Yoshi-P's media tour opens the floodgates for information on Final Fantasy XIV.
I'm finally able to show you all what I got to see on the Square Enix media tour they invited me to in San Francisco on the 15th. It was a great trip and there are a lot of things to tell you about!
Recently I had the good fortune to attend a media event being held by Square Enix in San Francisco to talk about the relaunch of Final Fantasy XIV as A Realm Reborn. The highlight of the event was the opportunity to meet Producer Naoki Yoshida and talk about his vision of what FFXIV will be; for the ARR launch and beyond.
Everything I saw was incredibly impressive and I am very excited about where this game is going. Yoshida-san, along, with the rest of Square Enix, is dedicated to making this game not just acceptable but exponentially better than the original.
The space that was rented for this event was transformed into a life-like replica of Gridania (one of the city-states in FFXIV). Climbing up the stairs from outside, the wall looked like concept art from Gridania with a strong forest aesthetic.
To begin the event, we were treated to a viewing of the benchmark video, which will be available for all to download on February 22. It was fantastic; we got to see an enormous dragon (some relation of Bahamut's perhaps?), adventurers taking part in large scale battles with monsters and chocobo riding all over Eorzea. One thing that caught my eye was a black mage casting Meteor, but more about that in a bit.
The presentation by Yoshida-san covered five areas:
• The Final Fantasy Series in general
• FFXIV Specifically
• Version 1.0 versus A Realm Reborn
• Details About A Realm Reborn
• The Playstation 3 Version
The Final Fantasy Series in Perspective
Final Fantasy is the most important global franchise for Square Enix. One thing that was emphasized over and over again is that because FFXIV is a numbered Final Fantasy, they will never give up on it, no matter what. This was emphasized at several points throughout the entire presentation. Square Enix is dedicated to making sure that FFXIV is going to have the same graphical and storytelling excellence that Final Fantasy games are renowned for, and that it is dedicated to working with the fans to make sure they're happy with the game.
A Realm Reborn, a New Game at Launch
FFXIV will initially support the English, Japanese, French and German languages. It will use a monthly subscription model and will launch for Windows PCs at the same time as the Playstation 3. They have rebuilt everything for ARR from the ground up including the server and battle systems, the user interface, the maps and system resources. Everything is brand new, and they wanted to emphasize that this is not an expansion; it's a complete rewrite of everything in the game.
Contrasting 1.0 and ARR
Next we were shown a comparison between the 1.0 game and ARR. Firstly, Camera distance is greatly improved.
Obviously there was no jumping in 1.0, and with jumping added in ARR new areas open up that can be explored, even if it's just jumping over a fence while you're running through some fields, it makes a real difference. Lighting effects like lens flare has been added and there were also some cool effects added at dusk with character shadows. The water in ARR looks so much better as well, you can see through in parts to the features of the sea floor.
Areas in 1.0 that were either non-existent (other than named points on the map) or had very little in the way of life are now not only actual places you can visit with buildings and NPCs but they can be fully explored and interacted with. Moraby Docks actually has docks now, and Buscarron's Druthers is more than just a shack in the middle of Gridania, it has buildings that can be entered and NPCs that you can talk to. Camp Tranquil is amazingly different, with interconnected platforms via bridges and giant adamantoise and morbols below. All of the areas show more signs of life than in 1.0 and give the game a better atmosphere.
Battle in ARR is much faster than 1.0 and is more visually appealing. They designed it to be stress free and easy to complete solo fights.
To put it simply, the game feels completely new from the inside out.
The World of A Realm Reborn
There will be three main story arcs that can be started right away when the game launches. Hydaelyn is the planet upon which everything takes place. The Mother Crystal is the embodiment of the planet's consciousness, and she speaks to the adventurers and depends on them for help protecting her. This storyline will continue as long as FFXIV is around, with new adventures for years to come, not just for ARR. The second story arc involves the invasion of the Garlean Empire.
Eorzea is made up of the three city states of Ul'dah, Limsa Lominsa and Gridania. Each city state has formed a grand company to fight against the Garlean Empire, which is trying to invade Eorzea. At the end of this slide there was this quoted text: "Legends will sing of the Warriors of Light" indicating that the adventurers in Eorzea will be sent forth on various missions to repel the invaders. The third story arc will involve the primals, which are commonly known as summons in other Final Fantasy games. Since the attack by Bahamut, the primals have grown in strength and influence. They are destroying the world by consuming ether which the Mother Crystal needs to continue to exist. It is up to the adventurers to stop this and save the mother crystal by defeating the primals. Ifrit, Shiva, Odin, etc, if it was in another Final Fantasy it is something they want to add to FFXIV.
Aside from these story arcs, there are other questions that will be answered. For example, what happened to Bahamut? This same storyline will explain why the realm was reborn, which they plan to do using quests, in-game rendered cut scenes, and all of the other classic storytelling devices that Final Fantasy is known for.
ARR will have everything Final Fantasy fans love about the series: The Crystal Tower for end game content, Cait Sith, Moogles and other characters. There will be pets (I saw a balloon, a mammet and a chocobo chick for starters), Magitek (which Yoshida-san said he wants players to be able to ride! Squeeeee!), and of course NM encounters in the form of FATE battles (more on those below).
Square Enix wants to raise the bar for MMOs, with any idea from other Final Fantasy games up for grabs. Yoshida-san said in the meeting he would like to see the Golden Saucer implemented from Final Fantasy VII as well as party play limit breaks which he explained was what the black mage was doing when he was casting Meteor in the benchmark video.
