I won’t try to summarize the entire Main Scenario–I’ll just say that I’m completely hooked and invested in the story as of level 66 in the Azim Steppe. The hokiness and stiltedness of the FFXIV-style cut scenes that most people complain about are completely unseen by me. If canned emotes and stoic nods–essentially the 3D equivalent of a puppet show–is what they have to do to deliver quality storytelling at a consistent pace, I’m fine with it.
There is one snippet of the main story I will highlight, though. In basic non-spoilery terms, Stormblood revolves around building a resistance to fight the evil, oppressive Garlean Empire. At one point in Yanxia, Garlean troops enter a small town and conscript some villagers to work for the Empire.
That part of the story really resonated with me because it reminded me a lot of the German occupation of Belgium during World War I, a subject I recently read about. The Germans would ostensibly “hire” Belgian workers and ship them either back to Germany to work in factories or to the front lines to help maintain trenches. There was and is much controversy about whether or not Germany played by the rules of war at the time. In any case the Belgians worked under very poor conditions and a lot of them suffered and died.
In Stormblood, there is a sweeping overarching storyline involving the fate of nations, but of more interest to me are the very personal stories we follow along the way. One of the best character performances came from an anonymous old man among the conscripted villagers who spoke only a few lines, but they were powerful words in the context of the situation. The performance from one of the village youths is also top notch.
I haven’t needed to touch many side quests in the game so far, but I finally encountered a content gate just before heading to the Azim Steppe. The next step in the MSQ required level 65, and I was just a smidge short, so I did a few side quests around Namai.
I normally try to avoid doing side quests in FFXIV, because they are mainly busy work, and they reward a pitiful amount of experience. So little experience, in fact, that I wonder if Square Enix deliberately nerfs them to force people to do dungeons or other group content when players find themselves needing some experience to catch up.
But in this case I was very close to 65 so I didn’t think it would take too long. As it turned out, I stumbled into a side quest chain that was actually a very gratifying story: The plight of a Lupin named Kurobana, trying to fit in and find his place among the villagers of Namai. (Lupins are a new thing in Stormblood–they look like werewolves. I’m not sure if they are a full-blown beast tribe or not.) I ended up following this quest chain to its completion even after I got to 65.
There was one other side quest chain I enjoyed, in the undersea village of Sui-no-Sato. It was technically optional, but since it unlocked both an Aether Current (for flying) and a dungeon, there was a lot of incentive to complete it. That one involved saving a “Ruby Princess” and had all the trappings of a Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. (If Sleeping Beauty wore a really skimpy cheerleader outfit, that is.)