Spoilers for Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers to follow.
Final Fantasy XIV‘s Shadowbringers expansion is about many things — but, if I had to pick an overarching theme, it would be the discarding of preconceived notions through empathy. It is an acknowledgment of the darkness as a natural part of life, rather than something humanity has turned into a storytelling trope that represents evil. It is a recognition that, because of your experiences and desires for a better world, you will be the villain of someone else’s narrative. And, in turn, it is the demand that you should be and do as much good as you can despite how we all have beliefs we cannot compromise on.
While these themes certainly begin with Emet-Selch, they only ever realize their full potential once he dies and Elidibus steps out of the shadows. And it is Elidibus who, in the span of a single story patch, cements Shadowbringers as arguably the best story in the series.
Elidibus has been relatively quietly observing us from the days of A Realm Reborn when we were nothing and no one. He has seen us rise to the position of the Champion of Eorzea, and as of Patch 5.2, is the person who has most effectively deconstructed that role. He has demanded that you interrogate what it means to be a hero. To ask what separates you from not just his fellow Ascians, but also everyone else who wishes to become a savior. After all, he’s in a particularly excellent position of authority to do so, for there are few as familiar with the concept of a hero as him.
As Zodiark’s Emissary, his duty has been to represent his master’s wishes throughout the eons. In order for his Ascian siblings to sow the seeds of chaos and conflict necessary to usher Zodiark’s return, he has had to create heroes who would try to bring salvation. Throughout the many years and worlds, he has manipulated them into fighting for their causes, unbeknownst to the fact that they have ultimately served his. He would consider himself a savior at times, as well, for he’s had to be both a hero and villain to ensure the balance of light and darkness. “I have aided heroes. I have made them. I have even become them,” he says after revealing his identity as a primal who takes shape after the first Warrior of Light.
Elidibus’ mysterious and enigmatic nature starkly contrasts Emet-Selch’s charm and individuality, making him feel distant and unrelatable. It’s through relating to others that we most often extend our empathy and sympathy, but he never once pretends that he cares for yours. As he takes you on one of the most powerful segments of the game — a walk through Amaurot in which you face specters of the people you have lost and taken away from others — he explicitly warns you to not delude yourself into thinking he wants remorse. He wants only justice for his people, and it’s his duty to see that mission through to the end.
There are transparent degrees of naivety and childishness to him, however. As he asks you to kill illusions of friends, loved ones, and past foes alike, he becomes annoyed. “That appearances should unnerve you so… I was under the impression you simply destroyed all who barred your way,” he rebukes. “Sparing nary a thought to the possibility that your foe could be someone’s beloved.” He detests that you and the Scions are incapable of understanding the Ascians’ plight or history, let alone remembering them.
Perhaps he lashes out because he can’t remember them, either.
As a primal and fragment of Zodiark, he has been shaped and empowered by a collective hope for salvation. The amalgamation of thousands of souls hoping for him to deliver this to them, he has drawn his powers from them over time, losing most of his memories in the process. For long, he has only known that his name is Elidibus and that his duty is to save his people.
With your power of the Echo, you’re able to gain insight into people’s memories, including those of Elidibus for the first time. Through the Echo, you see conversations he had with other members of the convocation he and Emet-Selch belonged to. In all his memories, they are looking down as they speak. It’s a subtle detail that speaks volumes, but it’s one that’s easy to overlook because this is something you’re used to as the Warrior of Light and Darkness. You’ve walked through Emet-Selch’s recreation of Amaurot as a vastly smaller figure compared to the giant Amaurotines adorned in black robes and masks who inhabit the city. But it’s not something the Elidibus you know should be used to. It’s only until the end of Shadowbringers that this is explained as deliberate, for it’s revealed Elidibus’ true form is only a child.
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“To think some thought you ill-suited for the role. How wrong they were,” tells him a convocation member in a memory. What once seemed kind and loving takes on a more sinister tone at the end as you realize that the role of an Emissary was pushed on to a child. It’s not a responsibility the other convocation members thought to take upon themselves even though they were all likely of a proper age to do so.
Instead, it was a child who had to represent his people and try to bring them together at the end of the world. A child who was ultimately chosen as the first sacrifice for Zodiark, becoming the ancient deity’s heart in the process. After being used to appease Zodiark, being the Emissary was all that Elidibus could use to define himself. It’s hard to imagine the enormous pressure Elidibus must have felt, especially since there was little else he knew. He would spend his days reviewing records, studying in order to learn how to best serve his people. His existence revolved around his job, even drawing criticism from the same fellow members who burdened him with it for taking his role too seriously.
“Elidibus” became less a name marking an individual’s existence and more a title — one he has been unable to relinquish for centuries. While you face Elidibus three times in Final Fantasy XIV‘s main story, none of those fights involve him using his own name or form. He is the only one of the three unsundered Ascians you meet and kill who doesn’t get to be an individual in front of you. The first time, you fight him as Zenos yae Galvus. The second, you battle him as Ardbert. The last, you defeat him as a primal Warrior of Light. Hours prior to this fight, he had told you with an unwavering fist and conviction that Elidibus is his name and his mission, guiding his every deed.
But what does it mean to be Elidibus? Who is Elidibus? It’s a question you’ve asked yourself for several expansions and hundreds of hours. It’s a question you still don’t have a clear answer to — for Elidibus seldom knew himself.
After you defeat him is the first and last time you get to see who Elidibus really is. No longer a primal, he kneels on the ground in white robes too large for him — a child, the last of his people. As he fades away, he cries holding not his own crystal, but the crystals of his friends who he can finally remember. In his small hands, these powerful crystals, with all their immense history and magic, look more like pieces of candy. They are reflections of an innocence he never had the privilege of knowing; broken fragments mirroring the broken child, who existed to bring reconciliation to his people, holding them.
For all their errors in making a child an Emissary of an ancient god, his people were all he knew and loved. The convocation members saw value in him, gave him a purpose and an identity, and made him feel loved. “But come, turn your gaze outside the window, my friend,” one would tell Elidibus while he worked. “The rains have ceased, and we have been graced with another beautiful day.” They were his family and his connection to humanity.
I’ve written about how Emet-Selch is Final Fantasy‘s best villain, and I still stand by it. However, it’s an incredible testament to Elidibus’ writing that he can follow up one of the most well-written characters in the series with an equally compelling complexity. His ability to evoke sympathy matches Emet-Selch’s even though, unlike his predecessor, he never asks for it. Both are broken people who lived for millennia having given up their lives to a cause. Unable to be anything else, they built and destroyed empires, heroes, and stories.
But there’s a tragic emptiness to Elidibus that didn’t exist in Emet-Selch. Emet-Selch remembered everything to the most minuscule detail. He was able to desire to reach a mutual understanding with you because of his experiences — his fondness for you as a fellow convocation member, his pain, his yearning for companionship. Meanwhile, Elidibus didn’t know there were things in life he could yearn for. He had no recollections of happiness or sorrow; no desires or aspirations other than his duty. His duty was all he ever knew in a lifetime in which he could have experienced all the universe has to offer if things had gone differently.
The rains have ceased, and we have been graced with another beautiful day. Perhaps for the first time in his existence, Elidibus can see that now. He does not need to look through a window, shut inside, surrounded by his records, overwhelmed by the burden that rests on his small shoulders. In death, he is free to bathe in the light of such a day; in the restored memories of those he fought for, and in the possibilities of who he could have been.