And yes, wow, that was a big one. Tanaka dethroned, a new development team installed, and a whole lot of uncertainty about what this means for the future of Final Fantasy XIV. It could be a step forward, it could be a step backward, and unfortunately the official statements can be read in a multitude of different ways. Oh, right, and the free trial is being further extended until the development team can confidently outline a plan regarding the game's new direction... but what direction is that actually going to be?
"The team is committed to getting the game working, even if it costs more over the long run."
There are issues, without a doubt, and there are certain things that the game could use to greatly improve the overall experience. (An auction house would be nice, for starters.) But I know I'm also not alone in liking the game that was actually released, in some cases because of the quirks and falterings of the game's extant design. I see statements that the game is going to be heading in a new direction, and I can't help but wonder how much of the game I currently enjoy will be in one piece after the changes are made.
Admittedly, if what I liked made the big bucks, Firefly would be in its 10th season by now and The Jersey Shore would have been canceled halfway through its first episode. But for anyone and everyone fond of the extant game, there is some fear here, and it's not altogether unwarranted.
If you look over the list of new team members, a lot of them list FFXI as a previous credit. And while it seems slim, there's always the chance that the team's new direction will be to turn FFXIV into its predecessor with better graphics and new system requirements. I don't think it needs to be said that this is a pretty terrible idea.
Even if you really want the game to go in the direction of a party-heavy grind through camp locations -- and I doubt many people actually want that, even if they think they do -- the fact of the matter is that FFXIV's critical drubbing came about in no small part because it's already an older game in many ways. There's a far heavier onus upon player determination and freeform objectives than in newer games, and making the game play more like a game from eight years ago isn't going to win many new fans.
Still, you never know. Square might decide that its problem was that the game wasn't similar enough to FFXI, and in come all of the ideas that were decent nearly a decade ago but are rather long in the tooth now. With the open letter to the community being so vague, it's very possible that we'll wind up heading in this direction.
If you talk to a lot of FFXI players, of course, they'll target Tanaka as the source of much discontent. This is no doubt neither altogether accurate nor entirely fair, but it doesn't take expert psychoanalysis to figure out that some of Tanaka's ideas on game development have not aged entirely well.
I don't mean to rag on the man's career -- I mean, he was the driving force behind the beginning of the whole franchise. But just like Gary Gygax, Tanaka deserves credit for starting the whole shebang -- it's just that the world has moved on. Naoki Yoshida might very well have much more progressive ideas about what to do with the game, the sort of things that really capitalize on the game's sandpark structure to do things not possible in games that skew more heavily toward one side or the other.
Quite possibly, the big target is going to be guildleves. Right now, guildleves are fine, but they're kind of like rice in that they fill up content without being particularly flavorful. A little tweaking, and they could be closer to a delicious pilaf. Broaden the number of quests available -- and the quests that do exist are definitely winners -- and the side dish becomes just that, nice and tasty without being your only option.
The statement is vague. But this could very well be the hidden meaning between the lines.
The silver lining
While I'm still intensely leery of what might happen, I can take heart at the fact that we're not going to be paying for it either way. The fact that the announcement says no charge until the game is polished means a lot, because it's basically the final nail in the coffin for arguments that the game was rushed out to make a quick buck. Right now, it's using the Guild Wars payment model without the pricing methodology that makes it profitable.
In other words, Square is paying money to keep the lines open. And whether or not you like the game or even want things to turn around for it, that's commendable. The team is committed to getting the game working, even if it costs more over the long run.
But until we get more concrete information, we can only speculate on what "working" is classified as for the team. So that's a bit unsettling.
As always, comments and general invective can be left in the comment field or sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, we'll have the aforementioned Abyssea column, particularly as it's already written. And I'd like to take this opportunity to thank our editors (Brianna Royce and Shawn Schuster) for letting me get this written at the 11th hour, even if it does break my previous streak for always turning things in early.
From Eorzea to Vana'diel, there is a constant: the moogles. And for analysis and opinions about the online portions of the Final Fantasy series, there is also a constant: The Mog Log. Longtime series fan Eliot Lefebvre serves up a new installment of the log every Saturday, covering almost anything related to Square-Enix's vibrant online worlds.