At first glance on a trip through Final Fantasy XIV
's cities, Gridania probably seems like the nicest city in Eorzea. Ul'dah always has the smile of a used car salesman, Limsa Lominsa stinks of fish and is full of pirates, Ishgard isn't welcoming even without the dragons, and Ala Mhigo sort of has a bad case of Garlean occupation. But Gridania is built in the middle of rather nice forest territory, and it doesn't seem to suffer from any of the power struggles or unfriendly residents that your other options have. Sure, the forest can be a bit tempermental, but it's a peaceful spot.
But as you may have guessed, it only looks that way until you actually spend some time there. Then you realize that the city is not nearly so welcoming as you initially thought -- it's a hotbed of activity, stuffed to the brim with spirits that do not necessarily have the best interests of adventurers or anyone else at heart. Gridania doesn't suffer the internal conflicts of the other cities, but that's mostly because the place is already being crushed too thoroughly by all of the external threats it has to face just to keep treading water.
The Black Shroud, the massive forest that contains Gridania, is what amounts to a refuge for spirits. Spirits of the land suffuse every tree, every rock, very space that you can tread. Tread carefully and with respect, and you'll be fine. But if you break part of the spirits' order, you're afflicted with something called the Greenwrath -- essentially a supernatural kill order for everything in the forest. That's why the Gridanians take care to appease and work with the spirits, with conjury and careful attentiveness.
It's also the reason why the seedseers rule the city. They look like nothing so much as humans with antlers, but they can commune with the spirits naturally. When you realize that the city is built upon a spiritual powderkeg, it makes sense to ensure that your government is based on defusing situations before they happen. Gridanian life is a theocracy not out of a deep-seated need for spirituality but a deep-seated need to not have the city torn to bits by vengeful treants.
Of course, spirits are the least of Gridania's problems these days, at least in terms of direct threats. See, it's also the closest city to Ala Mhigo in geographic terms, which means that it's got an enormous bullseye painted on it by the Garleans. If Imperial troops are going to take the rest of Eorzea, they're going to go through the Shroud. It's already happening, forcing the city's defensive troops to work overtime in quelling any possible incursions.
That's all bad enough in and of itself, but it's compounded by the fact that the Shroud's natural protective magics are being worn down by constant incursion. That's allowing the Ixali tribes to slip down from the highlands of Coerthas, setting up camps and slashing their way further into the forest. The Ixali couldn't care less about spirits or the natural order preserved in the Shroud; they want prey to hunt, land to take, and all the bounties of the forest... even if they keep killing the forest in the process.
See, all those spirits aren't just hanging around waiting to get mad at someone for breaking the rules. All of the life in the Shroud is part of the abundance of spirits. The city's core strengths depend on its being able to tend the spirits and the life around them carefully, to manage predators and prey, growth and cutback. With all of the constant incursions by those who don't care... even if the forest rose up to repel a Garlean force, there likely wouldn't be enough of a forest left afterward to sustain the city.
And the forest does sustain the city. Gridanian crafts work with living things, wood, and leather, while the city's botanists keep the wilds in check. The offensive arms of the city use wooden harpoons and finely crafted bows to keep travelers and residents safe. What keeps Gridania alive is the forest of the Black Shroud, and the citizens are in danger of losing that.
The Order of the Twin Adder aims to avoid the seemingly inevitable death of the forest, to push back the Garlean threat and keep the people safe. It's hard to imagine a figure more pure in intention than Kan-E-Senna, the seer who leads the order. Unfortunately for her and the Adders as a whole, the city is already fighting a defensive battle, and the other Grand Companies have their own agendas. The Adder isn't trying to wage a battle of dominion; it's just trying to wage a battle of security. But its commanders aren't stupid, and they can see full well that their allies may be with them only so long as the Garlean threat looms larger.
Gridania can't trust other nations to keep her safe. The Ul'dahns and the Lominsans would trample in just like the Ixali, take everything that they could lay hands on, and then leave. No, her defense must come from native hands. That means that the city is going to have to stand on its own or not at all.
Unfortunately, with all of this isolationism and all of these external threats, "not at all" is looking more and more likely. The city needs to overcome its emphasis on isolation and tradition if it's to have any chance of adapting to the new way of things. And if the Shroud is no more, the rest of Eorzea looks a great deal more vulnerable.
In short, Gridania is a great tree beset from all sides. Her roots stretch far, and her vitality is unmistakable, but apply too much pressure and all her might won't keep her from toppling.
As always, I'm eager to hear what you all think, so feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
or just by leaving a comment down below. Thus far, the response to the lore stuff has been very positive. Next week, I'm going to have the time to give my impressions of 1.21, so tune in then for what I imagine will be a mixture of jobs, chocobo barding, and some new accessories.
From Eorzea to Vana'diel, there is a constant: the moogles. And for analysis and opinions about the online portions of the Final Fantasy series, there is also a constant: The Mog Log. Longtime series fan Eliot Lefebvre serves up a new installment of the log every Saturday, covering almost anything related to Square-Enix's vibrant online worlds.