So Naoki Yoshida's producer's letter came just a bit too late last week for me to rewrite my column, which focused mostly on the dungeons and rampant speculation regarding same. This week, however, I can write about all of the things that came out of both his producer's letter and Akihiko Matsui's combat revision document, both of which provide a lot of meaty information for Final Fantasy XIV players to digest. Pretty much all of it is good, with only a couple of downsides here and there.

Since there's way too much to possibly digest point-by-point, I'm going to hit the parts that strike me as having the most far-reaching impact and the most concrete data. A lot of this is going to pertain specifically to the combat revisions, as well, since let's face it -- the meat of the game is in fighting things off, solo or in groups. And it's with the battle revisions that one of the biggest changes is coming to Final Fantasy XIV, namely, the removal of physical levels altogether.

Level and rank changes

I'd always liked the idea of the level/rank split in FFXIV but not so much the execution. In concept, the split allowed you to gain more power through leveling even if you weren't operating at max level at a given moment. In practice, however, physical level meant far more than rank, and actually determining individual character strength was a real chore -- it had all of the downsides of a non-class system with all of the drawbacks of a class-based game. It was the worst of both worlds, and for that reason alone it makes more sense to get rid of them.

With bonus points for attributes getting moved over to ranks, it's going to be interesting to see the new reward rates. In all likelihood, characters will wind up with more bonus points overall -- splitting 50 levels of points over 900 class ranks isn't just a bad idea; it's also the sort of thing that results in player riots. (Being forced to level every class just to compete is not a particularly good strategy.) I'm wondering whether this will result in changes to experience rewards, as well, since we'll no longer be gaining X physical experience and Y skill points on successful completions. Upping the former would probably help in the long run.

Also worth wondering about is what will happen to characters with higher physical levels and lower class ranks. Will your rank be set to your physical level when the change happens? Will you receive "bonus ranks" based on your physical level? Or will the physical just be deleted? What will happen to your extant bonus points? All of this is stuff that will need to be addressed over time -- not much time, at that.

Class rebalancing

While I like the mixture of abilities that each class has at the moment, I'll be the first to admit that some classes are a real dog's breakfast of concepts. Pugilists and Lancers in particular strike me as stealing concepts from four or five different classes and then throwing the whole thing into a stew, hoping something there sticks. And just like making someone level 18 classes to be competitive isn't fun, raising Lancer, Marauder, and Gladiator all past level 20 just to make a given build work is kind of senselessly punishing.

Now, I think there's still going to be a fair amount of variance between class abilities, since the Job system is going to mean that individual classes don't need a relentless role focus. But some tightening up is a good thing, and there are a couple of classes (Lancer especially) with a real need for a better focus and balance. (Seriously, I attack "using the power of positive thinking"? Am I a Lancer or am I a self-help instructor?)

Job system and associated changes

First of all, a lot of what jobs do in the long run is going to vary depending on what special abilities they gain access to and what abilities are restricted. I'll admit to a distant hope that job and class can be totally separate (i.e., a Lancer could have the Paladin job), but I'm not too expectant, nor do I think it's necessary for the system to be interesting.

Jobs are, in the broadest sense, a great chance for the designers to decide what they want players to do in a group without restricting the classes as a whole. Assuming that the restrictions aren't too horrible, they even provide players with increased customization for larger groups. Do you pop into a job and thereby have increased mono-dimensional power, or do you remain in a class and stay more flexible at the cost of substantial direction? There's a definite emphasis on making sure that party combat stays interesting and fun, and that's something that is currently a bit scattershot. (Parties at the moment resemble those in City of Heroes -- loose control, loose roles, and a loose gathering at best. Making the parties more guided akin to Final Fantasy XI parties is not a bad thing.)

OK, I guess it was all battle changes

There's a lot more to talk about with the coming update, to be sure. The promise of Chocobos seems increasingly real (and while Anima works well for big jumps, it'd be nice to have an option between "walk" and "teleport" when you just need to move around from camp to camp). The Ifrit battle is coming, there are more balancing passes for leves and associated rewards, and so on and so forth. But the team seems to be in a good spot, and the updates that have been rolled out thus far are pretty darn impressive. I'm looking forward to the updates, even if they will be a pretty big shift.

As always, feel free to leave comments below or mail them along to eliot@massively.com. Next time around, I'm going to be diving back into Final Fantasy XI with some refreshing rambling.

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.
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