The Philosophy and Science Behind Endwalker

Heavy spoilers ahead for Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker

One of the most interesting aspects of the Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker expansion was how the writers incorporated real-life philosophy and science into the storyline to pose dilemmas to the players. Though they were fairly subtle, a lot of the underlying concepts helped shape the Endwalker experience and it can be easy to miss on your first playthrough. Endwalker is the beautiful conclusion of our journey but it also asks us the cliched yet vital question: what meaning do we ascribe to life? Although the conclusion might lead you to infer a platitude of some kind, there’s a lot more depth hidden within the overarching plot threads.

To start off, an important theory that Endwalker examines is the Fermi Paradox or more specifically, the Great Filter implication. The Fermi Paradox posits a basic question: if the universe is so unimaginably massive and continues to expand, then why haven’t we found any clear evidence of extraterrestrial life? For all intents and purposes, the universe beyond Earth seems “dead” and while scientists have offered different explanations, none of them can be proved conclusive. One such explanation is the Great Filter, a theory that states in order to have intelligent interstellar lifeforms, they must overcome a series of hurdles, at least one of which is so improbable that almost no species can. While Endwalker doesn’t focus too heavily on the scientific aspects of the Great Filter, it does emphasize self-destruction being a predisposition to most civilizations. In real life, the question remains whether the Great Filter is behind us or ahead of us. Endwalker implies that it’s ahead with civilizations collapsing from war, immortality, or no sense of purpose. Perhaps the universe is simply filled with the ruins of bygone intelligent civilizations.

The Fermi Paradox - Wait But Why

During the Endwalker MSQ, it’s revealed that Meteion’s sisters traversed countless worlds and all of them were either destroyed or on the brink of extinction. Meteion essentially acts as a personification of the Great Filter as her entelechy powers with Dynamis end up influencing the fate of a number of these civilizations. Although there’s a little uncertainty over the exact events that transpired on each of them, Meteion details her own account of the cruel fates in several worlds. During Endwalker, players will encounter four of those worlds during the Ultima Thule zone and another three during the Dead Ends dungeon. While they differ in their extinction events, they all serve the purpose of propping up Meteion’s nihilism in that nothing will matter in the face of oblivion. The three recreated, decaying worlds found on Ultimate Thule form the bulk of the philosophical questions of existence in Endwalker.

The first area is a recreation of the world that Midgardsormr left behind as it was ravaged by mechanical invaders leaving anguished dragons that can only hold onto faded memories of their great civilization. During the sidequests and MSQ, it’s clear that the dragons have been overcome with despair and ruminate on their regrets. Although this world doesn’t play a large role in answering Endwalker’s final question, it does serve as a warning on how corroded nostalgia can lead to a form of nihilism. In The Ethics of Ambiguity by Simone de Beauvoir, she talks about how nihilism can be rooted in nostalgia as we yearn for the freedom of our childhood before realizing as adults that those freedoms depend on responsibilities. Perhaps the dragons could rebuild or start anew in the same way that Midgardsormr did but the atrocities they had suffered left them wallowing in despair with only memories of the past to ease the pain. The past can often tie us down without realizing it and like the dragons, we can easily succumb to the vicious cycle of self-pity which propagates the sense of futility. A lot of parallels can be drawn here to the themes of moving forward in Final Fantasy XIV but the most pertinent one would be G’raha Tia’s character arc. For a century, all he did was look to the past but now he faces the future in earnest, always ready to find joy in adventures. He stands in opposition to Meteion and how the dragons cannot let go of the past to move forward to the future.

FFXIV Endwalker: Aether Currents - Ultima Thule Map, Locations & Coordinates

The second area is a recreation of the Ea civilization, a race that pursued immortality through knowledge and science. This area is also most important to the overarching philosophy of Endwalker because it explores the themes of disillusionment in the face of eternity. Having succeeded in becoming immortal through their non-corporeal forms, the Ea were driven by the progress of science until they discovered that the universe would continue to expand until its inevitable heat death. Deciding that this rendered their scientific achievements and lives meaningless, they gave up their goals to await their coming end. Of course, the heat death of the universe is also a hypothesis in real life regarding the fate of our universe. When the universe has reached a state of maximum entropy, it will eventually reach a cosmic dead end where no more work can be extracted. During Endwalker, it’s directly implied that the relationship between Aether and Dynamis functions similarly to that of the fundamental forces and dark energy. Like dark energy, Dynamis consists of 68% of the universe and is also mostly found in empty space as Aether can thin its effects. Similarly, Meteion’s ability to control Dynamis allows her to accelerate the heat death of the universe. But why are these scientific parallels important to the Endwalker narrative?

It’s important to think about the Ea being immortal beings who have long lost the perception of time. To us, the concept of the heat death of the universe doesn’t even register because it’s inconceivably far away. Ordinary matter and protons will take 1040 years to decay and black holes will only evaporate after 10100 years. But to the immortal Ea, the heat death of the universe might as well be happening tomorrow. Even scientists today argue about the preservation of science and the quest for knowledge beyond the lifespan of humanity. In the face of certain oblivion, the Ea’s desire for a meaningful end is a lot more sympathetic. Meteion takes up a standard Nietzchean worldview on nihilism and attempts to show us that even though the Ea have succeeded in their quest for knowledge, it ultimately results in nothing but despair for what they stand to lose. This sort of ties into Urianger and Y’shtola’s character arcs as seekers of knowledge but they stand in opposition to what the Ea see as the only option. The pursuit of knowledge will continue in spite of our mortality and perhaps it is hubris to think we can discover some final truth. Nevertheless, as Y’shtola says, it’s the journey that drives us forward, not the destination.

