For the first few weeks after The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild came out, my kids and I settled into a familiar routine on Sunday mornings. I’d make them breakfast, get myself some coffee, then we’d laze around on the couch for a few hours exploring Hyrule. They couldn’t actually play it themselves — at two and four years old, they’re not quite ready for that — but they were entranced by the fantastical realm, helping guide me through tricky dungeons and offering up ideas for recipes to cook up. They’d sit quietly, intensely focused as I tried to sneak up on a wild horse and ride it.
As I savored these moments — I know they won’t last forever — I also secretly hoped that they’d eventually turn into warm memories, the kinds of experiences my kids will remember long after they’ve grown up and moved on to their own lives. Maybe they’ll read the news of a new Nintendo console in 2030 and be transported back to those cozy mornings. Games can be an incredible bridge between a parent and child, and that’s something I really came to realize while watching Final Fantasy XIV: Dad of Light, a new series on Netflix that explores just how powerful those memories can be.
A combination of silly and sweet
The eight-episode show, which started life as a Japanese blog, stars a young man named Akio. He still lives with his parents, works as a salesman at a printer company, and harbors an extreme passion for the online world of Final Fantasy XIV. He also has a somewhat strained relationship with his dad. While the two get along reasonably well, they’re far from close. They rarely talk about anything of substance, and when his dad suddenly decides to quit his job and retire early, Akio realizes he knows almost nothing about his father. One of the few strong memories he has as a child was when the two of them played Final Fantasy III together, spending hours crossed-legged in front of the TV, experiencing the grand adventure as a team.
So Akio comes up with a plan. He buys his dad a PlayStation 4 and copy of FFXIV as a retirement gift, and eases him into the experience by providing plenty of tips and encouragement. Unlike the old Final Fantasy they played together on the NES, FFXIV is a massively multiplayer online game, where friends can get together to hang out and slay monsters. Along with his in-game buddies, Akio befriends his dad in FFXIV, while keeping his real identity a secret. The goal is to not just have fun playing a game together, but to hopefully see a new side of his father as they adventure for hours and chat in-game. Ultimately Akio hopes to discover the secret behind his dad’s bizarre and unexpected retirement.
As you can imagine from the premise, the show wavers back and forth between serious and lighthearted, and many scenes actually take place in the game world. Dad of Light is combination of silly and sweet, a mix that will feel familiar if you’ve watched other Japanese dramas on Netflix, like Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories or Samurai Gourmet. Seeing Akio’s dad slowly become consumed by the game is particularly adorable. When Akio tells his dad over dinner that he bought a new keyboard, his father quickly shovels food into his mouth and runs to the living room, excited at the prospect of finally being able to chat with his new online friends. At one point, his father quits the game for a brief period, because he entered a winter town where everyone except for him was wearing a coat. He was so embarrassed by his character’s short sleeves that he stopped playing.
Moments like these are cute, and they’re balanced by more serious and poignant scenes. When Akio and his dad go out for a meal, they say almost nothing to each other, save for a “Cheers!” when their beers arrive. Afterward, the two head back home and immediately log onto FFXIV, and Akio’s dad tells his online buddies that he’s late because he was out drinking, but it was really boring. As a parent myself, the show also makes me think a lot about how my actions influence my own kids, how even seemingly small things can have a big impact. During a flashback sequence, when Akio starts excitedly explaining how the FFIII airship works, his dad interrupts to tell him to stop playing so many games, and focus more on studying. It’s a moment that strained their relationship for years.
It treats its subjects with a rare degree of empathy and respect
The show isn’t really full of revelations or surprises. For the most part the story beats are predictable, and things often fit together a little too perfectly. In almost every episode, the events happening in-game end up mirroring both the relationship between Akio and his father, as well as Akio’s day-to-day life at work. Dad of Light is also plagued by a overacting, a common trait in these kinds of dramas. When Akio’s dad badmouths him in the in-game chat, you can see the son’s face angrily twist and distort in cartoonish ways. But once you get accustomed to the show’s eccentricities, these kinds of imperfections actually make Dad of Light feel more earnest and endearing. Just because you probably know what will happen next — and that includes the big reveal of Akio’s father’s retirement — doesn’t mean the impact is reduced.
Dad of Light has a very strange premise, one that could have very easily led to a throwaway piece of product placement-fueled television. Instead, it tackles both parenting and the relationships we create through games with a rare degree of empathy and respect. And for me, it’s been a good reminder to make sure to create even more of those Sunday morning memories.