Japanese soap opera Final Fantasy 14: Dad of Light is now on American Netflix, and you need to watch it. Look past that awkward name it’s been graced with, because Dad of Light is short, sweet and a total joy to watch.
The premise is familiar to anyone who grew up playing video games, wishing their parents would join them. When Akio was a kid, he loved games, but his father Hakutaro didn’t share the passion — except for when it came to the original Final Fantasy. Young Akio forged a bond with his emotionally distant dad over the classic role-playing game, a bond that was short-lived when Hakutaro threw himself even further into his work.
That brings us to the present day, with Akio and Hakutaro still unable to relate to each other: one remains an awkward, Final Fantasy-obsessed young’n, the other a quiet, hardworking older dude. That changes when Hakutaro ends up quitting his job, leaving him at home with plenty of free time and not much to do.
Dad of Light follows the admittedly kind of weird plot that ensues, with Akio getting his dad sucked back into the Final Fantasy life with Final Fantasy 14. It’s not enough to get him playing the online RPG; Akio wants to build back up a relationship with his old man by ... pretending to be a beautiful woman in-game so that they can adventure together, only to reveal who he actually is at the end.
That part is totally weird, but Dad of Light’s charm makes up for it. Watching Hakutaro navigate Final Fantasy 14 is a total pleasure. Far more complicated than the Famicom game he had a brief love affair with, Final Fantasy 14 dumbfounds Dad as much as it enraptures him. In one episode, he learns how to move around; in another, he learns how to use text chat, and then voice chat. It’s all played to endearing, hilarious effect, with Akio on the sidelines to gently guide his father back into the gaming world.
Mom’s not too keen on Dad’s newfound obsession, which throws a wrench into things. That adds a slight dramatic wrinkle, as does Akio’s own attempts at growing into adulthood. But each half-hour episode is mostly an exploration of how games can bring people together, no matter their age and level of experience.
What’s so likable about all of this is that Dad of Light’s easygoing appeal is surprising. When I first heard about it, I brushed it off as an easy marketing ploy on Square Enix’s part to sell Final Fantasy 14 as the kind of game for the entire family. That may be part of the case here, but the drama is based on a true story, which helps. And that aside, it’s instantly relatable, and totally unassuming, too.
I never really got my parents to play video games with me, with some very rare and notable exceptions. Wii Sports was an easy sell; so was Rock Band. But the game my dad in particular fell for, to my total surprise, was We Love Katamari. It didn’t suck him in like Final Fantasy 14 does for Hakutaro, but an invitation to play the colorful, silly puzzle-action game’s multiplayer mode just once led to an hourlong session.
I don’t think I ever played We Love Katamari with my dad again, although we talked about it. There’s an outstanding invite, I guess, even though my PlayStation 2 has long been packed away. But just as it took Dad of Light’s Hakutaro more than a decade to return to Final Fantasy, maybe we all have a chance to rekindle our gaming bonds with our family some day.