While Chris "Pwyff" Tom is beyond excited about Final Fantasy XIV, he also understands that communication is key when it comes to making a better MMO.
I've played a lot of MMORPGs so, when I look back at my experiences, I like to think that I've become somewhat of a veteran of the genre. Side-scrolling MMOs, Turn-based MMOs, First Person Shooter MMOs, World of Warcraft MMOs and pretty much everything in between (and beyond). Interestingly enough, while I can say that I've played World of Warcraft, Warhammer Online, Vanguard, Perfect World and a multitude of others, there remains only two of the entire group that I would consider 'home.' While the first, Ragnarok Online, shouldn't come as much of a surprise to you (I seem to compare everything to this game), the second world I used to call home, and still do, even though I don't play anymore, is Vana'diel.
Final Fantasy XI remains as one of the best MMORPGs I've ever played, despite knowing and experiencing every possible form of frustration known to humankind. I suppose a comparison to most relationships can be used here, as there are some games, like World of Warcraft, that are just so polished - it's difficult to really find any flaws, but it's also difficult to really build a connection and call that IronForge Auction House your... home. Final Fantasy XI, however, when it's not getting you killed and deleveled because sneak likes to wear off every 10 seconds and when it's not giving you a critical break when you're trying to synth your first Haubergeon, has an incredible amount of personality. Maybe I should say that some of its appeal stems from these rage-inducing events, but I don't want to give anyone the impression that I really enjoy spending 3 hours up in sky just to get a crystal.
While I've moved on to 'greener' pastures, I honestly wish that the pastures of FFXI had been enough to satisfy me. Like most love-hate relationships, I soon craved a more stable affair; one that would reward me something for five hours of work (crystals don't count!). Ultimately it took me 5 years and two breaks to really sneak away from this game - the whole time wishing that I could have stayed.
Thus, with the announcement of Final Fantasy XIV, Square Enix's brand new MMO - and no more PS2 limitations! -you can imagine my joy. Relationships, however, especially ones with a lot of history, take time to re-establish. Not only that, but if you run back into the arms of a former lover, it's probably best that you don't hope for the best, but instead, put forth your very best effort to ensure that this time, the relationship works. Thus, what can we expect from Square Enix this time around? Further, what do we want from Square Enix this time around?
What we know.
This game will be awesome.
OK, that's a little biased, but it's certainly something we can hope for. Elmer the Pointy, ZAM.com's new Final Fantasy XIV Content Manager, gave a ton of information yesterday on the game, but for those of you who are too lazy to check it out (you really should), allow me to summarize it for you:
Final Fantasy XIV promises to be an 'evolved' game of Final Fantasy XI. While we already know that it's the same team developing both (and has been for the past four or five years), Nobuako Komoto, the director for Final Fantasy XIV, points to the fact that they are looking to take everything they've learned from Final Fantasy XI and apply it in XIV. In this case, it doesn't mean implementing new features to cover old problems (Fields of Valour to amend the lack of experience-giving quests, Level Sync to help unloved Dark Knights get parties); no, this will be a game that, from the very beginning, has a wealth of experience and design knowledge behind it to make sure that FFXIV can offer everything FFXI offered (and more), but in a cohesive format that was designed to fit together from the very beginning.
While job classes, experience points and the combat system have not been elaborated upon just yet, users have already begun trying to guess at how they can evolve their characters throughout the game. One of the most prevalent theories, and one that has been supported by hints from the SE team, is that users will evolve based upon what weapon they use and that the typical 'job system' will be abolished in favour of more fluid character growth. Think about gaining weaponskills via skilling up your weapon, but now tie your abilities and stat growth to your skill level. That sounds like a decent guess at the new system.
