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We challenged Final Fantasy XIV fans to real-life Triple Triad matches to celebrate 10 years of the MMO


Final Fantasy XIV’s world of Eorzea is a utopia. Sure, there’s the looming threat of Garlean invasion and/or the possibility of world destruction throughout A Realm Reborn and its expansions – but on the plus side, almost everyone you meet is up for a round of cards.

Over the last quarter-century, Triple Triad has managed to escape its origins as a fun side minigame in Final Fantasy VIII to become a fully-fledged phenomenon in XIV. The Gold Saucer runs regular tournaments, random strangers are happy to be challenged to a match – often throwing in one or more of the game’s many variant rules (though Chaos can do one) – and might even give up one of their prized cards when defeated, with almost 400 to collect as of the game’s latest patches. Emphasis on the “might”: I dread to think of the hours spent replaying NPCs in the hope of a random drop as I filled out my collection.

I headed along to Final Fantasy’s London Fan Fest last month with a fetching deck of Triple Triad cards in hand. (Square Enix provided entrance and accommodation for the event.) Where better to try and live the dream of challenging random strangers to a card game, and learn more about the community that has fallen in love with the MMO in the 10 years since A Realm Reborn released?

Helping to realise my ambition of a card game utopia was Fan Fest’s loving recreation of A Realm Reborn’s diverse regions, from the lush greenery of Gridania to La Noscea’s blue coasts and Thanalan’s arid plains. I wandered between the impressively decorated zones in London’s ExCeL in search of players willing to face me in a quick match of Triple Triad, offering them one of the cards from the deck in the same way you’d win a new card from an NPC opponent in XIV. (In a baffling exception to Square Enix squeezing every drop of merch money from its flagship series, official Triple Triad decks can’t be bought – I opted for a gorgeously-illustrated fan-made set from Etsy maker Tobias Vyseri.)

My first opponent was Sam, who had travelled down from the forested realm of Nottingham for their first Fan Fest. Fittingly, I encountered them between the trees of Buscarron’s Druthers in the Black Shroud, one of several dedicated sanctuary areas for simply sitting back and taking a breather between the event’s panels and activities. It was welcome – even a tree trunk was more forgiving on the arse than the brutally cheek-numbing chairs in the main auditorium.

“It’s been amazing, fantastic,” Sam said of the weekend so far. “ Because you know everyone’s into the same thing, it’s very easy to just kick off the conversation – you can ask anyone,’Oh, what’s your main?’ ‘I’m a bard!’”

Sam, cosplaying as Venat from Final Fantasy XIV, holds up a Triple Triad card at Final Fantasy Fan Fest
Sam holding the Ruby Dragon card trophy | Image credit: Sarah Jarvis

Perched on a log bench amid verdant plastic flora, a lifesize chocobo statue and moogles dotted about like garden gnomes, Sam recalled discovering the Final Fantasy series with XIV, the MMO finally sticking after multiple attempts to understand what all the fuss was about. “I had a friend who was very persistent. He tried to get me into it once, I bounced right off. He tried to get me into it again. I got to about level 40, bounced off. I tried again, I kept playing – and I’m still playing today.”

Over six years after falling fully into XIV during the end of second expansion Stormblood, Sam was spending Fan Fest cosplaying as Venat, one of the central characters from 2021’s Endwalker, complete with blue contacts (which admittedly made reading the cards a little tricky) and flowing silver hair. Sam had recently been dipping into this year’s Final Fantasy XVI, and was now hoping to finish up the adventures of Clive and his pup Torgal before they come to XIV in a new crossover quest announced during Fan Fest.

“I’m still part of a free company,” Sam said. “We’ve not split up, but kind of moved onto other things. I have a few friends who are really big into raiding. We still have a Discord where we all just hang out still.” Sam’s favourite raid is Trial with Titania, in The Dancing Plague. Sam enjoyed the Shadowbringers update in general, in fact, though pegs Endwalker as a favourite expansion – a choice Sam said feels predictable, since it’s the newest.

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After Sam boldly opened our match with a Chimera in the middle of the board, and cards flipped back and forth like beached fish, we eventually came to a draw. My first opponent picked out the Ruby Dragon card as a keepsake: “I have a friend who likes dragons, so he’ll be jealous!”

Benjamin placing a card on the Triple Triad grid at Final Fantasy Fan Fest
Benjamin mid-match | Image credit: Sarah Jarvis

Also found relaxing under the trees was Benjamin, who had headed into London’s own Eorzea from within the capital. Like Sam and most of those I met throughout the weekend, this was their first Fan Fest; the last London event was held almost a decade ago in 2014, just a year after A Realm Reborn’s release, meaning many players had discovered the game since.

