being a “normal person” who also happens to have the Echo, wondering what Hydaelyn chose her for. And she must have some trepidation about filling Archon Louisoix’s shoes.
- She has a deep attachment and reverence toward Hydaelyn, bordering on worship. Over the course of the expansions, we sometimes have reason to doubt whether Hydaelyn is truly the benevolent presence she seems to be, but when Minfilia is called, she answers without hesitation. (And I don’t know whether this is just me, but when we finally get to meet the person behind the entity of Hydaelyn in Endwalker, I quickly got to like her immensely. It turned out our faith was not misplaced.)
What would I do with that?
- I would give her a bit of a personality adjustment. In the game, she is somewhat “all formal, all the time”. I would play up her formal speech when she is conducting business, but have that be a front for her more casual, cheerful self when the pressure is off.
- Show her working. Every time the player comes into the Waking Sands, have her buried in reports, coordinating the activities of other agents, talking to the minor character Scions we barely get to meet before most of them are murdered by the Garleans. (Oh yeah, that first time she got kidnapped, most of the minor characters in the Waking Sands got massacred. It has shock value, but they also suffer from the syndrome of “we didn’t know them very well, so it’s hard to care as much as the game thinks we should.”)
- Give her conversations with the player beyond “here is who we are, here is your next mission.” Let her talk about her faith, her hopes, her struggles. Give her more friendly rapport with the other Scions too, which will also help build _their_ character earlier on. Let Alphinaud’s initial haughtiness (which Heavensward gloriously breaks him of) rub her the wrong way a bit more. Let her show some of the adopted father-daughter dynamic with Thancred that is so core to his character in Shadowbringers. Maybe have her suspect, or even outright know Yda’s secret as revealed in Stormblood, and drop hints about it.
- Minfilia’s faith in Hydaelyn is played up somewhat in the game — she swears her oaths and gives her parting blessings in the crystal’s name, for example — but I would bring it front and center to her characterization. She is on a mission from the Goddess. She might sometimes be uncertain about what that mission is or doubt in her ability to carry it out, but when the time comes for her to answer the call and shuffle off the physical plane, you’ll believe she’s going to jump.
As for her introduction scene? Rather than giving the Warrior of Light a prepared spiel, let her talk to them on a personal level. Let her reveal her character while spreading the exposition out over the next several scenes. We will be dealing with the threats of the primals and the Garleans soon, and throughout the next 35 levels and several story patches, so that introduction needs to be made, and the Echo is important, so we’ll start to work that in, and something missing from the original cutscene is a sense that you are joining something more unique and special than the Adventurer’s Guild, so let’s work a bit of that in too.
(Explanation for the uninitiated: In FFXIV, the Player Character, the Warrior of Light, is unvoiced. Other than occasional choice dialogs, which are primarily customizable flavor text, you communicate primarily through emotes and it’s assumed that you are, in fact, taking.)
MINFILIA: “You’ve been making quite a name for yourself as an adventurer…Envoy of (the city state you started in), already a local hero. But In their report to me, (Scion member who you met based on what city-state you started in) mentioned that you had some sort of strange spell.”
“Tell me…did you have a vision? Like you were out of your body, seeing another time or place?”
You flash back to the vision of the Mothercrystal, and Hydaelyn’s words to you: Hear, Feel, Think. You describe this to Minfilia.
MINFILIA: “I knew it. I sensed it when I saw you, but that confirms it. You’ve heard Her. And I believe She has blessed you with the Echo.”
You emote your confusion.
MINFILIA: “Ah, sorry. That’s what the Sharlayan scholars call your gift…our gift. I too have heard her…”
“You’ve heard of the Twelve, or maybe some other gods, but Hydaelyn is the very soul and Light of the star. She desires the best for her children, but she relies on us to act in her name.”
“Before the Calamity, there was a sudden increase in people having these visions, gaining these powers to see into others hearts, to be understood in tongues they had never spoken. An omen? Perhaps.”
“I heard the call long before that. For there to suddenly be others…I did my best to gather as many of them as I could. Where most of them are now, whether they survived, I do not know. You are the first we have found since.”
You are looking thoughtful. You pose her a question.
MINFILIA: “What do we need you for? Hm. There are many possible answers to that.”
“One answer is that we are a neutral organization, dedicated to the peace and preservation of Eorzea, not beholden to any one city-state. But if that were all, we wouldn’t require all this secrecy.”
“Another answer is that we deal with the challenges that the Grand Companies would struggle to take on directly. Some of those challenges are violent threats. Others are diplomatic.”
“For example, where possible, we strive to negotiate with the beast tribes. When not possible…we try to minimize the damage. And our involvement there puts us in the cross-hairs of the Garleans, who have persecuted them terribly.”
“My answer? I want to know Her will…and do what I can to bring that about. I confess, sometimes that which I can do is rather small.”
“But I know none of us would get far alone. And I believe adding you to our ranks would be a significant boon. In return, we can give you access to a number of useful services…and of course, we would pay you, if that matters. But I hope you will see us as more than a promising source of coin.”
“So, what do you think? Will you join us?”
With an appeal like that, I think I would, even if it wasn’t required for the game to advance.