FFXIV Dad of Light is something everyone made fun of awhile back when it got announced, it came off as such a silly and cringe-inducing advertisement at the time and then it was forgotten about. I had even more thoroughly ignored it because I’m one of those people who really enjoyed the original release of FFXIV and Realm Reborn just kind of destroyed what made it unique and fun, replacing it with a generic WoW clone of a game instead of simply fixing the problems (like lazy area design) that were prevalent while keeping the game intact. Anyway, I randomly saw this while browsing Netflix’s now pretty shitty catalog a couple weeks ago and figured I may as well give it a try – having mistaken it for a 40 minute movie somehow when it was a 24 minute first episode…I have no idea I just did, but I was pleasantly surprised.
Dad of Light does a great job at a few important things that almost nothing else ever achieves believability with or does a good job at. Basically this is a show made by the Japanese involving a real video game rather than a shitty episode of CSI written by a 50 year old who only just learned PCs can play games and that Playstation is up to 4 now. Everything about mmos and XIV specifically is spot on and they even made sure to actually use the game for the game stuff – not some special developer version, not some CG made up version, but the actual real released game. Now, I’m fairly sure they did it on a closed server and with a developer free camera (which is also pretty fun to see how they do “cinematography” with a clunky in-game camera, especially because they don’t do a bad job of it) and also cheated their way through levels and equipment for story purposes – but in terms of the game being the real game, it’s just the real game. The same clipping, the same camera movement, the same emotes, the same animations and clunkiness, and so on – and most importantly, the same realistic way people actually play these things and learn their own ways of manipulating stuff (like emotes) within them for things they’re not really for.
The players feel like players – the dad especially acts in ways real MMO players do especially when first starting out. He’s shy but also wants to interact with others but he doesn’t quite get how to do it; in his first encounter with his son saving him (as a cute Miqote) he walks up to “her” and just stands there…then just runs circles around her like a dumbass and finally runs away. Because I mean that’s WHAT PEOPLE DO IN MMOS. It feels so natural and genuine instead of some weird fake concept of how people play games especially online. It’s like that throughout – another example I loved was when he gets taught how to do emotes he just SPAMS THE LAUGH EMOTE FOR AWHILE BECAUSE WHO THE FUCK DOESN’T DO THAT?
There are other examples just going on all the time too – such as this one lalafell character likes to sit on the main character’s miqote’s lap a lot, which isn’t an emote in FFXIV. So they just do the thing everyone does of flopping down on the same chair as them anyway and clipping through 90% of their body or using the sit emote on the ground a few pixels further forward so they look like they’re on their lap. Or other times small things like that just using the hug emote on people’s legs because they’re too short (lalafell again) and the taller other races doing whatever emote makes them kneel down close and look like they’re patting them.
It’s just so natural and how you really act and really see people being in these games that it makes the whole show much better for it. Not just more believable but a hell of a lot more enjoyable because it’s one of the only times you’ll see realistic MMO gaming from a television show. It’s endearing.
The story is about two main things, each one revolving around one of the two main characters while also being the main focus of both at the same time. The show starts off showing this very stereotypical salaryman of a father finally connecting with his son after one day getting him the original Final Fantasy and ending up hooked, secretly playing it at night before being caught by his son and bonding through their shared adventure. Eventually though he returns to being nothing but a worker who has no time for his family, tells his son to stop wasting time on video games and start studying more, and for years from then on loses all his ties with his son. We skip ahead to the present (I think like 10 years later) when the son now is employed as an up and coming salaryman selling printers or some shit and the dad is still just as disconnected from him as ever with the two never even talking to one another while living in the same house.