“It’s a lot bigger than I expected it to be,” Benjamin remarked, wearing a red T-shirt from Final Fantasy’s Distant Worlds series of orchestral concerts. “I’ve heard from my friends who went to previous Fan Fests that it was normally a pretty decent size, especially in Europe. I feel like for me to actually come here and experience it is kind of great.”

Having played past Final Fantasy games – ticking off VII and VIII, along with a bit of IX, XII and XV – Benjamin had come across Final Fantasy XIV 1.0 13 years ago while it was “back in a bad state”, before its remarkable resurrection as A Realm Reborn. “It wasn’t until around 2017 that one of my friends started playing, and he basically showed me the state of the game as it is 1699030554,” Benjamin said. “So I’m like, ‘Okay, maybe when I get free time, then I’ll give it a go.’ Jump forward to 2020 [during the pandemic], I have all the time I need.”

After wrapping up the game’s story around the end of Shadowbringers, Benjamin roamed between servers to see what else the MMO held. “It wasn’t until probably around like a year later that I started really getting to know the community and everything. After a while, I’d say probably maybe around December, was when I started getting into things like Savage raids. That’s what really piqued my interest.”

My final opponent in the forests of Gridania was Mancunian fan Gemma. They were plenty familiar with Triple Triad, having become a fan of the Final Fantasy series with VIII. To date, it remains top of the ranking. “It’s the first one I remember playing like all the way through and really enjoyed it,” Gemma said. “And then obviously I went back to the other ones after that.”

Gemma discovered XIV through a combined love of Final Fantasy and MMOs, passing through World of Warcraft’s Azeroth on the way to Eorzea – and not looking back since. With XIV packed full of characters and references from past Final Fantasy games – whether it’s bosses reimagined as MMO raids or the wider influence of specific games on expansions and questlines (as with Endwalker’s roots in FFIV) – it’s little surprise to hear that a long-time fan was hooked by its loving celebration of the series.

Yet XIV’s original additions to the series more than hold their own appeal. “Heavensward is my favourite expansion and then Shadowbringers is like right underneath it, I always struggle picking between the two of them,” Gemma said. “I quite like it when they do bring in stuff from all the games. But I also like it when there’s fresh stuff in there as well.” After crushing me in a near-flawless victory, Gemma claimed the one card left in hand as the perfect prize: Final Fantasy VIII’s sullen (and peerlessly handsome) Squall.

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Triple Triad player Gemma smiling and holding a hand of cards during a game at Final Fantasy Fan Fest
Gemma, presumably smiling at an imminent victory | Image credit: Sarah Jarvis

Like any reputable card player faced with such a loss, I made my next move: changing location entirely to try my luck elsewhere. It was off to the sunny shores of La Noscea, passing those reeling cardboard fish from the floor and racing around with dodo eggs on spoons to join players sheltering from the glare of the ExCeL’s spotlights under parasols in Limsa Lominsa’s eatery The Bismarck. There I met Ellie from Buckinghamshire, who hadn’t been a Final Fantasy fan before picking up XIV based solely on its reputation.

It was XIV’s expansive story that grabbed Ellie, having previously ventured across World of Warcraft and Star Wars: The Old Republic. Though XIV’s main story comes in for plenty of love, the side quests to unlock new skills for each job are just as crammed with characters, solo battles and moments held precious by the community. “That’s why I fell in love with XIV – because I love story and lore,” Ellie explained. “With XIV, [it was like] ‘Wait, there’s actually a story to follow?’ I loved that.

Ellie loves the job stories, and said that it’s “really key worldbuilding” that people don’t give enough credit. While excited for the new raids in the lead-up to next year’s Dawntrail, Ellie was also looking forward to the parts of XIV that add things to do away from the drama. Introduced in patch 5.1 was the Firmament, a damaged area of city hub Ishgard that could be restored by players willing to contribute materials, earning titles and achievements for their efforts. “I love the lifestyle content,” Ellie said. “When I reached The Firmament I was stuck then doing all the grinds for the sake of the Firmament titles. Like, I’m not leaving – that’s my space!”

Ellie holds up a card won in a game of Triple Triad at Final Fantasy Fan Fest
Ellie with a card consolation prize

Before we played cards in the shade, Ellie had been throwing axes in the zone’s nearby Marauders’ Guild Training – a highlight of the weekend. (Helped by getting the highest score, naturally.) “Oh, I’m loving it!” Ellie said of Fan Fest. “See, it’s not my first convention. But it’s such a nice atmosphere in comparison to other conventions, which are manic.” My reputation slightly recovered with a decisive win on the table, Ellie took the series’ legendary summon Bahamut as a consolation prize, putting the choice down to their job of choice: “Summoner main!”

