A Community Eulogy for Praetorium and Castrum Meridianum

A Community Eulogy for Praetorium and Castrum Meridianum

Final Fantasy XIV‘s Main Scenario Quest dungeons Castrum Meridianum and The Praetorium have always been notorious. Relegated to their own little Daily Roulette silo, Castrum and Prae — as they’re not-so-affectionately called by the community — contained qualities unlike any other dungeons in the game: They both required a party of eight, ran excessively long, and peppered players with endless unskippable cutscenes in-between battles.

It was cinematic and exciting on the first run, but on subsequent replays, players often groaned when they begrudgingly made the Faustian bargain of running the very long Main Scenario roulette in exchange for increased EXP and Tomestone rewards. The (understandable) impatience of players running the Main Scenario roulette over and over again led to a community strategy of speedrunning the absolute fuck out of both. Prae, in particular, was one where everybody strategically skipped enemy packs to make the whole thing go as fast as possible.

In the process of bonding through the misery of watching Gaius monologue for the umpteenth time, players started to concoct their own idiosyncratic traditions and ways of making Prae and Castrum tolerable, and sometimes, even hilariously fun — be that through creative RP sessions or brainstorming on why there are so many DILFs in both dungeons. I spoke to a couple players who shared their fond memories, routines, and teary (or dry-eyed) goodbyes to Prae and Castrum as we know them.

The Evolution of Prae and Castrum

I remember my first Prae run as a young and innocent sprout. I knew it was going to go fast, but I didn’t understand how fast. And like many inexperienced sprouts of yore, I did not grab a Magitek key in time before the rest of the group heartlessly left me off the elevator. A fellow party member dressed in a great maid outfit also didn’t make the elevator. Standing in front of the now-empty shaft, we both took a moment of silence before emoting sadly at each other. In retrospect, it was very funny: A tall shirtless Elezen and a short Au Ra in a maid outfit stuck together against the odds, both dressed more for a party than a serious life-or-death fight against Gaius and his nefarious schemes.

While I think fondly of my first chaotic Prae run, it’s this exact unfriendly and confusing first-time experience for sprouts that prompted the FFXIV team to change the duties repeatedly over the years. The cutscenes used to be skippable, but because experienced players would automatically pull and leave first-time players watching the cinematics, the FFXIV dev team made the cutscenes unskippable for everybody. With the upcoming Patch 6.1 update, the FFXIV team has radically revamped both Prae and Castrum. Castrum will turn from an eight-player duty into a four-player dungeon. Prae will split into three separate duties: a four-player dungeon covering the original start to the Gaius battle, an eight-player trial covering the Ultima Weapon battle, and a solo quest duty covering the final Lahabrea confrontation.

It’s a much welcome change, and I’m excited to see how the newly transformed Prae and Castrum play. But I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that I’ll miss some parts of Prae and Castrum as they are.

It’s Camp!

Prae and Castrum developed unique little ecosystems of theater. Sometimes, if you joined a like-minded group, it was like sitting at a midnight showing of Rocky Horror Show. Similar to throwing rice when Betty and Ralph get married or singing along to “Touch A, Touch A, Touch Me,” players often shouted in the chat, beating Gaius to his iconic lines like, “Such devastation, this was not my intention.”

Inside jokes based on the incredibly long elevator descent in Prae — only the dungeon designers know why the elevator just keeps going — and players clowning on Gaius’ attention-hogging speech have become a rite-of-passage. Lahabrea’s overwrought villainy has not escaped the clown train, either.

Mari, a FFXIV player, framed the meme-ification and the campiness of Prae and Castrum in a succinct way. “I’m really gonna miss the elevator simulator Gaius’ TED Talks and Lahabread saying ‘PatHEtic.’ It’s what really made me love FFXIV as much as I do,” Mari said

Fanfiction in Chat

Prae’s 45-minute runtime was a detriment and a flaw, but it also provided an opportune moment for players to talk in chat. Most duties move at the speed-of-light, but in Prae, people often provided running commentary and cracked jokes.

“With the amount of free time people have during all the cutscenes, you could get some great organic conversations going on,” player Devalore replied when asked about what will be missed. “It’s fun to just hang out and talk with people. There’s also something novel about an eight-man dungeon that after this, will really only be matched by Alexander and Coils — which aren’t quite the same.”

“I’ll miss the unpredictable chaos of the dungeons the most,” Dese, another player answering the same question, said. “I’ve seen so many funny things happen and met so many awesome players through Castrum/Prae runs. Some of them even became my friends after.”

That “unpredictable chaos” also usually included fanfiction in chat and bizarre headcanons people would creatively come up with. “There was one chat where someone pointed out that Gaius’ hat baubles look like ornaments, and how he just wanted to be festive,” player Fenix said. “I think of it every time and laugh — also his little ‘magical girl’ transformation sequence where he switches from grey to gold during that one monologue. Stuff like that where people mention their specific silly headcanons just sticks with you forever on repeated runs.”

Player Laur also shared a headcanon from a player in Prae whom he saved a screenshot of because it was so memorably hilarious: “Prae is a double DILF run. Gaius and Cid are here to entertain.” Speaking of DILFs, multiple FFXIV players also commented on the amount of Nero x Cid fanfiction, jokes, and commentary being written in chat in real-time — and will miss such content going forward.

Creative Battles: Punishing Gaius in the Name Of The Moon!

