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Final Fantasy 14: Dawntrail takes cues from Mesoamerican culture and Dragonball

FFXIV Dawntrail, Erenville looking out on the front of a sailboat
Square Enix
Summer Gaming Marathon Feature Image
This story is part of our Summer Gaming Marathon series.

Starting a new story arc from scratch in a video game that’s been running for over a decade is a tall order — and it’s one that Final Fantasy XIV’s Dawntrail expansion sets out to accomplish.

Setting sail westward and looking to the continent of Tural, the Warrior of Light and their companions seek to help Wuk Lamat, a female Hrothgar, in a contest for the right to rule the land of Tural. Dawntrail, which is set to launch on July 2 (and June 28 for those who preorder) sets the stage for political intrigue, exploration of a civilization unknown to us, and much more.

After playing Dawntrail’s new content for a few hours at a recent preview event, I have a clearer picture of how the FFXIV team plans to lay the groundwork for the future of the MMORPG. It’s creating something new while weaving in the characters, creatures, and themes we’ve come to know and love over the last 10 years. And it’s getting a little help from Dragonball to do it.

(The version of the Dawntrail expansion I played is still a work in progress, and some aspects may be subject to change before it’s official release later this month.)

Power levels

Final Fantasy XIV’s previous expansion, Endwalker, wrapped up a 10-year saga. Now the team behind the long-running franchise is tasked with setting out on a new adventure, one removed from many of the aspects of the Hydaelyn and Zodiark story arc. In an interview alongside my demo of the new expansion, I asked director and producer Naoki Yoshida what challenges the team faced when having to conceptualize the next expansion from the ground up. It was at this moment that Yoshida and his translator both looked me in the eyes.

“Are you familiar with Dragon Ball?” Yoshida said.

The team’s main concern in creating Dawntrail was about power levels, and making each subsequent antagonist larger than the last one. Yoshida and the team were worried about the strength of enemies feeling “inflated” and, for that reason, they are taking a different approach with the big bads in Dawntrail.

“I think with the new arc, we wanted to depict a more sort of mental side, I guess, knowing different people have different values,” Yoshida tells Digital Trends. “But we will also meet people who may never accept their vision or their values.”

Yoshida cites “Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, Hunter x Hunter, and YuYu Hakusho” as some manga examples of the mental and emotional battle that’s more in line with what the team was aiming for. Not focusing on univers-ending threats, but rather battles of political power grabs and conflicting self-interest. Yoshida does mention a “big secret,” which has not been disclosed yet, so for those worrying this might just be a political story, there is still something on the table for you. 

a female Hrothgar wielding the Pictomancer armor and weapon
Square Enix

While I did not get anything more in the way of Dawntrail’s story during our hands-on time with the game, this helped paint a broad picture of the narrative’s direction for the next few years. I did, however, get time with the first dungeon, Ihuykatumu, which takes place on a boat hurtling down a muddied river. The deep, lush jungles of Tural could be seen lining the river as we fought enemies boarding the ship tooth and nail. 

Eventually, the boat crashes and the party exits to dive deeper into the jungle and chase after one of the expansion’s antagonists we do know, Bakool Ja Ja, The Mighty. The final fight of this dungeon (which I won’t spoil) shows that the battle team has some new tricks up their sleeves that introduce some pretty tough mechanics into the fight that took our party a few tries to nail down. The dungeon feels cohesive, and it’s an excellent way to start off this new chapter of Final Fantasy XIV

I ran the dungeon twice, with both of the new Jobs being introduced in Dawntrail. The new physical melee-focused Viper’s quick and branching actions make it a swift and lethal Job that excels in making split-second decisions. Viper is built around following branching action paths that culminate in multiple 30-second buffs depending on which actions you take in the three-button rotation. For example, if you combo from Steelfangs into Swiftscale, you’ll give yourself a buff that decreases the delay in your auto attack. That same combo can use the Hunter’s Instinct action instead to produce a buff that increases the damage you deal. Firing off these different combos can net you all of the possible buffs pretty quickly, and let you strike down foes efficiently.

All of this comes to a head when you’ve filled up the Serpent’s Ire gauge, which allows you to “Reawaken” and begin a new combo string bouncing between actions called “Generation” and “Legacy.” Most of Viper’s actions light up on the hotbar to indicate what your next best routing option is, which helps make it less overwhelming. Overall, Viper feels like a Job with a high skill ceiling for players looking to optimize their best options while having room to improvise based on the situation.   

