How Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker helped me through my dog’s death

The themes of the latest Final Fantasy XIV expansion hit much closer to home than I'd expected

Final Fantasy XIV Dragoon

There’s a short scene in the latter half of Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker that’s resonated with me more than pretty much any other in the hundreds of hours-long MMORPG.

*Warning: This piece contains spoilers for all of Final Fantasy XIV through Endwalker*

Your player character, the Warrior of Light, travels to a mysterious facility called Elpis to uncover information critical to stopping an impending apocalypse known as The Final Days. There, you meet an assortment of characters, including Hermes, an inquisitive and kind scholar who proves pivotal to the larger story. In one quest, you come across him fighting a rabid beast and dealing it a fatal blow. But instead of portraying this as some act of badassery, developer Creative Business Unit III (CBU III) frames it all as a tragic event.

Final Fantasy XIV Hermes with monsterAs the creature slumps over, Hermes crouches down, lays his hand on its head, and immediately begs for forgiveness. Composing himself, he offers a string of consoling words to the dying beast to the tune of a tender piano piece by maestro Masayoshi Soken. “Lay down your burdens. Be born anew. Fly high. Fly free,” concludes Hermes, before the creature’s spirit dissipates into the aether, leaving the young man to hang his head in mourning.

On its own, it’s a powerful moment, feeding into Endwalker‘s broader philosophical ruminations on the meaning of life while showing us the strength of Hermes’ character. But for me, it also hit extremely close to home when I first witnessed it in June as I was then preparing to put down my dog, Bonnie. I’d only been a few days into Endwalker when we’d learned just how much her health had declined, and that recontextualized the whole game for me.

Now, I realized I wasn’t just about to close the book on my nearly 10-year on-and-off XIV journey; I was preparing to say goodbye to a companion I’d had for almost half my life. As an introverted single child, I grew particularly close to Bonnie, especially since it was always just my mum and me otherwise. I’ll always remember the day we got her; I was an angsty 11th grader having a rough time at school and running late for my first job interview because the cab never showed. Eventually, my mum came to get me, and there she was with this adorable little Cavachon puppy, just melting my heart and making everything better. In the 12 years that followed, Bonnie proved to be a similar source of comfort in my darkest and loneliest times. Sure, she wasn’t the most behaved of dogs, a separation anxiety-ridden pup who got decidedly angry whenever we left home. But still, she was ours, and she was so very loved.


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Naturally, then, Hermes putting down this creature came to mind when, just a few days later, we had a mobile vet come to our home to do the same for Bonnie. This was definitely the toughest day of my life so far. After all, I’m aware that I’ve been fortunate to have never dealt with the death of a loved one until this point. I’ve certainly lamented the lack of major relationships in my life, but I haven’t actually experienced the inevitable sadness of loss, only seen it through bereaved friends. So yeah, it was definitely rough, especially when it pertains to a suffering loved one.

The timing of all of this was also admittedly quite strange. I’d been preparing to head to LA for Summer Game Fest, which I was incredibly excited and honoured to be attending. The flight was booked for June 7th, the day after we put Bonnie down. Considering that industry-wide gathering only comes once a year, I’d planned to make the most of it by booking a slew of appointments and mixers with various companies. Now, though, I was starting to dread being around so many people, now, of all times — an already tricky prospect for someone inherently socially awkward. Suffice it to say that I was a mess of many different emotions.

But alas, the trip was to go on, and so after working a bit that same day, I spent the rest of my time on Endwalker. After all, my goal had long been to finish the expansion before Final Fantasy XVI, CBU III’s next game, and I didn’t want to just sit around moping. At this point in the story, things had gotten extremely dark — bleak, even. The Final Days were here, and hope was pretty much all lost. The Warrior of Light, along with his Scion allies, had witnessed so much pain and loss — so many harrowing moments in which you watch as entire cities crumbled and families be torn apart. Not exactly uplifting, but hey, I was already sad, so I pressed on.

And boy, I’m so glad I did. As miserable as that subject matter might sound, one of XIV‘s greatest strengths has always been in the quiet moments of respite between all of the conflicts. The Warrior of Light and Scions sharing a lighthearted meal before a big battle… Estinien, the stern, once hate-filled dragoon opening up and warmly expressing his gratitude for how the Scions saved his soul… The unflinching know-it-all Urianger breaking down and embracing the parents of a loved one… Getting to slowly bond with an earlier Emet-Selch, the villain of the previous expansion, and further empathize with him. Those emotionally-charged moments of humanity are why Final Fantasy is my favourite series, and nowhere is that more apparent than in XIV.

