who is emet-selch?

Emet-Selch's first appearance ingame. Handsome, don't you think?

Emet-Selch is a character from Final Fantasy XIV. He first appeared in the patch cycle following the release of the game's second expansion, Stormblood. He was featured in Patch 4.4, titled Prelude in Violet, in 2018. However, in the more technical sense, he was present in the game's failed first release and in the base story of A Realm Reborn - these appearances were before the character was conceptualized as Emet-Selch specifically, so I hesitate to include them. In any case, 2018's release of Prelude in Violet was the first instance in which Emet-Selch was given a proper appearance of any sort (even under an assumed identity), and thus it's the most salient appearance to begin with anyway.

Because Emet-Selch's identity is tightly interwoven into the plot and worldbuilding of Final Fantasy XIV's setting, a little preamble is required. The real meat of A Realm Reborn's plot follows the player character (called the Warrior of Light, or WoL) and their efforts in resisting the Garlean Empire, an imperialistic nation whose sights have been recently set on the region of Eorzea, the base game's setting. In large part, WoL's efforts are able to succeed because of the death of the Garlean Emperor Solus zos Galvus, who has long been in poor health due to his old age, and the subsequent civil war over his succession which erupts within the Empire. A Realm Reborn also features a subplot involving a group of beings known as Ascians, and their struggle to revive their mysteriously inhibited god Zodiark by way of inciting destructive events known as Rejoinings. Aside from this, their motivations and beliefs are left vague for the majority of the game's story.

Emet-Selch's first onscreen appearance is, as stated, in Stormblood. Between this point in the story and the beginning of A Realm Reborn, Solus' grandson Varis zos Galvus has taken his place as Emperor, and the WoL has taken a large role in liberating two nations which were previously under Garlean occupation, Ala Mhigo and Doma. Such setbacks are a source of vexation for Varis, and naturally he feels much worse given a more secretive state of affairs: his grandfather, Solus zos Galvus, was no mortal man, but in fact was possessed for the majority of his life by Emet-Selch, a high-ranking Ascian. Given the Empire's recent military losses have set back Emet-Selch's plans for a Rejoining, he returns from the "dead" in order to take command for Varis, and reveals that he founded the Empire for the express purpose of bringing about a Rejoining.

The promotional artwork for Prelude in Violet.

The Ascians' true reasoning for doing so is revealed in Shadowbringers, the third Final Fantasy XIV expansion released in 2019. Long ago, the world was significantly different, apparently largely led by the city of Amaurot and Amaurot's own leaders, the Convocation of Fourteen. Its people were immortals possessed of significantly more magical power and technology than in the present. Amaurot was supposedly a much kinder society, if Emet-Selch's recollections are to be believed, focused largely on a collectivist desire to protect and steward the world through magic. However, a great calamity called the "Final Days" threatened the entirety of the planet, and Amaurot was no exception; with their backs to the wall and with no other options available to them, the Amaurotines used their magic to create a godlike being, Zodiark, who would represent the will of the planet and protect it from harm. However, the cost of this summoning was great - half of the Amaurotines alive willingly sacrificed themselves in order to enact this plan. Though it worked, the planet was unfit to support life any longer, and another half of the surviving Amaurotines offered their lives to Zodiark to heal the planet. Some of the people of Amaurot believed the best course of action was to sacrifice any new life the planet produced to Zodiark in order to return those they had lost; others disagreed. The conflict was such that another number of remaining Amaurotines sacrificed themselves in order to bring about a goddess in opposition to Zodairk, Hydaelyn, in the hopes of protecting the new life of the planet and stopping the cycle of sacrifices to Zodiark for good.

Emet-Selch in a recreated Amaurot.

Zodiark and Hydaelyn fought. Hydaelyn was victorious, and her final blow on Zodiark shattered him into fourteen pieces. Because Zodiark embodied the planet, this subsequently shattered the very world into fourteen parallel realities, called Shards, in an event known as the Sundering. All the people of the world were greatly reduced in their power and abilities; no longer did they live forever, and the world they inhabited was much more overtly harsh and dark, filled with suffering, natural disasters, and conflict between peoples. Nothing of Amaurot remained, and no one remembered it - the world prior to the Sundering was lost in the darkness of history. But there were a small few - three, in fact - who had escaped the effects of the Sundering, appropriately called the Unsundered. They were all members of the Convocation of Fourteen who had enacted the plan to summon Zodiark. Their names were Lahabrea, Elidibus, and Emet-Selch. They went on to become the Ascians, and their intent in effecting Rejoinings and empowering Zodiark again was to restore the world to the way it once was before the Final Days.

