The Mog Log: The fall of the ivory tower

No, I'm not talking about Delkfutt's Tower. That's cermet, not ivory, and by all indication it's still standing just fine. No, I'm looking at the ivory tower that any Final Fantasy XI fan is familiar with, that high and imposing structure from whence developers hand down their proclamations, nevermind whether said proclamations have any relation to things people would actually want.

Considering that Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XIV have both been seeing a lot of new and open communication from the development team, it's safe to say that those days are over. Whether or not you like the content of the updates is... actually pertinent, now. The developers seem to be listening to us in a way that we're just not accustomed to. I mean, seriously, show of hands, who expected the removal of Fields of Valor cooldowns?

It's a big change. And it makes me hopeful about both games, because in light of the leadership shakeups, it looks as if the new development direction is something I can really get behind. I might have a few reservations here and there, but last week's news leaves me excited.

Vana'diel's new open bar

So long ago I don't remember when -- oh, wait, I remember exactly when; it was the second column I wrote here -- I talked about the fact that Final Fantasy XI desperately needs a removal of all of the pointless and restrictive barriers on older content. It's not that they didn't make sense at the start; it's that telling a player now what has to be done just to get to Whitegate is going to be met with dumbfounded stares and uninstall commands.

This change has been coming in little ways for a while now, but the update to Fields of Valor really drove it home. Between that and the removal of some of the more obnoxious level caps in the game, I can't help but feel a renewed hope that the development team really wants to improve the game as a whole. That's not quite the only obnoxious barrier I'd like to see removed, but it's at least a step in the direction of making new players feel that they should keep leveling, even without the option to jump straight into Abyssea. Granted, solo grinding isn't the best introduction to the group-heavy mechanics of the game, but hey, you take what you get.

I'm still hoping for that new boxed expansion, naturally. But I can tell the game is being developed by people with a very different attitude than Tanaka's previous outlook. There's a huge amount of content in FFXI, and I'm hopeful that the game continues to be made progressively more accessible for everyone to enjoy.

Eorzea's big new routine

There was a lot more to unpack in Friday's big Final Fantasy XIV update than in the questions from FFXI. That's really fair, when you get right down to it, and it's also Yoshida's first real chance to step up to the plate. While I've been a little bit nervous about it here and there, the look forward is certainly promising, and it says volumes about how Yoshida plans to manage the game. The letter makes it clear that he wants players to be engaged in development and tell him what they like and what they don't, more than it focuses on specific mechanical changes.

"Skewering things just feels better when you're playing a Dragoon instead of a Lancer."

Public companies and more quests sound like unambiguously good things. I'm tempted to think that these are distinct from the player-run companies we've been promised in the past, and I'm looking forward to see what they imply -- hopefully not a removal of the player option. (Company-run airships sounded like a blast.) The team is also moving away from the game's current format, which is far too heavy on guildleves, which as I've said before are more palatable in small doses.

What's coming next for classes has me a bit more curious. There are going to be adjustments, yes, but they're not really enumerated, save the potential renaming of classes to more "iconic" names. That's a bit disappointing. I admit that I was hoping the iconic names were being reserved for something cool in the future, but I can understand the appeal just the same. Skewering things just feels better when you're playing a Dragoon instead of a Lancer. (Or not, considering how lackluster Lancers are in their current implementation.)

I was going to go on a bit of a tear about Yoshida's statements about party-based play, but then I read them again and found myself in agreement. Like many players, I have knee-jerk recollections of some of the more obnoxiously party-locked content in FFXI, the sort of thing that should never be replicated by anyone, ever. This is really not the time for the Eorzean equivalent of Chains of Promathia, to pull out an obvious example. But that doesn't seem to be what Yoshida's aiming for here. Parties do need to have a reason to form, and they need to work well once they do form, something that's a bit lacking in current implementation. You have a few party-based goals, but most goals can be accomplished solo.

Yoshida seems to get that the existence of solo goals is a good thing, and he wants to give parties more to do and more reasons to exist -- creating new goals, rather than redfining old ones. Upping guildleve rewards hasn't really done it; I'm curious about what he's got planned. Behests are fun enough and easy to get groups for, so perhaps we'll see variants on that format? I'd love a roaming battle against war parties of beastmen, which are supposedly on the slate for inclusion.

Whatever concerns I might have, Yoshida seems to have an earnest geniality about him. It's a tough road ahead, but I think he's got a decent chance of making it through.

The fun's the thing

If there's one overarching theme to both updates, it's that the development team wants to make sure the game is more fun. It's not fun waiting for half an hour to do another Field of Valor quest, it's not fun trying to get six people to agree to be level-capped just so you can finish your rank mission, and it's not fun to feel like you're grinding out levels just to get the next story nugget. And even though Tanaka was responsible for a lot of very fun games, I felt as though he never quite cared about that direction, that he wanted games to be more interesting from a design perspective than they were fun to play.

That ivory tower is gone. I'm glad to see it, and it gives me hope for the next year.

As always, feel free to offer your own opinion about the news or the future of the games in the comments or via mail to Next week it's time for the look back over the past year -- what worked, what went wrong, and so forth. Until then, man, I've got some carpentry projects to undertake. Mostly Ash Log-related.

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.