Final Fantasy XIV was recently awarded the Guiness World Record for most original pieces of music in a videogame, but it may have the most concept art as well. As Heavensward's main scenario events wrap up this week, we take a long look at Square Enix's two art books for the expansion and a quick peek at some minions.
- Glenn Wilson
Final Fantasy XIV: The Art of Ishgard — Stone and Steel
My main gripe with the first Final Fantasy XIV art book released in North America was that it tried to cover too much in too small of a volume. There were gaps in coverage, and midway through it resorted to shrinking image sizes to jam as many drawings as possible onto each page. The decision to include visually uninteresting objects and thirty pages of rough sketches at the expense of better art was disappointing. The Art of Ishgard — Stone and Steel avoids the flaws of its predecessor, providing a satisfying presentation of the artwork behind Heavensward with all the space it deserves. As a small bonus, it includes patch 2.4 and 2.5 art that wasn't in the last book.
The structure is largely the same, opening with detailed image art used in promotional materials by Square Enix. They cover the gamut of content added from 2.4 to 3.0 in a range of subjects and moods. Antagonists like Nidhogg and Ravana get representation, the Heaven's Ward is featured on a page, there are light-hearted spreads of adventurers in different settings, and pre-Heavensward art for the Gold Saucer and the Ceremony of Eternal Bonding gets included too. It's page after page of memory-inducing beauty and everything covered in this section is excellent. My favorite images, and a great layout choice, are concept works of Nidhogg and Hraesvelgr on opposing pages. Each image in this section has a brief note from the artist, and I enjoyed reading all the comments on whatever the artist felt compelled to share. These comments appear less consisently later on.
Whether the image art whets the appetite or serves its boldest flavors at the start of the meal, it's a short section followed by the largest one: character art. With an emphasis on the new playable race and three new classes, the character art is complete beyond any reasonable expectation. Everything from the Gordian and artifact sets down to Dusk Vigil dungeon gear and weapons are covered. The space given to each set is not equal; artifact gear gets an entire page for each of the new jobs, but the Woad set for all jobs is squished onto one page. More detailed, appealing, and predictably popular equipment gets more paper. I approve of dedicating a full hundred pages to this and liked seeing the ironworks and Crystal Tower sets backfilled. The only gap, and maybe I'm unreasonable after all, is the missing level 51-60 craftable equipment. This section also includes NPC art with my bias leading me to again consider the two-page spread of Nidhogg and the two-page spread of Hraesvelgr as the highlights, though all of the NPCs are covered.
Monster art follows, getting plenty of space this time around. Dungeon bosses, rare FATE spawns, and common foes are vividly displayed. Again, not all images are treated equally, and the decisions on when to dedicate an entire page to an enemy and when to cram six onto one page consider the level of detail and expected viewer interest. Oddly, the piassa gets an entire page and one of the bigger artworks in this section, which I cracked up at the sight of. Maybe that was the intention? This section is satisfying and thorough, and I love monster art. The following sections are short. Chocobo barding, mounts, minions, and furnishings return to show off their Heavensward additions. These pages breeze by, and, fortunately, are much more interesting than they were in the last FFXIV art book. Benefiting from higher quality art, more creative designs, and less content, they're an important inclusion and don't wear out their welcome.
Beauty, detail, and full-page images return in the outstanding final section: world art. Gorgeous and fascinating paintings for the new Heavensward zones could look even better than the game itself. As this is all concept art, it's interesting to see how artists envisioned these recognizable locales before they were rendered in the graphics engine. Quality and comprehensiveness are the goals, with even smaller places like the heretics' hideaway getting half a page of completed art. Dungeon art is covered in this section, and one of the earliest artworks of Alexander as an imposing monstrosity made its way here too. Sketches and additional art officially close things out, but they're cute, short, and feel more like a bonus than real content.
If the first FFXIV art book was strikingly complete considering how much it tried to cover in 300 pages, then this one brings higher quality art without sacrificing quantity. It hits a sweet spot where all the concept art imaginable is included with the appropriate space to appreciate and enjoy the details. It would be nice to see Square Enix release these as hardcover books, and it would be nice if the bonus minion code was anything but Relm, but other than that it's as perfect as can be.
Verdict: All fans of Heavensward's art should buy it.
Publisher: Square Enix
Publication Date: February 2016
Pages: 304, Color
Final Fantasy XIV: The Art of Ishgard — Scars of War
The Art of Ishgard — Scars of War covers patch 3.1 through the first part of 3.5. I was dubious that another volume could be filled with art from such a short period, but having enjoyed the Heavensward patches more than the expansion itself, I had to own a permanent reminder of my time in Mhach, Alexander, and the dungeons I reran endlessly. Abandoning the image art section that opened the last two Final Fantasy XIV books, Scars of War starts with the art that accompanied the five patch announcements. Opposing each image is a full page dedicated to the name of the patch. Having every other page of the first ten pages be a text image was a fast sign that maybe this wasn't a great purchase.
