Final Fantasy XIV: When a MMO goes to war with itself, who wins?

While I have no personal vested interest in Final Fantasy XIV (or XI, for that matter), I’ve been watching this title near release and then launch closely.  I know a lot of people will say I shouldn’t even touch on this game if I’m not going to play it, but part of being a fan of MMOs is that you can still follow and comment on titles you don’t play as an outside observer.  And this outside observer would sum up the portents of FF14 with a phrase from Star Wars: “I have a bad feeling about this.”

Let’s get the obvious news out of the way: Final Fantasy XIV is taking an absolute drubbing in reviews almost across the boardIGN, Gamespot, Game Trailers, Gamespy, Game Revolution — they are not being kind to this title, to say the least.  Gamespy perhaps speaks for the review crowd when they say:

“I can’t help but feel that FFXIV is cosmic punishment, meted out by some avenging massively multiplayer online deity for my years of complaining about the state of modern online RPGs. They’re too simple, I’ve whined; too hand-holdy, too easy, too friendly, and too safe. FFXIV is none of these things. It is the definition of obtuse: poorly designed, aggressively underexplained, and shoddy in almost every respect that matters.”

To be fair, most of these reviews acknowledge that covering a MMO is an ongoing operation and not something to be encapsulated a couple weeks after launch.  And they do agree on several positive points: Great graphics, terrific story, and at least promising ideas with the class and crafting systems.  But you almost get the sense that they really feel bad at having to say everything negative after that.  Final Fantasy is a legendary franchise, quite beloved and adored by millions.  Unless you have a serious chip on your shoulder about Aeris’ death, I don’t see a huge desire to rip on the FF name.

But what’s captivated my interest is that there’s a solid crowd of players — and bloggers — who stand completely contrary to these reviews.  They love the game, they really appreciate how different it is, and they don’t understand why it’s getting so much vitriol slung at it.  Dragonchasers, Game By Night, even several on the Massively crew — they’re finding a lot of fun to be had here.  They don’t deny that there are a lot of obstacles to appreciating the game, and I’ve seen a lot of honesty in areas that need to be fixed, but they’re firmly in the “pro” camp no matter what the media — or even general public — says.

I can admire that.  After all, if a game is fun for you, that’s what matters most.  Other than staying up and running, whether a game is enormously popular or a tiny niche title is irrelevant compared to your personal enjoyment (or lack thereof).

But what stumped me is that there didn’t seem to be a lot of wiggle room here — it appears (at least to this outsider’s perspective) that Square Enix really misjudged a lot of its design, clumsily forced a console game to work on a PC, and released it prematurely before fixing even some of the most basic systems, such as the economy.  I didn’t get why there wasn’t more critical examination of FF14 — in fact, it more or less feels like the game’s being ignored outside of its own circle.

Despite what anyone believes, I want FF14 to succeed, not because I like the game or would ever play it, but because nobody wins when a game implodes or is canceled.  The game community is not strengthened by such an event, and a lot of hopes and affections are crushed.  If I was a FF14 fan, I’d really be putting the pressure on Square Enix to improve this game and really improve communication as they do so.  There’s a lot of problems here that can’t be defended by players as being quirky charms of a non-traditional MMO.

However, I have been avidly reading what fans of the game are saying and trying to see it from their viewpoint.  I really do understand the attraction an atypical MMO holds, because there’s a lot of burnout of “more of the same” design.  Games shouldn’t be criticized just because they’re different, but they should if they’re different to the point of frustration, inaccessibility and change for change’s sake (versus change for a purpose).

A lot of defenders cite how they appreciate FF14 making them change their normal routine of MMO play, to get a more well-rounded experience, and to focus on things outside of combat ad nauseum.  And that is something I liked about Fallen Earth last year, because that game to me wasn’t about combat, but being a part of a living world.

So I guess this will be my first and last post on this game, because I know I’m unqualified to talk about it — but I just wanted to get these thoughts off my chest.  If you are currently playing, leave a note in the comments section and let us know how you’re finding it!

11 thoughts on “Final Fantasy XIV: When a MMO goes to war with itself, who wins?

