E3 2012: Final Fantasy XIV 2.0 Impressions
If there’s one game—one team to keep an eye on for the future, it’s the minds behind Final Fantasy XIV. Two years ago the game was rushed to launch and ultimately met with failure and harsh criticism, resulting in damages to both Square Enix as a company and to the Final Fantasy brand itself. Most other publishers would have closed the door on such a disaster long ago, but Square hasn’t given up yet.
Coupled with the talents of Producer/Director Naoki Yoshida—a name that had relatively gone unknown until recently—the RPG maker was willing to push on and endure sleepless nights in order to bring back the trust that had been lost amongst fans and media alike. Fast forward to today and their roadmap to success is indeed a clear one.
The reimagining of Final Fantasy XIV is being called 2.0 which is exactly what the name implies—a reboot of the original version. When 2.0 launches this winter on both PC and PlayStation 3 it will support a deluge of features including a brand new graphics engine, a new game client, a new Final Fantasy-like story and world, an all-new user interface, character options and much more.
The current version of the game isn’t anything to balk at either. Since Yoshida-san came into the scene the game has seen vast changes including a job system, more side quests, easier navigation systems, a more streamlined battle system and much more. Last year he created a roadmap with the announcement leading up to the release of 2.0, and since then has followed through on every single promise. If you needed any more convincing that the man can do his job well, the proof is in the pudding as all of these features and more will be carried over to the new version.
As I sat down with Yoshida-san once again we discussed FFXIV at length but not before he shared his own concept of the game much as he did in our previous interview. Final Fantasy 2.0 will be propped up by three pillars which include high quality graphics, great gameplay and rich story which will all support a robust community. While the game was absent from E3 as a whole, we were allowed to see a brief demo of the new version running in real time.
Yoshida-san had brought with him a partially optimized version of FFXIV 2.0 running on an Intel i7 equipped laptop. Although I wasn’t allowed to film the demonstration or take pictures it was an unexpected gesture that more than made up for the lack of new trailer at the show.
The game itself was running at about 15% optimization which clocked the framerate at about 25fps. Not bad considering alpha testing won’t begin for another three months. As Yoshida-san controlled the game from there, I was able to see the full detail output on a larger TV screen.
The game has changed. No longer is it bound by the restrictions of Crystal Tools, a haphazard engine which was unable to scale properly to lower spec PCs and PlayStation 3. In its place is a brand new engine, created with the help of Technical Director Yoshihisa Hashimoto, who also worked to develop Square’s new Luminous Studio. Hashimoto-san’s expertise can be seen in FFXIV’s all new lighting and textures; a style that feels more organic and alive than the current version. Yoshida-san has stressed that the game carries some of the most amazing graphics to ever grace an MMO and it’s not too far from the truth. A lot of hard work has gone into bringing the engine up to speed, so much so that the team didn’t even have time or the thought to properly name it.
The demonstration itself consisted of Yoshida-san controlling a male Miqo’te Paladin as he walked around the Black Shroud area near Gridania. The build was running on high settings although we’ve been told that even more work has yet to be done so ultimately the game will look even better in the end. With the new graphics engine, the PS3 version won’t look too much different either. According to the team, the PS3 version is around 50% done and will go into beta following the release of the PC beta later on this year. Both versions will be tested simultaneously to ensure smooth server and cross-platform play. Most interestingly, your character now has the ability to jump on the field, although that new feature will be restricted during battles.
Quite possibly the biggest complaint still remaining in the current version of FFXIV is the cumbersome user interface. Often finding things in the slow and clunky menus would be met with moments of frustration and confusion. I’m happy to say that that concern has been addressed completely in 2.0. Menus are slick, stylish and practical. Things such as inventory are a lot easier to call up and have become much easier to read, especially for those with smaller monitors. Small points on the bottom right of the screen are now inventory indicators which allow for a quick glimpse of the items you’re carrying. Coupled with the brand new command menu, the UI finally feels like it belongs in a modern MMORPG.
Yoshida-san stressed that the main reason they neglected to showcase Final Fantasy XIV at this year’s E3 was because as it is now, the game isn’t completely optimized. I can understand—although it looked great as it was, people are quick to be negative and unwilling to give things a second chance once they’ve already formed an opinion in their head. The team wants to wait until they have more to show in order to strengthen the impact of 2.0. Come August you can look forward to seeing more battle content, more event scenes—stuff that’s more optimized than the current build. Along with that, Square Enix will begin a brand new marketing blitz hopefully heading into Gamescom and through Tokyo Game Show up until the release of the 2.0 beta. Again, the road is quite clear.
That said, I think it’s important that people give FFXIV another chance. Not only has the development staff gone above and beyond anyone’s realistic expectations, they’ve continued to deliver on their promises in order to bring back the trust that was so unfortunately lost. While I personally don’t feel XIV damaged the Final Fantasy brand as much as others, it’s nice to see it rise up and become something truly great. We’ve already seen people return with the Welcome Back campaign and I think when 2.0 launches, it will show the world that this title is indeed worthy enough to be called Final Fantasy XIV.