But then another nice man runs up to you. He says that he has excellent news for you about this cake, that it will make you very happy.
"So I don't have to walk through all this broken glass and stuff?" you ask.
"Oh, no, you still have to," replies the man. "But we've made the cake at the end taste even better. Isn't that awesome!"
And at this point, anyone in the world would turn around and walk away. I don't care how much you like cake, that cake just isn't worth the trouble.
That, in a nutshell, is how I felt while looking at the announcements for VanaFest 2010. Because they're going to make that endgame cake taste ever better, and that's great. But that's all the way over there.
Way back when I started writing this column, I talked about the problems that Final Fantasy XI faced for its future. And if there was one point I harped upon, it was the fact that the game needs to be more accessible. I had to start a new account, and I found myself absolutely crippled by the barrier to entry that lay in front of new players just to get things that it's assumed you'll be working with. Getting subjobs and an airship pass alone is a huge amount of work, and that's not even the point when you're moving into the meat of the game.
Not to toot my own horn, but I know this game pretty dang well. I was around when it first came out, and while I've taken breaks I never lost sight of it. And even I found the ramp-up to be a lot more difficult than it needed to be. This is with me knowing where everything is, where to farm, what sells and what doesn't, et cetera. A new player wouldn't know all that. They would get lost and leave, promptly.
Square-Enix has said, in short, that they don't care. They're adding new stuff for the invested and not tossing a bone out to people stuck at lower levels. And so the cake at the end just gets more delicious, but getting to that cake remains so torturous that the odds of tasting it are minimal unless you've already reached it.
I wasn't expecting my reaction to the whole thing to be so visceral, but there it is. This event was, in every way that matters, a last hope for the game to go on being vital. By confining itself to the players they already have, the game is accelerating toward death faster than before. It'll be several more years before it actually bleeds out, but it is bleeding and it will eventually go out. And if the fact that I write several thousand words about it every month didn't make that clear enough -- I like this game. Even with its flaws, I like the game and I want it to ultimately be successful.
For that matter, I want Final Fantasy XIV to be successful. But this doesn't speak well of Square's ability or desire to manage that game, either. They came so close with all the effort put into communication from VanaFest... and then they showed, essentially, that they had learned half of the lesson. They understand now that communication is king, but not how to fix what's broken.
The weird thing -- or perhaps the edifying thing -- is that judging by the comments on our news post about the announcements, I'm not alone. Reactions ranged from resignation to irritation, without much love for what was changing. Or, more accurately, what wasn't changing. Joakal's comment sort of summed things up: "The changes are exciting, and would have been brilliant... 4 years ago."
I realize there are people out there who are happy about this, such as the majority of the community over at Pet Food Alpha (who teamed up with Limit Break Radio for their live report on the event, and bless them for that). And you know, this is going to be pretty cool for most of the people already invested in the game. But it's not what I was hoping for, and I can't help but be just a little bit upset.
Okay, a lot upset.
(I'd be remiss in not pointing out that a rebuttal is already available before this column has even gone live. My viewpoint is not the be-all and end-all to this discussion. But I'm still on my soapbox here.)
I suppose I can at least be happy about being right on-target with my predictions. We didn't get a new expansion, we did find out when the beta for Final Fantasy XIV would start, and we got more add-on scenarios. We're also getting several more things, and that's pretty darn nifty.
And once you get past the disappointment, everything they're adding? While it is a swan song to the game, it's a really cool swan song. Pretty much everything players have been asking for is in these announcements -- a huge jump in level cap, the last two prominent avatars added to summoners, the end of the game's last major storyline, et cetera. It might be silly to hope for the game to expand at this point, after so many years of enjoyment and so many experiences that it's already given us.
But you can't help but hope for something more, especially when you've enjoyed a game for this long. You want it to keep going and keep improving, even if you know the sequel is coming. It happened with EverQuest, and it's happening again right here. At least we'll always have Jeuno.
Next week, prepare for a long column asking why I didn't get into the Final Fantasy XIV beta after writing this column. Or stunned and blissful disbelief. One or the other. And as always, if you notice any interesting community threads or just have a question, feel free to send either along to Eliot at Massively dot com.