Final Fantasy XI just yet, but we have the next best thing: a letter from producer Akihiko Matsui talking about what's at least being gingerly planned for the next year. More accurately, it's about delays in the existing roadmap, the state of the game, and what Matsui plans to do about it in the near future.
While the letter itself is a little old at the moment, I'm going to be honest and say that I keep re-reading it amidst a mixture of disbelief and hope. I've been getting up on the same soapbox for almost three years regarding Final Fantasy XI's biggest problems, and Matsui's dispatch by and large seems to indicate that the team in charge of the game right now is aware of exactly these issues and actively wants to correct them.
This is kind of staggering. It's the good sort of staggering, but it's the sort of thing you don't expect to see, especially not from a game with a lot invested in gleefully ignoring the rest of the world. But this could mean that despite FFXI's age, next year could be the best one for the game in a long while.
You need to be able to do the things already there
Whenever someone asks me if it's worth trying FFXI at this point, I reply that it's worth seeing but will be a seriously irritating piece of work. And this is very much the case; the game is built around a lot of content that requires a group, and the truth of the matter is that the groups aren't there any longer. The population has moved on, and anyone coming to the game now has to beg -- and that's assuming the new player even knows what to ask for.
Matsui gets this. He outright states in his letter that he doesn't think the problem with the game is that there's not enough to do; the game is bursting at the seams with things to do. It's that most of those things require either a full party or more than a full party, and the opportunity to do many of these things as intended no longer exists. No one is going to run through Promyvion for giggles.
So his response is a simple one. If there's a lot of content that's too focused on having a group, fix that. Let players complete stuff. Let players actually experience the game instead of being locked in a corner for not having started already. Get rid of restrictions and challenges that made sense when the content was introduced but no longer makes sense with the majority of the playerbase either finished with it or is unable to access it.
He mentions that the state of the game pushes people into the top-end content or nowhere at all, and that's a truth that a lot of game designers could do well to internalize. The fact that there's only one game in town is part of the problem.
Keep playing the game you like at the cap
So Matsui wants to give players an easier time progressing through the game in the event that no one really wants to level sync back down into the Dunes out of pity. This is beyond enviable. (It's also not precisely what he's said, but I think it's a reasonable extension to make.) At the same time, this can create a problem: You could enjoy playing the leveling game but hate playing the actual endgame. I can relate to this; I was never in a rush to hit endgame in FFXI because most of the endgame content seemed like a great way to start hating the game all over again. If I wanted that I would keep trying to level Dragoon.
It's worth noting that this new vision for the game would allow for a world wherein you can actually level a Dragoon. Moving along.
Matsui's surprising understanding doesn't stop at understanding the game's current weak points, however. He mentions specifically that he wants to have content in place for players who like a lot of different playstyles. Like solo content? That should be there. Big group content? There. The game you enjoyed playing for the past 98 levels should still be there at the end.
It seems face-slappingly obvious, and for a long time this was very much the case in FFXI. But not only does Matsui want to abolish some of the unnecessary requirements from the earlier parts of the game, it sounds as if he wants to also ensure that classes other than Beastmaster can do something meaningful in the endgame without requiring a full team. (Emphasis on meaningful here.) That would be a change from what the game has been doing since... well, launch, really.
So what will actually happen?
Suspicion is a natural reaction. This all sounds wonderful and good, and I would be lying if I didn't say that my first instinct was to assume this was a beautiful lie meant to extract money and/or kidneys from me.
I don't think we're going to really see a major change in the way the game works until the expansion is released next year, but from what's stated in the letter, it seems as if the expansion is being built with all of these issues in mind. So once Seekers of Adoulin is actually out, we'll know how much of this comes to pass.
But I'm cautiously optimistic. Between Yoshida and Matsui, it looks as if both games are in for a brighter future.
You can leave your thoughts on this down in the comments or mail them along to email@example.com; I leave it entirely up to your discretion. Next week, I'm going back to Final Fantasy XIV to discuss cross-class abilities and what would help in the relaunch.
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.
The Mog Log: Final Fantasy XI's future might just be bright
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