This time of year means a lot to a certain subset of the Final Fantasy fandom. Fifteen years ago from just about today, Final Fantasy XI released in North America. Approximately eight years later, Final Fantasy XIV released. About three years after that, Final Fantasy XIV released again, but this time it was good…like, really good.
FF might not be the first classic JRPG series to make a transition into the world of massively multiplayer online games, but it’s easily the most successful out of those that did. Even after the gold rush of MMOs, even with its shinier sequel far ahead of it, even with the curtains closed on its final expansion and its console versions, Final Fantasy XI still persists on PC and Square continues to consider its future because its community remains so strongly attached to it. And Final Fantasy XIV’s popularity… well, its continued prominence speaks for itself. These two games represent a zenith of MMOs.
Or rather, they represent two different zeniths of MMOs. In the decade-long gap between XI and XIV 2.0, a lot has changed within MMO design conventions. XI and XIV have similar roots, yet play nothing like each other, and similar things can be said about most other MMOs rooted around their respective time periods. There are some philosophies shared between FFXI, RuneScape, and EverQuestthat are replaced by similarities between FFXIV, TERA, and Guild Wars 2. And Destiny, if you count that as an MMO. It’s supposed to be one, but I’m not convinced it’s being supported like one.
These not-so-final fantasy games represent how mainstream MMOs as a whole have changed over the years, mainly regarding gameplay philosophies. I want to explore what that means to my favorite aspect of MMO design, the player characters and what they do. And what they usually do is fighting. So... mostly the character bits that relate to fighty stuff.