This all culminates in a final gauntlet towards the final boss, the nihilistic construct Meteion, during which the Scions’ numbers start to dwindle. Eventually, you’re all alone facing what she’s become, this higher being known as the Endsinger, whose name is pretty self-explanatory. It’s here that Endwalker does that thing that many other games have done — you know, where your character’s walking speed comes to an almost painful crawl for dramatic effect — to force you to gaze into echoes of people and civilizations past. But this is easily my favourite use of this game design technique to date, serving as a haunting epitaph to everyone who’s fallen all the way, with the soulful ballad “Close in the Distance” playing as you slowly proceed. On a deeper level, though, it had me reflecting on my grief over Bonnie — really, truly, soaking it in. While I wasn’t dealing with a cataclysmic event, I still felt, more so than ever, like I was embodying what the Warrior of Light would have been feeling here.

Final Fantasy XIV Dragoon final battleOf course, it was pretty clear the game was building up to an Avengers: Endgame-style “the cavalry arrives!” moment, and sure enough, the Scions do return for a grand finale to literally and figuratively lend you their strength. Was this a pretty classic anime “my friends are my power!” kind of moment? No doubt, but it was also exactly what I needed then. After everything the Warrior of Light and his friends had endured throughout the base campaign and four expansions, they’re all here, together, still standing. And because this is an MMO, this final boss fight is a Duty, so you have to call in other human players to join you in the battle, further adding to the feeling of companionship. Through this, what might have been a typical “fight God” JRPG ending became something much more profound — empowering, even.

And by the time you save the day to the tune of another god-tier Soken piece, you feel invincible. The game even conveys ths through one last fight against Zenos, a once fearsome and insurmountable threat. Before, the unwinnable fights were against him; now, it’s you who can’t actually lose — you’re simply revived upon HP depletion. It’s the ultimate power fantasy, a just reward for everything you’ve beaten to get to this point. What’s more, it was the perfect exemplification of gaming’s unique prowess as a means for both role-playing and long-form storytelling. This wasn’t just any character persevering through the darkness — this was my Warrior of Light. This was my Dragoon, styled and named after Final Fantasy VII‘s Zack Fair, who embarked on this sprawling, expansive journey and, with the help of some truly incredible characters, came out the other end. By the time the final cutscenes play and the credits roll, I found myself in tears over the long adventure I’d be on with this cast.


On a base level, a great game was the perfect way to take my mind off the events of the past few days. But at this point, it was an important reminder for me there and then that the good only comes with the bad — that there’s meaning and beauty and strength to be found in putting yourself out there, even when you feel at your lowest. Having beaten Endwalker literally eight hours before my flight to LA, I had these feelings fresh in my mind as I left home — eerily empty now without Bonnie — for a busy week.

It’s exactly the sort of encouragement I needed. I’ll cherish the days that followed because I had so many wonderful opportunities that I hadn’t previously thought I was ready to take on. I got to hang out and meet so many cool people, from the fine Canadian folks at CGM to content creators I admire like Kinda Funny. I got to be there live for the grand reveal of Final Fantasy VII Rebirth gameplay. I got to speak with countless developers whose work I find inspiring, including XIV director Naoki Yoshida and localization director Christopher-Michael Koji Fox, and express how much Endwalker meant to me. I even got to attend the Final Fantasy XVI pre-launch event, interview some of the delightful cast and then, later, gush about FF with XVI‘s incredible lead, Ben Starr.

Weeks later, the second part of Soken’s triumphant Endwalker final boss theme, “With Hearts Aligned,” pumps me up so much, because it reminds me of how rousing the whole experience ended up being. Like the Warrior of Light, it makes you feel like you can take on anything. His heartfelt piano piece, “Each Drop,” will now always remind me of my final moments with my dog, given when I first heard it, while “With Hearts Aligned” marks the time after her passing. Truly, Soken is an absolute musical mastermind, God bless his heart.

Since I first wrote about FFXIV years ago, I’ve always planned to pen a follow-up piece after I’d beaten Endwalker. I knew I’d like it — I already really enjoyed the base game, warts and all, and heard it would only greatly improve. And sure enough, it was pretty much everything I’d hoped for. But what I couldn’t have predicted, of course, is just how much I’d relate to the themes of Endwalker. For me, Endwalker proved consoling when I was going through my first-ever loss. For others, who might be struggling with mental health issues or other depressing circumstances, it’s easy to see how Endwalker helped them in those battles.

Just like I will with Bonnie, I’m going to carry the memories of my entire XIV saga with me forever, so powerful and moving of an experience it proved to be. Lay down your burdens. Be born anew. Fly high. Fly free.

Image credit: Square Enix/Brad Shankar