Michael is a 2006 Graduate of Collins College and has earned a Bachelor of Arts in Game Design branching into IT/Coding Fields.
A Tale of Two Fantasies
To many in the Final Fantasy community, the two games Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XIV are rather unique in how they break away from the traditional Single-Player experience. To cement its legacy, Final Fantasy XI was Square-Enix's debut into the Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game genre; this set the standard for the other MMORPG, Final Fantasy XIV to surely follow.
But how is it that, despite a blueprint and the advantage of later technology and wisdom, XIV is still a failure compared to its predecessor? How did Final Fantasy XI succeed where Final Fantasy XIV failed? I would like to delve a little deeper into this subject of how it was possible. Therefore, please read along.
The Video That Inspired the Idea
How a Game Is Remembered
"It all began with a stone . . . or so the legend says . . .
In ages past, a sentient jewel enormous and beautiful banished the darkness.
Its many-colored light filled the world with life, and brought forth mighty gods.
Bathed in that light, the world enter an age of bliss,
Until after a time, the gods fell into slumber.
That world was called, "Vana'diel."
This was the introduction players of Final Fantasy XI recognize and would forever remain in their hearts; this tale was the actions of Vana'diel's creation, and later on, would be the lore to drive the actions of adventurers that started Final Fantasy XI as early as its launch in 2002, stateside. It is a tale that shows players the life and struggles of the denizens of Vana'diel, the Children of Altana, and their constant battles against the hordes of Beastmen, Kindred Demons, and all other manners of threats in this harsh, yet wondrous world; and through the efforts of the players therein, you get a sense of making this your own final fantasy.
Meanwhile, Final Fantasy XIV is remembered for a different reason; that it was once a colossal failure. Slowly, the stigma of this failure did wane over time, but after several questionable decisions (Skip Potions, use of third-party software aka parsing, offering less content overall), the value of XIV is skewed negatively. Also, unlike XI, the game is actively removing key parts of the experience that could make it endearing. Such trimming of content creates a false context of "focused/streamlined content." There is also the poor habit of stifling ideas that do not work well or in favor of the group overall. It gives the impression that the Development Team doesn't want to develop the game any further. I've touched on the subject in a previous article, "Final Fantasy XIV's Reduction in Content . . . This Is a Problem."
What Was Compromised?
Ultimately, there is going to be some give and take on keeping a game alive. Each game has changed in order to stay relative, but it also shows a deeper concern.
With Final Fantasy XI, it was the introduction of "Trusts," the use of "Skill Books," field manuals called "Fields of Valor" and "Grounds of Valor," as well as the use of Item Level gear that greatly amplifies a player's attack capability.
The Trusts were a double-edged sword, in that it eliminates the need to seek party members for parties in most of the game, but requires players to put in some work to get them, relatively speaking, being Rank Three in their starting nations.
The Skill Books were for those that increased their character level as high as possible, while not having that same effort towards their job/character skills.
The manuals were designed to get players to fight a set of enemies for Experience Points (EXP) and Gil (the currency for the game), but it only covers a select few.
Item Level Gear was a great addition for those seeking to provide optimal offensive and defensive capabilities but it was at a cost of other gear in your inventory being obsolete. As readers can tell, these are not a perfect solution.
The Cause for the Compromise
What these compromises showcase, is the simple fact that XI struggles against its greatest problems, time, and relevance. Time, in the fact that most of the player base has reached the endpoint and going back down to the bottom is too consuming (unless such efforts by players were planned out from the beginning, which is a wise decision overall but has its own challenges). Relevance, being the dwindling, yet devoted player base that still, as of this article, continues to play on to this day.
Despite these problems, Final Fantasy XI has yet to compromise its main forms of gameplay and interaction with characters, making it still playable, albeit changed, from how many have started playing this game all those years ago.
How Does the "Successor" Fare?
The opposite is true for Final Fantasy XIV. Rather than ask the question "What was compromised?," it would be more accurate to ask the question "What wasn't compromised?"
First, the very game was altered from its original design. Entirely. How it was originally designed is not present in the current form it has taken now. One can argue that this is not even the same game as what was originally played back when the game launched in 2010.
Second, the need to give less as expansions come out. That's a compromise of value and worth. Third, the community is narrow-minded in how to handle situations. If you don't already know the fight in its entirety, then you are left behind. While this is prevalent in XI, players in that game at least have a chance to try out different strategies before going to what is tried and true. Thus, new ideas and thoughts on how to tackle a problem arise.
Next is gear itself. It's entirely moot to pursue any specialty gear as it WILL be obsolete by the very next patch. Such a flaw is by design in order to corral players to the next pen and graze the content provided inside. This makes the very content, the very reason to play this game, ultimately meaningless. It also gives rise to stagnation.
Stagnation is what plagues Final Fantasy XIV, and in order for them to stave off stagnation, they compromised the game itself, tearing down the very pillars of its society, its history, its values, everything they have worked for nearly over a decade. Fools to the last . . .
And still, there is another aspect of these games that go beyond them; the concepts of growth and proficiency.
Proficiency vs. Growth
The ever-present battle between proficiency (knowing a particular subject matter) and growth (better understanding that matter) continues even in these games.
Proficiency in an MMO is being able to accurately complete a task, usually a dungeon or boss fight, with maximum efficiency and minimal damage. This is usually determined by how quickly an enemy is defeated or how long a fight takes to finish while the players are still standing.
