Final Fantasy XIV (FF14 for short) has arrived with a simultaneous release in both the U.S. and Japan to… how shall we put this… bitter, overwhelming disappointment.For a truly in-depth perspective on this game’s glimmers of light, and exhaustive veils of darkness, I went to a close personal friend of mine, known as Andrius, which was also his username during very exhaustive playing time (9600 hours, the equivalent of 400 24-hour days) in Final Fantasy XI (FF11), the MMO predecessor of FF14.
What is reflected here is a deep sadness for the decline of a formidable franchise, as well as great dismay over a game that, at present, is unable to reach its predecessor’s standards in terms of playability, socialization, and fun. This is not something restricted to any specific individual; it is the united cry of an entire fan base.
So, without further delay.
Interview with Andrius on Final Fantasy XIV
J-Sensei: Final Fantasy 14 has been given a rating of 4.0 by Gamespot (maximum score 10.0). In your view, does this game deserve that awful rating?
Andrius: Yes, it deserves it.
Since this would indicate a great deal of failings, what would you rate as its greatest failing, as the game currently stands?
Andrius: Everything ^^;;
Andrius: There’s so many flaws that are really serious, it’s hard to pick just one.
Okay, tell me about how the world itself compares. You saw the best and worst FF11 had to offer. How does FF14 measure up, or come up short, here?
Andrius: Well, FF 14 is new, so obviously there’s less of the world out there, but even just comparing what does exist to its FF 11 counterpart has 14 coming up short.
The cities in 11 felt real, they felt alive, like they had a soul. They were built like real cities would be, they had residential districts, houses, people out walking around…
In 14 the city I started in, Gridania has none of that. It feels like it was made for a game.
There’s no reason for the city to exist. A few shops and guilds there, but almost no npcs, no one seems to run the place, it feels like a road side rest stop for adventurers. A few vending machines and a public bathroom could do just as much and have as much soul. And Gridania is needlessly large. The areas that have things between them are separated by long tunnels that have no purpose.
That’s a very vivid image. So if it is a rest stop, it must be a stop for travelers going somewhere. What about what lies beyond the cities?
Andrius: The city could be redesigned to be anywhere from 30-50% smaller and lose no content at all.
Outside of Gridania is a zone called the Black Shroud.
In 11 the forst zones like Ronfaure and Zi’tah were some of my favorites. They had such a nice feel to them, and different in both cases.
The Black Shroud is the worst forest zone I’ve ever seen. Even calling a forest zone stretches the term beyond all reason.
The zone is in reality a series of tunnels and a few open areas.
The tunnels are literally just right angles and straight piece that it looks like someone just plopped down in a world builder. Most of it is in basically grid patterns, almost like someone drew it on graph paper and thought the lines on the paper had to be put into the final plan.
It’s just so disapointing. Copied and pasted tunnel sections.
For those who have not played 11, can you describe these differences briefly?
Ronfaure was a starting zone in 11, outside the City of Sandoria. It was a well maintained forest, big trees, little underbrush, and the sort of forest critters you’d expect in a starting zone. It was open, had some hills and felt like what you’d expect a forested park that had been let go a bit to be like.
Zi’Tah was a higher level zone, far from any city. It had massive trees, 20′ wide things that disappeared into the sky. It was a farily dark zone, often foggy and rainy. It was this sort of forgotten, moody ancient redwood forest. Even though it generally was used by people passing through it, it still had such a wonderful feel to it.
So the Black Shroud doesn’t just have a gloomy name, it feels lacking in every aspect of design?
Andrius: Unfortunately, yes. And the worst part is that it’s absurdly huge. Beyond all reason in fact.
The fact it’s so big is the only reason it doesn’t feel like it wasknocked out in one afternoon. And even worse, the game only has 5 outdoor zones.
Well, are the other zones any better? Or do they stand out at least?
Andrius: Actually I haven’t gotten to them.
The first ten levels of the game keep you fairly close to town, less than halfway into the zone. I just haven’t had the urge to go beyond that, saddly.
In ff 11 I wanted to explore.
I met a player in Sandoria and we just decided to go explore the world.
The world map (If ff 14 has this, it hides it very well, I haven’t found it yet) showed a city called Bastok far to the south of our starting city, so we set out to find it.
We wandered around for a long time heading south, left Sandoria, throug the forest of Ronfaure, south to a grassy plateau, through a desert, mountain highlands and then finally badlands surounding Bastok.
In reality, we had, but the fact that it felt like we did, that it was such varied zones that we went through really made it feel like a worthwhile trip.
A more innocent time, perhaps. So, onto the next major question. What’s changed – for the worse, apparently – in terms of the human terrain, the player character classes?
