My first encounter with the Final Fantasy franchise was actually through Kingdom Hearts fifteen years ago. At five years old, I was entirely captivated by traveling to different Disney worlds and saving them from the dark, vile creatures known as Heartless. Being five years old though, I wasn’t the most skilled gamer. As a result, my father and uncle did most of the heavy lifting through difficult sections. However, I remember being especially intrigued by the Final Fantasy characters Leon, Yuffie, Aerith, and, of course, Cloud.
This curiosity drove me from Kingdom Hearts towards a love for Final Fantasy’s world, lore, and characters. Everything Final Fantasy stirs my interest, even something as bafflingly titled as Final Fantasy XIV: Dad of Light.
Upon hearing about the Japanese Netflix drama, which premiered in September this year, my initial reaction was to wonder whether it was some kind of joke. Then I remembered the numerous Final Fantasy movies that came before and assumed that Dad of Light would expand the lore of Final Fantasy XIV’s world, Eorzea, like Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV or Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. Strange though that they would title it “Dad of Light” when their expansion packs had epic names like “Heavensward” and “Stormblood.”
Turns out that Final Fantasy XIV: Dad of Light had absolutely nothing to do with lore or expansion packs. To my surprise, it was actually a TV series based on the true story of a son, Akio Inaba, reaching out to his estranged father, Hirotaro Inaba, through gaming. Originally, the two were very close. Like myself, Akio’s first Final Fantasy game was the third installment. His father had purchased the game for him as a gift, and the two played through the game together.
Their relationship truly resonated with me because I could see myself and my own father in their positions, even through their eventual fallout. One day, after returning from work, Mr. Inaba told Akio to stop gaming and study. Understandably, Akio grew upset, and ever since then, the pair became distant, their relationship turning rocky and awkward.
Years later, after an adult Akio took a job as a sales representative, Mr. Inaba suddenly quit his job, shocking his entire family. The notion of his workaholic father quitting his job was so absurd that Akio had to investigate the root cause. In the guise of a “retirement present,” he bought his father a PlayStation 4 and Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. He walked his sixty-year-old father through the basics of the game, teaching him how to battle, how to chat, how to emote, and then left him alone to game. Once his father was online, Akio would sneak into his room, switch on his PC, and guide his father on quests. Slowly but surely, they worked their way towards the ultimate boss, Twintania, all while Akio’s father had no clue that his new online friend was actually his son.
Mr. Inaba became so invested in the game that his wife had to ground him. For some period of time, this sixty-year-old man was restricted to playing only one hour a day. He couldn’t even sneak in a little bit of playtime while his wife was out of the house because she hid the controller from him.
Nevertheless, because of their online adventures, Akio’s project was successful. He rekindled his relationship with his father, who came to consider his son (or his avatar, at least) a close friend. Akio himself discovered facets of his father he didn’t even know. Although a reticent man in real life, in Eorzea he became a friendly, talkative man with no qualms about speaking his mind. This new friendship and trust that developed between them enabled his father to tell Akio the true reason why he had quit his job: he had a disease that required surgery.
Akio’s quest in Dad of Light truly illustrates how powerful friendships and connections can be formed and strengthened through gaming. Mr. Inaba was originally reluctant to go through with the surgery. After meeting his son’s avatar and completing various quests with him, however, he learned from his friends that he shouldn’t give up. Even though their party kept getting annihilated by Twintania, he refused to surrender. He wanted to defeat this final boss before his surgery, just in case he couldn’t return. It was his dying wish. In the process, it might have made surgery seem less daunting.
Video games, therefore, give people a connection. Like Akio and his father, I was never particularly close to my family, but video games brought us together. My siblings and I enjoy nights crawling dungeons, slaying monsters, and looting treasure. We fight, get frustrated, lose, persist, win, and celebrate together. We best monsters, demons, and even gods; we save the world from chaos and restore harmony. We go fishing. We become heroes known as Warriors of Light.
Watching Akio and his father interact in Dad of Light makes me laugh, makes me cry, makes me smile, precisely because I have been in that situation, and I’m sure that I’m not the only one. There’s a sense of unity and camaraderie that evolves from facing a common enemy like Twintania. Considered the hardest boss in all of Eorzea, unprepared players face a downright terrifying trial if they dare challenge her. Players have no choice but to go in with a party, one that can work together, and bosses like Twintania test their strength as both individuals and as a team. If one player ones down, then the whole party will suffer.
These kinds of stories reveal that, contrary to the belief that playing video games in a lonely activity, they can bring people together, especially in this generation of online gaming. Forming lasting relationships in high fantasy worlds like Eorzea is not only possible but is almost unavoidable. For old friends separated by distance, the virtual world is now a platform to hang out and spend time together. For total strangers, it is a new place to make friends and be part of a community. Worlds like Eorzea offer so much to do and experience together with friends, it would be a waste to play solo. It’s hard not to become closer to other people because, whether you’re questing, battling, exploring, or even fishing, it’s more fun with some company.