See, there's a definite problem with all of the coming updates in the online Final Fantasy space. Both games need a distinct identity, and yet they're also both overlapping in several core areas. Square-Enix clearly wants players to be able to enjoy Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XIV as two different experiences, but is that really possible?
I'd like to think it is. I think that both games can deliver a rich experience for players of all stripes without becoming mirrors of one another, even disregarding superficial elements like jumping. I think both games also need to come together on certain points of common ground, so players of either can enjoy certain shared features that would otherwise be taken for granted.
One feature, two directions
Seekers of Adoulin is adding a lot of new guilds to FFXI, and I think that's a good thing because the guild system in that game is kind of underused. There's an interesting dynamic set up with the various guild shops and guild rewards, but it's one that can easily be missed if you're not heavily into crafting. Considering the nightmare that is crafting in FFXI, you could easily be forgiven for that fact. I like the idea that one of the core features in the game is making use of the guilds as a clearinghouse of tasks and rewards. Your jobs are almost a secondary element.
FFXIV makes heavy use of its guild houses, but at the moment, the focus there is on the individual class in question. Lancers and Dragoons swarm to the Wailing Barracks, but not much of anyone else. Again, I think this is a fine implementation. It means that your class is inextricably tied to something tangible. You don't just stab things with a pointy stick; you get much of your training from an organization devoted to the use of the lance in combat.
There are some features that these games are always going to share, but I think this is a good spot to explore the different directions that could be taken in either game. It's not that FFXI or FFXIV has a better execution of the overall system, just that they've taken a shared concept and brought it into play in different ways.
I've mentioned before how FFXI is currently a pretty unfriendly game to solo in, and I stand by my assertion that this needs to be trimmed up a fair bit. Getting a subjob and leveling shouldn't be a torturous process for a new player, especially since it's not until you get advanced jobs that you really learn half of the stuff you can do in the game. That's not to say that you can't ask for help and find people willing to provide it, just that forcing people to beg for help when they're not sure if they even want to keep playing is... counterintuitive, let's say.
But we already know that Final Fantasy XIV will give players lot to do solo. It already does, really. There's a lot of content to explore alone, a lot of quests and storyline to be done by one's lonesome, and a lot to enjoy without a group. Group or solo play is always a choice, and that's a good thing. So how do you make FFXI more solo-friendly without removing one of its central draws?
The answer, I think, is to keep the sense of making group efforts without necessarily requiring group play. FFXIV and FFXI can easily both make grouping optional in places and required in others without treading over the same ground. None of FFXIV's crafting skills are a group effort, for instance, but you can make crafting in FFXI a group exercise. There aren't instanced dungeons in FFXI; they exist in FFXIV and will likely be there in greater numbers come 2.0. The shared effort of Hamlet Defense is a good example of creating an environment with shared effort without necessarily being in the same party, and I'd love to see FFXI implement a similar system from another angle.
FFXIV is going to come out of the gate quite lean with what I imagine will be a fairly good sense of directed flow. Start here, go over to that area, and so forth. We've been told that the world will have a lot of adventure for explorers as well, but what we've seen thus far implies that it's going to be the sort of adventure that you find by wandering off the beaten path. I don't think the game will wind up asking you to level through zones in a distinct level path, but I do imagine that you'll be sent to places and then find more with a little exploration.
FFXI, by contrast, has never given you a clear picture of where to go next. While the game does need some pointers added in, I think this honestly shouldn't be one of them. Give people a general direction to explore and let them do so rather than force them down another route. The world has always had a certain wandering feel to it, and reinforcing that is a good thing.
In other words, in one game you're directed to an area and then you start exploring. In the other game, you start exploring an area and that takes you somewhere. It's a subtle difference, but it's one that creates a very different game experience.
Two great tastes...
I want FFXI and FFXIV to both do well, really. Both games have a lot of similar feels, but I think that they can really stand on their own as unique games with a bit of work. Yeah, some of that work will involve hammering out parts of the game that have been in place forever... but that's part of the process of MMOs, honestly.
Done correctly, they'll be two halves of a whole. Neither is required for the other, but both together blend nicely. Done incorrectly... well, let's not speculate on that.
As always, you can post your thoughts on the matter in the comments or mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, I'm going to start talking about zone design in FFXI, which gets some things marvelously right and some other things marvelously wrong.
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.