Andrius: The jobs were remade for no apparent reason.
The names that have been around since the first final fantasy were all tossed out in favor of new ones.
I don’t see why you’d rename a monk a pugilist, a black mage a conjurer, a dragoon a lancer, and so on.
Every single job was renamed. And remade.
Dragoons don’t jump anymore. They don’t have cute little dragon pets like in ff 11. A lancer is just what it says, a guy with a lance.
The 2 hour abilities from ff 11 are also gone.
I thought that a pugilist was a 19th century British term for a boxer, myself. But go on…
Andrius: Yeah, pugilist sounds like a guy from about 1900 with this massive moustache who tends to get in a row with various fellows who aren’t having a bully day.
Conjurer is now a combination of white and black mage, a combination that absolutelly baffles me. To do well you need to pay your full attention to just one of those jobs, and in a party there’s no doubt they’ll be whining for healing full time.
And if you don’t like the whm (J Sensei: “White Mage,” designated healer) aspect of the job, being in a party will be very miserable very fast.
All the enfeebles were tossed into one job, now named thaumaturge instead of red mage.
Andrius: Debuffs for mobs. unfortunately the two red mages actually used in ff 11 are gone. Refresh and dispelare gone. Those two are the only reasons red mages were used endgame.
The rest simply just didn’t make enough of a difference to justify the job taking a slot that could be filled by someone else.
Gotcha. So as far as you have seen, there’s not a single change that can be called for the better?
Andrius: The new job system is interesting. You can mix and match abilities now, once you’ve unlocked them.
It’s too soon to tell how that would playout over the life of a game, but it’s interesting and new. It could lead to some very intersting builds at endgame, or it could lead to everyone being exactly the same at endgame, it’s hard to say.
Yes, at this rate few people will be playing to that point, sadly. So onto something Gamespot mentioned in its review… supposedly, the interface sets up obstacles between you and, well, doing things and having fun, at every step of the way. Your thoughts?
Andrius: I play the game with a gamepad, a playstation 2 controler I have connected to my computer, I did the same in ff 11.
The interface is *generally* similar with that. And from what I understand designed for a controller, but even that has some steps backwards.
For instance inventory has no means to sort. There is no auto sort. Things fall to your inventory and that’s the order they sit in.
Auto follow has been removed. It can be restord with a macro, but something like that should be there by default.
Macros are more hidden now, though you can have more of them and they can be longer now.
Equipping gear is somewhat annoying, when you pick a slot to equip gear in, rather than give you a short list of what can fit in that slot you get the general inventory
And have to go sorting through it to find what you want.
I haven’t taken up crafting, but from what I understand it’s an endless set of prompts and confirmations.
Also I haven’t heard anyone wo lhikes the game with a keyboard and mouse. I haven’t had any desire to try it firsthand.
I also miss being able to maximize the chat log. that apparently can’t be done with a controler anymore. I have no idea why they would remove that or inventory sorting.
Gamespot’s video review suggested a great deal of trouble there, so let’s just accept that at face value.
OK, so how does combat rate? Does it look good? Does it feel good? Does it work?
Andrius: These are simple things people have asked fro since the closed beta, which I was in. For reasons unknown all that changed since closed beta is an option to use hardware mouse.
The obvious difference in combat from ff 11 is here is no auto attack.
In 11 you would attack and the game would auto attack for you, keep swinging away and when you wanted to cast a spell or use a weapon skill you’d tell the game and then it’d go back to auto attack.
In 14 you have to actually tell the game every time you want to attack.
Now both work, 14 feels mroe involved and faster.
But auto attack has some advantages. If you’ve been in a party for a few hours, running to refill your drink or go to the bathroom quickly while your character whails on a mob for you was quite useful.
It sounds silly, but in serious xp parties they don’t really stop, so you learned to deal with it.
I think by endgame people would miss auto attack, but that’s just a guess.
The combat in 14 doesn’t feel bad though. It’s different, but from what I’ve played it works. It’d take a longer term look to see how it really compares in dpeth to ff11.
What other major problems exist in this game?
Andrius: Well, it’s hard to miss the game’s economy. Or it’s near total lack of one.
The auction house, star of basically every MMO game since the begining of time is gone. And I greatly mourn its loss. It is suvived by endless legion of player bazaars.
The developers clearly intend bazaars to be the engine of the game’s economy. You can get npcs for free who will stand around and bazzar for you.
They can sell up to 10 items at a time, and you can do the same.
Unfortunately, it’s just a disorganized mess.
Think of a giant shopping mall. Every store front is painted white, and identical to the store before it, and identical to the store after it.
You have no idea what the store in front of you contains. No idea what the next one contains.
