Final Fantasy XIV has been a staple part of my life for the last five years. It’s certainly been my MMO home longer than any other. It’s a game that has helped a new friendship blossom into a relationship I never thought possible, and one that helps me stay in touch with friends I might otherwise have lost as our lives went in different directions.
It’s a world that just keeps growing, not just through expansions adding new locations and quests, but by slowly convincing the gaming population that Final Fantasy didn’t fizzle out with XIII (not that I believe that, anyway).
There’s no denying that Final Fantasy XIV still feels oddly stuck in the past at times. New expansions, especially Shadowbringers, have demonstrated Square Enix’s ability to push passed its own barriers to create some truly stunning battles and cutscenes. But it’s hardly an innovator at this point.
My MMO roots trace back to Runescape, World of Warcraft, and a plethora of free-to-play games from the early 2000’s boom, and while Final Fantasy XIV has been the one to hold my attention the longest, there are still many aspects to this story-driven title that I think pale in comparison to games that came well before it.
A truly seamless world
By far my biggest pet peeve with Final Fantasy XIV is its many loading screens. One of my earliest memories from World of Warcraft was being amazed by the natural transitions between zones. Strolling through an excavated tunnel to escape the snows of Dun Morogh only to wind up in the sunnier climes of Loch Modan was magical — as was flying across entire continents without having the experience broken up by immersion-destroying load screens.
When you build the premise of a game on exploring a vast world, I expect it to feel vast: Final Fantasy XIV rarely does. Instead, it’s dozens upon dozens of zones stitched together with load screens.
You can’t walk from one part of the map to another without crossing a border, the screen fading to black, and your character fading back into another seemingly completely different ecosystem. I want to experience that gradual change for myself. To feel like I’m really hiking across this massive landscape.
I understand the need for the occasional load screen, but when I could walk for well over an hour in Runescape in the year 2000 without hitting a load screen, I’d expect 15 years of computer graphics upgrades to not be usurped by a browser game from the Windows XP days.
Perhaps it’s a limitation imposed by developing the game for PS3 back in the day, or maybe just something the development team decided wasn’t worth the effort, but here’s hoping the inevitable shift to the PS5 can convince Square Enix to pull off another overhaul down the line.
True raids & more strategic dungeons
Why does Final Fantasy XIV’s 8-man raid content feel more narratively shallow than its easier Trials and Alliance raids?
I believe any boss fight can be made to feel like an epic brawl with the right music, context, and voice acting, but high-tier raids rarely manage to strike the same balance as the rest. They’re typically devoid of the dramatic voice acting smaller Trial battles enjoy and lack the same sense of adventure Alliance raids do. You zone into an arena, kill the boss, then queue up and zone into the next.
The stories that play out between these raids are usually the pinnacle of each expansion outside of the main scenario, but the “fight and you’re out” style of teleporting between battles just comes across as dull. I can’t be the only one who wishes these raids were romps through truly dangerous territory before facing off against the game’s biggest and baddest foes.
I wanted to properly explore and hunt goblins in Alexander like I shut down the Lich King’s forces in Icecrown back in my WoW days. A certain early surprise from The Binding Coil of Bahamut would have been one of my favorite gaming memories had it been something hidden in plain sight around the corner rather than yet another thing waiting behind a load screen. Where’s the adventure? Where’s the suspense? Where’s the real reward?
While we’re at it, would it be too much to ask for some actual strategy in dungeons? If we’re being forced to run the same two for gear currency each week, it would be nice to add some mobs that aren’t just HP sponges. A need for our long-forgotten crowd control skills would be nice, or reasons to communicate with the team to prioritize certain mobs over another.
Less predictable content cycles
For years now, it’s felt like we’ve known exactly how the end of an expansion would look from the very beginning. The developers of the game maintain a presence through the Letter from the Producer livestreams used to give sneak peaks at upcoming content between patches.
What that has led to is a content cycle that feels predictable and, by extension, stale. Each major update brings one or two new dungeons, one of three raid wings for its 8 or 24-player content, new gear, and a few other little tweaks like QoL improvements, emotes, and updated loot from treasure maps or ways to speed up leveling across the board.
We’ve been treated to things like the Ultimate raid tiers, the more unique Relic weapon grind from Eureka, and the release of the Blue Mage “limited class”, but for the most part, players know exactly what they’ll need to prioritize and run months before a new patch comes out because it follows the same pattern each time.
I’m not even sure how I would want this to change, but anything to stop the usual rotation would be nice. Something to diminish the thought of doing it all again in a few months time.
More inclusive character customization
As a roleplaying game, Final Fantasy XIV’s varied races, continuously evolving wardrobe, elaborate housing system, and ever-expanding photo mode has made it a roleplaying haven in the same sense as Second Life.
You don’t quite have the same level of creation at your fingertips, but there’s something for everyone. Players spend time at each other’s virtual houses, chill out in the world’s numerous beautiful vistas, and even put on intricate stage shows and mini-games. But one of the more polarizing parts of Final Fantasy XIV roleplaying is the inclusion of gender-locked features like clothing and hairstyle options. Or, in the case of the new Viera and Hrothgar races, the complete omission of the other gender entirely.
While you won’t see me out in the Aftcastle making good use of the /e command, I do take pride in my character. Games are a source of escapism, after all. I wanted something androgynous, cute, and just a little mischievous. Ultimately, that was a Lalafell. I also wanted to keep a boyish voice while rocking a cute skirt – something I couldn’t do without opting for a female character with a very female voice.
But my comparatively basic roleplaying experience could be solved by simply allowing me to select a male voice when creating my female character and vice-versa – and I’m sure it would help a few others create a character that much closer to one they feel represents them online. Surely that’s not too much to ask, Square Enix?
More freedom to explore
I remember being disappointed that I couldn’t throw myself down a certain hole in South Shroud back in 2.0. NPCs were peering down, wondering what secrets it might hold: What more reason for adventure would a Warrior of Light need? Alas, an invisible wall blocked my giddy plans to go spelunking.
Eorzea and beyond beckons to be properly explored. It’s dense woodlands make way for hidden ruins and dungeons, its seafronts feature coves screaming with character, and its deserts are covered with uneven ground and sand dunes that could hide a grand oasis just over the horizon.
An aggressive reliance on invisible walls confines players to strict pathways, creating an almost linear experience masquerading as an open world. I want to be able to hurl myself down holes on a whim and worry about how to survive later.
I want to struggle to find my footing up a large mountain without the game simply telling me I can’t make it. I want to discover the world at my own pace and in my own way rather than have a ghostly blockade suck the fun right out of it.
I get that it’s an easy way to block access to unfinished content or stop players from clipping through the world, but at least come up with a better way of handling it. After all, bots are sliding through the world as it is. With swimming and diving possible since the Stormblood expansion, we don’t even have a clear way to know where we can and can’t swim. We just have to throw ourselves at the water and hope for the best.
I’m in no way trying to dunk on what Yoshida-san and the team have managed to accomplish over the years here, but when the man behind it all talks about which games inspired his vision of a rebirthed FFXIV, it makes me wonder if we really played the same games, but whether we enjoyed them for the same reasons.
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