After the announcement images comes a short section for NPCs. As there were only a few new characters in these patches, it's dominated by either recycled images from Stone and Steel or old NPCs in different clothes. The Griffin filling an entire page is the highlight, but rough sketches, reused art, and the brevity of this section make it feel sloppy.
In a cool change from past FFXIV volumes, all of the art related to each dungeon is grouped together in the next section. First there's a heavily stylized, two-page artwork with a rough look introducing the dungeon, including a few sentences on the lore behind it. These images were new to me, although Square Enix could have used them in media I didn't see. They're followed by world, monster, and boss art from the dungeon, then the dungeon's equipment sets. The idea is fantastic, as it groups images together as they are experienced in each patch. The execution is hit-and-miss. Some monster art blown up to fill a page is fuzzy, like the original image was much smaller. Some world art, specifically for Xelphatol, is highly detailed yet shrunk down to less than half a page where it can't be appreciated. Layout decisions are questionable. Not all monsters are rectangles, leaving areas of white space that should have been covered with smaller art or sketches. More reused art surfaces. The same Hraesvelgr image in Stone and Steel is copied here, only this time compacted down to half a page. Generally images are large to take up as much space as possible, which works well for the gear sets. Filibuster armor gets four whole pages whereas dungeon gear got half a page in the last two books, and it's detailed enough to be worth it. It doesn't work for most of the enemies.
The same pros and cons continue through sections for the trials and raids. A two-page spread of concept art for the Void Ark is the first impressive, stunning work of art in the book, and possibly the last. World images for the Weeping City and Dun Scaith are not given two pages despite a plethora of lower quality images that are resized too big. The same goes for the Alexander Son and Creator sections. The artists' drawings showcasing how the Alex 6 foes transform and combine into Brute Justice was the most interesting thing in the book for me. The Final Steps of Faith presents yet another copy and paste from Stone and Steel, though.
The longest section of the book covers all of the equipment added in the patches. Pig suits, starlight robes, crafted eikon sets, glamour gear, weapons — EVERYTHING — and most of it gets the full height of the page to show off the detailing. Given that gear and glamours are the true FFXIV end game and these drawings look great even when filling the page, I approve of this section. It would have been nice if Heavensward sets that didn't make the cut in Stone and Steel were backfilled in this volume. If Scars of War can repeat content from the last art book, couldn't it have found room to include art previously left out? Mounts, minions, housing, and additional art end things. These sections use the same image-appropriate layouts and spacing as the last two books. Your mileage my vary; it's unlikely these sections will be adored by anyone who didn't collect or see these items in the game. Personally, I went on a minion hoarding spree during this time and loved seeing the little fellas who followed me around Ishgard here.
I found this book to be filled with empty space, blown-up fuzzy images, rough sketches, and art I already bought in the first Heavensward book. Maybe the artists have been busy with Stormblood and didn't create much in the last year and a half for the patches, but this volume feels slapdash and poorly executed beyond what a dearth of content could explain. Gone are the artists' comments I enjoyed in other FFXIV books, being replaced by each writing a couple sentences at the end. Noticeably missing is any concept art for 3.5 part 1's final event, visually impressive and important as it is in the game. If it weren't for the fact that I was subscribed to FFXIV for sixty days during 3.1-3.5 and right now my favorite memories come from that period, this book would be an even bigger disappointment. When Stormblood comes out and replaces those memories, this might be a book I never open again.
Verdict: It's below average as both an art book and a means to bring back memories from the game. Not recommended.
Publisher: Square Enix
Publication Date: March 2017
Pages: 320, Color
Final Fantasy XIV Minion Figures: Ifrit and Garuda
Taito created two sets of minion figures with a third on the way. I picked up Ifrit and Garuda, and have Titan pre-ordered. I crafted these minions in the game and wanted the original primal trio on my bookshelf. Despite knowing their specs, they're tinier than similar figures I own and don't have the shelf presence I wanted. Another centimeter would have gone a long way. The super-deformed proportion is off for Ifrit relative to the in-game minion, and Garuda's color is a lighter, almost sickly shade of blue-green that doesn't look right. I'm keeping the Titan pre-ordered just to complete things, and can't comment on the human minions in the set, but these figures are hardly worth owning.
MSRP: $19.99 each
It's been fun reminiscing about Heavensward, and visuals bring back memories for me more than any other medium. The next update will move on to other Final Fantasy XIV merchandise as I get hyped for Stormblood.
Until next time!