I want to take you on a journey, one I recently embarked on in Final Fantasy XIV. Having only recently finished the main questline in A Realm Reborn I am still quite a bit behind most players. As I began auto-piloting my way through the quests that stand between me and Heavensward one particular quest caught my eye. A young Miqo’te girl Nashu, also mourning the loss of her mentor was investigating some unusual zombie activity in the area. How unusual? The zombies had somehow become dignified and were referred to as “Gentlemen Zombies.” Huh…well then, better look into this. I would quickly learn that as weird as gentlemen zombies sound, this would not be the strangest thing to happen on the first leg of what appears to be a lengthy questline.
Understanding that Square has come a long way with Final Fantasy XIV and that I probably haven’t seen the best the game has to offer yet thanks to years of refinements and expansions, none of the base game’s questlines really stood out to me enough to stick with me. Sure they were mostly fun and had a few decent characters and some funny one-liners, but nothing worth writing about. The moment I started up “The Rise and Fall of Gentlemen,” I knew I was going to be in for something different.
Out to the field I go to investigate a Fate in Southern Thanalan and, sure enough, I am confronted by dapper zombies. Though they seem to be leaving well enough alone, zombies are zombies and I get to work slaying. This series of quests concludes when, after finding an interesting piece of paper on one of the zombies, we attempt to confront them head-on. After being surrounded a voice beckons from off the screen. A figure can be seen perfectly perched atop a nearby structure, flexing with the moon as a backdrop. He instructs the zombies to leave Nashu and I alone as it is the only gentlemanly thing to do. Lo and behold, our titular hero emerges, Hildibrand the Gentleman Inspector.
At this point, I already have so many questions. Is he alive? Undead? How? It is here we learn Nashu, much like her mentor as we later discover, is the act first, questions later type. When she learns that Hildibrand can’t remember anything about what happened before his “untimely demise,” she decides there is only of course of action to take. Maybe Looney Tunes was onto something as she pulls out two oversized bombs to help knock some sense back into the inspector. Despite his protests, she tosses the bombs at Hildibrand who comically flies into the air before landing with only his legs sticking out from the ground. When he emerges and criticizes her by name we know it worked like a charm.
Again, this is just the first part of the first act of what appears to be a very lengthy series of quests starring the Gentleman Inspector and his protege, but already this feels like it is on an entirely different level from the other quests I have played thus far. This is the development team having fun, and it shows in the quality of the writing and the effort put into goofy animations and comical direction. The camera frequently pans in for close-ups on awkward smiles, the angles always attempt to put Hildibrand in heroic lighting, it feels like an old Saturday morning cartoon.
Over the course of this first act, we meet a group of characters ranging from competent to absurd to borderline insane. A duelist is traveling the lands defeating would be challengers in combat and taking their weapons. All the while they are looking for one weapon in particular, but that is lost on our hero (who we learn has been very much alive this entire time) as he instead chases a false lead involving the wealthy Yellow Moon. Ultimately he uncovers a cult-like group of followers who recover things she leaves behind by essentially stalking her from large crates (creepy). We meet a reporter who sets us back on track thanks to her own investigation, but Hildibrand can’t even stand still long enough to get the information from her as he trots off on his own to find the clues. In classic superhero fashion he always somehow finds his way to where he needs to be just in time (i.e. just after I arrive, has he been following me?)
We meet an incompetent adventurer who claims to be a Warrior of Light, but you probably already figured out he is not. Instead, he lost an old man’s ancient sword to the duelist and spent the money he was given to have it repaired, what a jerk. The old man goes as far as to accuse the fool of stressing away his golden locks, leaving him a bald and broken man. This devolves into my favorite series of events in the entire act. We get a lead on the missing sword. Turns out it was a copy of the real deal, but a good copy nonetheless. Our merchant lead disposed of the thing in a nearby spring where we go to recover it. Upon arrival, Hildibrand becomes hesitant to enter the water fearing that the many wounds he has accrued during his time as the not-so-undead would become infected. He asks you to apply oil to his body to protect it.
Apply we do, and Hildibrand lets us know how we’re doing every step of the way in the most awkward, borderline inappropriate way, and I loved every moment of it. He comments that you’re working it in too hard, but that the pain is necessary, then that the pain becomes pleasure, then he starts groaning as we come to the…climax. Greased up and ready to go we enter the spring and recover the sword. Hildibrand seems to be catching a bit of a cold likely due to the fact he’s still wearing the tattered remains of what used to be his outfit. Nashu goes off to get a change of clothes and an order of hair tonic, at the request of Hildibrand, to help the old man with his hair problem.
We return the sword and the clothes and tonic arrive shortly thereafter. It all seems like it will be a happy ending as the old man begins vigorously applying the tonic. Moments later, my character dodges a mightily thrown card that lodges itself into the forehead of a shockingly calm Hildibrand. After pointing out that the card is, in fact, lodged into his forehead, as if we didn’t already know, he removes and reads it. A challenge has been laid out from our culprit, the duelist, as the camera pans out to reveal a shadowy figure standing outside. Hildibrand, overjoyed by the opportunity to face the duelist, changes clothes.
At this moment it appears the tonic is actually working as the old man’s head begins to shine. Enter Hildibrand who promptly takes center stage, the shining head now turning into a radiant backdrop as the inspector once again flexes and poses, the expressions on his face that of complete contentment, confidence, and a dapper swagger. This “Gentleman of Light,” exudes the very essence of what it is to be great. His character is defined by actions, not deeds, mostly because I was the one who did all the work anyway, and he knows it. “A gentleman is, rather than does.”
This particular act ends with a “next time on…” type credits sequence with flashes of scenes to come, a villain to fight, and even a little bit of breaking the fourth wall to address the player. There’s also a snazzy title card and a great theme to go along with it. Despite my desire to get into the truly new content, I can’t see myself ignoring this questline for very long. Everything about it is fun from the writing to the characters and their quirks. Nowhere else in FFXIV have I found a series of more captivating quests, and I hope this is more of an indication of what is to come rather than a one-off affair.