A blue and green boss in FFXIV dungeon
Square Enix

The Pictomancer, Dawntrail’s newest Magical Ranged damage-per-second (DPS) job, is all about painting images to deal damage to your opponents. Its cute aesthetic makes it a standout job visually from the blues and reds of many of the current FFXIV job actions. 

Pictomancer focuses around dealing damage with Aetherhue actions. Slinging colorful spells that upgrade after each successful cast will fill up your Palette Gauge. Filling this gauge allows you to cast the white spell Holy, or use the Subtractive Palette option to change the color’s hue for more damage. It’s similar to Black Mage, which bounces between two different schools of magic to create more devastating attacks as the fight continues. 

Pictomancer’s main attraction is the Canvas System, which takes time to cast, but loads images into the gauge for later use. Hard-casting Steel Muse loads a hammer into the system, which in turn can be used at any point in the fight to initiate a three-hit instant combo for massive damage. The balance comes from knowing when it’s safe to stand still and cast the Muse actions and when it’s time to work them into the Aehterhue combo rotations so there is always damage dealt. 

The Starry landscape pictomancer spell raining down a starshower on some enemies in FFXIV
Square Enix

Running through the dungeon as Pictomancer left me scratching my head at first, trying to understand when to weave in the many options Pictomancer has at its disposal, but when you get into that flow state, Pictomancer not only has extensive damage output potential, but feels unique in its animations and effects that leave each encounter with a satisfying crunch. 

Both new jobs in Dawntrail feel distinct from the ever-growing catalog of jobs in FFXIV. Yoshida told me a bit about the approach to all of the jobs moving forward in Dawntrail and the following patch series. 

“So, for our plan, we’re looking at 7.0 and 7.X series to introduce unique mechanics to battle encounters content, things like that,” he says. “And then once people have gotten accustomed to that, we would look at the different jobs and then gradually introduce uniqueness and individuality there.”

A different city

Outside of the dungeon and new jobs, I got to spend time in Tuliyollal, a bustling city that governs the continent. Its rich tapestries, populated sailing docks, and hillside buildings sprawled out in shimmering gold and bright red hues clearly draw inspirations from Mesoamerican culture and architecture. I was curious as to how the team went about cultural consulting to ensure they weren’t just making a theme park, but instead paying respects to the culture they were inspired by. 

“Within the Creative Studio 3 team, of course, we did our discussion,” Yoshida says. “But also we looked to our global team where our localizers and translation teams are situated … There might be some elements that the Japan team thought, Oh, this looks cool, but it might have represented something else. So for those items, we went to an external company, making sure that we’re getting advice from them”

This applies to the two new zones I got hands-on with. The mountainous Urqopacha is filled with dilapidated ruins of civilizations that existed long before. It was here, when I was sifting through the rubble, that I realized we simply know almost nothing about the lands we’re exploring. While the Shadowbringers DLC had us exploring other reflections, Dawntrail’s zones are in our own backyard. The Endwalker expansion took us through the long-talked-about zones of Thavnair and Garlemald, places we may have never seen, but know their rich history and backstory. 

a giant temple within the new FFXIV dawntrail city
Image used with permission by copyright holder

With Dawntrail, these zones existed long before we ever showed up, but we’re learning the culture, way of life, and everything else alongside the Warrior of Light. So much is unknown about Tural, previously known only as the “New World.” While the preview event did not give any insights into what happened here, it certainly piqued my interest in terms of wanting to know more about a continent that has been west of our own for so long.

The second zone, the deep jungles of Kozama’uka, are brimming with citizens working coffee roasters, alpacas roaming the countryside, and giant waterfalls cresting over the horizon. Each area within the zone celebrates a different race’s culture. Finding little settlements feels different, but still  part of the same whole, throughout the jungle. 

Near the end of my time with Dawntrail, most of the players at the preview event decided to take on a world boss, just for fun. As about 15 of us found the location of Queen Hawk, we assembled a party and began the arduous fight. Calling out to one another from across the room as the dev team desperately tried to put us in a Team Speak channel, we opted to just keep pushing forward. After multiple failed attempts, we began theorycrafting on the fly. How do these mechanics work, what are we missing? We gave it one good last attempt, realizing that our positioning was causing the boss to instantly kill some of the party.   

It was difficult, chaotic, and extremely messy. However, it was a stark reminder of what I love about FFXIV: its community. We came together to overcome a difficult challenge, and that’s what I look forward to most with Dawntrail — experiencing an entirely new chapter of the game together with friends and other Warriors of Light.

Final Fantasy XIV: Dawntrail launches on July 2, with early access beginning on June 28.

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Jesse Vitelli
Jesse is a freelance journalist who can often be found playing the critically acclaimed MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV. In his…
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