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 board. IGN, 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!