Zodiark has ever been present in Final Fantasy XIV for as long as I can remember. I remember his name being dropped in the early days of A Realm Reborn a trait that subsequent expansions have only repeated. With the recent announcement of Endwalker, the final Expansion for the Hydealyn and Zodiark story (Though not of XIV itself) I think now is the time for me to put a theory I’ve been dwelling on for a long time out there.
My hypothesis is that Zodiark is not the all-consuming creature of chaos and evil that we have been told he is. Instead, I think that he is if not, a benevolent entity – a creature with the potential for both. Let me tell you why. But before we can talk about Zodiark, I think it is prudent to look at his opposite…
Hydealyn, The Mother Crystal
Hydealyn is the first deity we meet in A Realm Reborn. Her introduction comes with every player’s very first step into A Realm Reborn with her echoed command “Hear, Feel, Think” accompanied by our first view of the dark-robed ascian and our chosen Job level 50 Artifact gear. Our first sight of Hydealyns “physical” form comes after the first major story challenge and the acquisition of our first crystal of light. Drawn into a dream sequence, Hydealyn yet again speaks directly to us.
I am Hydealyn. All made one.
A Light there once was that shone throughout this realm… yet it hath since grown dim.
And as it hath faltered, so hath Darkness risen up in is stead, presaging an end to Life.
For the sake of all, I beseech thee: deliver us from this fate!
The power to banish the Darkness dwelleth in the Crystals of Light. Journey forth and lay claim to them.
By thy deeds shall the Crystals reveal themselves to thee.
Only believe, for the light liveth in thy heart.
Go now, my child, and shine thy Light on all creation.”
What is interesting about this exchange is not that it sets our journey up, but rather that as of the Shadowbringers patch 5.4 we know it contains blatant lies. The first that the “light hath grown dim.” Second that the “darkness that has risen up in its stead, presaging an end to Life.” The first is the easiest to discern as a lie, as we know that “Light Aether” is simply an elemental pole. While the second heralding that darkness desires an end to life is arguably not true. We know that the Ascians actually desire a rejoining to resurrect Zodiark in order to exchange the souls that were sacrificed in his creation with the souls of the new life that have grown following his reshaping of creation. The other curious thing to note about this entrance is the line that says “All made one.” This can be taken as meaning two things. First that Hydealyn made everything and is a divine deity that created Eorzea. Second, that she actually means she is the twelve ancients who summoned her merged into one being.
As we Journey through A Realm Reborn, we hear the voice of Hydealyn many times, culminating in her timely intervention when we face Lahabrea, Gaius and The Ultima Weapon in the Praetorium. It is said that Hydealyn shields us from Lahabrea’s casting of Ultima, the blast that decimates the Praetorium, reducing it to a smoking ruin. I cannot help but wonder if that is true given the animation that plays when we receive a crystal of light – but that is a topic for another day. From this moment, we do not hear another word from Hydealyn directly, something that even Minfilia comments on. A simple explanation could be that Midgardsormr blocked our access to her when he blocks off the blessing of light, but that happens In patch 2.5 so her silence stretches long before then. Looking back now it is the first indication that things are not what they seem. Her silence stretches all the way through Heavensward right up to patch 3.2 where we meet Minilia once again. This meeting reveals as much as it obscures and is the first time we learn of another side to Hydealyn and her “benevolence.” It is also where her greatest lie is told.
The revelation in 3.2 is the first sign that Hydealyn is not what she appears to be. Our reunion with “Minfilia” now known as the Word of the Mother comes as a shock and a resolution to her disappearance at the end of A Realm Reborn. The conversation that plays out between the Word of the Mother and the player is exposition-heavy but is needed.
