How to Make Sure Final Fantasy XIV Doesn't Suck--Part 1

Saturday, June 6, 2009

This year's E3 was leakier than a rowboat made of Swiss cheese, but a few bombshells managed to blow up in our faces. One of those bombshells was Final Fantasy XIV.

No one saw it coming. Although many in the gaming community have already brushed it off, Final Fantasy XIV has the potential to be the greatest MMORPG to date. (This is not to say that it will overtake World of Warcraft in subscribers; World of Warcraft has penetrated the mainstream market in a way that no MMO before ever has, and I believe, no MMO ever will. My assertion is that Final Fantasy XIV could be a better MMO overall in terms of gameplay and story.) Let me say that again. Final Fantasy XIV has the potential to be the best MMORPG to date.

When Final Fantasy XI Online came out in 2002, it was groundbreaking. The world had never seen an MMO like it, with such a mainstream name--Final Fantasy--attached to it. What could be better?

And at first, nothing was better. For a long time, actually, nothing was better. But then, as other MMO's were born and evolved, the Everquest-era way of doing things began to show its age; a little here, a little there. A frustrating afternoon of wasted time became more common than necessary. (Hint: It's dangerous to go alone! Take this. Also, it should NEVER BE NECESSARY TO WASTE TIME IN AN MMO.) Very limited soloing, if any; looking for groups for long, long, long periods of time. Ultra-specific party makeup necessary to victory. In short, FFXI was fun and engaging, but it was not very user-friendly and could certainly become a chore.

Since--especially in the last year or so--Final Fantasy XI has made great strides making the game more user-friendly. 'Level Sync' eliminates the need to search for people your own level, as any person of a higher level can 'sink' to your level an gain experience in your party; this also allowed for equipment stats to sink, so that changing gear wasn't necessary. 'Fields of Valor' added soloing, from level 1 to level 60, and, after 6 years, finally let FFXI feel like Final Fantasy.

But it was too little, too late. The updates saved Final Fantasy's playerbase, and brought back a fair number of players, but the game had already risen and fallen; among most gamers, it was ancient history. I, as a die-hard Final Fantasy fan, have played the game off and on for nearly four years, and have taken some of my best gaming experiences from it. But even I'm ready for something new.

Final Fantasy XIV has an opportunity to be something great. It will not be enough to simply keep what works from Final Fantasy XI. It will not be enough to change what doesn't work. What it must do is revolutionize both.

Lucky for Square Enix, I'm going to explain just how to do it. Over the next two weeks, I'm going to be talking to Final Fantasy XI players, gamers, casuals, WoW enthusiasts, hobos, and, as always, myself, about what Final Fantasy XIV needs to do to make the splash it has the potential to be. Welcome Somnambulant Gamer's Seven-Part Series, "How to Make Sure Final Fantasy XIV Doesn't Suck".

We'll be covering seven categories: Combat, Story, Job System, Character Growth, NPC's/World, Soloing/Parties, and Miscellany. (Everyone loves miscellany!) In order to cut down on verbosity, (something at which I already fail gloriously), each category will be sliced thrice:

-What to Toss
-What to Keep
-How to Revolutionize it

Let's get started, shall we?

Part One:


-What to Toss

Final Fantasy XI's combat is obtusely boring. The age-old 'pull' system is in place, in which one member of the party (or the character, should he or she be soloing) pulls the monster to a safe place to fight. This leads to hours upon hours upon hours of standing in the same place, killing the same enemies over and over and over. It's BORING. Period.

Speaking of enemies, let me tell you something.

We want less of this...

...and more of this

These are both common monster types in the Final Fantasy XI. Both are good for gaining experience. Yet, there are forty-two different versions of one of these monsters. Guess which one.

That's right! Your friend and mine, the crab is fucking everywhere in Final Fantasy XI. I'm surprised those fuckers don't appear in your goddamn house. Identical in appearance, but of different levels of toughness, mistaking one crab for another can be fatal. The Manticore, (the other monster pictured), comes in just six flavors. Six motherfucking versions! It's just as good for experience points, so why don't we see it more?

I get it. No, I do! Some monsters need to be cooler than others. You can't see all the badass stuff right at the beginning! I'm okay with fighting crabs for a little while. But there should never be an endgame crab. I should never see the same monster forty-two different times at forty-two different levels. As I get tougher, I want them to get tougher and tougher-looking. Every time I level up, I want to think: Oh, fuck. This means I have to face whatever's next...

Notorious Monsters (or 'Named Monsters', more generically',) should not just be a little larger than their standard counterparts. They should scare me so much you'd think I had lady parts. *

Get it?! Good. Get to it.

What to Keep

There isn't too much of Final Fantasy XI's combat that should be kept. The skillchain system, with improvement, could stand the test of time. Two-hour abilities (which should really be one-hour or half-hour abilities) are the game's Last-Ditch-Oh-Fuck-I'm-About-to-Eat-it lifesavers that often come in the nick of time. Epic battles like Besieged, (when monsters invade a city and it must be defended) and Campaign (in which monsters or players hold an area and it must be attacked/defended to keep it safe) should be improved upon but are some of the most fun, as well as some of the best way to gain experience points. (Hint: Those epic monsters I mentioned? We see them a lot here. Keep that up. Nothing better than a Hydra half the size of a city attacking and watching three hundred players battle it!)

How to Revolutionize it

Combat needs to stay true to Final Fantasy roots. Three should be the magic number for number of members in a standard experience or questing party, (as has been the case in many previous Final Fantasy games). Four would work too. The point is that the great majority of other Final Fantasy games, with the exception of XI, have had a three or four-character party setup. This is perfect for an MMO.

Combat needs to be turn based, but in today's world, it also needs to be fast-paced. Players and characters need to be constantly on the move--combat should aid exploration, (something we'll get to later), not hinder it. And easy way to do this would be to have all characters regain HP and MP over time simply by running, exactly the way it was done in Final Fantasy XII.

Next, Characters need to interact on a combat-based level and there need to be real reward for this.

Concrete Example:

What if stats were altered by combat conditions? A 'tank' (defense) class character, were he a living breathing person with thoughts and feelings, might panic if he saw a healer-class person being attacked. Should, then, his 'Attack' stat rise incrementally and his "provoke" (or hate-drawing) ability timer decrease? Conversely, if the defender-class character is being eaten alive, might not the healer's worry lead her to shut her eyes andfocus, drastically increasing her magic power but drastically reducing her defense? The question is: What would you do if it were your friend?

Characters need to respond to one another's conditions in subtle ways through stats at the same time that players are responding in apparent ways by using abilities, items, etcetera.

Additionally, give characters personality traits (more on this later); let fighting in your character's favorite climate (which the player would choose and would likely be the player's favored climate as well) lead to faster recovery times for HP and MP. Subtle things like this build a player's emotional bond with a character. Let weather effects cause status effects in inclement weather and let many pieces of gear prevent status effects in a logical way. For example, while fighting in a desert, a (graphically gorgeous) sandstorm comes blowing through. This causes all characters not wearing headgear with a visor or glasses to be afflicted with 'Blind'. Combat should be influenced by logical factors like weather and armor should directly and visibly give protection, not simply statistically.

Because combat is the core gameplay element of any MMO, I've addressed it first and likely left out a lot of things. If you would like to add thoughts, opinions, or ideas, I'd love to read them in the comments below.

Look for Part 2: Story on Monday, June 8--this time, let's forge our own destiny.

*(No offense to readers with actual lady parts, who are probably tougher than me anyway.)