The Mog Log: The year that was

Last year around this time, people were saying that 2009 had been a terrible year and 2010 could only be an improvement. This year, people are saying the exact same thing. Maybe those of us in the MMO-sphere are just perpetual downers -- I don't know. It's certainly been a pretty significant year for players of Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XIV -- heck, it's been outright impossible for a Final Fantasy XIV player to exist before now, if you want to get hung up on pedantry.

Whether or not you enjoyed the launch, of course, is another story altogether, one that Square-Enix itself doesn't seem to have closed the book on just yet. And over in Final Fantasy XI, we got an announcement that had been about seven years in the making, not to mention a plethora of new additions to the game -- some stunning, some lackluster. So let's take a look back at the year for both games, since the new one is starting right about, well, now. (OK, it's been started for a few hours, you get the idea.)

Final Fantasy XI's year of level caps and add-ons

How often can you really gloss over an entire year's worth of development with a single number? Players have been asking to hit level 99 in Final Fantasy XI pretty much since the game launched. It's a franchise thing, really, and that 75 cap has always just been a little bit grating. So it was clever of the design team to announce the cap would be raised nearly at the beginning of the year, and even cleverer to keep the new increments slowly coming in the form of large patches.

Leaving aside my usual rants about implementation and level band foci, I'll instead say that the increased level caps have not been cruel. The added class abilities make sense for each individual class, give more options without overshadowing existing abilities, and in many cases have freed up classes from "necessary" subjobs. (Hooray for spreading the Dual Wield love!) Not to mention that each raise has been accompanied by another mini-expansion in the Abyssea vein in which players are given the tools to fly up in levels quickly and effectively.

I'm not going to expound at length on Abyssea for several reasons, primarily because I've already done so. Suffice it to say that the additions have been good and meaty with some caveats.

Other than the level caps and Abyssea, we've seen the Wings of the Goddess storyline close out, the addition of Walk of Echoes, and... that's it, really. The big focus has been on those bumped levels, which is very reasonable, but it's also meant that not much has happened in the mixed levels of the game. The lack of another boxed expansion for the third straight year was felt pretty acutely, but it hasn't killed the game, just kept things a fair bit quieter.

It's also worth noting that the game has now gone through two directors in the span of one year... but there's a good reason for that, one that's best discussed as we look toward the newer game under our aegis.

Final Fantasy XIV killed hopes, dreams, Hiromichi Tanaka

Some people were quite happy when FFXIV launched. I'm one of them. But even though the launch went off without a single technical hitch, it was clear from day one that issues were afoot. The game was not for everyone... and as time quickly showed, the game was so not for everyone that the launch behaved something like a rocket cutting its boosters halfway to escape velocity and establishing a very low, very expensive geosynchronous orbit.

To Square's credit, the development team rallied and started really putting its collective back into fixing the game up. Of course, that didn't help much when pretty much everyone on the team was released from development and an entirely new team was brought in, a team which is presumably currently hunkered in an office trying to figure out how to make the game perform up to spec (i.e., not sitting in aforementioned orbit). Long story short, it's been a good year for the game only insofar as people who like the game in its current state wind up happy. Everyone else, including Square? Not so much.

And yes, the game killed Hiromichi Tanaka. Not literally -- although the announcement that he was being removed from his position was as close to a public execution as you can get -- but it's very unlikely we'll be seeing his name behind another game in the franchise. Which is kind of surreal, whether or not you think he's the main culprit behind some of FFXI and FFXIV's more baffling design decisions.

So where are we left? There are people who do really like the game and have high hopes for improvements en route. There are also people who really hate the game at this point and aren't coming back, even if every character is granted a free golden airship complete with chocobo stables. But the largest group seems to be made up of people who want to like the game and are still waiting for the hook that's going to draw them in, and the next year is going to be very telling in that regard.

And the future...

So, why not throw my hat out there for the year that's yet to be?

I'm going to go ahead and say that yes, FFXI will see another boxed expansion. It will include two jobs -- a healer and a tank, to help vary the spread a bit -- and its launch will coincide with the level cap reaching its apex in mid-September. It'll also start up a new cycle of storyline missions. There will be an update in either April or May to bring us up to 95, complete with a few bits of new content to help grease the wheels. PS2 users will struggle with the additions somewhat, which will lead to a bit of decline in population, but the game will also remain fairly solid and profitable.

FFXIV will have a May release for the PS3 version, with a boxed expansion announced by the end of the year. We're going to see some major redesigns to certain areas of the game -- I suspect that item durability will be removed altogether, crafting materials will be available far more cheaply, and we'll see a bunch more directed content, as well as the opening of Ishgard and one additional zone before the year ends. Combat will remain largely unchanged, but stamina regeneration will be upped and cooldowns will be lessened. The game will still struggle a bit to find its voice, but the first update from the new team in mid-February will help soothe a lot of the game's more vocal critics and address a number of pressing concerns.

Now, let's watch all of my predictions get shot to heck by Monday, shall we? Feel free to leave your own predictions, opinions, comments, etc. in the comments field, or mail them along to eliot@massively.com. Yes, I just left you wide open to post your magnum opus about how FFXIV is going to be shut down. You're very clever and we're all quite proud of you.

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.

This article was originally published on Massively.