Even without the earthquake, though, this hasn't been a usual year for either game. Admittedly, Final Fantasy XIV hasn't had a "usual" year to use as a baseline, but it was certainly a tumultuous one for players and developers. And Final Fantasy XI... well, it's had an unusual year more in terms of what didn't happen. Take a look past the break as I take a look down memory lane.
Final Fantasy XI: Present!
This hasn't been a good year for FFXI. Of course, it also hasn't been a bad year. Truth be told, it's been a year, and the game is ending the year in much the same state that it started. Outside of a couple of new level breaks, not much has changed.
You might be arguing that the additional levels make a huge difference to the game as a whole, and I would agree... only insofar as outdated content can now be blown through with even greater ease. You can now walk around most of Vana'diel at the level cap with impunity, which is different but not really what I'd consider a major change for the game. (I'd almost argue that it diminishes the game slightly, since there are far fewer areas where even level-capped players have to be careful.) And while we've had new fights here and there, there haven't been any substantial new additions to the game since the end of Wings of the Goddess last year.
One gets the impression of a game spinning its wheels and biding its time, as if the development team knows that it's time to just comfortably slouch into the sunset.
Quite honestly, this is probably the core cause of my frustration with FFXI these days. The game has a lot to offer and needs some revisions here and there but isn't getting any real development because it's been put out to pasture. A new expansion seems to be out of the question, and yet in the absence of a new expansion, the game just continues to sit in place with greater intensity. And the road map we've currently got for the game is promises not fixes but more of the same.
So it's been frustrating to watch. Understandable on some level, perhaps, but frustrating just the same.
Final Fantasy XIV: A new game each week
If FFXI has stagnated, and it has, all of its energy seems to have gotten sucked straight over to Final Fantasy XIV. The team has been cranking out major updates on a consistent and rolling schedule, projecting a sort of vigor that's rarely seen in live development teams and has certainly never been seen from Square-Enix before now. Naoki Yoshida has gone out of his way to make himself an approachable personality, someone to personally identify with as a positive force.
But the rate of changes means nothing if the changes in question aren't any good. Fortunately for Yoshida's team, they have been good, expanding on the best parts of the original launch while improving the surrounding environment. After a slightly lackluster start with the introduction of quests, we've seen the Grand Companies, class and skill improvements, endgame battles, and a host of client-side enhancements -- all good things, and all stuff that touches on what made me originally fall in love with the game while cutting away the annoying parts.
The biggest thing that the game is struggling with internally seems to be a sense of identity. At launch, the game had managed to inherit a lot of the more obnoxious features from FFXI without adding much besides -- witness the overcomplicated mess of the crafting system, for instance. (I still boggle at why Hiromichi Tanaka thought that the best way to improve crafting was to give us dedicated crafter classes and an interesting system... then marry it to ingredients with fine-grain detail that quickly passed into uselessness.) The game is trying to bring in more of the positive elements of its predecessor and other games, but at the same time, it needs to find its own specific voice.
That having been said, if you haven't played the game over the past year, you'd barely recognize it for all that's taken place in development since then, which is a good thing, but it can be a bit overwhelming if you're actually trying to get a handle on playing the game on a regular basis.
So what does the future hold for both games? What do they need to overcome in 2012? I'm sure you can predict several of the issues off the top of your head, but that's going to be the focus of next week's column and the last installment for 2011. So look forward to that on your New Year's Eve next week... if you aren't too occupied with the traditional drinking and partying.
As always, your opinions on the past year are welcome in the comments below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. See you next week with predictions and so forth.
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.