Final Fantasy XIV is a game about rebirth. The first attempt at the MMORPG from Square Enix was one that failed when initially launched in 2010 but has since risen from the ashes of itself to become one of, if not the best MMORPGs on the market to date. And it makes sense, really, as it’s one of the few MMOs that taught fans and critics alike that the genre can be more than just raids or loot grinds, but rather tell a compelling story throughout its life.
This isn’t to say MMORPGs didn’t have good storylines - World of Warcraft’s Wrath of the Lich King expansion comes to mind - but the genre really wasn’t one you’d go to for a compelling storyline. It’s funny to think about - I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on a trip covering a different game yet heard fellow journalists who cover MMOs spend much of their evenings raving about FFXIV’s story. In fact, this has become such a norm with one trip that it convinced me to finally play the mainline Final Fantasy entry after years of not so much resisting, but not being able to carve out the time with everything else I was covering as a freelancer back then.
While FFXIV’s opening acts can be considered a slog, the story itself really gets going the farther along you are. Square Enix clearly hit its stride with its excellent Shadowbringers expansion - in fact, one can clearly make the argument that its story is one of, if not the best, stories in a mainline Final Fantasy game to release this decade (and I really loved Final Fantasy XV).
It’s this constant theme that has some of our writers claiming it’s one of the more influential MMOs of the decade itself. Here’s what our Shadowbringers reviewer Chris Saxon had to say when asked to describe the most influential MMO of the 2010s in his opinion, as well as columnist Ralph Whitmore:
Final Fantasy XIV Online is a testament to what could have been, and how to properly fix your game.
The original launch in 2010 for FFXIV was atrocious to say the least. It was broken, buggy, janky, and just not fun. I had the pleasure of playing the beta, and then original launch itself, and honestly quit shortly after. Looking towards the critics, and player-base alike, Naoki Yoshida decided he would try to fix the issues at hand but finding no answers he decided to shut the servers down indefinitely in September of 2012, a mere two years after launch. Instead of trying to fix a broken game, he decides to remake the game from the ground up starting fresh to give us, the gamers, what we wanted and deserved. Created on a totally new game engine, A Realm Reborn launched on August 27th, 2013 with great success.
A Realm Reborn is a gorgeous reminder that not all companies are created equal. Square Enix, and more importantly Naoki Yoshida, took a game that utterly failed and created something new, like a Phoenix springing forth from the ashes, that exceeded expectations and made one of the best MMORPG’s on the market even to this day. All of this is subjective, mind you, as not everyone enjoys everything the same way. FFXIV, to me, is a great Final Fantasy game with multiplayer aspects. The story is unmatched in any MMORPG on the market, it’s right up there with singleplayer Final Fantasy titles in my opinion. What’s more is as time goes by, more and more content is continually added in meaningful ways. Shadowbringers was by far my favorite story arc to date, and it’s only getting better with each content update.
Naoki Yoshida truly cares about not only the game, but the players. I had the great pleasure of meeting him for a one-on-two interview just prior to Shadowbringers in San Francisco this past May. Through the short time I got to speak with him, and his time presenting the game to us, I could feel that he had an aura around him that expressed just how much he cared about the game and the community.
This isn’t just another job for him, and as a player, that’s a huge deal. Game companies tend to be profit oriented. Typically, not really caring a whole lot about the player-base, and just looking to capitalize as much as possible with any given launch. How many companies can you say took a game from an absolute failure, listened to feedback, and re-created it to an acclaimed success?
Final Fantasy XIV is the epitome of the MMORPG of the decade. It saw the wails and screams of death only to emerged from the pits of darkness like a Phoenix flying high with a burning desire to provide the players with a more enjoyable experience with each additional update. FFXIV has earned the title in my mind, and I don’t think any other MMORPG on the market has come close.
Out of all the MMOs I’ve played this decade none have been more defining for me than FFXIV. It goes without saying by now that if you’ve read anything that I’ve put out, I love character customization. FFXIV has it like no other MMO I’ve played. I love the story of the game. I’ve been playing it since CBT and I loved it then before it became ARR. The game became all the more defining when I got my girlfriend to play it after ARR happened. That is what made FFXIV home, the time spent with her and the friends I made there.
I have not had one horribly bad experience in FFXIV ever. The community has always been helpful and kind. As the years pass, I did not expect that old Free Companies from when I first started playing to still be around. That says something, to be able to log in, que up for a raid and bump into a person you know from a different guild that you might not have seen in a long time. FFXIV has longevity, great community and lots of content. If you don’t skip the story, it will be full of surprises and take you on a bit of a rollercoaster.
What makes Final Fantasy XIV truly an achievement in MMO design comes down to the fact it balances that stellar storytelling while maintaining the usual trappings of an MMORPG - the crafting, raiding, dungeon running and more (though one can argue the PvP in XIV is a bit weak).
I’ve also come to love the job system within the MMO. Giving players such control over their experience is something I wish more MMORPGs would do nowadays. Being able to level multiple playstyles over the course of your journey, or go back when friends hop in the game and level a new job with them so as to not be completely OP when grinding, is something I wish all MMOs moving forward incorporated. As someone who admittedly didn’t have much time to play this stellar MMO inbetween all my other assignments and keeping up with my ESO and WoW beats as a freelancer before coming onto MMORPG.com full time, being able to enjoy the game at my pace with more established veterans within the community has been great.
It’s also one of the few MMOs that have embraced cross play from the beginning and have it work to great effect. Most other MMOs keep players segmented due to either a technical limitation or an artificial barrier brought on by Sony or Microsoft - The Elder Scrolls Online comes to mind here especially as it has thriving console communities, yet is segmented apart from its PC counterparts, as well as each other. Yet like Final Fantasy XI before it, Final Fantasy XIV is made this crossplay work to its benefit. This might have more to do with its continued success more than any other aspect aside from its main storylines.
One of the downsides is the fact that this story requires so much knowledge of previous events to make sense that the gatekeeping in Final Fantasy XIV might keep some who are eager to test its waters away. It was a definite detriment to me reviewing it for a high profile outlet earlier this year, unlike World of Warcraft which offers a boost with a new expansion so you can hop right into the new content, or even ESO which lets new players kick off their journey in Tamriel right from the beginning of the expansion itself.
But the payoff is worth it in the end should you decide to stick with Final Fantasy XIV. The MMO insists you play through everything in order to enjoy the newest content. And in some ways this can be a good thing as it allows the MMO to leave its mark as an important, contemporary MMORPG while also simultaneously catering to players who feel the “old ways are better.”
There’s a reason why the eyes of MMO critics and fans alike light up when I mention Final Fantasy XIV in conversation. Rising from its own ashes and creating a stellar MMORPG experience is something to be lauded - and one can only hope as we move into 2020 and beyond Naoki’s team at Square Enix is prepared to continue this trend of greatness for many years to come.