I've been a fan of Final Fantasy since I was nine years old. When I talked my mother into buying me an NES, the first game I wanted was not Super Mario Brothers; it was Final Fantasy. Role-Playing Games have always been a weakness of mine, especially the great ones that include the likes of Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, and so on. Final Fantasy, as a series, has become one of the greatest running series in gaming history. There have been many bold moves by Square Enix throughout the lifespan of the series, such as making the jump to the Playstation in the mid-1990s with Final Fantasy VII, which ended up being hailed as possibly the greatest game ever created at the time. It is impossible not to acknowledge that the series is incredibly influential with each passing title.
Back in 2002, Square Enix took what was considered to be a major risk by making the eleventh main title for the series and turning it into an MMORPG. At that time, World of Warcraft wasn't even in existence and Everquest was considered to be the best MMORPG available. Even with the risk, Square Enix seemed to pull it off by releasing the game to much praise, generally hitting solid B grades from most media outlets. The game was considered to be quite difficult, primarily making subscribers to the game work together in teams in order to level up and offering plenty of end-game content as well as several expansions over the course of the past ten years. I have many fond memories of this game, as I picked it up relatively close to the Playstation 2 launch date, mainly to get the 20 GB HDD for my PS2. I expected to try out the game for a couple of weeks to burn up the thirty day trial that came with the game and then move on to the next game on my list. Instead, I ended up playing the game for close to seven years. I found myself on the Cerberus server and had an Elvaan character come along by the name of Takui and show me where to find a couple of quests. When he was finished helping me, he gave me a Linkpearl by the named of "ClanDestine" which officially put me into a Linkshell, which is FFXI's version of a guild. I freely admitted to my old friends in that Linkpearl that, if it hadn't been for them, I would not have played that game for very long. Even if I had not stuck with the game, there was no denying that Final Fantasy XI had plenty of longevity.
Square Enix began development on Final Fantasy XIV at some point in the mid-2000s. With plenty of teasers dropped by Square Enix, 2009 really became the first formal announcement for the game at Sony's E3 Conference. Eventually, the game was put into Alpha and Beta versions before hitting its official release date of September 22, 2010. I decided to get back into MMORPGs by joining some friends in the game, only to find that it was marred by glitches, errors, and gameplay that was not very good. Most fans, especially those who had played Final Fantasy XI, had hoped for some type of a crossover into the new game, using an engine based on FFXI that would allow for single player development without the need of a group. Instead, subscribers got a very broken system with a terrible targeting and mapping system. There have been at least two instances of a formal apology from Square Enix to players of the game, and that is never a good thing when you have to do it once, let alone twice.
What sparked this article was an email that I received a few days ago from Square Enix and the FFXIV development team and the Director of the game, Naoki Yoshida. It read as follows:
This October, shortly after the one-year anniversary of Final Fantasy XIV, Square Enix President Yoichi Wada, and Producer/Director Naoki Yoshida released an announcement regarding the future direction and scope of the game. Together with this, several detailed documents were also made public, including a detailed outline and roadmap of the game's development and upcoming version 2.0 release. Over the course of the next year and beyond, the team will continue to create extensive patches packed with new and exciting content as they strive towards realizing the new FINAL FANTASY XIV they have envisioned and work diligently to bring it to fans around the world!
Subscriber numbers have fluctuated heavily in the last year, and it's quite difficult to get a grasp on how many players are actually in-game as Square Enix hasn't formally released a list. One thing that needs to be mentioned, though, is that Square Enix has made the game free to play until they feel it is the final product that it should have been at launch, although the plan to reinstate the subscription fee at the end of October may be the dagger in the chest of this game.
With all of this information, I pose the question to everyone in a rhetorical sense: Is Final Fantasy XIV doomed? The game has suffered plenty of setbacks and has plenty of fans complaining about the lack of content. On top of this, the fact that they are starting to charge again when they have formally admitted that the "re-release" is barely 50 percent complete. These are some very questionable moves by a company that basked in plenty of success with its first attempt at an MMO, yet is failing quite miserably at its second attempt.
So let's ask the big question: What went wrong with Final Fantasy XIV?
Problem number one: Mapping system.
When I first played this game, I was hoping for something similar to FFXI. It wasn't perfect, but it left certain things to the imagination and gave you enough of an idea as to where you were going. You had to purchase the maps as you went along, or else you were doomed to just wander aimlessly in zones. In FFXIV, even having a map wasn't a guarantee that you would figure out where to go. Initially, you had no idea where you were in an area unless you had a fantastic memory and could correlate your direction based on turns that you had made. The comparison to the two was pretty far apart, and that is being generous. The grid system that FFXI had in place made it easy to coordinate with party or linkshell members as to where you were heading, needed at raise at, or to meet up. FFXIV has been rather difficult, though patches have been put in place to help.
Problem number two: Graphical glitches
This has been a minor complaint, but it still effects the overall feel of the game. Monsters would have various little blips and glitches to them, or the surrounding area would simply pixelate in early versions of FFXIV. In FFXI, graphical errors were few and far between, even from launch day. It was one thing that Square Enix made sure they got right the first time around with FFXI. I can still remember going through the four primary cities in my early days, especially in Jeuno, which looked like an ancient Greek or Roman city. I just don't get that same feel from FFXIV.
Problem number three: Content
Easily the biggest problem that FFXIV has had, there simply isn't enough content for a player to justify paying fifteen bucks a month. FFXI made sure to get an expansion out almost immediately after launch in the name of Rise of the Zilart. There were plenty of classes to choose from and the job system worked very well. If you got bored with your initial job, you could switch it up and try out a new job. On top of this, part of the fun of FFXI was going to unlock the advanced classes once you hit level 30. I immediately took on the Paladin quest and ended up sticking with it until endgame. Job classes aside, though, you look at the vast number of areas and quests that were available in the early days of FFXI in comparison to FFXIV, and you really have the final nail in the coffin as to the comparison between the two.
It's difficult to point out one thing that has put this game into an incredible limbo, but most people point at the very broken engine that has wreaked havoc for gamers, especially in the early months of the title. Final Fantasy XI was hammered early on for its very steep learning curve as well as the necessity to team up with other gamers, but it balanced itself out quite quickly and turned out to be a long running MMO that held a powerful community of players that were dedicated for years. On top of this, Square Enix made sure to keep its community very happy and showered content as much as possible in order to strengthen its subscriber numbers.
Unfortunately for Square Enix, Final Fantasy XIV has not seen the same success. While Square Enix has promised to fix this game, you have to wonder if and when the time will come when they should just pull the plug, especially since the Playstation 3 version of the game has been delayed several times over and has yet to even hit the shelves. The latest information from Square Enix has said that the game will come to the PS3 sometime between now and December 2012.
By that time, this game may very have its life support pulled.