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  • History of Final Fantasy: Might As Well Just Make It Twice (Final Fantasy XIV)

    May 4th, 2017GamespotUncategorized

    First a quick disclaimer. As was the case with Final Fantasy XI, I have never actually played Final Fantasy XIV. Accordingly, this article will follow a slightly different format to the other articles in this series because there are many aspects of the game that I can't really comment on to any significant degree.

    After the relative disappointment that was Final Fantasy XIII, many were unsure what to expect from the long-running series going forwards. Would it get back on track or slip further down the path of mediocrity? Whatever fans were expecting from the next main installment in the franchise, what they actually got was probably unexpected.

    Although Final Fantasy XI had proven to be a genuine success for the company, and by the time XIV was announced was already nearly a decade old, nobody was really asking for a second Final Fantasy MMO at the time. This was especially true after the last two key entries in the series had been, to put it mildly, divisive among fans. It would take an exceptionally good game from Square Enix to decisively win people over once more.


    Doomed From the Start: Final Fantasy XIV


    Final Fantasy XIV was revealed at E3 2009, but initial planning began in 2005 under the codename Rapture. Much of the team behind the original version of the game consisted of people who had worked on Final Fantasy XI, as well as several other games in the series. Among them were the game's original director Nobuaki Komoto, producer Hiromichi Tanaka, and writer Yaeko Sato.

    Other familiar names who worked on the original version of the game included Yoshitaka Amano, who once again created the game's logo and some of its concept art, and Nobuo Uematsu, marking the first time since Final Fantasy XI that he worked as the main composer on a Final Fantasy game.


    The game's soundtrack is actually one of its few genuinely great elements. Uematsu proved once again that he was still among the best video game composers in the world. Quite a few of the songs can easily be considered some of his best work to date. The score is filled with excellent tracks, and although the team would later improve on other aspects of the title, the music in the original version of FF XIV is still superior to most of the later additions made by other composers.

    Another generally well regarded aspect of the game was its visuals. Final Fantasy XIV was created using the Crystal Tools engine, which the team had to modify to suit their needs since it was originally built for Final Fantasy XIII, a game that was extremely linear in nature. However, this also led to numerous issues during development as the engine's general unsuitability rendered the final product's structure fundamentally broken.

    In addition, while it undeniably beautiful to look at, the focus on visual quality came at the expense of gameplay. The man who later took over directing duties for the relaunch, Naoki Yoshida, revelead later at the Games Developer Conference that the obsession with visuals had led to a situation where even a simple flower pot sitting outside on the ground took up as many resources as a player character. This meant that to ensure that the game ran decently well there could only ever be 20 characters on screen at any one time.


    Another major issue was the lack of progress within Square Enix after the PS2 era as far as the culture of video game development was concerned. The team was still working with the same basic principles as it had done during the previous console generation, which meant that both the budget and the size of the development team ballooned out of control. These, among numerous other problems arising during development, led to a game that was far from the great new experience promised by the developer.

    However, among the few successful aspects of the game's original development was the world itself, its history, culture, and the differences between the various locations found throughout. The care and effort that went into making the world as believable a place as possible can clearly be seen in the final product, even for someone who hasn't played through it.

    It takes place on a continent called Eorzea, controlled by three nations and inhabited by a variety of different species, including the five main playable races: the Hyur, Lalafell, Miqo'te, Elezen, and Roegadyn, as well as tribes of Beastmen who worship the ancient gods called Primals. The story takes place in the aftermath of a war between the nations of Eorzea and the northern Garlean empire, which attempted to conquer the land five years earlier.

    The plot focuses on a rogue Garlean noble's attempt at summoning the world's second moon to crash down on the planet and destroy the Beastmen and the primals, and the player's quest to stop this from happening. This ultimately fails, and the moon begins its slow descent, which releases the primal Bahamut from his prison. He then goes on a rampage against the entire world.


    The gameplay in Final Fantasy XIV was fairly standard for MMORPGs at the time. Characters leveled up through battle and other actions, and gained better stats as a result. The main story was accessed by leveling up your characters, while sidequests could be completed through the Adventurer's Guild. The game also encouraged playing solo much more than Final Fantasy XI had, for example. Naturally, players could also form parties to take on greater challenges together.

    Final Fantasy XIV was released on September 30, 2010, at which point it very quickly became clear that this wasn't the game fans of the series had been hoping for. It was critically panned and soon became the worst received out of all the main series Final Fantasy games. The MMORPG genre had kept changing and evolving over the previous 10 years as new and interesting possibilities emerged, but very little of this change could be seen in FF XIV, essentially making it a relic of a time when the genre was still in its relative infancy.

    The music and visuals were generally praised, but beyond that the game was deemed a failure on nearly every possible front. Many immediately wrote it off as a lost cause that would be better off forgotten. Square Enix, however, had something very different in mind for what they had intended to become one of their most important games for the foreseeable future.


