Whatever we were getting back from Final Fantasy XIV version 1.0 is already in the game. Period end. And let’s be honest, there was a lot that needed to go. As much as the huge seamless zones looked impressive from the outside, for example, in practice the loading zones were just hidden, which meant that the actual world was largely a space full of copy-pasted assets that were impossible to distinguish from each other. There are areas I miss, sure, but that just means I want more zones in the present style.
But that doesn’t mean version 1.0 was devoid of value by any stretch of the imagination. Truth be told, while it was a janky mess with a lot of really bad systems, and some of the fun stuff was also jank as heck, there are also some things that were neat or at least had some merit to them even if getting rid of it to make the modern game was indisputably the right call. So let’s talk a little bit about the parts of 1.0 that were genuinely memorable and neat.
Now… some of the stuff that was good then is still good now, and often better. For example, it was definitely nice to have crafting stats on gear. We still have that, and while it made for some unique silhouettes to, say, let Armorcrafters wear heavy armor and get some benefit from it in theory? I don’t think that was necessarily a net benefit to stat design or gear design. It’d be nice to bring back for cosmetics, but I’m all right with it not existing any more.
But there are things that were neat and aren’t around any longer – like the original idea for the Armoury System, where every class and weapon was its own skill line.
There were really two aspects to this particular system. First, you had the active skills you learned by leveling up, with every skill having an “affinity” for its home weapon type; second, you had the traits that you earned by completing guild tasks for the associated weapon guild, which most notably improved your affinity with actions even while using different weapons. Since each weapon had certain unique actions that required your having it equipped, there were reasons to use one as a base – but also a whole lot of reasons to branch out.
Now… in practice this was a mess, as there were absolutely better or worse actions, and it was a gigantic pain in the rear to learn things even after the game was fixed to no longer just give you a chance to gain experience with a weapon. And this was also tied in with manual stat allocation, which was… ugh. That was awful. But the core idea here? Really keen!
What we got instead were much more bespoke rotations with planned synergy, and let me absolutely clear: The results are a definite improvement insofar as they make the various jobs (which originally were not in the game at all) fun, mechanically dense, and distinctive. You can’t really have both. But it did make leveling everything feel fun, like you were adding more tools in an ever-growing box, and it had a charm to it all its own.
This goes hand in hand with the fact that a lot of 1.0 was very clearly designed with a certain idea about where it was going to go, but a lot of that was not communicated very well or even at all. There was a sense wandering in the open world that you were not moving through a world that had been designed to wrap up at level 50; this was a world that had been designed to wrap up at level 75 or whatever, but you were getting to play it now and speculate on what these parts would be later.
One of the things sprinkled throughout the world were little airship stands that were meant for… something. What that something was never got even mentioned beyond assurances that they were there for a reason. It was clear that the sheer size of the game’s five zones were meant to lead to something, that Mor Dhona and Coerthas especially had enemies that were too high to fight solo leading into areas without a clear purpose… yet.
It was bad design for making players feel welcome, but a good design for preserving some mystery for the future. I still do speculate and wonder, for example, what Ishgard would have been like if the game hadn’t crashed and burned. Was this meant to be the new Jeuno? It seems logical, but it’s far less central than Jeuno ever was. Indeed, there are so many questions from airships to chocobos to even things like dual-wielding.
Yes, back in the day, there was a strict distinction between one-handed weapons and two-handed ones, but it definitely gave the impression that dual-wielding was on deck for the future. We just… hadn’t unlocked it yet. Obviously that never happened, but hey.
Of course, you cannot really play a game based on what it might be at some point in the future. This is, ultimately, the biggest problem that led to 1.0 not being viable. I have no doubt that there were plans akin to how Final Fantasy XI really didn’t finish its base game until Rise of the Zilaart – because it worked just fine then, so why won’t it work again? Usually this is where I say that’s a convincing argument if you don’t know how the story ends, but in this case it’s a bad argument even if you don’t. Knowing the end of the story doesn’t change it much.
And of course, I don’t think producer and director Naoki Yoshida exactly stays up at nights thinking about how he can bring back elements from 1.0, even disregarding that classic “nightmare” clip. He doesn’t need to. While FFXIV has undeniably changed significantly over the decade of its existence following the relaunch, it has largely remained recognizable in its structure, goals, and mechanics. The design team knew what it was doing back then, and the devs know what they’re doing now.
But I do think it’s worth noting that the game did not go from being a mess totally devoid of worth to being what it is now. It’s like Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings: Sure, the later project is quite a bit better and deserves the adoration it has received, but the original had a charm to it just the same. It’s hard to fully articulate the charm that the original launch FFXIV had, especially as much of that charm was undercut by the fact that it was – let’s not mince words – a terrible gameplay experience most of the time. But there was still something there.
Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments down below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Normally I would also invite you to chime in with your own memories of 1.0, and you are certainly welcome to do so, but I feel as if at this point that’s largely like my asking a room full of people to talk about their memories of playing on an NES; it’s not the median audience any longer. Instead, next week I will attempt to not date my decaying hunk of depressed meat by instead discussing something forward-looking. When are we going to the Void again?