In August 2010 I commented briefly on the personal disappointment Square Enix’ (SE) long awaited FFXI successor FFXIV (or FF14) was quickly becoming. As it turned out not just for myself. Scores of franchise fans and die-hard FF online gamers turned away in horror over the sluggish and boring combat system, the bad pacing and endless walks, slow controls and overall slow responsiveness, badly designed UI, hindered social interaction and controversial design such as a lack of auction house or diminishing returns on XP. FFXIV didn’t just have a bad launch as some MMOs do – it had a completely premature launch paired with the highest player expectations. A recipe for disaster.
The rest of the story is well-known: as the bad reviews (the linked one being a personal favorite) were piling up, FFXIV flatlined shortly after and went temporarily free-to-play. SE announced the dismissal of a substantial part of their management and development team. Considering the game had only been out for three months that reaction was both quick and meant as a statement.
After the initial shock had ebbed down in the media, things went quiet around FFXIV. The game that was meant to appeal to a wider, more casual mainstream audience than its predecessor (still going strong and releasing expansions after 8 years) was shelved in the collective memory of the MMO market, the way Age of Conan was after a similar launch mishap in 2008. It’s hard to judge whether MMOs can ever truly recover from launch failures like that but in FFXIV’s case too this is not how the story ended.
A Realm Reborn in more than just name
As reported by Gamespot in August 2012, the severe damage to SE’s flagship has been done but they are far from accepting defeat for FFXIV. Not only has the game undergone a drastic revamp and overhaul in many necessary areas, SE mean to re-launch the title completely – as in there be no more trace of past failures! FFXIV has not just been fixed or patched these past months, it has been turned into what the developer considers a new game. Retail partners of SE have been asked to discontinue all FFXIV sales until A Realm Reborn launches and to “destroy all remaining inventory” of the old title. How is that for faith in your own product?
“For many companies, that would be the end of it. Call it quits, burn it down, and cut its losses. But not Square Enix.[…]
And so Final Fantasy XIV lives on, but the game is almost unrecognizable. The visuals have been greatly improved, powered as they are by a new graphics engine, which Yoshida says needed to be as impressive as possible, thanks to the long life span of the MMO. The animation engine has been overhauled too, with the niggling lag that made the game feel so sluggish now eliminated. The maps have been redesigned, all-new assets have been created, and there are “hundreds” of new quests to complete, and dungeons to explore–a content quest finder will make them easier to find. More importantly, that sprawling, confusing interface has been streamlined, and seeing the game in action, it immediately looks a lot more user-friendly. Menus have been simplified, icons have been made clearer, and the whole thing can be customized to your own preferences. And that’s just the PC version.” (Gamespot)
During my research for this article, I came across many negative forum comments along the lines of “why aren’t SE not giving up already?” and I seriously cringed inside. Yeah, why don’t they? Why not just give up on so many years of hard team labor, development, vision (financial expenditure aside)? Why not just toss a 20+ year old legacy to the wind after a mere three months of a bombed 1.0?
Is that even a serious question? ….
Obviously this is how MMOs are treated by cynical gaming audiences these days. Not only is launch time pivotal, it is not enough anymore to safely steer your ship through the calmer seas of a few 100k subscribers, the way FFXI always has done while staying profitable. But when major titles like SWTOR or even TSW face ruin so early into their life cycles, it is a horribly sad thing for everyone involved. The wonder box that could have been FFXIV was barely glimpsed.
Call me biased. As a gamer raised on classic JRPGs and used to the brilliance of FF titles, my heart goes out to this new MMO. Forever Squaresoft’s Final Fantasy series (along with other titles such as the Secret of Mana or Chrono games) have been the epitome of polish, beautiful graphics and music, unforgettable characters, interesting team combat and narrative depth. For a very long time did the RPG powerhouse not only dominate the genre on console but constantly set new standards for quality gaming experiences – not unlike Blizzard in its own niches. The only other, similarly consistent contestant during that era was Nintendo’s Zelda franchise (and we are still debating if Zelda is not an adventure game!).
So yes, I would like to see FFXIV get another chance. If SE have the resources, which seems to be the case, I fully support this developer in its unfaltering faith and endeavor to give things one more go before tossing them in the gutter for good. The shaken development team deserves as much.
A first beta for A Realm Reborn has been moved to February 2013 and an official launch ETA has yet to be revealed by SE. Late 2013 is probably the fairest estimate at this point. For my part, I want to keep an open mind. I’m very interested in the final conclusion and having moved FFXIV to my MMO to-do list anyway, I am excited to see 2.0 go live. I keep my fingers crossed for SE delivering on their promises – and convincing the rest of the MMO world out there that such a thing as second chances exist in the world of online games. In the end it’s you who decides.