    From the Ashes of Disaster: A Realm Reborn


    Following the disaster that was the release of Final Fantasy XIV, Square Enix did something highly unusual. It decided to rework the entire game from the ground up and relaunch it with almost every aspect significantly changed. In order to salvage the latest entry in the company's flagship franchise the development team was almost completely overhauled, most notably with Naoki Yoshida taking over as both producer and director.

    Initially the idea was to simply modify the existing game over a long period of time to fix all of the issues it had, while keeping it running without any monthly fees in the meantime. Unfortunately it soon became apparent that the original game's code was too outdated and poorly put together for the necessary changes to be made possible within the existing game. This led to the decision to begin building a completely new version of the title on a new engine better suited for the task.


    The development of this new version began in early 2011, while at the same time significant updates were made to the original base game, improving its gameplay and adding new storyline elements while what was code-named Version 2.0 was in development. The servers for the original Final Fantasy XIV eventually shut down on November 11, 2012, and this also served as the culmination of the game's storyline, which concluded with a special cinematic cutscene that was meant to serve as a trailer for the rebuilt game - Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn.

    Much of the success related to the development of A Realm Reborn can be traced back to decisions Naoki Yoshida made when he was put in charge of salvaging this entry in the series. He managed to find way to streamline the development process and make it more effective as a result. He also began interacting with the series' fans with his “Letters from the Producer” series, which let people know what was going on in the development and improved the implementation of player feedback.


    Besides Naoki Yoshida, other notable new members of the development team included Masayoshi Soken, who composed most of the new music for the game. In fact, following the release of numerous large patches and one massive expansion, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn now contains nearly 400 pieces of original music.

    The idea behind A Realm Reborn was to make an MMORPG that would appeal to both veterans of the genre and to new players alike. This resulted in a lot of focus being put on things such as optimizing the gameplay for controllers and constantly interacting with fans via livestreams and other mediums to rebuild trust that had been lost.


    In order to achieve this some fairly drastic changes were made. The gameplay, visuals, user interface, soundtrack, and almost all other aspects of the game were altered. In addition, the storyline is a direct continuation of the events of the original title, picking up from the arrival of Bahamut and the destruction it wrought.

    Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn was released on August 27, 2013, to a very good reception from both critics and fans, effectively washing away the disappointment of the original game. A Realm Reborn was thus an immediate success upon release, something that many were likely not expecting after the disastrous release of the first version of the game. In July 2016 Square Enix announced that it had reached a total of 6 million players, making it effectively the second most popular MMORPG in the world behind World of Warcraft.


    Following Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn's release Square Enix rolled out several large patches that added new content and continued the storyline. These were then followed up in June of 2015 by the game's first large expansion – Heavensward. The expansion was received even more positively than the base game, and it added new storylines, gameplay elements, and areas to explore.

    One thing the rebuilt game retained was its emphasis on story, which has remained a central element throughout. This has also led to the rather unique requirement that players need to complete the story of A Realm Reborn before they can move on to the game's expansions. This is a very interesting take on the MMORPG genre, and brings with it both positives and negatives.

    On the plus side the developer sees the story as one of the game's central aspects and as something that every player should experience. The fact that the story has generally been regarded as very good makes this an undoubted strength. However, it is also a limiting factor for new players wishing to jump in later, especially after several big expansions have been released. Still, the game's success speaks for itself, and the format has proven to be one of the title's biggest selling points.


    Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn also looks to continue its success for the foreseeable future, as its next major expansion, titled Stormblood, is scheduled for release on June 20, 2017, once again bringing with it a wealth of new content for players to dive into.

    Whether you're interested in playing A Realm Reborn or not, there's no denying the fact that it stands as perhaps the best example of a developer admitting its mistakes and then genuinely wanting to fix them. It was a decision that not many other developers would have likely been willing to make, and the fact that it proved to be a worthwhile one speaks to the talent and dedication of the people working on it today. It was a game that was saved from death chiefly by the efforts of a man who said that it was more important to earn back the trust of the series fans than it was for the game to be commercially successful.


    Fun Fact


    In 2014 Square Enix opened a Final Fantasy XIV themed cafe in Tokyo's Akihabara district. The cafe serves a variety of dishes inspired by and named after people, creatures, and locations in the game. The menu even lists the prices of the dishes in gil, although naturally customers pay in Yen.


    I hope you've enjoyed this retrospective of the Final Fantasy series as much as I've enjoyed writing it. Next time I'll finish this extended look at the franchise with a list ranking the series' main installments from worst to best, and I look forward to everyone disagreeing with me when we get there.

    Also, if you have any questions about or suggestions for future topics, head on over to this for thread and share your thoughts. I haven't yet decided on the next major topic I'll be covering, so if you want to suggest something you can do it there. For now, as always, thanks for reading.  

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