The launch and subsequent crash-and-burn of Final Fantasy XIV really epitomized the typical, and far too frequent, “flash in the pan” MMO launch. I can’t speak for anyone else, but following the game here and there pre-launch, it wasn’t too hard to see this eventuality coming. The game just looked to be doing all the wrong things and it was clunky as all hell to boot.
Still, I knew many Final Fantasy fans that were bristling with excitement to play the game. One friend of mine, who is not particularly well-off, saved all summer to put together a brand new PC just to play the game in all its glory. Unfortunately, he and many others like him were crushed when faced with the game they got in September 2010. Final Fantasy XIV was a mess.
Now, I’ve been a Final Fantasy and JRPG fan since the mid-90’s, but it’s safe to say that Square Enix, once king of the JRPG and creators of the legendary Final Fantasy series, hasn’t had a great track record (outside of FFXI, ironically) over the past ten or so years. Frankly, the Final Fantasy brand has lost its luster, not because fans just don’t care anymore, but because Square Enix simply hasn’t been making the right decisions with their games.
Yet, here we are in 2012, close to the realization of possibly one of Square Enix’s best decisions yet: to do right by fans and its brand by relaunching Final Fantasy XIV. One hopes it will be as a game worthy of the venerable and beloved series.
It’s easy to view Square Enix in a poor light for so many of the studio’s decisions, but the series of events beginning from the launch of Final Fantasy XIV through today have been nothing short of astounding to someone like me, viewing it all unfold from the sidelines. Final Fantasy XIV failed particularly hard, and instead of spinning this failure and attempting to band-aid fix something that was fundamentally flawed, Square Enix quickly reacted by suspending subscription costs and allowing players to play for free while evaluating the game’s future. The studio didn’t feel comfortable charging players a monthly fee for what they delivered, and so they didn’t.
Soon after, Square Enix announced a full restructure of the Final Fantasy XIV development team, with Naoki Yoshida at its head. This team was put together with a clear goal and fans were given an incredibly detailed and specific roadmap for where Final Fantasy XIV was going to go over the next two years, leading up to the eventual re-launch referred to as “Final Fantasy XIV 2.0”.
This was a herculean task, to be sure. It’s important to keep things in perspective here. Square Enix was not only committed to continuing development of the live game with new additions and fixes in order to do good by their current players, but they have also been concurrently redesigning the entire game almost from the ground up. If things proceed on schedule, it will have been only about a bit over two years from the game’s failure to its re-launch as Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn.
Let me be clear, I have no idea if they can pull it off well. The odds are stacked against them and there are several apparent roadblocks that I’m not sure they are going to address in time, if at all. Even so, I find myself weirdly excited about the possibilities. Ever since I chatted with Yoshida at this year’s E3, I’ve been really curious about the upcoming relaunch. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a developer try to pull something like this off, so this whole process is interesting to me if just for the sake of novelty. In any case, I often find myself digging around for information on the relaunch as of late. Heck, the other day, I even found myself sitting through an hour long ‘Special Talk Session’ (turn on captions!) with the game’s developers to learn more about the team’s progress.
The footage I’ve seen so far, from the new trailer, to the Gamescom presentation, to the Special Talk Session, all looks promising. Honestly, the game is looking pretty slick. The world already looks more varied from the examples of blatant copypasta we saw in the previous incarnation, and frankly, the combat looks quite fun. I really think Square Enix could have a dark horse here and surprise fans and skeptics alike.
But it’s not all peaches.
You see, even if Square Enix manages to achieve what they’ve set out to do, there are still some areas of concern. For one, it looks like Square Enix is going to be sticking with the existing subscription-based model. Clearly, this hasn’t been an issue for them with Final Fantasy XI, but I feel going purely subscription-based in 2013 may not be the wisest choice.
Even discounting the potential business-related issues, there are some possible pitfalls on the design front as well. From what I understand, the original FFXIV shared more in common with the MMOs of old, focusing more on gaining experience through killing tons of monsters. In A Realm Reborn, Square Enix is effectively bringing the game into the World of Warcraft era of quest-hub based content.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like this content model has really worked well for anyone outside of Blizzard, and that’s why we’ve seen a shift towards more dynamic content, such as WAR’s Public Quests, RIFT’s, well, rifts, and most recently, Guild Wars 2’s dynamic events. This isn’t to say that quest-based content can’t work in a contemporary MMO, but in an increasingly saturated space, it may be hard to hold gamers’ attention when considering the aforementioned issues.
Will Square Enix relaunch Final Fantasy XIV as a game worthy of inclusion in the game’s lineage of numbered titles? That remains to be seen, but I am cautiously optimistic about the game’s future and I commend Square Enix for their aspirations to do much better by their fans.
What impact do you feel FFXIV’s re-launch will have? Can Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn really make a dent in today’s MMO landscape? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!