In other chaotic group activities, Prae also inspired the occasional creative group decisions that certainly wouldn’t happen so organically in other duties. Player Pokkitnebula was part of a Prae group that spontaneously decided to take off their clothes. “I don’t even really remember how it got started? I just know that a few of us were goofing around in chat during cutscenes, and we all agreed to go naked for the run! It made the cutscenes extra hilarious,” Pokkitnebula said.

Another player said they once did a Prae run in a party without Job stones equipped just for the hell of it. “I think one of the funniest runs I ever did was a full Job stone-less party,” Akirai said. “If being level synced was bad enough, not having access to half of our kit was even worse, but we had so much fun. Prae was like a rite of passage to every FFXIV player, love it or hate it, and having it reworked feels like it’s removing a part of the FFXIV experience we so much love. As a wise man once said: ‘SUCH DEVASTATION, THIS WAS NOT MY INTENTION!’ #WeWillMissYouPrae.”

“I was in a party with someone, and we managed to convince most of the rest of the party to just auto-attack Ultima to death on the elevator,” player Tink4Dead said. “[It took] like 15-20 minutes, if I remember right. We just talked in chat and one of the healers threw out some Medica 2 every so often to keep us up.”

Sorry, Tanks! And Thanks, Y’all

Tanks certainly will remember Prae and Castrum, perhaps for all the wrong reasons. In Prae, everybody tended to hop immediately to the teleporters, skipping killing enemy packs in the process and leaving the Tank with all the aggro. Dese’s most memorable moment in Prae was related to this kind of experience.

“Once, I was tanking a Prae run while leveling gunbreaker on an alt,” Dese recalled. “On the second teleporter, I died because I couldn’t use the teleporter since I had aggro. The healer handed me a bandaid in party chat. The rest of that run we joked about Garlean Empire recruitment offering cookies and FFXIV character-themed band-aids.”

“A vivid memory would be tanking Prae and watching my party zoom through the teleporters, leaving me stuck ‘under attack,’” Bianca, another tank, said. “I’d never been so grateful for Holy’s stun at a later run, because I was prepared to accept my fate.”

It’s clear that Prae scarred many Tanks. Dear Tanks: thank you for your sacrifices! Truly, y’all have carried Castrum and Prae with your noble deaths.

Cosplay Convention

For some players, dressing up was another spectacular part of Prae and Castrum. “The main thing [for me] in Prae runs was dressing up in the silliest glams like a completely mismatched outfit or wearing the chicken head,” Tealsie said.

Intriguingly, Samantha Ferreira, a FFXIV player who’s the editor-in-chief of Anime Herald and Combat Revue, often did a “barista cosplay” in Prae runs. To spice up the long dungeons, Samantha would don a Craftsman’s Apron from the Skybuilder events and start roleplaying as the average Garlean service worker. She’d start “welcoming people to [Prae], taking drink orders, and muttering random ‘I hate my life comments.’ And as the dungeon progressed, she would escalate her roleplay, continuing to make comments like’, “‘Of course there’s a giant robot, but when we need TP in the ladies’ room, there’s suddenly no money in the budget.” And as the dungeon neared its conclusion, Samantha’s WoL, Skye, would also start realizing she’s out of a job. The life of any average worker isn’t easy, even in Garlemald!

“It was a lot of fun, and the group really seemed to get into it, so I kept it up. For about a third of my Prae runs, I don the apron and run the barista bit,” Samantha said. “It never fails to loosen the crowd up and gets people talking, joking around, and having fun again, instead of just zoning out with Netflix or whatever.”

Player Lau spoke at length about his special relationship to Prae. He has a NPC alt character that’s a Lahabrea cosplay, and it makes Prae runs really fun. “Every Praetorium I queued into was bound to be a surprise to see who noticed. It was always fun to surprise a new player who just saw this guy being evil two seconds ago now in their party, helping them out with a duty,” Lau said. “Of course, I’d always throw in a perfectly timed ‘pathetic’ to sync up with the dialogue.”

He also talked about the general relationship between the role-playing aspect and Prae. “For cosplay character players, Prae is kind of like our personal anime convention. It’s one of the only duties where you can see an entire eight person party so much after all,” he said.

To That One Imperial Soldier: Keep Doing You

Some players also wanted to spotlight specific characters in Prae and Castrum. “Shoutout to the one Garlean soldier who watches eight Magitek Armors pass by. I pray every run that no one kills him,” Alutheia Vythica said. Yes, shoutout to that man. Let’s hope he just keeps vibing in the new Prae rework coming in 6.1.

Eulogy

It’s clear the community will fondly remember aspects of Prae and Castrum in their current incarnation.

“I mean, Prae was what you made of it, really. If you went in expecting to be bored, yeah… it’s going to be a thankless grind for Tomes,” Samantha said. “But I’ll always miss the folks who kind of put in that effort to make things a bit weird and magical, and just turn Prae into a weird, wild wonderland where buff dudes in chocobo masks and subligars take the Ultima Weapon for walkies, or where people spam the chat with Gurren Lagann quotes for someone doing their first LB2 on Nero.”

In final ending comments, please have this very special poetic eulogy written by FFXIV player Jonathan:

“Praetorium,
I thank you for the memories.
I thank you for the laughs.
Did you know that you’re actually quite difficult with iLvl caps?
Perhaps it was not your intent,
But I thank you all the same.
Rest well, for I don’t ever want to sit through your cutscenes again unless I’m another three drinks deep.”

Amen!

Author: Deann Hawkins