I’ve done a couple of articles on reoccurring concepts in Final Fantasy games before, but this is an unusual one because it seems to barely qualify at times. Final Fantasy XIV has magitek, as did Final Fantasy VI, but those are the only games to refer to it as such. Sure, other games flirt with similar concepts (Final Fantasy XII, Final Fantasy XIII, and Final Fantasy VII most prominently), but none of them is outright called magitek.
Bit there’s still some interesting stuff to unpack when it comes to magitek, even if you don’t consider the corner cases as you ought to. At a glance it might look like this is a simple manichean split between two factions, but there’s a lot more going on and a lot of importance tied up with the term that can hint as to Final Fantasy XIV’s future — beyond the fact that we’ll get to ride some magitek armor.
Let’s start with the basics: What makes something magitek? In both FFVI and FFXIV, some standard rules apply. The device is neither wholly magical nor wholly technological; it’s mostly a mechanical device powered by magic. The devices acquire their power through draining sources of magic through invasive means. Last but not least, they’re used almost exclusively by the larger and all-consuming empire, making these devices the tools of the enemy.
It seems simple enough. Magitek represents technology, technology is bad and evil, we should live in accordance with nature, and so forth. Except that both of the games using the term counter that assumption.
Technology is not solely the province of the Garlean Empire or of the Gestahlian Empire in FFVI. The latter had Figaro Castle, airships, Narshe’s mining equipment, trains, and points related. The former doesn’t quite have any mechanical playgrounds, but 1.0 made it clear through story scenes that Cid Garlond and the Garlond Ironworks were all about cutting-edge technology. And here it’s worth bringing in an obvious corner case in the matter of Final Fantasy VII.
Mako technology in FFVII is not called magitek, but it bears the same hallmarks. This is the same game that adds a man with a gun-arm and an animatronic carnival mascot to your party. What Shinra is doing to the planet is clearly a bad thing, but the simple use of technology isn’t problematic. You can write it off as an inconsistency, but I think there’s more to it than that. And I think the heart of it lies in another game that doesn’t use magitek but clearly has callbacks to it.
In FFXII, one of the major elements of the plot is magicite. Magicite itself is valuable but plentiful, but nethicite is the real prize. Nethicite is magicite that can absorb magical energy and then discharge it before refilling. The important distinction is that only three pieces of real nethicite exist; most of it is manufacted nethicite from the Archadian Empire. This manufacted nethicite is used to empower airships to behave in ways that should not be possible, and it can even directly empower an individual to be more than simply human.
You know, much as magitek is used in FFVI and FFXIV.
The parallels run even a bit closer than that. The word magicite first shows up in Final Fantasy II, but it becomes majorly important in FFVI as the remains of a dead Esper. Espers are also the source of power for magitek devices; the difference is that magicite shards are the more powerful form, whereas the Empire’s draining techniques are inefficient.
There’s a common thread here in all of this. Magitek isn’t technology; magitek is technology that should not work. Magitek devices are those that outright break the rules of the world, tearing away energy without care for the cost. Magitek isn’t a parallel for mechanics or themes or anything similar — it’s a metaphor for overreaching ambition.
FFXIV has a countering influence in place: the beastmen. 1.0 made it very clear that unlike Final Fantasy XI’s victims, FFXIV’s beastmen would very happily bust everyone back down to the most basic tribal level. The Primals are manifestations of that same energy that powers magitek in raw unchained form. Ifrit doesn’t care what burns, only that something does. Bahamut is wanting revenge not just on any target in the End of an Era trailer but on everything within range of his destruction. Tear everything down and let nothing survive.
Magitek is the opposite number. Magitek is about building so quickly that you don’t care how unsteady your foundation is. It’s about having a gun that will explode in your hand and kill you the moment you pull the trigger, but that’s fine as long as it kills your target. There’s nothing coincidental about the fact that both empires wielding it will happily brainwash others or even take control of a mind as necessary. They rush in a direction with no concern for the consequences.
Between these two extremes stand players. And therein lies a last point of comparison: In FFVI as in FFXIV, a maniac found a path to great power that allowed for the destruction of the world. Kefka and Van Darnus both brought destruction to their respective worlds. We know what happens afterward in FFVI, and it frequently wasn’t pretty.
It remains to be seen how ruined the world will be when we can return to FFXIV. But there will need to be a balance, and the player characters will be a very small middle between two massive extremes.