The Critically Acclaimed MMORPG turns 12 Years old today. Join us on a trip down memory lane as our very own Final Fantasy XIV addict recaps the journey so far.
**Warning This Includes Minor Spoilers For Final Fantasy XIV**
This one. We'll start with this one.
Final Fantasy XIV initially released on September 30, 2010, for the PC and was eventually supposed to release on the PlayStation 3. And after some public testing, the MMORPG eventually opened its gates to little fanfare and was doomed from the start. After the success of Final Fantasy XI and the rise of the MMORPG in the mid-2000s an eventual second, a more modern attempt at the genre seemed like a no-brainier for Square Enix.
There are many, many reasons why Final Fantasy XIV launched in the state it did. And if you want a deep dive into the game's troubled history and eventual rise to the very top, I highly suggest you check out Noclip's amazing documentary. But since yours truly happens to be one of those meteor survivors you'll get a short abridged version of all of this. To make a long story short, Final Fantasy XIV was caught in what many would describe as a perfect storm. During the great depression of Japanese video games of the late 2000s, Square Enix struggle to define its identity in an industry that had exploded right under its eyes.
And as much as I would like to avoid namedropping it so early, World of Warcraft also played a huge role in this story. To this day, the MMORPG genre suffers from tribalism. The biggest MMORPG tends to attract the most players, something no other genre has to deal with. Final Fantasy XI launched in the west in 2004 right before the advent of what would turn out to be the greatest MMORPG of all time.
Later as World of Warcraft ran its course and continued to grow into infinity and beyond, Square Enix probably figured: if they create a new next-gen MMORPG that could also be enjoyed on the console, they could get some of that action. There was just one issue, World of Warcraft was never popular in Japan, in fact, it was never even officially localized over there. And so the developers of Final Fantasy XIV had never had any exposure to what a modern western MMORPG was like.
They figured they'd just do what they did with Final Fantasy XI again, just with prettier graphics and a deep combat system — they had struck gold! After all Final Fantasy XI was for a long time the most popular MMORPG on the Japanese market and that would surely work in the west right?
Another key factor was probably the sheer confidence everyone had in their work. And don't get me wrong Final Fantasy XIV 1.0 on paper should've been a perfect if somewhat dated MMORPG. But when all of it came together and there was no time till release… you'll release a buggy mess with servers that are barely working. Now online games breaking on day one is quite common, but Final Fantasy XIV's issues on launch went far deeper than overworked servers and performance issues.
Many of the game mechanics just didn't work together. Instead, it felt like many elements had been designed in their own little vacuum. Stuff like the timing-based gathering system not working at all with the slow server ticks. Or how the limit on daily Guildleves and EXP gain penalties made leveling slow and painful. And there was also just a general lack of polish, the game needed at least another half a year or even longer. But hey, Final Fantasy XI was a broken mess at launch, you can just patch it right? The issue was only that gaming culture in 2010 had moved on far quicker from a disaster than back in 2002.
Through all of this, there was a small but very dedicated base of players that looked past the myriad of issues. And for me, Final Fantasy XIV 1.0 wasn't exactly a good MMORPG, I would struggle to call it even a mediocre one. But underneath the bad gameplay systems and poor performance, there was just something that gripped us. Maybe it was the world or the insane amount of effort put into the few cutscenes. Eorzea quickly became a home to a few warriors of light who chose to stay and literally fight for their new home alongside the developers.
The Warrior of Light
At this point, it becomes hard to talk about Final Fantasy XIV without the man that would eventually become its beating heart and soul. Naoki Yoshida the Director and Producer of Final Fantasy XIV. After the launch of 1.0 Square Enix struggled to figure out what to do with their fledgling MMORPG. It was in many ways a failure and it came at the tail-end of one of the company's worst years ever. They'd either have to patch the game into a playable state and go Free to Play to make their money back… or try and fix the game. After all, this was a numbered Final Fantasy title and it would forever be a stain on the reputation of the franchise.
If you take an extended look into Yoshida's career he seemed to be the perfect match. Just before he joined the Final Fantasy XIV team he was basically the director of Dragon Quest X, another MMORPG that sadly never released outside of Japan. Being an avid fan of the genre Yoshida knew exactly how to bring Final Fantasy XIV back on track, in an effort that would arguably spiral into one of the greatest glow-up stories in this industry.
Not only did Yoshida and his team plan to fix the game for its players, but they would also rebuild it from the ground up to ensure that Eorzea would have a future. Think about that for a moment, no one else had ever botched a game release so spectacularly that they felt like their only way forward was to run one MMORPG for two years while also developing another MMORPG to replace it with. Of course, Yoshida wasn't alone in this endeavor. The entire Final Fantasy XIV team deserves praise for it. And this would also lay the groundwork for why players have so much goodwill towards the game's devs and producers.
At the time, no one knew what was to come and the changes also started to be reflected in the story content added to Final Fantasy XIV. Things took a dark turn in the realm of Eorzea, the Garlean Empire slowly made their presence known as things started to spiral out of control. Players started to have nightmares and there was an ominous red light in the night sky that grew larger with every patch.
Over these two years, 1.0 started to shape more into a playable experience. Gameplay overhauls and just more stuff to do gave players hope that Final Fantasy XIV is on a good track. But then we also received an announcement that 2.0 would be a separate title and Final Fantasy XIV would shut down its operations. By that point, Eorzea slowly spiraled into chaos. Monsters terrorized the cities and the story had become unhinged.
