First of all, this one’s for Bruno. He usually doesn’t read these, but maybe he’ll like this one.
So we all know at this point that Final Fantasy XIV is an impressive financial success and a critical darling, and has been for several years. This is very good news for anyone who was hoping for that, such as… well, Naoki Yoshida. And as you probably would expect, after the past several forevers of the industry, people are asking if this is going to make the game the new… let’s just say Globe of Fightstyle. That’s not it’s name, but I don’t like talking about another game while I’m writing about one, so we’ll go with that.
Some people are not terribly keen on that! And as someone who likes FFXIV quite a bit, my response to these people is… agreement! Not total agreement, but in broad strokes I agree. I am happy with the idea of FFXIV becoming a defining force in the industry, but I am not happy with the idea of it becoming something far more insidious. And to discuss that, let’s talk about novels. Let’s talk about Twilight.
This is not going to be a discussion on the qualities or lack thereof within Stephanie Meyer’s debut novel. If you’re really curious about my stance on the book, you can ask in the comments. Whether you like it or not, though, if you know nothing else about Twilight, you know that it made a truly staggering amount of money. Just outright shameful. Book sales, licensing, movies, and so forth. Money just poured in from it.
And what did we get? A flood of modern supernatural young adult novels with an ostensible love triangle and a gawking everygirl protagonist that were short on actual plot and heavy on brooding boys to obsess over – almost all of which were completely forgotten within about five minutes of their publication.
Now, it’s quite possible that this boom did help get The Hunger Games published, which extended the YA boom for a while longer. But The Hunger Games is actually very different from Twilight; it’s a future dystopia with an active female protagonist and is far more focused on its political metaphors (muddled though they wind up getting) than any sort of love triangle. While I think it is inarguably of a type with Twilight, it gets at something important.
And it’s here that we drill into the differences possible in inspiration.
What makes a video game good? A lot of things, if we’re being honest. Grand Theft Auto III is a good game because of its open world, fun writing, and freedom of gameplay. Silent Hill 2 is from the same era and has a very closed-off world, relentlessly depressing writing, and very narrow gameplay. Both feature pretty terrible combat. So which one is better to copy?
The answer is either or neither depending on what you want your game to do because good games aren’t simply about a checklist of features that you improve. Making a fun metroidvania game is not about listing all of Samus Aran’s powerups, putting them in your game, and clocking out. In fact, the game that made us call those games “metroidvanias” in the first place, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, wasn’t even inspired by Super Metroid or points related.
Really, look it up. Koji Igarashi was more inspired by Legend of Zelda than anything. But the game plays nothing like most any game in that franchise, certainly none at the time. He was taking inspiration from those titles, from the way that they gated areas and structured progress, and using that to build a very different sort of game.
Hence my bringing up Twilight and The Hunger Games before. Let’s say The Hunger Games was inspired by Twilight’s success. (It was never stated to be so, but we’re just going to use it for this example.) If so, Suzanne Collins didn’t draw from Meyers’ plot or characters or structure or even genre. She drew from the idea that if you care about what happens to characters, then you will follow them through a whole lot of hell until the end of the book, whether that hell is faffing about with sparkly vampire politics or Baby’s First Fall of Rome Dystopia.
When you’re looking at other games, you can use them either as inspiration or as a template. And the latter, even if it produces a good game, is going to be lesser by its very nature. You could make the best Soulslike game ever, but unless it offers a twist on the formula, it’s going to just be a copy of the original… and considering that the originators of that game have been putting twists on their own formula for years now, you kind of have a lot of legwork to do first.
So now, at long last, we cycle back to Final Fantasy XIV, which I definitely would like to be an inspiration for the industry… but not as a template.
What makes FFXIV a good game is the same thing that makes a lot of other MMOs good games. There are definitely things other games can take from the game, like recognizing what the game does well and leaning in, making the game’s leveling and level-cap experience be contiguous, finding ways to keep crafting relevant but not mandatory, and so forth. But do I want to see a new game that has a story-first focus with an emphasis on bespoke classes and so forth?
No. Because that’s FFXIV. And we don’t need another one of those because we already have it. It’s right here. This isn’t even a case where the version of the game everyone loves has slowly been winnowed away by elitist posturing until the elitists are running the asylum, so to speak; it’s still running. FFXIV has indisputably changed between the launch of A Realm Reborn and now, but it still feels like a contiguous experience all the way through.
It’s just like how a lot of subgenres of MMO like MOBAs and battle royales quickly folded into a couple of games because it turned out that the games people were already playing were popular for a reason. There is not, in fact, a deep well to draw from. If the only reason you can get people to play your MOBA is that this one funnels money to you instead of someone else and darn it we hosted the mod that someone copied to make this subgenre, well, your story has an obvious unhappy conclusion. Sorry?
So yes, I would like to see others take the useful lessons of FFXIV and design new games based on them. I imagine a hope of precisely that is part of why Naoki Yoshida has already shared that he’s looking forward to another Japanese MMORPG due out this year. But we don’t need any FFXIV clones. We have FFXIV. That is exactly the number of FFXIV that we need.
Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments down below or via mail to email@example.com. Thank you to everyone for the kind words about last week’s column; it was different from usual, I know, but it was something I needed to do. (And if you really hated it, well… sorry.) Next week, let’s talk a little bit about the fan festival as it draws closer, both how the ticketing lottery worked out and what the expectations are for this year.