November 28, 2011

Finalizing Square Enix's Fantasy in Final Fantasy XIV

Before Final Fantasy XIII managed to trudge itself to the console world, Final Fantasy and other fellow Square fans were happy and content – too happy even. The game that has been milked dry, and the numerous eponyms of Square Enix's flagship brand has certainly kept fans from all walks of life satisfied. But as ideas run dry and fantasies turn sour, some game companies look to the MMO market as another venture or frontier. Square Enix is one of them. Their continuing success with Final Fantasy XI has given them a place in the MMO community.

However, things seem to have derailed when Final Fantasy XIV was released.

A New Fantasy

When the fourteenth installment of the Final Fantasy franchise came to be, there was a lot of promise and a lot to expect from. What's not to love from the people who brought us arguably one of the best RPG franchises? The new world, the new races (which bore some resemblance to the races they made in the past FF games) and the new appearance all seemed like the perfect bait for MMO gamers and Final Fantasy enthusiasts alike. It was a nice change of pace from the typical Warcraft-esque setting, though the game does share the same sentiments in the fantasy genre.

Then came the beta-testing phase. Months before the official launch came to be, everything about FF14 still had a pound of promise. Naturally, there were problems here and there – but that's the point of beta-testing – yet there was so much to be thrilled about. There were a few unexpected twists here and there, like the rumored and ill-accepted Fatigue system, but there was still hope. That phase was all about experimentation, and Square Enix was as recipient as a sponge to all the player criticisms. Ah yes, those were troubled yet fun times. And surely, just like a sponge, Square Enix would squeeze out something good from what they absorbed, right?


Open beta for the game commenced last September 1, 2010, more than a year ago. Despite the massive release, there were too many issues with the game that made it unenjoyable. The Fatigue and Dormancy systems were still in place and disappointed players with the alloted short gameplay time before EXP was reduced to a mere trickle. There were even accusations from the gaming community about the game designers being too lazy to the point of just merely copy-pasting similar environmental elements into multiple locations. Due to numerous disappointments, including the ones stated here, player populations plummeted to a near 40% of the original subscriber-base, to the point that Square had to hide the player counts from their server lists after one update. Not to mention, the game was mired with PR disasters here and there. Square previously asked YouTube to take down some battle videos that heavily panned 14's combat. In effect, Square Enix's profits also sank to a very low point in their career because of Final Fantasy 14.

What irked the population more was Square's stubborn attitude for the longest time, despite heavy criticism. They kept an optimistic outlook on Final Fantasy 14's marketability as an online game, declaring it playable while having the gall to ask game reviewers to hold off on their reviews for at least 3-4 weeks post-release to let the game "mature." Naturally, that won't stop the players from giving it a scathing review. In other words, the game was playable and complete for players to shell out their hard-earned money, but it wasn't ready for critics to review it.

The Road to 2.0

With more than 2 months after Final Fantasy 14 went commercial, Square Enix was forced to release official statements, admitting that the game "has yet to achieve the level of enjoyability that FINAL FANTASY fans have come to expect from the franchise." This prompted the company to implement unlimited free access to the game and reshuffle the development team. With Yoichi Wada out of the spotlight, Naoki Yoshida has then taken over the directorial and production helm of the game.

Fast forward to October of this year, Square Enix has once again begun hyping up the game due to the new direction it's apparently facing. Patches 1.19 and 1.20 sought ambitious changes and a return to the more traditional Final Fantasy-esque approach. Airship travel, Chocobos (seriously, what's a Final Fantasy game without these loveable steeds?!), and material was added in the previous 1.19 patch. Although the patch's main highlight is Ifrit, Yoshida stated that 1.19 included "changes to the foundations of the battle system." He assured that the proposed auto-attack system will not be a copy of Final Fantasy XI's combat. The user interface is also undergoing improvements that will be mouse-and-keyboard friendly. Class reforms were also rolled out with the recent patches. We won't go through all the changes here. These are just some of the samples.

With the ambitious pace that Naoki Yoshida is going through, Final Fantasy 14 is slowly creeping towards its 2.0 reincarnation. With the return of billing plans at 2.0, the FF14 team assured everyone that it would "feel like Final Fantasy" when it rolls out. Not to add insult to injury or reopen wounds, but I seriously have no idea exactly when game companies decided it was alright to commercially roll out online games in a severely unfinished state, but honestly, it's getting really old. This made me recall Funcom's Anarchy Online release. The launch was mired with in-game problems and PR disasters. If your game was – I don't know – Ultima Online, then maybe launching in such a state would be excusable (sort of, being the pioneer online game). But in an era filled with countless MMO games (even free to play at that), such a lackadaisical release doesn't deserve any slack from critics and gamers alike. No, I do not mean to antagonize Square Enix or Final Fantasy 14. This was just meant to point out that their proposed 2.0 iteration should have instead been the version 1.0 release if they just waited patiently, extended the beta-testing, or researched further what the gamers want.

A Second Chance?

Our time is precious. We're not always sitting in our chairs and playing games. And if we are, we're not just playing one game. Else, we're off doing something else more important. This is a ringer to all game devs. Once you put a game on the shelves or on digital downloads, it should be complete. We shouldn't have to wait for hotfixes and future developments to turn the game from a sorry state into something enjoyable. We don't have to sit around, stare at the box and say "Boy, I can't wait for version 2.0 to come out so I can play this!" The next patch should, at least, just resolve a couple of bugs here and there. We, the gamers, don't have to pay the price for the incomplete releases.

Granted, Final Fantasy 14's version 2.0 is ambitious and something to look forward to. And yes, perhaps the game does deserve a second chance, what with Yoshida's vision slowly coming into a reality. We're thankful for the faithful, yet slow, changes to 14's system and world, that much is true. Square Enix is slowly making up for lost time, and it's showing a lot of buzz. There's no telling if the old population will return, or new gamers might take interest. But if version 2.0 still falls short of expectations, then this might be Final Fantasy 14's final fantasy.

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1 comment:

  1. Pretty awesome game, best graphics for MMORPG.