FFXIV Valentine’s event is the self-love letter I needed growing up

The 2023 iteration of the FFXIV Valentine’s event is anything but cringy love hearts; it’s a story of self-love that we need to see more of in the MMO world.

Two Final Fantasy characters; a female with pink hair and bunny ears leans on a tall draconic man in heavy black armour

I hate Valentine’s Day. Every year it’s some overly cringy Hallmark expression of ‘love’ that equates real human feelings to gifts, love hearts, chocolates, and absolutely dreadful romantic comedies. Even the best PC games have been lured into this sugar-coated, rose-tinted world, offering a vast array of different Valentine’s cosmetics for players to pick up to twin with their in-game crush. This year, though, the FFXIV Valentine’s event finally broke that mould.

Entitled ‘To Thine Own Love Be True,’ players can pick up the quest amid the pines of the magical Gridania, where you’ll encounter Lisette de Valentoine (ha ha), an obscure Elzen woman who hails from the mysterious realm of Ishgard. We’ve met her dozens of times before, but she quickly unveils that this year’s Valentoine’s proceedings are to be led by her young protégé, Astrid, and her sister, Emilie, who are both eager to live up to Lisette’s expectations.

It quickly becomes apparent, however, that both girls aren’t happy playing their respective roles. Emilie, dressed in a dapper suit, would rather be performing in Astrid’s stead; the pretty attendant adorned in ruffles. After being called dashing, handsome, and all things masculine, she returns to her sister to discuss the matter, where they both decide to switch outfits and are, in turn, much happier.

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Sure, it’s a tiny seasonal quest in an MMORPG, but throughout the whole proceedings (which I played alongside my partner, by the way) I couldn’t help but smile. It was reminiscent of the first time I ever watched Frozen – there’s no typical ‘boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love and run off into blue yonder’ story here – it’s a tale of self-love, and why you should never sacrifice loving yourself to fit in with the world around you.

I grew up as an only child and went to an all-girls high school. While the other girls liked to paint their nails (against the school’s rules, by the way) and talk about boys, I preferred to kick back, play Dragon Age (or any other dragon game) and think about romancing Morrigan – the very same character who I have adopted as my virtual namesake today.

When I hit those turbulent teenage years, however, I binned all of my gaming-related clothing to try and fit in. I wanted a black prom dress; in reality I went for a blue one. I wanted to wear my eyeliner; instead I went for soft, smoky eyes. That continued into my university life, where I wore a cream flowery shirt to my first lecture and hated every minute of it.

A tall woman with pink and white hair with rabbit ears listens as two smaller girls wearing a suit and flamboyant outfit discuss switching clothes

But why did I do all of that? The answer’s pretty simple, isn’t it? I didn’t love myself. At school I was taught to fit in and be a good Christian kid who would marry an upper-class straight man and live happily ever after. I buried my infatuation for women, non-binary people, and trans men and women – partly because I had never been told that the latter two even existed.

When I was growing up, videogames didn’t deal with ‘real life issues’ in the same ways as the likes of Life is Strange or The Last of Us. There was no FFXIV Valentoine’s event back then to tell me that, actually, if I wanted to wear a suit to prom, that was okay; that if I enjoyed wearing more masculine clothing over traditional feminine garb, that was okay. Younger me needed an event like this – in many ways current me did, too, because it’s so easy for me to default to my ‘fit in and be fine’ programming instead of actually being myself.

Would a simple quest have changed my entire childhood life? Probably not – but equally, wanting to romance Morrigan did inform me that I was, indeed, not quite as straight-edged as I thought I was. The smallest stones can create the most impressive ripples, and perhaps young Lauren would have realised that being yourself is the best expression of self-love; even if just for a few hours.

Two elf girls with pink hair look at a brown, white, and black frilly dress with concern

I truly believe games these days are an enriching experience. They’re virtual worlds that can shape lives for the better, and Square Enix achieved this and more with To Thine Own Love Be True. It’s a short, meaningful event with cute rewards and a relationship-testing Valentoine’s instance that is a fun yet meaningful way to celebrate the season.

I’m in a relationship with a wonderful man, who loves me unconditionally for who I am. Looking back at the past, I can confidently say that I am so much happier now having learned to just be Lauren and be loved as Lauren. Do I still hate Valentine’s? Oh yes, absolutely, but this year Square Enix made it just that little bit more bearable – only a little bit though, don’t go telling people I’m Cupid.