  1. CunningB October 13, 2010 / 11:07 am

    I bought this myself, going against the reviews, and it does seem to have the gem of a good game at its heart, it’s enjoyable to play even with all the bugs…

    BUT

    …it shoudl have been soo much more! the little things like just interacting with the UI can be so so painfully slow (this is a server side issue for SE not the old “mouse lag”), combat can occasionally feel a little “clunky”, and the crafting system has a number of glaring bugs, but if you can over look these faults (some of which are easy tweaks to fix) it is fairly fun in a old school work for your rewards kind of game.

    It just a pity that it wsn’t quite ready for launch, oh and as an example of the worst of the UI server lag, selling items in most mmo’s, find a vendor, click each item to sell, jobs done in about 20-60sec.

    For FFXIV, find vendor, navigate through the menu system (15-30sec depending on lag), find the item you want to sell (unsorted backpacks so this can take 15-30sec), select item, confirm sell, wait for it to actually sell (anything from 10sec to 6 MINUTES! depending on if you chose the high populated servers and its a weekend), rinse and repeat for other items.

    I spend 40min of a 60min play session emptying my back pack this weekend in one of the short times i had to play, so not kind on those with limited time :/

  2. Chris October 13, 2010 / 12:35 pm

    Thanks, Syp. This post was very even handed and reasonable. If everyone could take that same kind of approach, I think we’d see a lot less headbutting between blogs and comments. As a fan of the game, I’ve found myself supporting a lot of the criticisms people have brought up. For me, the good and different in the game is enough to outweigh those issues. For other players, it matters more to them, or impacts them more than it does me, so I don’t begrudge them for sharing their opinion. Community support of these criticisms is the only way we’re going to get through to the beast of Square Enix and make them hear us. That being said, a lot of people seem incredibly burned by the game and don’t want to talk; they want to rant. I’ve been guilty of that quite recently, so I know that sometimes you just have to get it out of your system. That overwhelming sentiment just comes off bitter more often than not, however, and it pushes the fans of the game to pull out of the conversation all together.

    I hope you do keep writing on it when things come across your radar. Good or bad, you have the right to share your opinion and anyone that tells you not to because you’re unqualified probably isn’t looking at things with an even viewpoint.

    @CunningB: Wow, that lag you’re hitting is intense. I’ve gotten it too but usually it’s of the second or two variety. 6 minutes is in disconnect territory (in perspective, that’s somewhere around 360,000ms latency). Have you checked your firewall/router settings?

    Either way, the good news is that fixing the UI and control scheme are their top priorities right now, with client performance and new content coming in after that. I can’t find the interview at the moment, but Eliot at Massively got a similar response in his Comic-Con interview. This is the kind of thing you’d expect on the front of the lodestone, though, so case and point with the communication comment, Syp.

  3. Felix October 13, 2010 / 3:10 pm

    I enjoyed this article but I did find one exception to it and it was this:

    “…but because nobody wins when a game implodes or is canceled. The game community is not strengthened by such an event, and a lot of hopes and affections are crushed.”

    I disagree. Maybe the community of the game that implodes isn’t serviced but the community of gamers sure is. It’s important that games fail. A game failing provides some serious feedback to developers and would be MMO financiers. The autopsy on failed games provides insight into what worked and what didn’t and ultimately leads to better games.

    Weep not for the fallen. There is dignity in death.

  4. expostninja October 13, 2010 / 6:03 pm

    Do you really even have to ask me? I mean, you know my answers here already. If you want, when I’m not feeling ill, I’ll even write you out a full diatribe on the topic.

  5. Para October 13, 2010 / 6:10 pm

    What Felix said…

    Otherwise we would all be playing E.T 16 right now.

  6. Dblade October 13, 2010 / 6:31 pm

    It’s the exact same response to when FFXI was released. It got a drubbing then, for many of the same reasons. It sounds like all the people who expected FFWoW and were annoyed that FFXI wasn’t it came back and found not much has changed.

  7. Joeb October 13, 2010 / 8:20 pm

    I am thoroughly enjoying the game and cannot understand the mauling of the game by reviewers. I am not a FF fanboy. The only other FF game I had played previously was XII because my nephew bought it to play on the PS2. Sure there are problems. There is lag. There is a console type interface. The chat system is clunky. Finding anything in the market is tough. There is no tutorial and only limited quests tied to the story line. Oh, and horror of horrors, you have to rank up to see the next episode of the storyline.

