Here’s a bit of full disclosure: I still cannot reach the top of Kugane’s tower to this day. It’s the one jumping puzzle that stymies me in Final Fantasy XIV. I can speed-run Leap of Faith, I’ve bested the other little jumping challenges for lookout points, and this year’s Moonfire course requires me to just speed-run the whole thing in order to maintain a sense of challenge. And I have no idea if that makes me good, average, below average, or just generally disinterested at the moment.
For example, there’s the fact that several of our movement abilities don’t work the way they look like they do.
At a glance, Spineshatter Dive and Shoulder Tackle have immediate differences in how they operate. Shoulder Tackle is a dash along the ground, while Spineshatter Dive has you leap into the air and not touch the ground again until you hit your target. If there was some hurty bit of floor between your target and you, Shoulder Tackle would run right through it, but Spineshatter Dive would evade it.
Except that’s not true at all; both abilities are actually identical but animate differently, so you would both go through the hurty bit of ground either way. Similarly, if there’s a gap between you and your target, you’ll fall in every time, no getting around that because all of those gap-closer abilities basically just move you along the ground super-quick.
This gets weirder when you consider that some abilities really should work differently. Ninja basically teleports when it uses its quick movement. If you bring Thancred into Dohn Mheg, he specifically uses his gap-closer to jump a gap that will send you tumbling if you try it. It’s not hard to remember, exactly, but it is counterintuitive.
I don’t think this is down to an intended consistency so much as a limitation of the game’s engine; it’s possible that playing with vertical tolerances cause weird programming issues or that the game doesn’t have a means of handling an actual teleport. The problem is just that sense of “my gap-closer doesn’t work the way it seems like it should.”
Herein, I think, lies the main “issue” with jumping puzzles. It’s not that the game has a problem with its movement physics; they’re fairly crisp, responsive, and comprehensible. Once you know the rules of the game, they make a certain amount of sense. The trouble is that the rules don’t make sense until you know them, and what it looks like the rules should be doesn’t match what the rules actually are.
Jumping puzzles in general are touchy for games that use them. Navigating jumps in a three-dimensional space can be tricky even when you have literally one size of character with a very fixed set of abilities and the entire game is built around it; I remember flubbing so many jumps when playing the original Spyro games, which I both loved and were built around solid jumps to nice chunky landing zones. Jumping puzzles in MMOs, meanwhile, are designed to have much more of an optional appeal and feature a game in which all characters are expected to have the same basic movement speed, jumping range, and so forth.
Having said all of that, I do feel like FFXIV handles the ones it has a bit better than other games with similar challenges. For one thing, the fact that your various abilities can’t be used to bypass the challenge has the downside of counterintuitive play but the upside of uniformity. Everyone makes the same jumps, no matter what jobs you have leveled, and the actual mechanics of the jumps don’t even favor the passive speed boost of Ninja.
What it doesn’t handle very well is the same problem that most jumping puzzles struggle with, which is making the process interesting and offering some degree of satisfaction as you work at it. What usually keeps me from making as much progress as I’d like in the Kugane tower is the simple reality that a mistake means falling and starting all over again, and eventually my patience wears out.
See, keeping everyone on a level playing field is good insofar as it ensures you don’t have people cheesing through things. But the slow grind of getting better at memorizing this specific series of jumps and getting a feel for the right moving sequences is kind of tedious. There’s a very shallow skill gap and no real option beyond “practice a bunch.”
For bragging rights challenges, that’s fine. But when we do actually have rewards tied to these challenges, it becomes a bit more problematic. Want to get some paintings from Stormblood? You’d better be able to reach the top of the tower. Is Leap of Faith the GATE that’s up? Start mastering those jumps or learn to live with disappointment.
This is compounded by the fact that your options are down to “move” and “jump.” Compare that to, say, any 3D Mario game, wherein you have an assortment of different ways to tackle any given challenge. Sure, certain jumps are more useful than others for certain challenges, but that’s part of what makes the jumping fun; you know that every jump you need to make should be possible to make. FFXIV requires you first to figure out what jumps you even can make.
I feel like in some ways, the Costa del Sol jumping course is like an effort to give people a training course in jumping puzzles, but even there it doesn’t really address the core issue. For that matter, it doesn’t really touch on what jumping puzzles want to be, whether they’re supposed to be purely for bragging rights or a gatekeeper for actual rewards.
My feeling is that if they’re going to be gatekeepers, we need to have some more actual effort put into making these things fun and accessible. It’d actually make for a fun sort of limited job if we had a job with no active abilities (or a minority) that leveled up by clearing jumping puzzles and gained specialized jumps and movement styles by doing so, although I realize that is probably not something the designers are anxious to do when there’s not really a long tradition of acrobats as a job in the series.
But if they’re just there for bragging rights, well… even then, they need some refinement. People who like jumping puzzles will probably find obstacle courses like the one for this year’s Moonfire Faire a bit bland and simple. People who don’t find them fun won’t want to do them. It’s one of those cases where splitting the distance winds up missing the mark a bit all around.
Feedback is welcome by mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or down in the comments below. Next week, it’s time for a year in review column!