Why I’m Excited – Core game mechanics for Final Fantasy
Alpha Impressions – Looking ahead to the relaunch
Final Fantasy XIV - A Realm Reborn
I am not a Final Fantasy fanboy. I like the intellectual property, but it’s a like-like, not a love-like. None the less, I am really looking forwards to A Realm Reborn.
I played through all of Final Fantasy IV (released in the U.S. as FFII). That game is one of my favorite RPG’s, right up alongside western games like Baldur’s Gate and Mass Effect. I have also played the much-maligned FFXIII as well as a fair bit of the online games Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XIV. Additionally, I have the DVD’s for Advent Children and Spirits Within. I have dabbled a bit with FF Tactics as well as the tower defense game released on the PS3 (or was it the Wii?). So, I have some familiarity with the IP, but I would certainly defer in knowledge to those who have experienced most, if not all, of the IP.
On the other hand, I’m a pretty big fan of the massively multiplayer online game genre. I started MMO’s back in the late 1990′s, playing Everquest on the Brell Serilis server. Since that time, I have played all of the major commercial western MMO’s and a few of the eastern ones. There are a number of core game elements that define Final Fantasy that lend themselves well to the MMO genre. It is for these reasons that FFXI played so wonderfully – and it is in the failure to execute some of these elements that the original FFXIV failed so tremendously.
In this post, I wanted to explore some of the game elements of Final Fantasy that mesh perfectly with the diku-style MMO. I’m not talking about the tropes and motifs that personify Final Fantasy. So, this isn’t to be mistaken as a blog about chocobos, moogles, airships, or guys named Cid. Rather, this is about game elements common to the Final Fantasy series and why their inclusion is exactly what the MMO market needs again.
Game Element #1 – The Party
Sure, Final Fantasy always tells a classic hero’s journey, it shares that in common with pretty much all fantasy. However, in Final Fantasy, the party that travels alongside the hero is always as important (and often even more memorable) than the hero himself.
That is the reason that FFXI worked. The new MMO genre was still primarily defined by party-based games like Everquest. FFXI simply took the classic Final Fantasy party and turned your allies into your friends instead of NPC’s.
MMO’s have changed these days. The solo game is (over)emphasized and games like Star Wars: the Old Republic lend themselves more to parallel solo play than to party based play. I’m not knocking the need or utility in having some solo game elements. I am, though, convinced that the MMO genre has forgotten that the core of the genre is the party. It is my hope that A Realm Reborn gives us a good, rich, varied party-based game world.
Game Element #2 – Tactical Combat
This lines up perfectly with the Party. Final Fantasy started out as turn-based and moved to active combat (timed turn based, sort of). The emphasis of combat has always been on layered movement – synchronizing the actions of your team or taking advantage of opportunities given the opponents actions.
The modern MMO has migrated to the action MMO. Whether it is outright action like DC Universe online or action embedded games like the Secret World or Guild Wars 2, MMO combat has largely devolved into a series of dive-rolls and backflips. Visceral, certainly, cerebral? Not so much. Tactics in the modern MMO boil down to: dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge!
Frankly, we could use an MMO where party coordination was more than JUST playing your assigned role. Be it the renkai’s from FFXI or the proposed limit breaks from A Realm Reborn, playing a role on a team should be more than just “stay out of the goo.”
Game Element #3 – the Jobs system
Continuing on with the idea that group game play is the centerpiece of the MMO, the third core element of Final Fantasy is the job system. Iconic classes like White Mages, Black Mages, Red Mages, Warriors, Dragoons, Paladins, and Bards (among others) define the Final Fantasy series. Even when the names are changed, the core elements of these jobs reappear. Combine these with well defined abilities (Aero, Stone, Protect, etc.) and you have building blocks of a practical party-based game.
There’s been a rather ridiculous amount of crying in MMO’s for the elimination of the Trinity – the removal of a tank, heal, DPS (even though that wasn’t the original trinity) from the genre. That cry culminated in the mediocrity of game play of Guild Wars 2. While there are some great ideas running about in GW2, the net result of removing role specificity (along with dive-role based combat) is a game of semi-synchronized swimming. Nothing is hard, we all zerg, and we always win… meh.
Final Fantasy 11 took to heart the classic party-based RPG element of specified classes, but they innovated in a way missed in many modern MMO’s. In FFXI you could simply change jobs and BE a different specialized class. All the same, each job was specialized to perform (mostly) a single task. The modern MMO has tried to over-blend specializations making 3+ tanks, 3+healers, umpteen dps, no controllers (seriously, wtf?).
Game Element #4 – Character Transformation
A major element of the hero’s journey in Final Fantasy is the learning of a job. The character starts out working one set of skills and, through some significant course of actions, transforms into one of the iconic jobs. In FFXI, this included a series of significant quests to unlock various jobs. Some mostly took luck and patience (Summoner) others took faction grinds (Ninja), some requires stealth (Paladin if you were advancing it as your first job) and others requires some group coordination (Samurai).
The transformation quests provided meaningful content. From there undertaking the quests and battles to open up your class gear and level caps provided a series of challenges and goals. The modern MMO has devolved goals to simple gear grinds – run enough dungeons/raids to get enough tokens to get a piece of gear. Working towards major unlocks is a reward and it will be good to see a modern MMO bringing this back.
Game Element #5 – Primals, Summons, and Iconic Villains
There are a number of “bosses” who reappear throughout Final Fantasy. Be it the typically friendly Carbuncle or the more menacing Ifrit, Bahamut, Shiva, or a number of others, FF is populated by a series of extra-planar, powerful beings. The typical process to a Final Fantasy game involves learning to unlock, defeat and then ultimately cooperate with these summons.
Now, the modern MMO doesn’t really suffer from a lack of signature bosses. However, the trend in MMO’s has been towards smaller, and smaller content. Raids have distilled down to party sized and party content is down to very small group dynamics. I’m not bothered specifically by this, the addition of solo, duo, and trio content is admirable.
What bothers me, though, is the removal of major obstacles that mandate working together. I suppose, in this sense, element #5 is simply a redirect to element #1 (the party). Final Fantasy features things bigger than the party, things that require working together to accomplish – and that, by definition is what a massively multiplayer game should strive for
A Realm Reborn is really a grand experiment. We have never seen a successful relaunch of an MMO. What Square Enix is trying is monumentally large. It seems that the producer, Yoshida has a pretty clear, and compelling, vision for the rebirth. It will be interesting to see it come to fruition and. FFXI took the best from the genre with the core of its IP and turned out an admirable, and enjoyable, MMO. Here’s hoping Final Fantasy XIV – A Realm Reborn turns out to be the same thing for 2013.