By Anthony “LibrariaNPC” DeMinico, 23 January 2019
Any game with a solid setting is worth its weight in gold, in my opinion. When there’s enough to make the world feel alive, full, and nuanced enough to require study, I can’t help but love it even more. This is the very line of thought that urged me to pick up the Hyrule Historia years ago, and after playing Final Fantasy XIV for the last year, I decided to jump at picking up the reprinted first volume, as well as the newly released second volume, of the Encyclopedia Eorzea.
The Encyclopedia Eorzea is an attempt to compile the information of the world of Final Fantasy XIV, focusing on Eorzea, the part of the world most of the game takes place within. Within these pages, we are presented with a plethora of setting information, from her history to her religions, her peoples and her nations, and of course, the challenges that face her adventurers.
==What You Get==
At this moment, there are two volumes of the Encyclopedia Eorzea. The first volumes is comprised of the information in A Realm Reborn and through its first expansion, Heavensward, while the second volume expands this through the content of Stormblood, the most recently released expansion.
Each of the books spans 303 pages, is a hardcover with an image of Hydalean, the mothercrystal, placed in the center, with accents in black and gold. Each copy of the book also includes a limited-time code for an in-game item: a minion in the first volume, and an NPC’s hat for the second.
I’ll start off by saying that the quality of the book is better than I expected. The pages have a nice feel to them, and they are not glossy, making it easier to read regardless of lighting. The pages also are designed to have that parchment-like look, which adds to the feel instead of detracting, as the font colors are bold enough to stand out.
In the same vein, the artwork is truly lovely. When we aren’t getting screenshots (more on that later), we are presented with the sort of detailed art we are used to seeing in the old manuals and guides, as well as related artbooks. The artwork is precisely the type I would expect from a Final Fantasy product, and I find myself loving it all the more for it; character class artwork is reminiscent of the work of Yoshitaka Amano, monster designs are lovingly detailed, and other art just adds to the feel of a legend in action.
But you’re not here to hear me wax poetic on artwork, so let’s get into the content.
One of the things these volumes absolutely deliver on is setting content. The first volume elaborates on each of the nation-states, the history of the realm as a whole (including the various Umbral and Astral eras, as well as the Allagan Empire), the various playable classes and races, the plethora of NPCs you’d meet, and even touches on the dungeons. While it’s not tremendously detailed, it does provide enough information to be worth the read; you get so much out of this, from background details to characters, names of their weapons, and even how societies (including the Garlean Empire) were founded and function.
On a related note, the book is a wonderful way to get caught back up on the story of the game. As it’s been a year and a half since the release of Stormblood, and three since Heavensward, long-time players may have difficulty remembering all of the different minor NPCs or subtle story nuances, so this is a great catch-up tool. Even though I only started the game a year ago, it was a good reminder for me about some of the major events that I don’t recall. By the end of Volume 2, you are entirely caught up to Patch 4.5, leading into the Ivalice raids in Stormblood.
While it’s not as in depth as a strategy guide, it is a nice armchair resource for the die-hard gamer. The book includes maps of each of the major nation-states, with notes and locations about NPCs and their related backgrounds. Again, not as in depth as a guide, but it’s useful as that refresher for old hands as well as being user friendly for new players, even though there are some spoilers scattered around.
In all honesty, my complaints about these books is relatively minor, with one major exception.
From the minor side, the simplest is the layout. While it is logically laid out if you are reading it from cover to cover, this layout approach doesn’t work well for anything with the word “encyclopedia” in the title. I feel that it comes off as a bit misleading, as we get some encyclopedia-entry worthy entries, but otherwise it’s more like a history book meets strategy guide and less an actual encyclopedia.
The books also flounder a bit about what they are trying to be. The books are simultaneously a player guide, an in-world reference material, and artbook. Sadly, it’s a bit difficult to find information (as they aren’t designated entries like an encyclopedia), and as there is a lack of an index, it’s even harder to find the things you may be looking for. As an artbook, it does flop as the majority of the images in the first volume are screenshots, while the rest of the artwork is either gorgeously done or shrunk down to fit into a designated spot, which detracts from the beauty of the work overall. This did improve in the second volume, as the majority of screenshots here were designated to NPCs, with even the images of dungeons being artwork instead of screenshots, but it doesn’t change that some of the artwork was minimized to fit into a designated spot.
Which brings me to the biggest issue: the font is tiny. While the font selection is readable (there are some exceptions with scrolls/documents that were “found”), the size of the font makes it almost unbearable at times. My eyes aren’t terrible when it comes to reading, but even I wanted to grab a magnifying glass. Even compared to a paperback book, the font is minuscule at best and unreadable at worst. I feel as though I’d need a screen magnifier (or a digital copy I could zoom with) in order to read this comfortably. It’s not an absolute deal breaker, but it does create issues for those who would consider buying it.
Upon scouring the realm for a proper answer, I’ve determined that the Encyclopedias Eorzea are worthy of 4 buns.
As a resource for a Final Fantasy XIV fan, you really can’t beat them. They consolidate the story, provide some beautiful art, expand the world in a way that’s not covered in the main story, and properly breathe life into the very land within the pages. The books act as a wonderful tool for new players looking to understand the world, or for an old hand trying to recap everything that’s happened so far before going into the next expansion in the coming year.
Sadly, the first volume suffers by an abundance of screenshots in lieu of designs or artwork, and while it was improved upon in the second volume, it is still an issue (especially when compared to similar works, such as the Hyrule Historia). The abysmally small font is a major detractor for me, as eye strain absolutely factors into my lack of desire to read every word within the books.
If you are enjoying the setting of Final Fantasy XIV, or are just a collector of material for the game, then you cannot go wrong with getting copies of the Encyclopedia Eorzea. If small fonts bother you, and screenshots feel like a cop-out when original art could have been used, then you’ll want to give this a pass.
The Encyclopedia Eorzea is available from the Square-Enix store for $49.99 per volume, and there are currently two volumes available at this time.