The Lore Train: Nael in the Coffin

In Featured, Final Fantasy XIV by Anwyll

At Fan Festival 2016 Tokyo, our JP team caught up with Michael-Christopher Koji Fox about the Encyclopædia Eorzea, The Primals, and more. You may have noticed a question about an incendiary topic: the ever-evolving backstory of Eula aka-Nael-but-totally-not-Nael van Darnus. Koji got back to us with a follow-up shortly after, and we think it puts that final nail in two coffins.

First things first: Have you checked out Lorecast 8? You should check out Lorecast 8! This Lore Train is but a treatise on one topic from a largerand more entertaininginterview. However, debates about discrepancies surrounding Darnus(es) have raged overlong; this must needs be done.

The exact phrasing of our question on the topic was as follows:

Now that there is an end-all, be-all, final truth on the matter. Do you have any comment about how the backstory unfolded along the way? Fans are speculating about the causes of the discrepancies, but we know how accurate speculation can be…

Live, Koji was able to focus on the in-world perspective. How did these discrepancies arise? Why was Darnus always called a man in 1.0? When the helmet came off in 2.2, why did Urianger try explain it away rather than helping us embrace the truth? Why so much uncertainty?

Because Eula was that godsdamned good, that’s why! Garlemald was fooled. Eorzea was fooled. The VIIth Imperial Legion was fooled. Gaius van Baelsar and the Circle of Knowing were fooled. The players, the Lodestone, and members of dev. team were all fooled!

The out-of-world side of the story is more complex, of course. Depending on the year and sources, the hints players were working with were all over the place.

An abbreviated list of debate fuel:

  • Nael’s 2012 game data was programmed with male features, male emotes, and a male voice (battle grunts, emote sound effects). All references made to Nael at this time are in the masculine.
  • In retrospect, some felt that the 1.0 Japanese client seemed to often (but not exclusively) avoid assigning gendered pronouns to Nael.
  • In 2013, Rise & Fall of the White Raven was confirmed as an accurate representation of the canon.
  • In the Second Coil of Bahamut, the different languages handled the situation very differently. In English, Urianger speculated Nael’s female form was a mistake made by Bahamut during the legatus’s resurrection. In Japanese, Nael seemed to explicitly say that she “was once a weak little girl”.

かつて……弱き少女であった余が、そうであったように……。

  • At Fan Festival 2014, a player asked Yoshida-san about it during a VIP event and he seemed to support the clean-up seen in English, saying Nael was: “Man. Always man.”
  • Finally, the 2016 lore book goes the opposite direction, revealing that the true Nael van Darnus had died many years ago, victim to an ill-fated mission ordered by his then-legatus father. Mad with grief, Nael’s sister Eula assassinated their father (and later the servants of their house), taking her revenge, her father’s position, and her brother’s identity in one fell swoop. From the very rise of the White Raven, it was Eula all along.

After the interview, Koji was able to catch up with World Lore Creator Banri Oda-san, and together they provided the following joint statement as an out-of world addendum:

Story-wise, Nael was introduced (all the way back in 1.x) as a male character. This was not something specific to the localized versions.

As the Japanese language is not as tightly bound to gender pronouns as are EN, FR, and DE, there are far fewer instances of Nael being referred to as a male in the JP version. This does NOT mean, however, that such instances are non-existent. For example, on Nael van Darnus’s introductory page on the official FFXIV website, you can find the following:

彼が推し進める「メテオ計劃」なる作戦は、やがてエオルゼアに「第七霊災」を招くことに……

That first kanji character ”彼“ is “kare,” or the gender pronoun “he.”

For all intents and purposes, Nael is, and always will be, a male character. He was born male and died male. But then entered Eula, who was not ready to let the world know the truth, and concocted a plan to fool the entire world (including the Garleans themselves).

…And she would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for you meddling kids!

Coming from a team to whom the word retcon is blasphemy, that’s about as close as it gets to “development happens”. Nael was introduced as a male character, period. That it was Eula all along came into being later, period. No version-transcending agenda, no great localization error, no grand clean-up conspira, actually, maybe a little of that last one…

Tempted to call it a retcon, anyway? Out-of-world, that’s arguably fair; especially if you followed events and comments between 2012 and 2015. But nothing in-world ever promised that Eorzeans’ assumptions were correct, or that the Garleans knew any better, or that Urianger’s suppositions were accurate. The discrepancies we noticed out-of-world were hints of development in progress, and by failing to keep them separate from in-world hints when only the former was in flux, we helped exacerbate the mess.

For how often Square Enix’s relatively newfound openness and communication have worked out for the better, I’m not eager to see this become a counter-example. There’s a reason they often lean on that [Content Under developmentDetails Subject to Change] label, it just can’t be plastered on things retroactively or in the middle of an unanticipated statement. (Maybe we can get some t-shirts made.)

So, yes. Darnus’s backstory has been reupholstered. Yes, if you look closely enough, you can see some stitching. And yes, that the Eorzean authors of the lore book mysteriously have this knowledge is suspicious. However, (in my humble opinion,) the fact they were able to make the reupholstery wrap convincingly around truths that differed by year (and committed to finding a way to do so at all) is more than a counterbalance. The sacrifices are a trivial price for Truth and closure, at this point. What has been confirmed here is all we really need to know. Development happened, development stumbled, we stumbled, development found its balance.

How did Eula manage it? No one had any circumstance to see Nael in anything but full plate? Every accounted hour of every day of every deployment? Never a medical examination? Never call for ceremonial dress? How, indeedbecause one thing is now absolute: she pulled it off. Disguises, subterfuge, bribes, threats, violence; we are left to draw our own conclusions as to how the secret was kept. But Nael was Nael, Eula was Eula, and when it came time to assume which a suit of armor represented and when, it went off the rails both in-world and out. She was that good.

I, for one, am ready to leave it at that.

Requiesce in pace, House Darnus.