When it comes to the MMO genre, Final Fantasy XIV is something of an oddity. After a rather troubling launch back in 2010, Square Enix went back to the drawing board and overhauled the game in its entirety, and in three years time came A Realm Reborn, which breathed new life into Final Fantasy XIV. In the nearly four years since its launch, Final Fantasy XIV is one of the more active MMO games along with World of Warcraft and Guild Wars 2, and its fan-base is more passionate about the game than ever.
Now, with another expansion in the wings, the developers behind Final Fantasy XIV‘s second wind are gearing up for another round of re-tinkering for its growing MMO. During a special press event in San Francisco, Producer and Game Director Naoki Yoshida laid out the development team’s rather ambitious plans for the future of Final Fantasy XIV with its new expansion Stormblood, and how they plan on giving the game a much needed update that’ll satisfy their long time fans.
A New Realm
Moving players to the far east in the land of Hingashi, the Warriors of Light make their way to the mountains of Ala Mhigo and islands populating the Ruby Sea. In this new and foreign land, the adventurers will get swept up in new quests recounting the history and current conflicts of the new land that was conquered by the Garlean Empire, while battling new monsters and foes that seek to cause widespread havoc across the realms of the surface, and in the civilization below the sea. With new trials ahead of them, the Warriors of Light will gain access to new weapons, spells, and the new jobs — the Red Mage and Samurai — to aid in their journey across the new world.
Much like the last expansion, Heavensward, Stormblood plans for a game’s worth of content, such as increasing the level cap and upgrading the combat system, along with a whole assortment of balance tweaks and enhancements to the core gameplay. In the years since the game’s reboot, A Realm Reborn, Final Fantasy XIV has a very steady and loyal population of users online keeping the game active. After Heavensward, the developers have been keeping at it with the new updates and hotfixes to the core gameplay, all the while prepping for the new expansion.
During our chat, Naoki Yoshida spoke openly about the response players have had since the launch of A Realm Reborn, and how the Final Fantasy XIV has evolved since then.
“From the development perspective, we build upon our daily updates and we work very hard to ensure it is high quality,” said Yoshida while reflecting on the last four years of work on Final Fantasy XIV. “I’m very proud of everyone involved on this project, not just the core development team, but also including the PR and management teams. Of course, having so many players play the game and for our community to spend so much time with the content we are providing is great. Not only are these players going through the motions and playing through this content, they’ve found ways to enjoy it in a different sort of way. Kind of a unique way that is enjoyable to the individuals.”
Building onto the Foundation
Of course, as most expansions go, Stormblood is all about offering new places to explore and new gameplay events and features to bundle up with. While that’s all present in Stormblood, the developers also saw this as an opportunity to retinker and streamline the core gameplay and smooth out the experience, making this one of the larger updates for Final Fantasy XIV in quite some time. One aspect of XIV to see some big changes is with the upgraded battle system. In response to player feedback, the skills across all jobs have been adjusted, and some have been consolidated into other skills to streamline the arsenals for jobs. Mostly as a way to remove excess fat — such as redundant spells and skills — but also to give players less of a hassle in figuring out which moves to place on the already packed UI.
Moreover, access to jobs has been streamlined. In response to complaints about the steep requirements to access certain jobs, such as the Paladin requiring cross leveling both the Gladiator and Conjurer jobs to unlock, the developers have made access to advanced classes a little easier by simply requiring key quests and a single job level milestone to unlock. Moreover, the jobs across the board have also seen upgrades in combat, which is shown with the brand new Job Gauge during combat. As you use skills and attack foes, you’ll be able to activate job unique skills and enter special combat states after maxing out the gauge. Each job is unique with how they function, and learning to utilize them to take advantage of the new combat mechanics will take some getting used to. Of course, for the more advance players, you’ll likely want to unlock the two new jobs, which takes advantage of the new system in interesting ways.
New to Final Fantasy XIV are the franchise favorite Samurai and Red Mage jobs. Unique to this particular area of world, the jobs have a very unique history with the land, and players will learn more about them during their travels. I got to spend a few hours playing as both classes, and they both have a very unique feel to them. For the Samurai, their focus is on maintaining skill based DPS and utilizing chained attacks. Their special gauge focuses on charging up three Sen sigils and maintaining focus, which are charged up after using a specific chain of skills. With all sigils and your focus meter charged, the Samurai can enter a special phase that unlocks unique AoE skills for large damage.
The Red Mage is a bit different, however. More in the vein of a battle mage, Red Mages can use both Black and White magic, along with some decent melee combat capabilities. Their job gauge focusing on maintaining an even balance between white and black magic, which fill up when using both skills. Once both white and black mana are maxed in the job gauge, you’ll unlock access to special Red Mage abilities. Moreover, the Red Mage is able to chain spells quick, and even has the skill to instantly cast follow up spells with no wait time.