Filled with the hubris of a victory, I jumped on a player the next table over. It was time for a mirror match against a fellow Matt, from my childhood home (starting region, you might say) of Bedfordshire. Even better, he was a man of taste, picking out Final Fantasy IX as his favourite instalment. “It’s a bit more of a general one but it still has its own flavour,” he explained. “A lot of the others try to tell these grandiose stories and they’re all dark. IX still has its moments, but it’s also fun.”

Discovering Final Fantasy through a friend’s older brother playing VII had led to playing through the series and picking each new release since. Along the way came an entry into XIV, which had tailed off before being reignited during the pandemic. “I love Final Fantasy and I’d wanted to get into an MMO for ages,” Matt said. “So I played it with my sibling and some of his friends. They kind of stopped – I kept on wanting to play but didn’t – and then lots of my friends played. Now I play with them and it’s great.”

Our Triple Triad match ending in a draw, Matt swiped Edea, Final Fantasy VIII’s villainous sorceress as I asked for his highlight of XIV’s decade-long run. “The newest expansion [Endwalker] is probably my favourite bit so far because the story in that was really good,” he replied. “I love seeing the old bits from Final Fantasy pop up – the fan service. Fighting a boss from a different game, you’re like, ‘Oh, I know this. Let’s see what they do with it.’ And seeing your character develop is always fun.”

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To complete my card tournament tour of Eorzea and truly claim my title as the Triple Triad master of Fan Fest London, I headed to Thanalan. Complete with a recreation of XIV’s Gold Saucer casino – with hourly cactpot draws, tables full of the Final Fantasy Trading Card Game and chocobo races – it felt the right place to face my final Triple Triad opponent.

Player Emily looking seriously at a Triple Triad game at Final Fantasy Fan Fest

Player Matt smiling and arranging a hand of Triple Triad cards at Final Fantasy Fan Fest

L: Emily; R: Matt | Image credit: Sarah Jarvis

Representing Southampton in my personal open tournament was Emily, who had been playing XIV since 2019 – finding it to be a leap in quality from Final Fantasy XV. Maybe not a great surprise when that game’s lasting legacy is Ignis’ discovery of new recipes over anything that happens in its plot – or maybe that’s just me. “That was the first one I played,” Emily said, noting that, in hindsight, it might not have been the best start. “I liked it. It’s just I remember playing XIV and finishing the base game [A Realm Reborn], and being like, ‘Oh my God, this writing is so much better than XV!’ I mean, I love XV. But it’s pretty bad when the ‘boring’ base game of XIV is like, ‘Oh my God, this is such a good story compared to it.’”

Despite not returning to the rest of the series just yet, Emily had been meaning to check out Final Fantasy XII. While the mid-noughties sci-fi-tinged game – aka Final Fantasy Does Star Wars – is arguably a bit overlooked in all-time lists compared to the series’ nineties heyday, the influence of its real-time battle system and structure of its world and story are clear to see in XIV. (Some players have even ended up asking whether the two games are directly connected lore-wise due to the similarities – they’re not, officially anyway.) The link was drawn more directly by a series of quests released during Stormblood that returned to FFXII’s setting of Ivalice, which is also shared by spin-off Final Fantasy Tactics and fellow Square RPG Vagrant Story.

“I’ve been meaning to play XII,” Emily told me. “That one’s obviously so famous because they have the raids [in XIV]. I’d like to actually see the source material because I’ve heard the actual game is a lot more interesting. I mean, the Ivalice raids are good fun but very different to playing them yourself.” The Ivalice raids are Emily’s favourite Alliance raids.

As we threw down cards in the Gold Saucer Entrance Square, Emily remarked: “I wouldn’t consider myself a Triple Triad fiend, but I have played quite a bit of it.” Clearly, the perfect person to prove my skill against and walk away from Fan Fest with my own impressive made-up title. Emily’s experience showed, as the board quickly turned red and left me decimated in my final match of Fan Fest. A well-deserved victory in hand, a prize was claimed by the winner: the card for Trauma, one of the eight late-game bosses encountered in Ultimecia Castle that must be defeated to recover your sealed GF power.

While my title as Eorzea’s Triple Triad master had been passed on, it was hard to feel sour. Across my matches and the entire weekend, the community had been nothing but welcome and fully game to take me on in a match – no-one I spoke to refused to play, or was anything but gracious with their time and victories.

We might be a way off being able to approach random strangers in the street to challenge them at cards, but – in the XIV community at least – it seems like that welcoming utopia might not be so impossible to achieve after all. Give XIV and its players another decade and perhaps we’ll get there. Until then, I’ll see you in the Gold Saucer for a duel.

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