Square Enix made areas called market wards to put your npcs in.
You’d think they could have put the effort to label them on your map, but apparently no.
Searching the market wards takes on average an hour. A real life hour. 60 minutes.
Andrius: It is a very, very large white mall you’re in. And in the end you usually don’t find what you’re looking for.
That’s a hard way to do business…
Andrius: And often your eyes are so glazed over from elsless bazaars you miss what you’re looking for.
And when you have to sell things, it’s a pure crapshoot.
With an auction house there’s sales history to use as a guide for the pricing of your items. Now there isn’t. Pricing is a shot in the dark. And even if well priced, you need someone to find you or your npc.
It just isn’t realistically possible to outfit yourself with a full set of gear to replace your starting gear, not in any sort of timelly fashion.
And the whole exercise of checking the auction house when you log on is an hour long ordeal now.
It just isn’t worth it.
…So if you can’t buy it, are you expected to craft it yourself, with all the delays and issues involved?
Andrius: Buying from bazaars int he field is an option, but there Square Enix messed up too.
You can’t move when viewing a bazaar. So someone running past with one is a very short window of opportunity. You need to check it very fast.
And worse still, they get out of range for you to buy quickly. You can look at the bazaar from a farther distance than you can buy.
It seems like once or twice a day I check a bazaar of someone running past, find something I want, but by the time I find it, they’re out of range of my buying it.
So the game just leaves the bazaar up to taunt me.
Talk about fly-by-night merchants…!
Andrius: Square Enix definatelly is pushing crafting this game. It’s required for fixing your own gear for instance.
Gear now is damaged over time. Oddly, not from being hit in combat, just from time.
So if you sit in town and craft all day, your gear breaks down. UV rays I guess.
That’s a major departure from most games I have seen with equipment that gets damaged…
Andrius: The damage is not at a very fast rate so it isn’t terrible. Gear being damaged from crafting is a weird one though. Lot of crafters in their crafting gear and nothing else.
OK, now for the serious longer-term question. This is a game with many flaws, but some bright spots. So… can it be saved? That is, realistically?
Andrius: That’s a tough question. Square Enix seems determined to push their market wards idea. I think eventually they’ll have to include an auction house, but by then there could be a lot of damage.
The problem is, a lot of the player base are former ff11 players who wanted something similar.
They’re on their free month they got for buying the game right now, and they’re thinking about if they want to pay subscription fees. If too many say no it will hurt the game and leave Square Enix little time or budget to fix things.
I think the best thing Square Enix could do right now is apologize for the game being very rough on release, give another free month to everyone and start making some major changes fast.
For one, the auction house has to be built.
Heck, if they want to be clever make players craft it themselves. Craft the logs and nails and all that to make it happen.
But without an auction house I just don’t see the game working.
People play games for fun, and an hour a day of searching bazaars isn’t fun.
There won’t be much of an economy if that’s how it stays.
Personally I also miss mog houses. I spent a lot of money furnishing mine. It was a part of the game that was just your own, and it sounds like a small things, but its absence is felt.
I think the jobs should also be brought back within final fatnasy traditions more. Put back 2 hour oves, let dragoons have jumps and their critter for instance.
It’s rather personal, but I’d like dark knights back too. As it stands they won’t ever be in ff14, their abilities were given to other jobs.
I can’t imagine why. What possible reason is there to rule out an existing job class? But they decided to do so.
In general the game needs to regain some of the soul that ff11 has.
Add some more npcs in town, add some quests to them too.
I haven’t been asked to run to the store and buy a gallon of milk for an npc, no lost kitties needed finding, nothing. Those quests are cliche, no doubt about it, but without them the towns feel empty.
You can do them better, and it gives people something to do.
What I’m feeling here is that the personal connection between the player and the game is very important, and a game lacking that connection will struggle to survive in a competitive marketplace.
Andrius: The connection the player has with the game goes along way, yes. At some point it wil transition to a player having a connection to other players in the game.
But you have to first establish the player’s connection to the game, get them into it, get them doing stuff, advancing their chracters, the story and get them into doing things with other players.
Then they form associations and friendships, build linkshell and that is what really keeps your players playing your game.
When I left ff 11 I’d done everything many many times. Any endgame you can name, I was a veteran of it, playing it, leading others through it, managing my linkshell, supervising others leading it, I’d done it all.
The reason I did it so much was because of the poeple.
Long after I had the victories I wanted, the gear I wanted, mountains of gil, it was the people that kept me there.
Thank you very much, this has been a tremendous interview and I think it carries a very strong message. Time will tell what Square Enix manages to do about this game, but you’ve certainly demonstrated a great deal about the spirit of MMO’s and what makes successful ones a positive experience for long-term players.