Unlike any other MMO, graphically the quality of the game will improve as the game ages, with Square Enix setting a goal that FFXIV will always be at the top of MMO graphics.
Other things that will be implemented are housing systems, public quests, dungeons and raids. Yoshida-san is also a huge fan of PvP and wants to add large scale PvP to Final Fantasy, hopefully sparking interest in PvP in fans that may not have had much exposure to the play style in the past.
FFXIV on PS3
The PS3 version of FFXIV will launch at the same time as the Windows version and players on the PS3 will connect to the same servers as Windows users. They will be moving servers to various regions to help with connectivity.
All game accounts will work cross platform, so if you are playing in your living room and you are kicked off the TV you can fire up your laptop or go to your office and continue on the Windows version. PS3 users will be invited during phase 3 of the Beta. The PS3 version of the game is about 75% optimized, and from the video I was shown the big issue seems to be frame rates needing some work. However, Square Enix has engaged a team from Sony to assist with the optimization of the game's code for the PS3, and they are making sure that they will push the hardware to its limits in order to get the game to run the way that they and fans expect.
Some gamers might be wondering about PS3 trophies for ARR. Unfortunately Sony requires that the trophy lists be set once the master disk is submitted, and so they would be forced to wait for the next expansion to add more trophies to the game. This isn't acceptable for Yoshida-san; he instead wants to create in-game achievements that will let players show off their accomplishments.
The most interesting part of the presentation for me was the controls for the gamepad. SE has created a specific user interface for gamepad users, to make the experience more enjoyable. The default controls (that we were shown) have L3 drawing your weapon, R3 unlocks the camera and allows you to move it all over, circle selects the nearest target, square is jump, triangle is the menu, and X cancels selections. These behaviors will be fully customizable and you will be able to change things to fit your play style (which is good for me as I was concerned about having X be cancel, it would take me months to stop mashing circle for the same purpose). Changing targets (for PC and NPCs) is accomplished by pressing right and left on the directional pad, while pressing up and down will cycle through party members only. They have plans for a scheme to cycle through monsters only but that wasn’t revealed to us.
The big feature of the controller user interface is called the Cross Hotbar, and exists in the middle of your screen along the bottom of the window. This system utilizes the directional pad and four buttons while holding L2 or R2. It sounds difficult but after watching Yoshida-san give a demonstration I think it's going to be a fantastic system for fans of the game pad. Actions are assigned to the Cross Hotbar as you acquire them by default, but of course you can change them as you wish. There are lots of command sets available to be used, you can switch between them by pressing L1 and R1. You can also add custom macros to slots in the Cross Hotbar, making the interface completely customizable. Beta testers will get a chance to try this out in Phase 2 of the beta.
Another thing that interests me is how add-ons are going to be implemented for ARR. The dev team will be releasing a tool for Windows only that they are planning to have out 6 months after launch. This system will work similarly to other MMOs today, allowing gamers to create their own user interface elements to customize the game to their playing style. There is a lot of data being sent from server side that isn't displayed because they didn't want to intimidate players with a cluttered interface, so Yoshida-san is really looking forward to seeing what gamers create!
Notorious monsters have been removed from the game and the new FATE system will instead replace them. FATE stands for Full Active Time Event, which will be a zone wide event that all players can participate in even if they aren't in the same party or alliance, allowing everyone to attack the target monsters. Once it starts, everyone in the zone will be alerted and the position shown on the map. Once you get close to where the event is taking place, more details about the objective will be shown. The FATE events will be of varying difficulty, and the best gear will come from the most difficult FATE battles. This was done to get rid of competition for rare monsters, which is a pain point for most MMOs that have notorious monsters. For example, Behemoth is going to be a FATE battle in ARR.
Yoshida-san wanted to assure hard core gamers that he is one of us, and that he will make sure there are things to do once you have finished the main story lines.
The end game content from 1.0 will of course be present in ARR. They will also be creating a "hard-mode" for the dungeons, as well as challenges all the way up to the Crystal Tower (a raid dungeon for an alliance of up to 24 players). FATE battles like Behemoth will require a lot of skill to defeat. The items you get from the most difficult FATE battles will be well worth the effort as they are going to make the attributes of these items have more impact on a player.
Yoshida-san wants FFXIV to be accessible to more gamers, even those with modest gaming systems. Hardware-wise they are not focusing on one manufacturer over another (like Nvidia or ATI), but instead want to get the game running with pleasing graphics no matter what hardware you have as long as you have updated drivers. The team is putting a lot of effort into making sure the game looks great on even lower powered computers. At this point of the interview Yoshida-san showed me the Sony Vaio laptop screen he had in front of him that was running ARR. He grabbed a controller sitting next to it and proceeded to show me how smoothly the game was running even on this tiny laptop. It looked fantastic.
Yoshida-san and his team have really outdone themselves with FFXIV:ARR. I think, overall, things are moving in a positive direction that all fans can be happy about, especially when one considers how the initial release of FFXIV went. The community team was incredibly fun to hang out with, Yoshida-san was a gracious host, and Square Enix should be proud of what they are doing with this game.
There is some work still to be completed, but I think those who participate in the beta can expect their voices to be heard and that FFXIV:ARR has the potential to be a game of unique quality that could be a breath of fresh air in the MMO market.