Growth in an MMO is seeing stats and skills increase over time, thus proving the player capable of more powerful techniques and able to withstand more punishment. Leveling up is the most common form of growth. Another visual trait is the raising stats of a character and the access to a higher degree of weapons and gear.
How the Two Games Compare . . .
From the onset, Final Fantasy XI doesn't overly focus on proficiency as XIV does. The fact that you are able to grow in your job, learn to partner with various players to complete an objective, and take the time to learn how to work efficiently as well as effectively is the cornerstone of XI's success.
At first, such a thing would have emulated XIV's push for proficiency in the Rise of the Zilart expansion, but that was immediately corrected in the following expansion Chains of Promathia. It also helped players become better at the game by provided limits in levels to make players think critically. Then, when the time came to face the end boss of that expansion, players were already trained to handle the situation like pros.
For Final Fantasy XIV, there's no real growth to notice beyond the first iteration, A Realm Reborn. In fact, once you clear the story of that game, it remains the same in its entirety, even more so than one would expect an RPG. It then just comes down to how proficient your memory is to dealing with fights, and how tolerant people are of mistakes. There's no growth to be found here. But there is plenty of examples of the same battles done repeatedly, with variation based on the types of attacks.
Ultimately, if you have seen how one fight plays out, you have the basis for them all. This isn't a means of growth as you are repeating the same actions and getting the same results, making for the inferior experience and giving a sense of entitlement that is not earned.
It is inevitable that when you are participating in the same activity, you come across like-minded souls that are willing to work with and/or join you. Thus, bonds are formed and a community is born. XI and XIV are no exception. However, it's from that base concept that the two games could not be more different.
Final Fantasy XI's Community
In XI, while most of the player base is at the end game, it's not rare for high-end players to literally walk lower players to where they need to go while offering them some helpful advice. In fact, some players actually get not only helpful advice but a chance to see what the world of Vana'Diel with a sort of mentor along the way. That moment of community and growth is the cornerstone for FFXI that has helped the game withstand the test of time.
Final Fantasy XIV's Community
In XIV, the same can be said on the surface. Most of the people are focused on the endgame, but that's where the similarities end. It's rare for any of those that play to go beyond that as they are stuck in a continuous loop of checklist content while expecting people to know these fights inside and out as they don't have anything else to do. Worse, is that the content itself prevents anyone new from entering unless they complete the previously locked content first. While XI has some of this as well, it's not as prevalent nor pervasive as FFXIV. This community also has no desire to help those that come late into the content several weeks after it was released.
What does this mean? It means that in order to enjoy this game to the fullest, you have to be able to access any content on day one and clear it. If you access it a few weeks or even a month out, you miss out on any assistance, thus a victim of the phenomenon "Fear Of Missing Out" or FOMO. FOMO is criminally evident in the FFXIV community, hence the abandonment new players have to endure.
Finally, there is one thing all communities deal with, and that's individuals with extremely negative views on others, labeled "toxic" people. Every community has this element as that is the nature of people and society at large. The communities of Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XIV are no exception. Each has its own issues for this level of toxicity to exist, so it would not be a fair comparison for either to go into the discussion; this will need to be addressed in a broader scope and at a later time. But it does bring up a perspective that most games and developer fail to realize . . .
Beyond the Games Themselves
Sometimes, the games and what they represent can go beyond the realm of escapism. That's where Final Fantasy XI shines above XIV in that despite the few members that traverse the world of Vana'Diel, they have a lasting impact on staying in touch with people. It was here that the need for forum groups and communique with other people gave rise to software such as Ventrillo or the more widely used Discord.
The need to connect is further extended to having people reach out to one another and meet in real life provided they are old enough and can safely do so; still have to be aware of others' intentions. These groups then look out for others in real life, perhaps even decide to be with them beyond just the game itself.
Final Fantasy XIV tries to capture this special moment, but it actually falls prey to mainstream pageantry, losing the personal connection that could have been found and nurtured. It also fails at being a unique experience since it tries to mimic either better Final Fantasy games or more renowned MMORPGs; to the detriment of the game itself. As the content itself is lacking, so too is the desire to pursue greater heights in the game by both the players and the developers. This is unprecedented in that never has such disdain for effort been openly dismissed on all sides than in FFXIV.
Why "Final Fantasy XIV" Fails, and Why "Final Fantasy XI" Prevails
Ultimately, Final Fantasy XIV fails because of the basic premise of what a game should be; while Final Fantasy XI never really lost that essence that has prevailed over time.
The story of Vana'Diel remains true to its source while growing and nurturing over time, culminating to a complete tale that can be enjoyed at your pace, but also compels you to grow along with it.
FFXIV's story has to bend to the whims of the players and one individual that may or may not have the best intentions for this game; thus it compromises far too much, losing its very identity beyond being a Square-Enix Holdings Ltd. property.
I spared the financial comparison simply due to the fact that FFXI has been in service longer, so monetary gains would be unfavorably high against FFXIV for a balanced perspective, but the proof is in the product. Final Fantasy XI continues to succeed over Final Fantasy XIV because it continues to be a FINAL FANTASY and continues to offer much to players, nearly 20 years later into the game's existence.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Michael Rivers