“Through Time and space, hast thou journeyed unto me… as I knew thou wouldst. We are the Word of the Mother. We who were once called “Minfilia.” Much time hath passed for thee, since the bloody banquet. Since… since I harkened to her word. Mother… Hydealyn guided me… towards Y’shtola and Thancred, that I might be swept up in their Flow.. and delivered unto the Aetherial Sea… There, adrift and alone, Her voice silent once more, I prayed… For those, we have lost. For those, we can yet save. To her, I would make an offering… We speak now with one Voice. One Will. Unto thee we bequeath the most precious of gifts: The truth which lieth at the heart of this world. Thus do we beseech thee once more…. hear …. Feel… Think… Before there was life, in the depths of the aetherial sea, Light and Dark did once dwell as one. But the Darkness coveted power and the balance was broken. Thus was I forced to banish Him until the distant heavens, to forever remain apart. A moon bound. In sundering the star did we cry out, and the barriers ‘twixt planes chance to falter. Across ten and three were we then divided. Reflections of the Source, each possessed of a shard. Zodiark longeth to be made whole. For His restoration, for His Resurrection, His servants labour without cease. They seek to tear down the barriers which surround the Source. Thus do they rejoice in their Ardor – in your calamities – for each marks a rejoining. Seven times have they succeeded. Seven times hath the darkness grown stronger. Seven times have I failed. The Ascians cannot be suffered to continue. This…this is my final…”
The first curious thing about this meeting is the dialect that Word of the Mother uses – it is a combination of old English and a far cry from how Minfilia spoke. Her explanation of how she came to be the Word of the Mother is plausible, but I cannot help but think there is something odd about it. She directed Minfilia to the Aetherial sea and then left her adrift and alone while Minfilia Prayed? We are told that Minfilia made Hydealyn an offering and it is implied that it was Minfilia’s body and soul… but the details are omitted and instead we are told that Hydealyn and Minfilia both speak with one word and one voice something that sounds ominously close to the effect to tempering- where the will of the primal is imprinted on the tempered bending their will to the same aim. We are then told that the information we are being told is “the most precious of gifts: The truth which lieth at the heart of the world.” While Initially, this comes as no surprise to find that Zodiark is and was the aggressor, the Ascians have ever been the manipulators from the shadows both in A Realm Reborn and Heavensward, but there is something about the scene that always seemed off, that felt a little too convenient. It took me a long time to figure out that the thing that was off was the Word of the Mother herself. Her mannerisms, fatalistic posturing are all completely alien nothing like Minfilia at all as though all we see is a Simulacrum of Minfilia with the mind of Hydealyn. Not unsurprising given the two have effectively merged but still something to note. At th end of the encounter, rather conveniently the Word of the Mother begins to falter, to struggle with words. She states she will send us back to the shore of the Aetherial sea, that the power of the crystal is spent, before her visage shatters entirely, leaving our character confused in the uppermost (or perhaps lowermost?) confines of the Antitower. The abrupt ending of the meeting lends a sense of credence to the notion that Hydealyn used all of her power during the encounter with the Ultima Weapon… and yet, I find that explanation somewhat odd. The crystal of Hydealyn sits in the centre of the aetherial sea, a vast pool of Aether that seems to exist physically somewhere within the planet (or ethereally near to the planet.) We know that crystals and Aether are the bones of summoning and maintaining Primals and matter, the very building blocks of creation itself. If Hydealyn sits in the centre of the aetherial sea how could she possibly be powerless? My first thought is that the aetherial sea is empty, and the crystal drained, but if that were so, then teleportation into and from the aetherial sea would not be possible. Aetherytes function by creating a beacon for the aetherial form of matter to head to, traversing the aetherial seas to reach it. If the sea had dried up, logically teleportation would not be possible. When we consider the crystal, Hydealyn herself another oddity is exposed. Aetheric crystals for their part have a glow, which then dissipates once the crystal is spent, leaving the crystal to either break apart or as shown in Shadowbringers take on pastel or dulled hue. The Crystal of Hydealyn maintains a steady, pulsating glow, its appearance unchanged since its reveal in a Realm Reborn. If an answer is to be had it will not be found yet though.
Luckily for us it is not long before we journey back to the Aetherial sea, this time with the Scions and Warriors of Darkness, our passage paid for with a “bounty of light” from two shards.
“Such pain… such sorrow… Oh, my dear children… Your cries go not unheard… Nor your sacrifices unnoticed… Though many are lost, there are those we can yet save… whom I can yet save… Blessed children of the First. The light of your wold hath grown blinding in its radiance, but it is not yet absolute. I will hie me to your world and there take unto myself the Light which riseth even now to drown it, as Darkness once did drown another.” – Minfilia, the Word of the Mother.
“Now you deign to answer our prayers!? I will suffer this farce no longer!” – Ardbert, Warrior of Darkness of the First.
