By Joshua Temblett (Dontkillmydreams), OnRPG Journalist
In 2005 Square Enix announced that they were developing a new MMORPG. Now, four years down the line, we’ve finally been shown glimpses of this masterpiece-in-waiting. The problem is the game looks nearly the same as its predecessor, Final Fantasy XI. I’ve always said that if there’s one developer who can make a great MMO, it’d be the team behind Final Fantasy XI. After seeing gameplay footage of their new title, I’ve got to admit that I’m slightly worried.
Now I don’t know what Final Fantasy XIV will be like, my judgements are made from the video footage available at present and the various interviews that are floating around. Also just to clarify the big question I’m approaching in this article isn’t whether or not Square’s new MMO will be good, but whether or not the game can compete in such a saturated market, where new experiences are constantly coming out every year.
These new experiences not only include games like Fallen Earth and Champions Online, but also titles like Aion which build upon the status quo. Star Wars: The Old Republic is probably one of FFXIV’s biggest rivals. Not only is this game incredibly hyped, but its release date is 2010 (probably within the 4th quarter of the year) just so happens to be in the same time-frame as XIV. Oh and did I forget to mention that it’s Star Wars? Wait; allow me to elaborate on that. It’s a Star Wars MMORPG developed by BioWare who have made very successful games within the franchise before. I mean, come on! Who wouldn’t play that?!
You see game developers are approaching their games differently and are (finally) beginning to focus on other demographics than the typical hardcore MMORPG gamer who likes to stay up late and grind. Gameplay in MMOs is becoming more streamlined and casual orientated. Not only that but games like Champions Online are attempting to merge the action and RPG genres to create an experience that fits the more action based American audience.
This change of focus from the Eastern to the Western markets is an important one. The Eastern market is no longer profitable enough to sustain the large development costs of making a game, so instead developers have to capitalise on American and European audiences, the latter being probably one of most important as it’s still growing. This change in attention is important as it affects the games design and appeal.
At the moment casual gaming is what most game companies are focusing on. By casual gaming I don’t mean mini games, I mean gaming for the masses that is easy, accessible and streamlined.
MMORPGs have never aimed at the casual audience though. So how do they grab that audience? They do so by providing instant satisfaction to the gamer. The problem is Final Fantasy XI was never about that, it was before the era of casual gaming, and focused much more on the long term gratification, rather than the short term. Now before you think that this is a bad thing, it really isn’t. FFXI wasn’t meant for the soft and wimpy, instead for the old fashioned hardcore gamer that would, in his/her prime, stay up late every night trying to complete Mega Man 2.
This is what made the game great, and I believe is what keeps the 500,000 players logging in everyday. However in this day and age, is that what gamers want? Yes, I think it is. Is this the audience Final Fantasy XIV is after? Yes. Expect a game similar to FFXI, but easier to get into and with less of a learning curve. Sure the game will have some casual appeal, but don’t expect the hardcore aspects to just get up and walk away.
There is still a fan base for these types of hardcore games, and Square Enix knows that. What they also know, unlike many other MMORPG developers, is that they can’t take away World of Warcraft’s audience and so there’s no point in creating a game similar to it. Instead a video game that has its own unique gameplay and experiences will be more successful.
But is XIV truly unique? Well we don’t know until we get our hands on it and review it. From the footage that’s been released so far, it looks like FFXI but much more streamlined. Heck even the races look the same. The developers are in danger of creating an experience that looks almost identical to their first MMO and whilst I’m sure that they’re not the same, there’s the possibility that some people will look at the game and just go “Meh, it’s the same as Final Fantasy XI”.
Let’s just hope that however the game turns out it’ll still keep the feeling of Final Fantasy XI, which in my opinion no other MMORPG has really been able to crack. XI was a special game that gave a great feeling of achievement. Whilst I never really had the opportunity to thoroughly play through it, the world felt ever huge and expansive, and you really felt like you were in a different world. If XIV can keep that feeling then I’ll definitely be picking it up on day one.
It’s all about whether or not Square’s new MMORPG can find its own niche in what is a very competitive market. I personally think that it will be able to and that the game is in a very capable developer’s hands.