Today marks the first anniversary of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, and it has been a hell of a ride.
Yet, for many the ride started a lot earlier than on August 27th, 2013. Three years before, on September 22nd, 2010, Square Enix released the original Final Fantasy XIV, and all hell broke loose.
It’s hard to distinguish what exactly went wrong, and fingers have been pointed in many directions, even if faulty communication between executives and developers and overconfidence were probably the main culprits. Suffice to say that the launch was disastrous and the game was welcomed with dismay by fans and critics.
A couple months after, Square Enix announced a reshuffle in the leading roles among the development team, and the ascension of Naoki Yoshida in the unified role of Director and Producer.
As opposed to his predecessors, Yoshida-san wasn’t a big name in the gaming industry. I remember spending quite a while trying to understand who the hell he was. Yet he had what was really necessary to steer the sinking ship in the right direction: a sizable experience as a gamer on both western and Asian MMORPGs. When I heard a while afterwards that Dark Age of Camelot is his favorite game in the genre, I definitely felt that Square Enix had placed the right man in the right place.
Yoshida-san immediately started working hard to improve the game, but it was evident to many, and probably to the developers themselves, that simply patching Final Fantasy XIV was not a recipe for success. Larger plans were set in motion.
One year after the disastrous launch, in October 2011, Square Enix surprised many by announcing that the game would be completely relaunched with what was then called Final Fantasy XIV 2.0, but there was more than that in store.
The development team actually set in motion a story arc within the game that prompted players to prepare against an impending calamity that had the potential to completely destroy the world. The new questline, centered about the fall of the lesser moon Dalamud, accompanied by a series of events and a lot of lore, carried the remaining players towards the shut down of the servers in November 2012.
That was, doubtlessly, the first real stroke of genius. Gradually, the many players disgruntled by the state of the game found themselves in the middle of an actual epic story which would lead to the end of the world as they knew it. What was for many a chore was suddenly transformed into a meaningful struggle happening side by side with the efforts of the development team led by Yoshida-san.
That long, lovely storyline created a connection between the players, the world and the game that many of them previously played just out of inertia. When the curtain was lowered and Dalamud fell, those feelings were at their climax, and I know many that cried when the “End of an era” cinematic was released. I was among them. The connection with the world of Eorzea was that strong.
And I cried again almost one year after, as Abriael, my Paladin, set foot on the streets of Ul’Dah once again with the launch of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. Call me a crybaby. Call me cheesy, but I’m not ashamed of it. Square Enix had turned the struggle of a dying game, of its players, and of its world into one of the most epic tales told by an MMORPG.
And the players who decided to stick with the game through all its adversities, now called by the game itself “Warriors of Light”, have been immortalized in that emotional, meaningful tale of death and rebirth.
Square Enix definitely deserves criticism for having launched Final Fantasy XIV in its initial state, but it’s doubtless that most other developers would have just put the game in free to play life support for a long (or short) agony, fired a large percentage of the staff, and just moved on after taking our money.
Square Enix did not do that. Not only did they keep the staff at work and continued to actively update the game, but they launched a completely new version that can definitely be defined a fully new game, allowing anyone that purchased the first to get A Realm Reborn for free, and to keep their old characters on top of that.
Instead of taking our money and leaving us stranded with a “so long and thanks for all the fish,” they spent considerable resources to give us the game we deserved for the very beginning, and this is something which is more unique than rare in this industry.
Of course we can’t really say that they did it in a selfless effort to atone for their previous sins. Obviously Square Enix was working in its own interest to restore faith in the franchise and ultimately turn a failure into a commercial success, but the undeniable effect is that they did right by their customers, and that is worthy of praise.
They definitely could have acted differently, and basically every other company would have, but Square Enix displayed humility, initiative and a large serving of typically Japanese stubbornness, ultimately coming up on top.
Now, one year later, the game has reached 2.3 million registered users, setting itself as one of the most successful pay to play MMORPGs in the industry, while the Chinese version just entered its open beta, bringing another million pre-orders on its back.
In the meantime a PS4 version has been launched, and with its graphical parity with the PC version it has been acclaimed as one of the best technical accomplishments of this year, growing the fanbase and spearheading almost by itself the launch of the console in Japan.
More content keeps being added regularly: more quests, dungeons, raids, events and a whole lot of fun. It took years of grinding teeth and a complete reboot to get to that point, but Final Fantasy XIV did get there, creating one of the most exemplary success stories in the last few years of the gaming industry.
And in an industry in which negative feelings, rage, hate and commercial flops are becoming more widespread (and by some almost welcomed, especially on the press side of things) than positive thinking and success, this story makes me smile from ear to ear every time I think about it.
And it’s with that smile on my face that I say “Happy Birthday, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn.” You’ve made us cry, but now the sun shines on the new Eorzea.