If we get more than two more expansions in Final Fantasy XIV, we’re going to be moving into some interesting territory: Players are at level 80 now, and there’s not a whole lot of space left for leveling.
I don’t mean that in a mathematical or a coding sense, mind you. There is no natural law preventing a Final Fantasy game having a maximum level over 100; heck, it’s not actually all that hard to add it into older games with a bit of coding for the stored data space, I imagine. It was the upper boundary at one point, but that was then. We could easily go up to level 100 in 7.0 and then be heading to level 110 in 8.0, and the only reason to not have that be the case is that it just feels wrong.
We’re officially well past debating whether or not FFXIV was a success with its relaunch. It was an overwhelming success that continues to succeed. All of this is well and good, and the fact that the game has now made it through three expansions with more presumed on the way is proof that things are going right. But it does mean we sort of have to start thinking about… well, the limited amount of space that’s here in the game, and leveling is an obvious example.
It’s hardly the only one, though. We also, for example, have a limited number of Ascians left. Heck, we have a limited number of antagonists; the number of major antagonists who we thought were dead but were not is basically sitting at two, and those two were both special cases (either not actually shown dying or… well, doing something that even he didn’t think was possible at first). We’re not running out of them at a lightning clip, but by the end of Shadowbringers we’ve managed to down a whole lot of them.
That matters because you kind of need that sense of a long-running antagonist to give you a sense of closure when all is said and done. It allows time for buildup and satisfaction as you struggle against one another. You can’t get that if you have an antagonist just introduced at the eleventh hour (shades of a Giant Space Flea from Nowhere).
We’ve also got a limited number of spaces for new jobs. Again, this isn’t in an absolute sense because the UI can always be expanded; this is more about the fact that there is a limited number of jobs that have historically shown up in the franchise and starting to reach the far points of what can be made to work. Gunbreaker is already a fairly original job, although its roots lie in Final Fantasy VIII and Dissidia’s version of Squall; we could certainly get one or two more original jobs without any prior basis in the franchise, but the very nature of the game leans on having mostly recognizable jobs showing up.
There’s still plenty of space to explore, though, right? Well, that’s mostly true… but it’s also not true because there’s been a general philosophy for a while that a given area gets its expansion to shine and then needs to go on the back burner. As much as there are more places in the original continent to explore, it seems unlikely that we’ll ever see them as zones; similarly, we’re probably not going to get an expansion devoted to the yet-unseen spots of Othard or the larger world of the First beyond Norvrandt. Our further places to go are somewhat limited.
“Oh, what, so the game is dying?” Heck no! It’s not even gasping for air. The point isn’t that these are bad things; they’re just things. Even if we assume that there’s absolutely no one talking about these issues behind the scenes and that there’s a company-wide mandate that the game cannot go above level 99 or above an x.5 patch, none of this would actually be an issue until 2025. I feel like this stuff is going to be figured out before then.
Instead, this is about… well, space. There’s really quite a lot of it, but there’s also a lot less than you think.
One of the things I noted when we were moving into Heavensward was that the game’s at-that-point normal pace of having two Hard dungeons and one new dungeon with each patch was eventually going to lead to us running out of dungeons to turn into hard modes. Both Heavensward and Stormblood changed that setup, and since we now get one hard-mode dungeon with ever other patch, we’ll be getting a grand total of two in this expansion. We’ve got that many un-upgraded dungeons in Heavensward alone with more to spare. But it’s still an example of space limitations.
Heck, space limitations even come down to new content available for players. Introducing the Deep Dungeon in mid-Heavensward meant that the expectation was that each new expansion would have its own Deep Dungeon, which means that there’s design resources pre-allocated to porting that into a new place. It also means we have to have a new portion of the game to explore to fit that in. New beast tribe quests are expected. The list goes on.
If it needs to be said again, of course, I consider the game’s emphasis on predictable stuff to be an asset, not a drawback. The point isn’t that there should be more space here than the game is giving itself; the point is that there are limits. There are places wherein the game is bumping up against the limitations of the space it has, not even counting the simple limits of the game’s database structure (something Yoshi-P has mentioned more than once).
This is part of the reason why part of me feels like Yoshida’s unannounced project is indeed another online Final Fantasy title. Yes, there was that one interview in which he said something which could be read as “that’s not happening,” but it was one German interview and there are a few ways to translate that sentence, and he’s never talked about it either way outside of that point. But there are limits to what can be done with this game, and it feels like one of the natural places to go is, well… another game without those limits.
Given the choice, I’d probably be playing FFXIV well past 2025. Heck, I probably will be; when I have the time (which isn’t often) I’m still playing Final Fantasy XI. But I think it’s worth considering the fact that we do at least seem to be on the back nine with the game, so to speak. There’s only so much more space left in the game.
Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments down below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week? Well, I hope by that point we’ll have a little more 5.1 preview stuff to talk about.