Emet-Selch was faced with a difficult position among the Unsundered; though the three of them all labored to enact their goal, they did so very differently, and dealt with their immortality of isolation in different ways. Lahabrea lost his grip on himself and his emotions very quickly; Elidibus remained calm and in control of himself, but the effects of the summoning on him were such that he developed amnesia for everything but his goal of freeing Zodiark. Emet-Selch alone was in full possession of his faculties, and so he was alone to grieve Amaurot. In addition, his means for bringing about the Ascians' goals faced him with a very difficult dilemma - he chose to influence mortal people and play to their worst natures to create chaos, but in doing so had to live among them and develop close relationships with them. Naturally empathetic, Emet-Selch couldn't help but form emotional attachments, although he did everything in his power not to and often claimed verbally that he hadn't. Becoming invested in mortals only to watch them die and suffer, often as a result of his own actions, became a crushing burden he felt he had no choice but to carry.

Emet-Selch approaches the WoL in Shadowbringers as a potential ally, offering to find a "path of lesser tragedy" with them as they strive to prevent his own planned Rejoining. Truthfully, his plan is to determine their usefulness; if they can withstand the challenges before them alone, he'll consider making them an Ascian, and if they fail he'll return to being their adversary. During this time, he develops something of a fondness for the WoL; he is once again disappointed by a mortal when they require the help of the Crystal Exarch, and so he betrays them. This ultimately doesn't work out well for him; the WoL retaliates and manages to defeat and kill him. He seems to make his peace with it, however, and asks that they simply remember him and his people now that they are gone.

who is emet-selch, really?

Emet-Selch speaking to WoL at the Crystarium.

I've spoken a lot about the plot of FFXIV, but that doesn't really give you a clear picture of who Emet is as a person alone, I think. Sure, one can glean that his story is pretty tragic, but a summary isn't enough to illustrate the things about him that really contribute to his being so compelling.

Emet-Selch is ultimately so interesting to me because he's defined by contradictions. On the most superficial level, he fits the classic "tsundere" trope; he claims verbally that he dislikes the people around him, yet his actions toward them often imply the precise opposite. He clearly has some emotional investment in and fondness for mortal people, yet he simultaneously claims that they aren't truly alive and that he feels nothing at being culpable in so many of their deaths - despite asserting that there is no tragedy in the death of a mortal person, he seeks a "path of lesser tragedy" with the Warrior of Light, after all. He claims his actions are unimpeachably just and that his morals are unassailable, yet expresses that his role in things is an unbearable burden, and implies this in his actions up to suicidality in allowing the Warrior of Light to challenge him and win - a suspiciously obvious mistake for a man who plans every move several steps in advance. He denies the pain he clearly expresses, he denies the guilt he obviously feels, he denies the regard that permeates every aspect of his interactions with the people he loves. He lies so automatically it's as natural to him as breathing, and the person he lies to the most is himself - whether or not the people around him believe his denial of these things is immaterial; they are not who he's trying to convince.

He's a man whose deep and abiding love is both his sole redeeming feature and most damning flaw. He goes to unbelievable lengths for the salvation of the lost people he cares so deeply about - yet these are terrible lengths, too. For those he loves who are not part of that august company, it's debatable whether his love is a particularly desirable or advantageous thing. Any gentleness he reserves for those unfortunate souls comes with a steep price tag, given they'll always come second. But it means something, perhaps, that he reserves any gentleness for them at all, if not in word then certainly in deed. It's hard not to feel some level of sympathy for him because he cares, but it only makes his betrayal sting that much more; his love and affection humanize him, but they drive him to behave monstrously and denigrate the very people he feels such agony at having to kill. The Warrior of Light is implied to be the reincarnation of someone with whom he was very close, and it's unclear who he sees when he looks at them - if he even sees them for themselves, or whether he views them entirely as an extension of Azem. The question being, of course, does he really love them? And is feeling that way about someone ultimately cruel? Is it love at all?

And despite all this he's almost infuriatingly glib about the whole affair, up until almost the final moments of his life. He's outwardly at ease in most situations; nothing seems to touch him, and he has a penchant for cracking smug little jokes and tossing around obnoxious quips whenever the mood strikes him. He presents himself as detached and smug, generally bored and occasionally moved to amusement. He has the manner of dangling his approval and affections on a particularly high string and waiting patiently for any aspiring friends or loved ones to debase themselves by jumping for it. Everything is a ridiculous game to him, until it's not.