“As the Ascians must serve as instruments of Zodiark’s will, so too must others carry out the will of Hydealyn. But for the boon you have granted her, she has grown strong enough to set me free, that I might serve as Her emissary. Your suffering, your sacrifice, your supplications – She has heard all. We will not let the First fall to Light. “- Minfilia, the Word of the Mother.
There are a couple of things that seem curious in this cutscene. First that the Word of the Mother is referred to as Minfilia a direct break from the convention used in the 3.2 cut scene. Her characterisation changes throughout her dialogue. First appearing to speak as the Word of the Mother, only to later refer to herself as both “I” and “We”. Though the “we” could just be summary of both of their intentions. Her callous approach to the use of people to serve her will and the “she has grown strong enough to set me free” further emphasize the sense that she is not as she appears. Would a benevolent goddess take the life, soul and body of a mortal even if it is given freely? I would have to say no. The line around “setting free” when paired with the revelations from the 3.2 cutscenes suggests at least to me that Minfilia was forced, Urianger makes reference to it being what Minfilia wanted, but this is an assumption from his perspective and never outright confirmed by Minfilia who only offers a nod. Going back to the conflicting representation of Minfilia, I cannot help but notice that initially, she speaks in the odd dialect of the Word of the Mother, and yet at the end of the scene seems to be the “Old Minfilia.”
By far the most noteworthy thing in the cutscene is Ardbert, here referred to only as the “Warrior of Darkness,” he reacts angrily to Minfilia’s first appearance and words, outraged that Hydealyn did not respond to their pleas, choosing to attack Minfilia. Just before his strike lands, Minfilia stops him with a raised hand.
From the moment she blocks him, he freezes in place, held by blinding white-blue aether. He says nothing more for quite some time, instead, seeming to listen to her words. Though initially, the scene did not seem strange in my mind, in retrospect it does. Ardbert was by far the most vocal, the most frustrated and the most desperate of the Warriors of Darkness, his world is being erased and he’s fighting to save it. While it is not impossible for him to simply stop after his outburst to listen, the visceral emotion he feels, should still show, or at the very least some suspicion. Yet he readily laps up the words Hydealyn gives him, his emotions seeming blank.
When he ultimately steps down, he says nothing, and instead looks down at the ground almost as though in a trance. The emotion he had displayed moments ago is gone and though he does snap out of his trance moments later, I can’t help but feel something happened in those small moments while we were distracted by Hydealyn-Minfilias words. It is my belief that at this moment, Hydealyn tempered Ardbert via Minfilia. It is the only explanation I could think of given the sudden change of emotional state in correlation to the scene depictions. Luckily we have multiple examples now of tempering and looking back at these cutscenes, there are quite a few similarities. From Ifrit to Lakhsmi to a certain primal present in some 5.X series content – whenever a person is tempered, it is depicted as a blue-white glow – with Ifrit the tempering fire was specifically blue, while all the other fire he produces are red, with Lakshmi and the unnamed 5.x primal, tempering was accompanied by a blue tint to the eyes and the tempering “touch.” All in all its lends credence to the notion that Ardbert was tempered in front of us. It has to be said that Ardbert does speak a few more times in the cutscene, he asks the “servant of Hydealyn” to take him and the Warriors of Darkness home to the First. He then, before departing with Minfilia offers us some advice.
This was the last time we hear from Hydealyn, and though we later encounter Minfilia in the First during 5.0 it is Emet Selch’s revelations in the Qitana Revel and Elidibus’ revelations during 5.2 that change our perspective…
Zodiark, while existing and being named since A Realm Reborn, has never truly made an appearance in Final Fantasy XIV. However, while has not been seen, he has been discussed multiple times and we three distinct hints to his appearance: The statue that can be seen on Hades’ Staff in the trial The Dying Gasp, in the background of the Chrysalis trial and the dungeon Akadaemia Anyder. A wall painting depicting a stylised appearance and a Shadowbringers Main story point can be found within the Qitana Revel and finally, the Endwalker art by Amano.