Core Gameplay Adjustments
To reiterate, every class in the game has gone through some changes and now incorporate the new job gauge. It’s certainly an interesting mechanic, and it’s exciting to see that some new strategies and features are coming to every job. In addition to this, classes like the Monk will see some buffs, making them more viable for raids and dungeons. Moreover, PVP will be seeing some changes as well, such as lowering the required job level to 30. Yoshida viewed these changes as something that came about from listening to fan feedback, but also wanting to find the right time to incorporate them into the game.
“For the battle system changes, that definitely required an extensive amount of time to work on the different changes,” said Yoshida. “We were already under the assumption to work on that with the timing of the next expansion, and with that expansion we’re raising the level cap, which also required the new moves and improved skill rotations for players in this expansion. It was just good timing all around for this kind of update, and with Stormblood in the development stages, it felt like the right time to update it.”
One of the more striking details of the Stormblood expansion is the location itself. Set in the far east, players are being presented with a brand new in-game culture to interact with. In this new region of the world, players will be able to meet with the residents of Ala Mhigo — the Ananata, a tribe of female Lamia — including the towns and cities located deep within the Ruby Sea, which now allows players to swim and control underwater mounts for the first time.
As the Final Fantasy series has always been about Western High-Fantasy from the perspective of Eastern Culture, it’s certainly refreshing to see a Final Fantasy game show off an entirely different side of the existing game world. During several of the areas I saw, including some rather extensive deep-sea diving, the new setting felt like a breath of fresh air, and I was very impressed with how they’ve illustrated such a vastly different style and culture. The Director of Final Fantasy XIV went on to state that this was intentional, and that they wanted a fish out of water experience in Stormblood.
“It was very much deliberate to go with this approach,” stated Yoshida. “Two reasons to this. First of all, in the Final Fantasy series, there are references to the nation of Hingashi, and a very small portion of that shown in the early titles, all the way back in sprite form. Even in Final Fantasy XI, there were mentions of the nation of Hingashi, several times actually, but you were never able to go there. And of course in Final Fantasy XIV, you have the Ninja and other eastern cultural references throughout. So with Stormblood, we very much wanted players to finally enter this space. If we get a good response from players, then we’ll feel even more motivated to expand further out East in Hingashi. We want to give players a taste for players to see a new culture, but also it ended up being an interesting challenge for us as well.”
The State of MMOs
While discussing the details of the expansion, our conversation shifted a bit to the current state of the MMO genre. In the time that the original Final Fantasy XIV was released, the Massively Multiplayer Online genre has gone through a bit of changes. It’s not often we hear about the happenings of games in this genre, much like how we used to back in the 2000’s and early 2010’s. While the heavy hitters like World of Warcraft and Guild Wars are still going strong, it seems like the MMO craze has died down a bit over the years. Still, that hasn’t stopped Yoshida and the developers at Square Enix from pushing their game as far as it can. The game’s director went on to give his own outlook on the future of the genre.
“The MMO genre in my view will never go away. Though the landscape has very much changed, there’s still plenty of players online that still enjoy the content we provide, and I want to ensure that we continue to do so,” said Yoshida. “Looking at from a creative perspective, of course we’d want people to stay interested in our games. But personally speaking, with MMO games and people becoming more and more busy with their lives, and with so many different forms of entertainment, there maybe more and more players that desire a quick and easy experience. And while the current structure of an MMO may not be suited for that, I’m very happy and proud that Final Fantasy XIV is able to maintain a playerbase that is large, steady, and very loyal, and still just as excited to play our content.”
Stormblood is looking to be a rather ambitious expansion to Final Fantasy XIV, while also giving it a much needed round of housekeeping to the overall experience. After the positive buzz they’ve generated over the years, there’s still plenty to see in the world of Hydaelyn. In addition to the new locations and jobs, die-hard players can also expect to see the new raid facing off against the Omega Weapon, and another one focusing on the Return To Ivalice — a unique take on the world of Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy Tactics, and Final Fantasy XII. As stated during the end of our interview, Yoshida claimed that the expansion was result listening to the fans, and many years of hard work, and they don’t plan on stopping any time soon.
“With this being an MMORPG, everything has to be aligned. We have to provided an experience. If we can put it into one word, then it would be ‘volume’. We believe that the expansion should have as much, if not more content than a brand new standalone RPG. We would go on sleepless nights to finish making content for this expansion, and we felt we’ve accomplished creating a large volume of content for this game.”
Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood is set for launch on June 20, 2017 for PS4, PC, OSX. Support for the PS3 version is expected to shutdown on the same day.