Final Fantasy 14: Endwalker closed the curtain on a story arc that’s been unfolding for the past decade. Fans knew this expansion would bring closure, yet no one really knew what to expect. I think it’s safe to say we all anticipated an emotional rollercoaster and maybe even a death or two. Sorry, Thancred but I’ll admit I thought it was going to be you that kicked the bucket.
I was prepared for the loss of a beloved character, maybe even some side ones too, but I didn’t expect Endwalker to hit me as hard as it did. It’s got to the point where the song in the final zone still makes me feel like I have a lead weight in my chest. I can’t even bring myself to farm for the Level Checker mount right now as that damn song still makes everything feel a bit raw. Yet the most surprising thing is it’s not the death of a character making me feel this way.
Some of the main themes that Endwalker deals with are depression, despair, and mortality, and how these issues affect people. As someone who has dealt with depression and the ups and downs of antidepressants, this especially hit home for me. I was happily playing through the game and reveling in the sights of the past — ok, I’m not gonna lie, mainly ogling Emet-Selch — when this theme seemed to sneak up on me. Here I am sharing my emotions with a flower to show Hermes he’s not the only one that gets sad and it suddenly all fell into place for me.
I was slower than I should have been to realise that Hermes is depressed. This poor guy is having an existential crisis: dealing with issues of both mortality and morality. He feels guilty over ‘unmaking’ creatures that are defective, questioning what it is that we all live for, and having to face the reality that we’re all flawed in some way. Yet, the thing that really tugged at my heartstrings was Hermes explaining that the Elpis flowers — which change colour depending on the emotions of those around them — generally have the same white glow around all the other Ancients.
We learn that Hermes makes the flowers turn purple from his sadness, a feeling he also often accidentally shares with Meteion, who, as an entelechy, can feel the emotions of others. So not only was Hermes dealing with all these personal issues, but he felt as though he was alone in this struggle as no one around him seemed to have the same dark emotions swirling inside of them. This is why Meteion asks the Warrior of Light to show Hermes that they have also experienced strife — to show him that he is not alone.
Hermes isn’t peculiar for feeling this way. It’s completely normal to feel sad even if everyone else seems happy. It reminded me of my own battle with depression. It sneaks up on you slowly, and you don’t notice it right away. In fact, it’s hard for most to even realise exactly what’s happening to them. That was the case for me, especially. At my lowest point, I remember confiding in a friend that I no longer wanted to be here. I couldn’t tell her why, I couldn’t pinpoint the source of my sadness, and no matter what I tried, I couldn’t make myself happy.
She told me, “You’re depressed, you need to see a doctor,” as if it was the most obvious thing in the world, but it had never occurred to me. Sure, I knew what depression was, but I never thought I would be dealing with it. There’s this weird misconception that depression is a rare occurrence, so you never think you’ll experience it. This coupled with how slowly it grows inside of you, can make it incredibly hard to identify.
It was all too easy to empathise with Hermes; someone who is struggling with their emotions and feels ashamed to admit it because everyone else seems to be coping just fine. He also manages to hide this from everyone apart from Meteion. You have some lighthearted, funny interactions with him when you first meet, and on the surface, he seems just as content as every other character, until Meteion gives you some added insight. This is all too true in the real world too. We learn to hide our depression from others and put up a facade that everything is okay, most likely because we also feel ashamed about it.
Even when Hermes had a hand in the downfall of the Ancients, I still sympathised with him. You can see the logic, feel his pain, and understand the conflict that must be raging inside of him. I definitely fell into some self-destructive habits when I was depressed, can I really blame the guy? When we reunite with Hermes as Amon in the Aetherial Sea, and, despite his previous convictions, he questions whether this outcome was what he truly wanted, I felt for him again. When I was depressed, I made so many drastic life changes in the hopes of finding happiness, only to be left just as miserable as ever and questioning what it was I had been seeking to find each time.
It took me a while to realise, but Hermes wasn’t the only character suffering from depression in the game — our own characters were too. I’m not sure when it started, likely even before Endwalker, but at the end of duties our Warriors of Lights weren’t cheering or smiling anymore, they just stood there looking downcast. I don’t know when they stopped being happy, an unsettling mirror of my own failure to notice this in myself during my own dark times. Once you finish Endwalker, your character begins to celebrate when you complete duties again, and I think this is because of what the end boss represents.
We learn that the Endwalker antagonist is the Endsinger — an amalgamation of Meteion’s sisters. After traveling the universe and constantly being met with sadness, death, and the tragic truth that everything eventually dies, they are overcome with the despair they felt on each star and ultimately decide that to exist is to suffer. So they sing the song of oblivion to offer a permanent end to every living thing and relieve their suffering.
While we might have something to label as “the big bad” in the game, the real antagonist is the despair within ourselves — Meteion and her sisters are just a physical embodiment of this. This isn’t truly a new enemy, it’s something our Warriors of Light have been dealing with in every expansion to date. We know that Meteion has been at the edge of creation singing her song since we first stepped foot in Eorzea, and I think the callbacks to the previous content throughout this expansion — especially in both the Aetherial Sea and the final area, Ultima Thule— pull this idea together nicely.
Ultima Thule is where you walk the final path to face down the Endsinger. As you progress through each part of the map, you’re faced with the tragic fate of different civilizations, bringing the question of morality and the transience of our existence to the forefront of your mind. As if that wasn’t depressing enough, your Warrior of Light loses one companion after another to despair in touching scenes where they say their final goodbyes, until you are left completely alone.
At the end of this already emotional expansion, you’re getting hit right in the feels with characters sacrificing themselves like lemmings while you’re hearing unsettling stories of fallen stars, including the rather realistic one of how the universe will eventually freeze over… cheery, right? But that’s not all. You’re also being confronted with this uncomfortably realistic representation of depression and how it can make you feel isolated from everyone around you.
Even though your fellow scions sacrifice themselves and your character seems completely alone, they are still there to guide you on a new path forward. The shades of those who we lost in previous expansions also appear and support you in those very final steps. It’s a sweet reminder that even in the darkest depths of depression, even when it feels like you are completely alone, your friends are still there and they can help you in ways that might not be immediately obvious.
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