Final Fantasy 14: Dawntrail is like playing the great One Piece game


For ten years and four expansions, Square Enix has explored the story of two warring gods, Hydaelyn and Zodiark, and the shattered worlds created by it, culminating in Endwalker. How do you continue a decade of telling a story that has captivated tens of millions of fans?

Final Fantasy 14 the answer is to do something drastically different with the latest expansion, Dawntrail, taking on a much lighter, more adventurous tone, massive visual changes, and introducing a modern cast of characters. It’s still a Final Fantasy game through and through, but Dawntrail feels fascinatingly like drew inspiration from another groundbreaking, never-ending series: One piece.

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When it was first announced that Dawntrail would be directed by Naoki Yoshida he described it as a “Summer Vacation” for the Warrior of Light, aka your player character. And it spawned a running joke in the community that this would be a “beach arc” — a light-hearted “break” that takes the characters away from the main drama for a few episodes, like in many anime. But it turns out those comparisons may not have been entirely unfounded, as the further you delve into the layers of Dawntrail, the more it begins to resemble shonen anime like Dragon Ball, Naruto, and most importantly for our comparison, One Piece.

No other anime has captured the adventure genre quite like One Piece, and Eichiro Oda’s pirate epic has inspired others for over a decade. With that in mind, it seems like a natural line to draw for Dawntrail, an expansion that wants to move beyond the sprawling world-hopping story of the past decade and create something more grounded.

Dawntrail, at its core, is a story about the cast of characters, not you as the player. In fact, your Warrior of Light isn’t even the protagonist in the latest expansion. That honor goes to a newcomer named Wuk Lamat, who is the Luffy of the story. And the two share more than a few traits.

Wuk Lamat is a newborn, starry-eyed heroine who wants to make the world a better place and fulfill her dream of becoming the ruler of the country of Tural, Dawntrail’s modern home. She is naturally inexperienced and naive, but has a heart of gold, and much of Dawntrail’s story involves her learning to be a leader, while gathering a group of diverse allies in the process.

Dawntrail couldn’t just do the same thing over and over again, it had to be radically different[.]

Both Wuk Lamat and Luffy have this carefree attitude that makes them seem indifferent at first, but the deeper layer underneath shows that they are willing to do absolutely anything for their friends. It’s fascinating to watch how Wuk Lamat’s development mimics Luffy’s, transforming from an unpredictable wild card into a truly charismatic and compelling captain.

There are plenty of other parallels to be drawn between the Scions and the Straw Hat crew, right down to the player taking on the same role as Roronoa Zoro; a world-famous legendary warrior who acts as Zoro’s best friend and sidekick. But beyond just drawing these parallels, Dawntrail ensures that its bouncy shonen story still feels intentionally Final Fantasy-esque.

While the overall narrative structure of Dawntrail is almost exactly the same as the first few One Piece arcs — traveling to modern lands, learning about the local culture, and inevitably solving their problems, all while searching for a legendary treasure — the connective tissue is the underlying theme of Dawnrail, which harkens back to what the game has been doing for years, but on a grander scale.

This Dawntrail story is about Wuk Lamat finding her voice and transforming into a leader, with the assist of a team of very different people who are all experiencing their own growth. But at its core, it’s about relationships and delving into the intricacies of human interactions, and in particular, how cultures integrate.

This One Piece style of storytelling and setup is used to great effect in Dawntrail to deliver narrative punches. So much of this expansion is dedicated to meticulously building out larger personalities and delivering key character development in service of a larger message about the nature of grief, acceptance, what it means to be content, and how all of these ideas and emotions can exist simultaneously. Much like in One Piece, all of these themes are filtered through a central character, with Wuk Lamat acting as a sort of compass through the narrative threads. Since the Warrior of Light player takes on the role of a sidekick this time around, we get to see these modern elements of the game world from a unique perspective.

One Piece often did the same thing, using a veil of slapstick comedy or over-the-top characters to deliver a truly remarkable, heartfelt story. Dawntrail does it through familiarity, building on the world, characters, and story that players have come to know and love over the past decade. In that sense, Dawntrail is both a fresh start for the MMO and a sequel, using familiar elements to tell a story in a completely different tone and style.

But beyond just drawing these parallels, Dawntrail makes sure that its spirited shonen story still feels intentionally like Final Fantasy.

It’s a bold change that probably won’t resonate with every player, especially those who were fascinated by Hydaelyn and Zodiark’s narratives in previous expansions. But if Final Fantasy 14 wants to continue to break modern ground, it feels necessary, too. Dawntrail couldn’t just do the same thing over and over again, it had to be drastically different, it had to draw inspiration from somewhere modern, and One Piece was a great choice in terms of both setting and story arcs.

There’s a reason One Piece has gained such a huge fan base and has lasted over two decades. The way the franchise has set itself up is impeccable, bringing together a complicated cast of characters who have room to grow and change across a dozen different storylines.

How Final Fantasy 14 is moving beyond the last decade, and that seems to be the intention. It wants to establish a core cast of characters and concepts that can be kept going, and fortunately it already has most of them left over from the previous story arc. Dawntrail is proof that a lot of thought has gone into laying the groundwork for the game to continue as a serialized story, and having many things in common with One Piece should already be considered a good sign.

Hayes Madsen is a freelance journalist for IGN.

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