    A large part of the lag I attribute to the decision to put so much of the game on the server side. I would guess some of this is tied to the requirements for the PS3 version, just as a lot of the other design decisions have been. With my 3rd world internet this means I will always have a problem with lag. Most of the time it doesn’t bother me a bit. The rest of the stuff, meh, I’ve already gotten used to it.

    Why do I enjoy it. Hard to say really. I like the crafting. It forces you to get really involved in it and not treat it as a minor side job, as in most MMOs. It forces me to talk to other people to get the materials I need. It provides me with goals and targets to meet. It links to the combat side of the game by making you rank up to obtain higher level materials on your own. I like the combat systems, particularly the ability to mix the skills from different classes to customize how you approach a fight.

    For the most part I have found the game to be a pleasant experience and there are lots of people running around who seem to be enjoying it too. The critics can say what they want but for some gamers it is fun.

  8. Drew October 14, 2010 / 6:41 am

    Once the interface lag is remedied (the selling of items highlighted above is a great example) and the Market Wards are fixed (no search function is an abomination), I will be happy to return to FFXIV.

    As an FFXI vet, I appreciate the other differences the game has from WoW, but I cannot appreciate sheer inconvenience. I gave DDO a hard time over their terrible AH system (being fixed in U7), and I have to do the same for FFXIV with retainers. It’s absolutely horrid, especially given the reliance on crafting and gathering. The latter is really fun, the former can really start to drag as you’re doing the 5th crafting leve of the day.

  9. Memphis October 15, 2010 / 5:53 pm

    “because nobody wins when a game implodes or is canceled.”

    To quote Lex Luthor “WROOOOOOOOONG!”

    And now to explain. Final Fantasy since 7 and 8 have began to prove to us something…. Anime fanboys (Or Japanophiles) will buy ANYTHING that Square/Enix puts out.
    The market leans towards what is popular (Metroid Other M turning Samus into a clone of Bella and just as idiotic and codependant on males) and FF series has had worse and worse writing and characters. This shows other potential game makers they can get away with this, and in turn effects much of the game market. FFXIV imploding on itself is amazing. It shows FINALLY (Along with WoW’s slow, but steady decline, and SecondLife dying under the weight of their own bad choices) That even fanboys are smartening up, and demanding actual gameplay (And even story) from their games, and that means the market may stop being flooded by cruddy titles.

    I mean, heck, from a standpoint of someone who played all 3 Halo games and thought the entire game story and looks was well ripped off, and while the combat was decent, all it added was a non-sense (Carry only two weapons) system that has PLAGUED games to this day, EVEN BUNGIE with Halo Reach suprised me with how well they pulled off what was to be most likely a “For The fans” game evolving into “Try as hard as you might, your death is inevitible.” scenario.

  10. arthur1977 October 15, 2010 / 8:04 pm

    Thanks for the great post Syp. Having an outside voice talking about a MMO is not a bad thing, it tends to give you a less emotional point of view. I hope to hear more from you in the future.

    See you all in Eorzea!

  11. Starseeker October 18, 2010 / 8:53 am

    I Have always liked the FF titles, but I have never played an FF mmo. I got this after reading blog posts like this one, and a few others and listening to pod casts. I figured after them extending the trial 60 days I can give it a shot.

    I think the game is beautiful, and I love the character detail and creation…however, the UI is alien. Some may like that but I am finding difficulty in learning some of the basic functions (I suppose some of it may be due to lag), the learning curve is intense and with no tutorial or guidance to be had except a brief fight in the beginning, I find myself kinda wandering around like a noob not knowing what the heck I’m supposed to be doing.

    While I like innovative ideas and things that are not “the norm” If you are going to create an entirely new UI, please put a little optional help somewhere in the town so I can go ask an NPC “how the heck do I do this?” After about 8 hours of game play I finally have gotten quests, made my way out of town and tried to kill something only to be murdered by a dodo bird in the newbie area…I feel like I’m missing something but I’m not sure entirely what, except that maybe this title would be easier on a console because I am finding it somewhat clunky with a pc.

    It is a beautiful game, and if you can get past the learning curve I’m sure it will be enjoyable. I am just not sure how many will stick around to figure it out.

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