The final area is a recreation of the Alphatron Star which is home to the Omicrons. Once a race with frail bodies, they decided to augment their flesh with mechanical parts to contend with stronger races that persecuted them. As they grew stronger to face more dangerous enemies, they eventually hit a breaking point where they were stronger than anything they’d ever faced and lost their sense of purpose. Funnily enough, this reminds me of shows like One Punch Man but with a darker twist. The general question is the same: is it possible to find purpose if you’ve already attained what you seek? Furthermore, when you reflect upon what it took to get there, will it satisfy you? For the Omicrons, they discarded all semblance of the self to pursue a goal founded upon destruction and strength. At the end of the line though, M-017 fears they had only engaged in wanton destruction with no aspirations left to fulfill. Parallels can be drawn to how Estinien had to abandon his ideals to become someone else entirely to face the conflict in the Dragonsong War. Yet he continues to derive a sense of purpose even after it has ended as he joins up with the Scions in their adventures.

FFXIV Endwalker: The Dead Ends Dungeon Guide And Walkthrough

The three sections of the Dead Ends dungeon further expand upon Meteion’s nihilistic worldview and the dangers of striving for perfection. Echoing the theme of Ultimate Thule, we encounter a tale of loss in a world devastated by a plague, a tale of fire in a world engaged in war, and a tale of faith in a world that seeks death from a harbinger. While these three worlds highlight the inevitable struggle of living, they also touch upon the concept of imperfect perfection once again. The second and third sections in this dungeon feel very much like alternate possibilities for Etheirys that could’ve easily happened along the way. When the Peacekeepers destroy everything including their creators in the second section, it seems like Endwalker’s way of asking what would have happened if Garlemald had succeeded in their conquest. Much like the Omicrons, it all started in the name of defense but where does that lead you in the end? If you have destroyed everything in the name of a twisted sense of freedom, are you truly free? Similarly, the third section of the dungeon asks us to imagine Etheirys as a world where the Zodiark plan succeeded. Perhaps we would’ve been free from strife and lived in a utopian paradise but without purpose, we would eventually lose meaning in our lives. That apathy can transform into a desire for release and that culminates in the people of the third section summoning a harbinger of death to put them out of their misery.

In exploring these failed worlds, Endwalker is trying to emphasize that striving for perfection is a contradiction itself. The civilizations that Meteion discovered had all sought to eradicate strife only to collapse into overwhelming despair. There is no meaning in happiness without the pain of sorrow and this is what separates the sundered Etheirys from the other worlds. Without imperfections, we would end up the same way as the “perfect” worlds that no longer had anything to want. This idea of impossible perfectionism has long been discussed within philosophy and Leo Tolstoy’s A Confession is a great example of how it leads to nihilism. Tolstoy reached a crisis when he realized that life felt meaningless and even the satisfaction of surpassing the greatest writers in history had no appeal. What drove him was the belief system of perfectionism: ever-shifting desires to become better or wiser or stronger than others. But at some point, the realization sets in that even if you achieve perfection, it doesn’t grant you happiness or satisfaction. Constantly seeking perfection instead of appreciating what you do have is a slippery slope to nihilism and ultimately, despair.

Spoilers: 6.0] Nothing in life matters : r/ffxiv

For all of its philosophical ponderings so far, Endwalker still hasn’t offered anything concrete to its initial question. Apart from a few accusations of sophistry from Emet-Selch, Endwalker only seems to criticize Meteion’s Nietzschean view on nihilism without committing to anything substantial. This is where Zenos yae Galvus comes in and spectacularly closes his arc to fit with the themes of Endwalker. Zenos has always functioned as a very simple answer to fulfillment in life. What he seeks is the thrill of the fight: transcending one’s limits and devoting everything for that moment of pleasure regardless of cost. Zenos has total apathy to the world at large yet he manages to derive his own meaning from the senseless existence laid out in front of him. Fundamentally, Zenos is an existentialist in that he knows there is no inherent purpose in life but instead of submitting to nihilism, he simply creates his own.

During the final encounter, Zenos asks the Warrior of Light if they seek pleasure for their own sake. “As surely as you know the thrill of pushing your body and soul to their limits. Of confronting ever-mightier foes, dancing ever closer to the precipice, wondering if this will be the one to finally, finally…fill the void. Such pleasures, you seek for their own sake, and no other reason. Is this not so…adventurer?” This is where Endwalker brings everything full circle to align with its philosophical themes of purpose and satisfaction. Yes, you are a hero and the fabled Warrior of Light. But at this moment, it is not a grand battle of the universe that drives you forward. As an adventurer first and foremost, you are seeking the thrill of a new experience and the journey into the unknown. That is what drives both you and Zenos forward despite the terrifying prospect of oblivion waiting at the end. It’s not a contrived sense of perfection or meaning that gives us purpose in life, it’s the joys that we seek out in our imperfect existence that fulfill us.

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I turned my incoherent ramblings on music, anime, and video games into an entire blog.

One thought on “The Philosophy and Science Behind Endwalker

  1. I’m a little late to the party but I appreciated your thoughts on Endwalker. That last bit with Zenos I enjoyed the most because I understood what you described: his presence and thought process is the answer to the question of how do we avoid the nihilism that’s “fated” to happen from those common aspirations…?

    Live for the moment. Fuck it all.

    Of course his thought process invites criticism with respect to ethics and morality, if not in practicality, as laid out in Alisaie’s rebuttal to Zeno’s criticisms of morality when the crew bump into him in Garlemald.

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