The Mog Log: Until we run out of road

Eliot Lefebvre
E. Lefebvre|04.09.11

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The Mog Log: Until we run out of road
One of the uniquely fun parts about writing a column on Thursday is that every so often, Square-Enix decides that it wants to completely ruin my day. Case in point: I had an entire column written about the complete dearth of information that we'd been given of late about Final Fantasy XI, the writing of which was immediately followed by Friday's announcement of the road ahead for the game over the next twelve months.

So that was awesome. OK, it's a legitimately pretty awesome piece of news, but I can't help but wish that the team had waited until Monday or something.

My own griping aside, we now have a clear picture about what's waiting in the wings for Final Fantasy XI. And it's good, but that positivity has some caveats, and there are some issues that aren't getting addressed despite all of the news. I think the current team really "gets it" in a way that Tanaka never quite did, but I think there are also elements that are just so ingrained in the game and its development culture that some fixes we need are being pushed off or ignored.

It's probably a little mean at this point, but I'll go ahead and lay some blame at Tanaka's feet for staying in power far too long. Considering the way that the game's community has worked (something I discussed a while back), we raised no hue and cry to replace him, which would have been entirely reasonable. As it stands, the game has long had a reputation among players for being uncaring and hard, frequently for no real reason. Look at older equipment versus the rewards from Abyssea if you need a point of comparison. While we're being promised a new set of battles, new mechanics, and a new test server, there are issues I've been harping on since week two that still aren't getting looked at.

The net result I'm getting at here is that while the roadmap is cool, the game is still actively hostile to new players or returning old players in a way that really isn't necessary. There are changes that can be made, frequently simple ones, and for some reason the development team still doesn't seem to notice or want to bother with any of them. It's the same old story on a different day, and I keep finding myself in the same internal debate about these updates.
Thought 1: Does Square-Enix just not know what to do with the game anymore?

Thought 2: That's not even remotely fair and you know it. The game has been around for a long time; nostalgia is a big part of what's keeping players involved. Getting new players at this point in its life is kind of a losing proposition. For that matter, you aren't exactly at the forefront of the endgame, so your knowledge of what people want is a little suspect.

Thought 1: I don't have to be eating a glass-and-razor pizza to know that I won't like it. Yeah, there are a lot of players who keep playing for old times' sake, but this is essentially betting that they won't gradually get bored over time -- something that isn't helped by how much "new" content is repackaged old content. It's just accelerating the game's slow decay, when what Square really needs to do is make the game more appealing to new players.

Thought 2: Right, but that hostility toward players is part of what makes the game fun. There's an appeal in the peculiar mix of brutality and verisimilitude the game offers.

Thought 1: But you can cut down a little on the low-end barriers, the stuff that prevents new players from getting access to even basic functions of the game. A new expansion would do wonders; so would going back for an EverQuest-style progression server. This current habit isn't doing the game any favors, and it's kind of sad to watch such an excellent game falter like this.

Thought 2: Or you could keep focusing on the people who are playing and like the game for what it is, which you also do. The game is clearly still profitable; can you honestly say that making the game more accessible would improve player numbers? Or would it just mean that players who want the traditional experience would be turned off if they try the game out?

Thought 3: Ha ha, {Please invite me.} {inside} {Mog House}. Comedy gold.
So you can see my dilemma. Dynamis Reborn especially worries me precisely because it's a gimmick, the fundamental equivalent of killing a big-name superhero. It's done more for the attention than anything else, because I don't imagine there were a lot of players who desperately wanted to start spending chunks of time recovering from wipes in Dynamis all over again. (Yes, I know that's been improved, but bitterness can be slow to fade -- and I think there are a lot of people who are beyond sick to death of Dynamis by now.)

The real threat that FFXI has faced for some time now isn't obsolesence of hardware so much as an inability to grow. To an extent this is inevitable, as the game was locked into the PS2 hardware long before the developers could have any realistic conception of what that would mean. But it can and should transcend its restrictions and its age, and nothing in the roadmap says that it's really going to be moving onward and upward. Heck, even the Last Stand is existing content being pulled out of mothballs. Admittedly it's not implemented content, but it's still not exactly "new."

OK, enough kvetching; what's good about the roadmap? Having one at all is a real improvement, and the fact that the game is getting a test server means that some of that culture from Final Fantasy XIV's team must be leaking over. The idea of new growth elements appeals to me like you wouldn't believe, since it looks like it's separate from the Merit Point upgrades we're due to receive.

And let's face it -- even though this isn't the addition of a new expansion that I (and I suspect many others) had hoped would come, this is still a lot of new content and systems. The game is ensuring that even if you've been playing for a long time, you still find yourself with new projects to tackle at the end. That was -- and is -- one of the best elements of the game: the fact that there's so much to do that you can sort through it at your own pace without being forced into a set gameplay cycle.

It's good to have a map, it's good to know there's a plan, and it looks like it's going to be a pretty great plan. I still worry about the game's stagnation, because it's a problem that needs to be addressed. Maybe the PS2 does need to be jettisoned, ultimately, for the health of the game as a whole. We need more novelty.

As always, feel free to let me know what you think in the comments or via mail to eliot@massively.com. Next week I'm currently planning on taking a look at the ways in which the classes of both games fit back into the setting, one of the many things I feel both FFXI and Final Fantasy XIV do correctly.

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.
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