PPR at the Movies: Final Fantasy XIV: Dad of Light Review

he impact that a video game can have on any one person and the relationships that they share with the people closest to them is hardly a foreign concept these days, but it’s certainly one that hasn’t had the best representation in films or television that that use it as the main framing artifice for a character-driven narrative.

Whether it’s the light-hearted classic, The Wizard, where a bunch of kids embark on a journey of self-discovery through their shared love of gaming, or Reign over me, a more somber film about a traumatized man who’s coping with the death of his family through his PlayStation 2; this MacGuffin has a storied history of good intentions, and awful execution.

In spite of this checkered past, Square-Enix took on a gamble to collaborate with Japanese media company Oricon to tell the story of a son concocting an elaborate plan to rekindle the bond between him and his estranged father through the iconic MMO, A Realm Reborn: Final Fantasy XIV within an eight episode series.

While the premise sounds like one that’s ripe for gross exploitation, the end-result is thankfully much more heartfelt in its presentation, as Final Fantasy XIV: Dad of Light strives on to be a touching tale of the human condition that manages to authentically capture the timeless charm of Final Fantasy in the process.

Where the title of the series suggests a story about a son and dad sharing few sessions on the couch together with controllers in hand, the actual tale here is one that’s a theater of anxiety.

One of the more endearing qualities to Dad of Light is that it isn’t just satisfied with extoling the importance of familial connection, but the benefits of social interaction as a whole, and what kind of harm that emotional confinement can do.

Akio as a son, expresses his discontent for his relationship with his father, lamenting his struggles to communicate with Hirotaro, to the point where he feels like he can’t even ask his workaholic dad why he suddenly quit his job. Reminiscing about the memories he had with his dad playing the hit RPG on the Famicom as a kid, Akio convinces his Dad to play A Realm Reborn with the ulterior motive of getting to know him and his reasons for quitting his job, by moonlighting as a stranger in-game in order to do so. The outline is a bit cartoonish, but that all disappears when you see just how socially awkward the father and son really are, not just with each other, but to the outside world in general.

In the various scenes in between the setup, we see moments where the aspiring youngster finds the task of managing work relations nerve-wracking, and then there’s Inaba Sr. getting self-conscious over something as trivial as a wardrobe choice that makes him feel like an outcast among his peers. For as estranged as the father and son are with one another, they’re both troubled by different circumstances that ultimately boil down to the same flaws that ironically affect their ability to socialize with each other.

The buildup isn’t without its payoff though as every little accomplishment that Akio makes is rewarding to watch. Little things that we often take for granted in online gaming are built up with a level of intensity that hasn’t been seen since the concept of online gaming was first introduced, and that’s all due to the different meanings that they hold for the two different characters, and how compelling it is. The direction succeeds at making the audience sincerely care about the little advancements that the pair makes because it’s one step closer to Mr. Inaba opening up about the skeletons in his closet, and Akio getting to know his reasons for hiding them.

For all the moments of elation where Akio is able to see the various sides of his dad that he was never able to see before, Dad of Light doesn’t shy away from the reality of the sensation being bittersweet for him. In all of the excitement of the discoveries he’s making, there also comes the admission of guilt for his dishonesty in the scenario, for all the time he’s spending with him the way he has fantasized about, he’s doing so under a false identity.

Speaking of that false identity, the fact that this is all happening while the duo adventure through the fictional world of Eorzea is never lost on the audience, but what’s better is that it isn’t an annoyance to them either. The Portrayal of the in-game action of FFXIV to this over-arching plot is balanced in a way that’s organic to what’s going on, never staying in the foreground or background of the story for longer than it needs to.

The portrayal of Hirotaro as a brand new player to the game is especially poignant as we see him stumble about the simplest of mechanics for combat and questing that you would come to expect to someone playing an MMO RPG for the first time. Whether it was something like Emoji spamming or sloppy damage dealing, these were all moments that were easily relatable and points of vulnerability that Akio seizes the opportunity to cultivate his friendship with his father in a way that’s satisfying, and convincing to its theme.

I came into this show with the fear that it would be a shallow, season-long commercial of Final Fantasy XIV that would be piloted on the vehicle of a superficial slice of life story…

I’m here to tell you that I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The only thing holding back Dad of Light from being one of the finest examples in television of its kind is that it decides to drag on a bit too long near the end of the series, hurting the conclusion of the show as a result. If the show had just committed to keeping the finale down to one pivotal scene, the experience as a whole would’ve been far more impactful, avoiding an epilogue that only seems to exist because the director was trying to avoid a clichéd ending.

Whether you’re a fan of the landmark franchise or not, Final Fantasy XIV: Dad of Light is a must-watch for anyone who’s ever had the desire to introduce their parents to something they’re passionate about, or even just the fantasy of being able to talk to them like a friend, conveying a message that’s charmingly  magical, and undeniably unforgettable.

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