by Joshua Temblett, Onrpg writer
Final Fantasy XI was not only a fantastic MMO, but it also gave birth to a lot of features which are now commonly used within the genre. Despite the game’s rising success in 2005 Square Enix announced that they were working on a successor to Final Fantasy XI, and that’s when the buzz began. In fact just recently Square Enix Boss, Yoichi Wada admitted that the developers of FFXI are preparing to take the title into its final years and move onto their next game. Will Square completely phase out Final Fantasy XI? I doubt it, as other reports by Square (and FFXI producers) have stated that they want the two games to co-aside with each other, and that the new MMO will be a much different experience from its much older brother.
There’s only one thing we know for sure: Square is working on another MMO and its code name is Rapture. We can also assume that they have been working on the title for a fairly long time and that the game is certainly very close to launch (or pre-launch). Rumours have been circulating that Square Enix will announce the game at this year’s E3 and to be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t. Square Enix’s video games sales have seen a fall across all regions last year (despite this though their profit surprisingly raised by a slight hair) and this could be something to do with the quality in their recent titles dropping below what it used to be. I know what you’re thinking, “Blah Blah Blah, but what does it mean?” It could mean that Square Enix might find itself in trouble at some point along the line and that the company will certainly be looking for something to boost up its sales. Looking at the sales and the games released will help us get closer to finding out just what type of game Square Enix’s new MMORPG will be.
Japan’s video gaming market isn’t doing so well at all and is definitely not stable when compared to America’s and Europe’s market (with the United Kingdom being the second biggest gaming market in terms of purchases). This has had a huge impact on Japanese developers, especially on how they approach not only these markets, but the games they create. Japanese devs are finding a need to “Westernise” their games, so that their games can appeal to a wider audience and earn more profits worldwide. Square Enix has been greatly affected, as the company hasn’t really changed the way they create games (and what demographic they’re aimed at) since the first Final Fantasy and this is a major problem in a more fast paced western and casual orientated market. If we assume for a moment that the sequel to Final Fantasy began production in 2005, when the Japanese market had already started suffering, one could come to the conclusion that the next title will be slightly more westernised and will definitely aim to cater to a much larger audience.
In this economic climate, Square needs to approach the market differently, or else they’ll fail. World of Warcraft (a Western MMORPG) kicked through the doors of conventional MMO’s and produced a title that was easy to access, so that the emerging casual audience could get into it easier. It had features that were, at the time, original and mind blowing, and would of course appeal to a hardcore audience. WoW had another strong factor that put it in first place though, and that was the way it created an addictive and interesting experience, proudly made by the community Blizzard built up, which has attracted millions of normal people into the game’s unique world. People wouldn’t stop talking about the game (mainly due to their addiction to it), and this meant that if you had friends who wouldn’t shut up about the title, like I did, you’d either have to join them or leave them. Unfortunately the human race has a need for social acceptance among their friends/peers so most of them joined in the action.
Square needs to create a game that is unique, easy to access (they need to get rid of the stressful Play Online), fun to play and above all else addictive. If we take a look at some of the company’s recent MMO inspired releases, we might be able to piece together just how the game will play. There is one game that comes to mind when thinking about titles that would work as an MMORPG and that is Final Fantasy XII.
Final Fantasy XII was released in 2006 in the US and Japan, which was then followed by a 2007 release of the title in the Pal Regions. The title had suffered through a lot of problems, one of the main ones being that developers and designers were constantly coming and going, thus the game’s central focus got ruined which made it the weakest title in the series. FFXII was originally rumoured (and I fully believe designed) to be online or at least contain some online features. You can easily see that the game was meant to have some online aspect, and this is apparent from the open approach the game took and the battle system. The battle system put together the best parts of the previous Final Fantasy ATM system and mixed them with a more “Point and Click” MMORPG approach. This created a slightly boring but very in-depth system that you could just imagine playing in an online RPG. Not only this, but the game didn’t feel slow like Final Fantasy XI but rather fast paced. I would consider Final Fantasy XII an evolution of Square Enix’s online MMO battle system.
I’m not saying that just because FFXII featured MMORPG type gameplay that Square’s new MMO will be like it, I’m just pointing out what it could be like. If they want to appeal to a wider audience they need a faster and easier game. Things one needs to consider is SE’s approach to the new approaching market and the effect this has on their games. For example the company has recently set up a development team in America to approach the strong western market. Could this show that they’re moving to much more western influences for their games? Just something to think about.
One of the main questions I wish to answer is whether or not Squares’ new MMORPG will be a P2P or adopt a more open F2P (with an online market place) approach. SE is fairly renowned for taking their money up front, and can you blame them? Looking at the economic climate though would that be wise? It’s a well known fact that F2P games, on average, have much higher profit than P2P titles, but the amount of money made from Free to Play games can be unpredictable from month to month, whereas for Pay to Play games the developer is certain that every month they will get the same amount of money. This is the reason why P2P is much more popular with developers. If Square Enix released the title on a Buy to Play scheme though (much like Guild Wars) and gave the game some proper marketing, then it would no doubt sell. I personally think though that going for the free approach is much better as that way it will be more accessible (especially during the present economic climate) and you could end up gaining millions of gamers who are more than willing to pay for items and new clothing. Of course I know the game will be P2P as, after all, it is Square Enix.
So to wrap up, just how different will Rapture be? My answer: very different. The developers have learnt a lot from their experiences with Final Fantasy XI and from various other MMO titles about how to approach the market and just what you can achieve. I predict that the game will be slightly faster paced then its predecessor, and will be a lot easier to get into and play. Not only that but I think the game will certainly have a western appeal, whilst at the same time keeping Square’s well known injection of Japanese culture that they always put into their games. The big question is, will it be another Final Fantasy title? If they want the title to co-exist with Final Fantasy XI the answer is no, but if they wish the new game to replace it, yes. I can definitely guarantee you one thing though, it’ll kick rear.