No more PS2 limitations. This may not be a big deal to some, but to me, it's huge. While the PS2 wasn't a slouch in its processing capabilities, it's certainly frustrating to hear that some of the most basic additions (new hairstyles or character models) could not be implemented because of "PS2 limitations." Not only that, but with SE's unwavering devotion to their PS2 user-base (which is commendable), it really makes you wonder if certain aspects within the game are inhibiting Vana'diel because SE made it so, or if they can't 'upgrade' it because of PS2 limitations. With the beastly PS3 and high-end PCs being the chosen host for FFXIV, it's difficult to imagine a time when we'll be groaning about PS3 limitations.
A new world and familiar faces. While most players will recognize their friendly local Galka, Hume and Elvaan in the trailer, the SE team is quick to stress that this is to encourage familiarity, but nothing beyond that. One thing that struck me that most haven't seemed to notice is the fact that while the SE team has noted that they will be using very similar races so that FFXI players will be happy to 'reincarnate' their avatars, they have not stated that these familiar faces will be the only ones available in the world of Haiderin (that seems to be the best rendering of the Japanese title ハイデリン). Some people may scoff at my personal hope for the wildly improbable Moogle race, but one can hope. A Moogle with a great axe. Seriously, why has this not been done?
The rise of the casual! The fact that the SE team has acknowledged that they are 'aware' of casual-friendly games like World of Warcraft, Warhammer Online and Age of Conan tells me, beyond anything else, that they are definitely learning from their mistakes. I'll be honest when I admit that I adhere more to the Asian MMO standard - one that demands a lot of work for smaller gains, but I would be lying if I said that I look forward to farming gil for three weeks so that I can afford a single piece of armour. While I'm absolutely certain they won't sell out and go for the full-blown "you've killed a rat! Have a legendary item!" route, I will say that I believe the perfect balance of work to reward is to be found somewhere in between FFXI and World of Warcraft, which is precisely the area that SE seems to be aiming for.
All in all, from the information given above, most MMO gamers can be certain that FFXIV will be more appealing to all audiences. It will be more intuitive, it will have faster game play, the graphics will be awe-inspiring, and Nobuo Uematsu is doing the music. Words can't express the happiness I felt when I heard that Nobuo Uematsu had signed on to do the music for FFXIV. To be honest, while this certainly does feel like a dream come true, I can speak from experience in saying that all things can be improved. In this way, the Final Fantasy XI community, and I as well, have our own worries about this game.
My Hopes And Aspirations For Final Fantasy XIV.
I was actually going to turn this into some kind of giant wishlist for my aspirations of playing a Moogle with a great axe, but I realize now that there are really only three issues that I would like to see addressed with FFXIV.
I understand that the SE team has been trying harder to stay in contact with their communities and keep everyone informed, but I won't be the last person to say that there certainly could be more chatter. World of Warcraft has their indefatigable Greg "Ghostcrawler" Street patrolling the World of Warcraft forums day and night, chatting with the community and explaining development implementations. In fact, most MMORPGs have, at the very least, official forum GMs, designated by the parent company to talk to the players and learn what issues are plaguing the community. While I realize that SE is a Japan-based company and translation issues are only the beginning of our problems, I know I'm not the only one who hopes that the release of FFXIV heralds an age of more development transparency and a greater community connection from company to players.
While I really do understand the reasons why Square Enix didn't want PVP in FFXI, the fact remains that sometimes it's just a lot of fun to release your tensions while whomping on other players. As a guy who used to participate in every Ballista possible (when there were enough people) as well as taking part in the Ballista Royale, you can be certain that I'll be pushing for some kind of PVP content that's actually supported by development. I understand that too much focus on PVP will detract attention from balancing for PVE, but on the other hand, PVP is one of the few things that can be enjoyed in the time span of thirty minutes to an hour and still have the player feeling like they did something fun with their short amount of time.
Make it feel like home again.
In reality, this is the number one thing I will be looking for in FFXIV, and if I find that feeling once more, I suspect that this will be the game for me. To be honest, if FFXIV is released and, upon entering the world of Haiderin I instantly recall that old feeling of coming home, I'm fairly certain that this time I'll be home for good.
P.S. If I could jump, that would be swell.
P.P.S. Moogles with great axes.
Christopher "Pwyff" Tom