When Final Fantasy XIV was first announced, I was still fairly new in my tenure at Massively, but our editor-in-chief at the time was on a big push to match writers with weekly columns for games. He knew that I had played the prior game, and this was going to be something of appreciable size that was important to cover, so… get on that, homes. I mean, at the time I was thanking my lucky stars I didn’t have to play Final Fantasy XI any more, but I liked getting paid, so whatever.
And you might say that’s an astonishingly cynical thing to say about the game, but keep in mind that this meant I bought and played version 1.0. I had better be getting paid.
Of course, a lot has changed since then, and we’re here to celebrate not the 10-year anniversary of the game’s initial launch but the 10-year anniversary of the relaunch. This is actually kind of hard to do in isolation because all of this ties together. So I want to talk about exactly that.
See, as I’ve said before and will no doubt say again, the relaunch of FFXIV did not look like a sure thing at the time. Truth be told, it looked like an awful idea. And the behind-the-scenes parts didn’t look any better, especially when you consider that the whole thing started with Square-Enix giving Naoki Yoshida the role of producer and director on the title.
Forget for a moment that you know how the story ends. Consider that not only was this move giving absolute power to a man who had never worked on a project of this scope before, but it was also betting on him being such an effective cheerleader for the project that people would like him personally. And that’s a pretty huge bet! There are lots of people who are not good on camera regardless of how good they are at their jobs. Also, let’s not forget that the relaunch was coming about a bit after a lot of big projects had just hit and were in their honeymoon phase.
And I knew it was a longshot when I got flown out to California to play an early demo build of the game, when most of the people I knew who were aware of the game – including me – were joking about how this was probably going to be a disaster. I don’t want to recount the office politics necessary to even get me flown out there in the first place, but my hotel arrangements were “crashing at Bree’s apartment” and having her drive me across the goddamn state at one point. (Something I will forever be thankful for. We haven’t kept working together for more than a decade because we dislike each other, fam.) [And he forgave me for putting him up on a blow-up bed in my newborn’s half-finished nursery. It was a fun weekend! Thanks for nothin’, AOL! -Bree]
But there was something there. Even sitting in a hot, non-air-conditioned, stuffy loft on uncomfortable chairs in California in the summer… I could feel something as I ran around in the Shroud on that early demo, taking on enemies with the redesigned classes. Something was happening.
It’s not hard to understand where a lot of the influences for FFXIV’s redesign come from, in no small part because Naoki Yoshida is not shy about them. But those influences alone do not tell the story of why the game has wound up being not just a successful relaunch but an astonishing success in the field. Lots of games were influenced by the same sources and didn’t go on to this level of success. Heck, Star Wars: The Old Republic had not only the same primary influence in terms of mechanics but the same conceit of a story-focused MMO, and the backing of EA and an even bigger IP. And it launched first. Why this and not that?
There are lots of potential answers to that, like how engaging crafting was in FFXIV from an early point, or how the game was unafraid to luxuriate in its MMO nature aside from the story, or how well the balance worked. But I think the truth of the matter is even more simple and yet difficult to analyze: FFXIV, even just in its relaunch, had a spark of something. It was a game that got a whole heck of a lot right immediately, out of the (second) gate.
Oh, sure, the early dungeons were not amazing, and I look back at them now and see weaknesses. But I still ran them gladly and repeatedly, and they felt novel and engaging then. Sure, the original versions of Castrum Meridianum and The Praetorium were kinda terrible and a lesson in making eight-player dungeons. Still cool the first time, though. I could not tell you what gave the game the right alchemy right from that first demo station, even now, but I can tell you that it was there.
Playing FFXIV felt like the first time I kissed someone in the hot haze of late July evening, an unexpected brush of the lips and pressure that quickened my heartbeat and set my mind on fire. It felt like being told “hey, this is great” after turning in a draft at work that I was worried about. It was making a risky plan at a tabletop game, throwing a pair of dice, and seeing them stop at just the right point.
And then the team just had to deliver and improve for another decade. That’s easy, right?
There are always people with bad takes about the game. I talked about it last week, even, and had people swarming the comments complaining about content the game used to deliver while ignoring that all the listed content in question is still provided at the same pace as always. (In other words, it wasn’t Hard dungeons. Bang!) And that’s honestly nothing new. Some people are going to be like that; some people are going to mark down stories because they include references to the wrong games or whatever. Not everything is going to be equally fun for everyone else.
And it’s not as if the game has done everything right, either. We still haven’t found a good form of content for relics after three different tries (the current setup is efficient, but that’s not the same as good). Housing is still a mess. Balance is an ever-shifting target. Some stories are still weaker than others, and we’re reaching the point where there’s a really unconscionably long content ladder for new players as well as a meaningful disparity between older content and newer iterations.
But after a decade, the game is still known to be a happening place to hang out. New players are still showing up. The community is known as welcoming. People have fun. I’ve never been remotely inclined to rank the expansions for the game because the worst of them has still been very good. Naoki Yoshida comes on-stage and people are still excited to see him after a decade. That’s something special.
A decade later, I’m still chilling in Etheirys and happy to be here. Maybe the next decade will change that, I don’t know. But even if it does, 10 years is a really good run.
Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments or via mail to email@example.com. Apologies if this one feels a little disjointed, but… it’s tough to really sum up this experience over the past decade, I’m not going to lie. There’s a lot to be left on the cutting room floor. So you know what? Let’s talk about that next. Let’s talk about the cutting room floor that we already know for FFXIV, not in terms of changed story but just undelivered features. And no, I’m not talking about 1.0.