One day dad quits his job out of nowhere and finally the son decides to try and revitalize those bonds he once had with his father – and he does it through a “retirement gift” of a Playstation 4 and Final Fantasy XIV A Realm Reborn. His ultimate plan, “Dad of Light” (from the Hero of Light in the original), is to befriend his dad in the game anonymously and get to know him through that before, after completing the entire main story, revealing who he is to him after having grown very close as some random online friend. That’s the gist of the story and each episode follows that with some episodic flavor mixed in with drama that teaches a moral lesson like Japanese dramas tend to always do. For example learning that maybe the marital issues mom and dad are having are something they’ll work out on their own after decades of being married – which we learn thanks to a problem at work we’re tasked with fixing between two women who are usually the best of friends yet are now arguing severely and talking to our guildmates in the game.
Meanwhile, I won’t spoil the fairly obvious “twist” but the dad is trying to come to terms with certain things on his own as well, and he does so through the game and through his new friends he finds in the world of Eorzea – making the plan start successfully.
As I said, each episode is sort of a contained story focused on typical J-drama style situations that are about conveying things about family and morals because that’s just what J-drama do. The ones here are pretty typical and simple but because of that they’re resolved easily, quickly, and don’t make the show feel retarded for it – instead mostly being used to add a sort of direction to the ‘main’ plot of him and his dad instead of just milling about in the MMO having something at work helping progress his Dad of Light plan. Like learning that the women at work keep quitting because of something as stupid as the uniform being ugly and long-time employees not understanding what it’s like for people who are new anymore – and that situation being mirrored by his dad in the game and progressing the plot as he now is able to tackle it better and keep his dad from quitting.
The characterization of the dad and son is also done very well outside of the game, they both feel very genuine in their roles even when there’s some typical over-acting from the son (which you won’t even notice if you watch a lot of Japanese live action stuff anyway). They feel like family and they feel like who they’re meant to feel like, the dad does an especially good job with all of it and it’s clear a lot of effort was put into making these two very personable and easily relatable. So many moments really shine BECAUSE of those aspects too, like when the dad is so excited by a friend request (from the son, not that he knows it) that you feel so happy for him because he seems so honest about it like a little kid who just made his first friend at their new school. There’s also a lot of fun, especially thanks to the dad not knowing this is his son he’s talking to so sometimes he’s there going on about how fucking boring it was while he was out drinking earlier with him.
The show is also sadly, though probably good for people who want to spend less time with it but still want to watch it, only 24 minute length episodes – and there’s only 8 total. Well, 7 really, as episode 8 is about 18 minutes of recap and 6 minutes of a new short side-story about Aru (one of the more prominent guildmates in the main show). The short is fun and cute and even shows you Aru and her husband in person which was nice, but it just felt like a waste of a time slot. Maybe an entire show about smaller stories like that would be nice though and it really made me wonder how a live action .hack would work.
My biggest issue isn’t that it ended prematurely, but that the finale is a very quickly thrown together in the last minute very lame cliche – like it was rushed and had to be finished before episode 8 for some reason. I don’t want to spoil it because it’ll make the parts prior to it that were more meaningful worse for it, but at the same time I almost do want to spoil it for that same reason because as I’ve said before if the end of the journey is retarded then why take the journey in the first place? This time though I think it’s still worth getting to mostly because the length and the quality leading up to it, plus the ending itself is fine it’s just the way it’s presented that feels kinda shitty.
Even so, do I still recommend it? Absolutely, I had a lot of fun watching this and it was really interesting and enjoyable to see probably the closest thing in live action to mix a story in an MMO and outside of it and do it so completely correctly and realistically – plus it’s just a nice little touching story about a son and father trying to reconnect. If it were any longer and didn’t address the issues it has – maybe I’d feel differently – but it’s so short and accessible that it’s totally worth going through. This isn’t on par with something like Team Medical Dragon or GTO, but again the length and ease of watching it, plus the fun elements of the game and live action being used in good ways, makes for something enjoyable to spend a bit of time with. It’s way better than what is basically an overly extended advertisement should ever be especially in that it’s actually pretty touching at times and also has some pretty serious social commentary on Japanese working society and the damage it does to the nuclear family. I liked it a lot for what it was and I think most people, especially anyone whose spent time with MMOs will get a kick out of a lot of the more silly aspects and game parts at the very least.