You might remember around a year ago when the latest entry in the award-winning Final Fantasy series came out and wasn’t exactly a hit. As a matter of fact, Final Fantasy XIV is presently the lowest rated Final Fantasy game of all-time, and by quite a margin. However, Square Enix has seen it through, and after making major adjustments to the development team and implementing a year of patches, the game is beginning to show a side that many people never thought it had.
After purchasing the FFXIV Collector’s Edition on launch week and having been extremely disappointed during the beta and first month of release, I thought it’d be absolutely impossible for the game to redeem itself. I was wrong. A multitude of patches have made their way to the game in the past twelve months, and they’ve addressed nearly all of the common concerns in one way or another. Best of all, Square Enix’s level of communication since the team restructure has been unlike anything we’ve ever seen from the company before. Not only are they listening to the fans, but they’re doing it on a consistent basis, all while sharing the present and future plans for the game publicly.
There were several things that made FFXIV a bust on release; the UI was an absolute mess and there was hardly any content outside of basic repeatable quests. Heck, there were no chocobos, airships, or endgame raids to be seen anywhere. As a result, many servers dropped in population substantially after the first month, and the game was dubbed a failure by many, quickly moving it to a free-to-play model.
So just what is there to get excited about? Well, this week the version 1.19 update released, and it’s the biggest patch we’ve seen for the game, arriving coincidentally just over a year after the game’s original debut. In the latest update an enormous amount of issues were addressed along with some great new content, and a few in particular stand out. For one, there are new activities to engage in ranging from dozens of new quests located across nearly every map, to supply quests that involve fetching items for an NPC, and even caravan security missions that let players escort chocobos as they transport supplies. There have also been two things added which are attractive to both the low and high-level player: materia and companies. While materia operates similar to “enchants” found in other games and enhance items with better stats, Grand Companies operate like factions, where allegiances are born and a sense of camaraderie is established. Companies are a very important part of the game now, and based upon which of the three a player chooses, a set of missions and leves become available, and ranks can be earned.
Chocobos and airships have also been added which make travel much more bearable outside of the standard teleporting mechanic, which was also improved in a patch earlier in the year. Chocobos can either be obtained for personal use through a questline, or rented from each of the game’s main cities. Outside of travel, Ifrit has been added as an endgame boss battle (he can be seen in the header image), and has both normal and hard difficulty modes along with a few incredibly good-looking drops to reward groups of players who are able to beat him. Along with the legendary Ifrit came some new strongholds, which are appealing for a range of characters, and even a new dungeon aimed at toons around level 15-20. There are plenty of other changes, as well as major tweaks such as the removal of physical levels, but there’s no way I can describe them all without filling up dozens of paragraphs, so be sure to visit Square Enix’s official 1.19 patch notes page to see them all.
Although these changes have made the game drastically better, the game isn’t all rainbows and candy. There still isn’t an Auction House, which has been a major complaint since early beta builds, as acquisition of new gear is agonizing. The changes earlier in the year to the way Market Wards work has helped make it more bearable, though. The gameplay is also still a bit clunky when using keyboard and mouse, but those who prefer a controller have found the UI improvements to further enhance what was already a relatively solid experience. Also, the PC version is still not very optimized for low to medium range hardware, so those without a modern gaming PC are short of luck.
Since the hardware requirements and playing with PC controls are a bit of a hurdle, I’m confident that these “cons” will play into the favor of Sony’s PlayStation 3. With so many improvements made, along with some of the qualities that Final Fantasy fans have come to love, this is a game that could actually be quite a hit after a few more patches.
FFXIV‘s free-to-play status will make the game a hard sell in the future, but with the game improving at the rate it is currently, it’s in the realm of possibility that the game will forego a “re-launch” when the PS3 version debuts, and those who give it a second look will be shocked by what they find. FFXIV might not be and never will be the widely-appealing game that World of Warcraft has been, but its dashing looks, unique style, and Final Fantasy themes might make it not only the Final Fantasy XI successor that fans have been waiting for, but the first MMO to ever climb back after a rough start.
Stay tuned for Final Fantasy XIV‘s upcoming PS3 release, which many suspect will be before Fall 2012. By then, many more changes will go into effect which are planned to make the experience as enjoyable as possible. See Naoki Yoshida’s Letter From the Producer XVII for details on the next two major updates, 1.20 and 1.21, which will include additional classes, another boss battle, and even an achievement system.