It's not only in his mindset or in his manner that he presents such contradictions. He lived quite a long life as Solus zos Galvus, and he's admitted to having worn a number of other faces as well. His name, Emet-Selch, isn't even really his - it's a title, as he explains it, given to those who occupy a particular seat on the Convocation. His name, the name that belongs only to him, is Hades.

So who is Emet-Selch, really? Maybe it depends on the day.

personal feelings

Pictured: Emet-Selch hoping I will go away if he doesn't make eye contact

I started playing FFXIV when I was about 18, shortly before graduating high school in 2015. At the time ARR and the majority of its patches had launched, and players were waiting for Heavensward. I became really invested in the game and its story, especially because I was playing as a self-insert character, and I finished Heavensward as quickly as I possibly could after it came out. I got a little stuck during patch 3.1 (my item level was too low, and this was during the Wanderer's Minuet Makes You Stay Still era, which was disastrous to me as a BRD main), and due to some personal issues with an FC member along with the end of PS3 service (makes me feel old saying THAT, haha) decided to take a break from the game in 2016 or 2017, before getting the chance to try Stormblood.

I didn't end up picking FFXIV back up again until 2021, when I decided it'd be nice to have something familiar and fun to occupy my thoughts while I was dealing with some personal problems. I'd heard from a friend that Stormblood was good (LOL), and I had it but had never had the chance to play it, so I decided to try to advance the story again. I'm glad I listened to that whim, because that was how I ended up encountering Emet-Selch.

I still remember the first time I saw him ingame, in the cutscene in 4.4 when he's speaking to Varis. I remember sitting there looking at him and thinking to myself, "...eugh, this guy's a little weird-looking, huh? I don't like him very much." I Was So Fucking Wrong And Stupid

The next time I remember having a strong reaction to him was in the cutscene in the Crystarium after you defeat Titania. He shows up and asks you to be allies, and this was the point where I started kind of thinking "😳 damn okay!". I really wanted more of whatever the fuck he was doing there, he was so insanely entertaining that I just wanted him to march right back on the screen and keep doing crazy shit for me. That's always how it starts.

After that I just could not get enough of this guy. Every time he showed up onscreen it just cemented it for me even more. He was infuriating but kind of hilarious, and I really softened to him after he saved Y'shtola from the Lifestream. That's the moment where he got his stupid little claws in me for good. I remember thinking "YOU REALLY DO LIKE US AFTER ALL AWWW WE'RE GONNA BE BEST FRIENDS FOREVIES" and spamming /hug at him in amounts that were, like, sickening. I loved every opportunity you had to speak to him alone; I'd pester him and do my level best to flatter him and ingratiate myself to him with the two (2) dialogue options I'd get every time. I wanted him to like me SOOOOO bad. I was so pathetically whipped it was disgraceful. I don't know who I was fooling in claiming I felt otherwise because I was completely fucked, and permanently.

This made me start coughing in real life.

The betrayal he pulls on the player character legitimately blindsided me, not because it wasn't logically extremely obvious but because love and lust had made me completely stupid, and I was trying to make judgment calls about Emet-Selch with the robust deduction skills of a half-eaten bell pepper. I was SO upset. I couldn't believe My Boyfriend From Video Games had done this to me. I had trusted him SO deeply and assumed we were ABSOLUTELY going to be buddies and I'd win him over and (delusional ramblings continue). It was so sad. Never let anyone tell you love doesn't make people think and act like total fucking dipshits.

Despite all this, it took me a while after having finished Shadowbringers to actually consciously realize I was disgustingly in love with him and just admit that I wanted to selfship with him and hold hands and ride off into the sunset etc. That happened on November 30th, 2021, which is what I consider our anniversary. I still love him with all of my heart, he is my boyfriend for eternally, and Endwalker delivered beautiful surprises to me as a reward for my fevered affections. I love you, Emet-Selch. Please never make me cry again

In all seriousness, I feel for him really deeply. He's a terrible person who's done terrible things, but the core tragedy of why is one that really gets to me. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, after all, and you don't always realize you're on it until it's too late to turn back. He could have been a good person or done the right thing, but it's so easy to see why he did what he did and how much was against him from the beginning. Grief and isolation in particular are things I understand pretty intimately, so I felt that on that front especially I could really understand him, and it was impossible for me not to feel deeply for him. Maybe I don't understand what his precise situation feels like, but I understand what it feels like to carry around a lifetime of trauma and try to be normal about it, so I sympathized a lot with him. I don't feel that it's my place to forgive him, but I do love him, and I wish I could have been there to comfort him when he was suffering. I still think he deserves that much. I'll never approve of what he did, but I don't think I'm capable of anything less than loving him.