There are two things you might know about Final Fantasy XIV, even if you haven't played it. One, the game was a disaster when it came out, nearly bankrupted Square Enix (so the legend goes) and was revived by its current team into a success. Two, Final Fantasy XIV is a critically-accclaimed MMORPG with a free trial up to level 60 with unlimited playtime an includes the award-winning first expansion, Heavensward. If you've played the game or are considering it, you've probably been told A Realm Reborn is kind of a chore to play through, but the storytelling goes through the roof for Heavensward. But there's an important detail that often gets left out.
Each expansion is connected by a number of patches, which are often known affectionately by the community by their numbers. A point-zero number is an expansion, while added decimals are when batches of Main Story Quest content lands. For example, shorthand for the last bit of Shadowbringers ahead of Endwalker is "5.3," despite the batch of quests having an official title, "Reflections in Crystal." This content isn't talked about nearly as often, and sometimes it's easy to understand why at first. Sometimes, the post-patch content continues the story told in the MSQ, or starts setting up the next one. Other times, stories pop up that are largely self-contained. Or tucked away until later.
So far, I've had the most fun with Final Fantasy XIV in these post-patch story batches, specifically the parts that have no obvious bearing on the main plot. It feels like, even when the connection to the main plot is in there or shows up later, the standalone content is where the Final Fantasy XIV likes to get weird. It's in these spaces that you encounter not only strange characters, more blatant Final Fantasy cameos and weird loot, it's also where some cool story ideas are snuck in. These storylines don't warrant a whole A or B standing in the main story, but are some of the more fascinating adventures you can end up on.
The easiest ones to bring up first are the fan-favorite Hildebrand quests. This over the top character and his absolutely unhinged family (and his bomb-crazy associate) has made me laugh out loud more times than I ever would have expected from a MMO. And yet, even though these outings can be mostly silly, there are also genuine character moments. For example, a robotic version of Vivi from Final Fantasy IX somehow becomes Hildebrand's adopted son, and the comedy quickly breaks bad when you start to learn where "Gigi" came from.
Another of my favorite stories is thematically similar to the Gigi story, in which former heroes have lost their way and their power makes their emotional struggles dangerous. We see this when a group of aging heroes pursue Gigi's time-altering abilities to stay young and working. We also see this when players are introduced to the Warriors of Darkness, an inversion of a classic Final Fantasy party seemingly bent on taking out the Scions and destroying the world. Turns out these folks didn't start out as bad guys, and are acting in desperation to save their own world. Why are they the Warriors of Darkness? Because once they defeated every foe there was to fight, the imbalance of power destroyed their world's ecosystem.
Those are some of the smaller, emotionally-charged stories you can find in the spaces wedged between the expansions. But it isn't just all about cool ideas and well-executed drama. Sometimes shit just gets really weird. Take, for example, the Omega questline that dominates the early post-Stormblood options. This is a ridiculously long chain of events, that see out heroes ripped out of time and space to team up with... the Final Fantasy Fables and Mystery Dungeon Chocobo in a cosmic combat gauntlet. And all the big fights are major bosses from Final Fantasy's past, complete with anecdotes about who they were in an underspoken, mythology sort of way. Then yo have to fight a giant robot that destroys reality, but that's for you folks to see for yourselves.
Those are only a few examples of Final Fantasy XIV's side story content, the kind of stuff that's more than the goofy fetch quests and more about new kinds of adventures. From getting a whole Final Fantasy XIV alternate universe take on Ivalice to solving a class-concious kidnapping mystery at an affluent school, there are many more than these. I haven't even made it to Shadowbringers just yet, so I'm excited to see what's coming myself. Also, more Fables references, please. Chobobo GP tie-in, perhaps?