After several years and what can charitably be described as a tumultuous development history, Final Fantasy 14 is ready to have another go at it. FF14: A Realm Reborn is officially out, and so far it's been a pretty popular launch —so much so, in fact, that Square Enix has temporarily halted digital-download sales due to the "enormous amount of users" trying to log in at once.
To Naoki Yoshida, producer and director on the reborn FF14 project, it doesn't feel much like he's "completed" development at all. "It's just before we begin with official service," he said in an interview published in this week's Famitsu magazine, "but I only just finished checking on the ending this morning [the interview was conducted on August 1] and we're still fine-tuning the balance on the endgame content, so it doesn't really feel like it. Unlike a retail game, we have to keep maintaining it after release, so it doesn't feel like we're done at all. I probably won't feel like it's truly released until about half a year afterward, once we have a place where players nationwide can interact with each other."
Not that he's nervous. "Once we finished up phase three of the beta test [on July 15]," he said, "I began to feel like the weight was coming off my back. I don't feel particularly nervous or anything. We have our plan set up for future patches and expansion packs, so I feel like I'm bracing myself even more for the start of that never-ending process of officially launching an MMO."
Yoshida spent the rest of the Famitsu interview recapping what he and his team have aimed for with A Realm Reborn, including their efforts in making the control schemes as well-balanced as possible between the PC and PlayStation 3 versions.
"Being a PC/PS3 cross-platform title," he said, "it was important for us that there was no difference in the game experience between the two systems. The difference in hardware specs means that the graphics are never going to quite match up, but we set it up so that there's no advantage or disadvantage put upon you as you tackle the content. There's also the cross hotbar, a specialized user interface that helps ensure you're not losing out without a mouse and keyboard. You can use a gamepad with the PC version as well, of course."
To back up the point, Yoshida brought up his own gameplay style during testing: "Myself, when I'm testing the endgame content, I use nothing but a straight controller, and I don't use any macros. There's nothing at all inferior about the experience compared to a mouse and keyboard. The game's set up so that you can play without problem even if you don't use macros. That's a support function anyway, meant for after you get used to the basic control system. The fact that people are already discussing macros [on the beta tester forum] is an indicator to me that there's still a pretty wide gap in Japan between experienced MMORPG players and those who've never played them before."
Yoshida also discussed the battle system, which he said that the team took pains to make as engaging and uptempo as possible. "For the battles, we wanted to keep a quick tempo going," he said. "We don't want you to get bored and we don't want to tire you out. If you're fighting a foe in the same level range as yourself, we calculated it so that you can beat him in 20 seconds if you have the basics in equipment and twelve if you're fully geared out. That's to keep that sense of achievement going as you play. It's not limited just to battle, either; we're also calculating out the time required to complete quests and reach your maximum character level as we make the game."
Why this drive? As Yoshida put it, it's to keep players engaged in an era full of distractions from other forms of entertainment. "Unlike a social game where you can play it anytime, anywhere, MMOs take up time in that you have to go home from school or work, turn on the machine, log in, and so on," he said. "Our thought is that we need to give you at least some kind of stimulation within 30 minutes. That's why we thought the Content Finder was important. Using that lets you skip the process of forming a party and traveling to the dungeon entrance. The total amount of time required to complete the content is around 40 minutes at the longest, and even if your party's wiped out, you can go right back to the checkpoint. We're trying our best to eliminate time wasted on non-gameplay matters."
PvP combat is one feature in the works for a future FF14 version, something Yoshida sees as vital for the game. "An MMORPG needs some kind of consumer activity for the economy to work," he noted, "and PvP is a great vehicle for that. We're implementing it in part because I personally like PvP, but also because it's indispensable for worldwide deployment. There's never been a really successful MMORPG without PvP."
He also noted, though, that PvP doesn't mean open-season player killing will be part of the Eorzea experience. "That's not a match for the FF world," he said. "If you don't know MMOs and you're playing this because it's the new Final Fantasy, I think it'd be a big shock if some other player started attacking you right at the start. So instead of that, the PvP here is a competition between players a way to better themselves, and its essence is different from PKing. The fact that the two concepts get conflated with each other indicates, I think, that MMOs and PvP combat still have a ways to go in becoming mainstream."
Even now, though, there's little doubt that A Realm Reborn is attracting a lot of attention from gamers — the sort of positive attention that Square Enix probably wished it had with the first go-around back in 2010. "I know it's been a real long wait for everyone," Yoshida commented. "I don't want to pat myself on the back, but for a player, I don't think you'll run across a better opportunity to get yourself into a large-scale MMORPG. We're opening the curtain on a new world here, and I hope we can get as many people to visit Eorzea as possible. To me, nothing would make me happier than people trying this out and treating it as the latest Final Fantasy."