The Mog Log: A year that wasn't

The Mog Log header image by A. Fienemann
So it's been a year since the release of Final Fantasy XIV. Well, all right, that's a a bit debatable, what with the differing launch times for the collector's edition and the general retail edition, but for the purposes of this article and my own memory, I'm going to go ahead and focus on that one-year anniversary right now. I remember driving down to pick the game up a year ago on Thursday. That's close enough.

And there's a lot that's changed since the game was released. It's a well-known fact that I liked the game even in its initial state, but it had some pretty major issues and some points of lacking implementation. And it doesn't feel like we're a year out from launch as a result of all the things that the game has changed since launch, with each patch bringing not just new content but major overhauls to the existing game. So was there even a point to launching the game right then, considering both the reception and the fact that we're still without a subscription charge?

Rhio on launch day last year.  Not shown: ugly hat.I'm going to go ahead and say yes, and not just because I like the game. I think that if you're pleased with the work that Yoshida has been doing on the game for the past nine months, you should be happy that the game launched when it did because it wouldn't have happened otherwise.

Why did the game launch when it did? I couldn't tell you that without knowing a lot more about the internal politics at Square-Enix. Certainly I'd bet that there was pressure to aim the launch at a dead zone when there was nothing coming out, and 2010 was a pretty darn quiet year for launches as a whole. But more than anything else, I think it launched because Hiromichi Tanaka, a man whom I greatly respect for the work he's done on the series over the years, stood up and confirmed that yes, it was ready for launch.

Was it? That's a debate that can go back and forth for ages, and has. It's so far past the point of being relevant that even bringing it up is annoying. (The short answer is that it doesn't matter because it did launch and we're here now. The long answer is the same as the short answer but with more cursing.) What we can all agree upon, however, was that the game in its launch state basically didn't adhere to any MMO conventions that were previously in place, and I have little doubt that as long as Tanaka was at the helm, some things would remain perpetually off the priority list.

Tanaka is like any other designer. He has his priorities, he has the things he likes and doesn't like, and he doesn't always listen to player feedback in those areas. And Tanaka likes baroque design and hates RMT.

Final Fantasy XIV's design, in many ways, was set up as a pre-emptive answer to a lot of problems that Final Fantasy XI had experienced over the years. The emphasis on crafting classes meant that players no longer felt like they had to fire and hope on important crafts, which had been a longstanding problem. Leve restrictions and server-side UI adjustments ensured that cheating and RMT didn't have the same hold over the game. Fatigue kept people from buying into powerleveling services and the like.

It's not like fixing these problems is a bad idea. The issue is that these problems were being fixed before they were, in fact, problems. It's like installing a million-dollar alarm system in your home before you confirm that the locks work. At best, the fixes were transparent to players, and at worst they were impeding people who were trying to play the game legitimately.

What caused the direction on the game to shift -- including most of those impediment to be discarded -- was the fact that the game was released. As long as Tanaka was in charge, these elements weren't going to be changed, and until the game went live to negative critical reception, he was going to remain in charge. So there were really no two ways around it.

And a year later.  Well, I did pick up a new belt recently, but that's not such a huge deal.The net result is where we are now. The game hasn't been charging players, it's been getting changed in major ways, and next week is the target launch for a patch that should see another big change to the way the game functions. Getting from place to place is much more viable, and while I'm sad to see physical levels go (it was neat that leveling other classes made a real difference across all classes), there are definitely advantages to the new way of doing things.

But will it matter? Can the game make up for lost ground? Clearly Square thinks it can. You don't keep running a game for free for a year unless you're fairly confident that it's worth the extra time, and while you may not like certain aspects of Square's approach to games (this is why do I have about a million Final Fantasy VII revivals around me and no love for Final Fantasy VI), you can't deny that the company tends to be pretty good about the business side of things. Running an MMO is a marathon, not a sprint, and there's always time to recover over the game's next year of operation.

Right now, the game is significantly improving. And if you haven't played since launch, it's worth taking a look again. Fair warning: Yes, it still takes a while to grow accustomed to the game and feel comfortable within it. But there's more to do than you might have thought and clear signs of how much more is just around the corner. If you got tired of the guildleve cycle, you're not the only one, and you're not still stuck in the rut. Sometimes things have to be bad in order to get better.

Of course, I'm sure this week's column will bring out plenty of people cheering for the game's demise in the comments. And your feedback is welcome, if not entirely productive. Everyone else can also use the comments to sound off or as always mail things along to eliot@massively.com. Next week, while I would really like to be able to devour all of the new patch in a day, the reality is that I'm just not going to be able to have a column on that. What do you say we talk about beastmen again?

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.