While all three depictions differ somewhat, they overall do give an impression of what Zodiark looks like. There is something curious about the Amano art, but I will explore that later on. First I would look back at what we know of Zodiark. The journey from A Realm Reborn to Shadowbringers has been long, and throughout it Zodiark has been a shadow attributed as the mastermind behind the actions of the Ascians. But coming to the closing chapter of Shadowbringers some of the revelations have cast doubt on the narrative that was originally built. We know that Zodiark was originally summoned by the Amourteans to save the world from a Calamity known only as the noise that caused their creations magicks to go awry, creating nightmarish monsters and burning the planet. Zodiark was summoned by the convocation of fourteen, albeit with the absence of the fourteenth seat, Azem who had opposed his creation. The intent was to use Zodiark to rewrite the rules of creation and to this end, half of the Amourtians sacrificed themselves to the creation of Zodiark. While on the surface this would seem an evil act, it is stated by Emet Selch that this was willingly done to save the other half. Elidibus, a soul who was almost obsessed by duty was among those sacrificed, choosing to become Zodiarks heart. At some point, due to the continued divide between the Amourtean people, Elidiibus withdrew himself from within Zodiark to become the primal Entity Elidibus, it is not known when this occurred. But Elidibus’ role was reconcilliation, so one can summise that for a time after Zodiark was summoned, the Amourteans rebuilt at least some of what was lost and functioned as a society once more. At some point the planet had recovered enough for new life to have developed and the convocation concieved the notion to sacrifice this new life to recover the souls of those who original formed Zodiark. This is where Zodiark begins to mute from saviour to evil – however, it is not ever given what Zodiark’s will would be and whether he would agree to do this. Before the plan could go ahead, Venar and her followers summoned Hydealyn who after after a long battle shattered Zodiark and the source and bound him to the heavens as the moon. What is curious is that as we play through the story of Final Fantasy XIV – we never hear zodiark directly. he never appears in a scene, he never speaks. All actions that are attributed to him, are in fact taken by the ascians and if Emet Selch, Elidibus and Lahabrea are anything to go by the long years of their life have taken an exorable toll on their mental faculties. In Lahabrea this is depicted at his body hopping and desperation to restore Zodiark. Emet Selch, had little care for anything beyond restoring the souls that were sacrificed, the weight of which is physically crushing him. Elidibus, is the curious case, he is a primal form of the original who has lost much of his memory, his purpose. He is driven by the desire for reconcilliation and serves to keep the balance in the status quo. A curious endevour. Fundementally the point is that none of the actions of Zodiark seem to be mandated by him, but rather are attributed to Zodiark because of the fervant desires of the Ascians themselves. This is further compounded by the recent motifs within the 5.x and Endwalker trailers. The moon is depicted as glowing an eerie yellow. At first it seemed forboding and in the context of where it appears, seems to indicate that Zodiark is awakening to usher in the end…. and yet, it is no coicindence that in the endwalker trailer, the allied forces are bathed in moonlight, as they strike at the conjured forces of Fandaniel. It could merely be circumstancial, but, it is a motif that has slowly been introduced as the story unfolds from patch 5.4 onwards.
Zodiark: The Amano art and what it suggests
Accompanying endwalker, is a curious piece of art by Final fantasy master Yoshitaka Amano.
At first glance, the Amano Depiction of Zodiark and Hydealyn gives us a standard look of Light vs Dark, Good vs Evil. Hydealyn takes the visage of a benevolant goddess, while Zodiark is utterly demonic. They both exist as separate poles around twin orbs, that could easily be seen as the planet and its moons. But looking again, it is readily apparent that something is a amis with this reading. Looking at Hydealyn, what I first thought of as her hair, i realised could easily be pathways of energy. She brandishes a staff in a pose that almost seems to suggest she is drawing it away. The expression on her face while at first glance seemed to be beneovlent on second glance seemed to me be a little vindictive.
Looking at Zodiark, at first he has the appearance of what we have come to expect a moster of chaos and darkness with a demonic form, however looking again and it is easy to glean a differnt take. His expression can be seen as terrified and juxtaposed agianst Hydealyn, it is suddenly very easy to discern a different story all together.
His demonic form suddenly seemed less so, instead perhaps the emaciated form of a diety drained of his essence? curious still is how blue flecks of power seem to leave his mouth, and the wound on his cheek. Hydealyn holding a staff suddenly seems a bit sinister as does the look on her face. Whatever the meaning, its duality is perhaps a key to what is going on. Neither Hydealyn of Zodiark is solely depicted as good or evil. They are both and neither. We will have to wait until Endwalker to know the truth, but I certainly would not be surprised if Hydealyn and Zodiark are not everything we currently have been led to believe they are and I for one am looking forward to find out.