If you are a fan or player of MMORPGs, chances are you are familiar with Square-Enix’s Final Fantasy XIV (FF14). Chances are also good that you are aware of how bad of a start that game had. A quick glance at Metacritic.com (understandably not a favorite for people, but still decent for review aggregation) shows a large number of negative reviews from both major gaming websites and users. I even felt it lacking when I played it and when I thought about how far along Final Fantasy XI (FF11) has come.
FF14 should have started around where FF11 was, but it didn’t; it felt like a step backwards. Fans were upset, reviewers were unmerciful, and the game flopped so hard that players who stayed gained free gameplay for a long time while Square-Enix decided what to do, even though it cost them a lot of money doing so.
So what did they decide to do? Restructure the team. The director position was assigned to Yoshi-P, with additional reshuffles of various team positions. Their goal was to make the game fun and what it should have been when it launched. However, it appeared that this was going to be too much. Instead of just making the current game good, they decided to do the unthinkable: recreate the game in 1 to 2 years time all while maintaining the current game.
Here we are, nearly 2 years after launch, and we are now an estimated 4 months away from the launch of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (ARR). What has Square-Enix done? If we are to believe the alpha screenshots, videos, and interviews, they have done the unthinkable. They have created what appears to be a new game, from almost scratch, while maintaining their current game.
When Yoshi-P took control of the game, one of the initiatives he took was to gain feedback from the players frequently to assess the current game, learn what players didn’t like and what they wanted, and plan around it. They created a plan of attack for a new version while maintaining the current version and outside of some delays, they have stuck to it. Based on my experience, they created a far more playable and enjoyable game for the current players. They even took a page from World of Warcraft’s expansion Cataclysm. Since the game will be remade and re-launched, they are making the story for the current version to be the end of the world (known as the 6th Umbral era), with version 2.0 being the start of a new one (7th Umbral era). They even made leveling easier, added a lot more quests and content, as well as a host of other much sought-after updates while working on ARR.
One would think that this focus on fixing the current name would impede the progress of the new version. Based on what can be seen in the Final Fantasy XIV Special Talk Session, one can safely assume that working on the current version isn’t hurting the new version. In fact, it’s probably helping it. Here’s a breakdown:
- The battle system has been redone to make it much more action-oriented and up-tempo. Also you regain both MP and TP while inactive so you can open with weaponskills. Weaponskills will all share a 3 second cooldown timer, which I guess is to maintain balance so a player can't kill creatures immediately after starting a battle when they are of the same level. This is opposed to a slightly slower system where you have to wait for TP for most actions, which mostly comes from landed hits.
- The graphics are beautiful and doesn’t require additional hardware if you can run the current version. Basically you don’t need to change hardware and ARR will still look better than the current version.
- There are tons of quests being added and will be the main focus of leveling all classes.
- A brand new UI has been developed.
- Two much requested classes will be added and they look great: Arcanist and Summoner.
- You can jump, and you can jump while riding a chocobo. Chocobos flap their wings while you jump. It’s almost too much!
- Talks of looking into airships for players in later expansions.
- While running through areas, the music will adjust to where you are. The songs are divided into sections, which are then played in certain areas. If you run through an area completely, you’ll hear the whole song due to it subtley changing when you move through the area.
- Limit break abilities that can be used solo, or they can be grouped together to cast Meteor.
- Nearly all the code from the original was scrapped, so the new version will have new code.
- A brand new engine has been made just for FF14 based off of Square-Enix's impressive Luminous engine.
- The server software has been redone to support more players and more creatures, and to help decrease lag.
There’s more information outside of what’s in the video, but this alone shows more than enough that ARR is going to be a huge overall of FF14 and potentially good enough to stand against the World of Warcraft giant and the recently released Guild Wars 2. Remember, this is all done while supporting a game currently available, and done in less than 2 years (maybe even less than 1 year).
Whether you are interested in the new Final Fantasy XIV, a fan of Final Fantasy, or a fan of Square-Enix in general or not, you have to hand it to the team. They not only recreated a game from scratch in terms of code and from a new design in an unheard of amount of time, they also created a brand new engine for it, brand new server software, and new assets in audio and otherwise. This was all done while creating new content for players of the current version to get them ready for ARR. It seems Square-Enix is learning from the mistakes of the first game and taking notes of successful games that are out there to help make ARR a great game. This seemed impossible to accomplish in such a short time, and it could fail once the game is re-launched, but no matter if it succeeds or not the team has set out to do the unthinkable to please their fans, and that alone is a good thing to see a big company do.