The End of an Era
A special shout-out here goes to the quest ‘To Kill a Raven' and the battle at Rivenroad. By that point, it was obvious that the mechanical moon Dalamund was going to crash into Eorzea at the command of the Garlean, Legatus Nael van Darnus. Players could now make a last-ditch effort to save their home from certain doom and the encounter did deliver on the promise of being a proper final boss. It was so good that we would even see a spiritual successor to it almost two years later.
But killing the White Raven ultimately only delayed the inevitable. Dalamud was going to fall and there was nothing we could do to stop it. Every day now the red moon would come closer and closer as monsters ran rampant and players united to put up safe zones.
To this day, one of the most unique memories I have in gaming is standing there with friends I had made the past year. I'll never forget that rather cold November morning and the dread that hung over all our heads. We had never bothered to exchange contact info outside the game, most of our communications and antics took place in a linkshell. It was the last time I met and spoke to some of them and as Dalamud descended we cracked jokes and said our goodbyes. Just a bunch of adventurers having a jolly good time before the end.
None of us expected to be kicked out of the game only to be greeted with a 5 minute cinematic sending off 1.0 with a bang instead of a whimper. Every end marks a new beginning. A bold promise for something we would have to wait yet another year.
A Realm Reborn
Compared to the launch of 1.0, the air around the re-release of Final Fantasy XIV, now dubbed A Realm Reborn, was very different. There was just this air of confidence around it, even with the buggy beta tests and the rocky launch. So let me be clear here, this MMORPG most people had given up on, not only rose from the certain demise — A Realm Reborn was so popular on launch that they had to stop selling copies in order to get a grip on server congestion.
And hard work paid off. A Realm Reborn felt and played like what you'd expect from a modern MMORPG, while still upholding the clear influence from Final Fantasy XI. Yes, the cross-class system that required you to level an Archer to like 40 to unlock the Black Mage job was kind of stupid, but it was also one of the very unique quirks of XIV. I would say back in A Realm Reborn the game was a lot more mechanical compared to how it is played today.
Players would have to meet certain stat requirements to live through encounters, but they could also customize their characters in many ways that felt meaningful. Even if that eventually led to metas evolving and players optimizing everything to perfection.
One of Final Fantasy XIVs best selling points was its story; an epic saga that would continue the strands left over from 1.0, while also introducing new players to Eorzea and its many people. Today all of this seems rather tame, especially in comparison to newer content. But it would also lay the foundation for how Final Fantasy XIV would structure its content. Every feature and type of content came with its own quest and story that would ground it in the world. Want to learn how to upgrade your gear with these funny-colored stones? Go to that goblin and let him and his crew teach you how.
The presentation was a big selling point of the whole experience and Final Fantasy XIV was nothing like its contemporary MMOs. Instead, you got a good 30-40 hours of JRPG that carried you from the start all the way to the level 50 cap. Your journey was interwoven with content that had you brave dungeons and boss fights together with other players in order to succeed. Some MMO veterans did not like how XIV funneled them into content, but this would later turn into the game's biggest strength. Because if you can direct your player's experience you can point them in any direction you want.
A Realm Reawakens
Now everyone who's played it will tell you that A Realm Reborn is a slow burn. And while the base game is mostly focused on getting players settled in the world and its current state of affairs. It is the post-base game content, the 2.x patches when Final Fantasy XIV really starts to lay the foundation for the next 10 years worth of story. Those who braved the Binding Coils of Bahamut finally got closure on those story threads leftover from 1.0 ending in a dramatic fight with the dread wyrm himself.
Every patch introduced hours' worth of new quests and stories, alongside more boss trials and revamped versions of older dungeons. And back then Final Fantasy XIVs content mostly comprised of leveling alternative jobs and gearing them up. A typical MMORPG affair, it's almost laughable how small patches were in comparison compared to the size they are today.
But I don't think anyone would've expected the kind of story we got in the post-A Realm Reborn patches. You'd think after beating the big bads, Gaius van Baelsar and the Ascians, we'd now work towards the next big enemy to beat. But most of those patches will actually have us deal with the aftermath of our fight with the Ultima Weapon. You see, Eorzea is a small place in a large world, and before we only heard of other places like Ala Mhigo and Sharlayan in the flavor text.
Now our actions affected people half the globe away, and we get introduced to some refugees from Doma. So a good chunk of time is spent not only cleaning up leftover messes from 2.0 but also dealing with the consequences of our actions. The Garlean Empire is not just a token villain, neither are the Ascians. Even if we soundly defeat them, they're not just gone. We only managed to put down one their many agents. And coming to realize it'll take a lot more than just the Warrior of Light to deal with those problems is a big part of what makes XIV's story so great.
Yes, you play the hero of this tale. But you're not a one fits all solution either. While you can slay primals, and beat the big bad empire back, who's gonna take care of the refugees and victims of those conflicts? And who's gonna be there once you're off to some far-flung place? All of it slowly builds towards the finale in 2.5. While also sowing the seeds that would lead us into the next expansion. And while the twist in the quest ‘The Parting Glass' was well telegraphed for two patches by then, I don't think anyone expected them to go all the way with it.
In the span of just 30 or so minutes of cutscenes everything you've worked towards, almost everyone you know, is just scattered to the winds. And if it wasn't for the unbridled enthusiasm of one handsome Elezen, that feeling of hopelessness would've gotten to some of us players as well. But what can you do when you're knocked down and there is no way but forward? You tend to look Heavensward.
Join us next time when we relive the Award-winning Heavensward expansion and venture through Stormblood as Final Fantasy XIV continues to evolve into the MMORPG giant it is today. For more gaming news, give us a visit here on ESTNN.