Remember when MMORPGS were the hottest thing? When World of Warcraft was the Minecraft of its generation, and every major RPG series suddenly seemed to be getting subscription-based spin-offs? Those games still exist now, but they have been firmly planted in niche territory, with plenty of people still playing them, but with much less mainstream recognition. Instead, games in the AAA space like Destiny or Assassin’s Creed have taken bits and pieces from MMOs, applied them to “normal” video games, and found other ways to do well besides charging fans every month for the right to play. But one game has consistently kept its momentum up over the years and even continued to grow and build interest. That game is Final Fantasy XIV.
Square Enix’s second MMORPG based on its top shelf RPG IP had a horrifically rocky start, despite the game before it being just as successful over its long (and continuing) run. While Final Fantasy XI was revelatory for its console JRPG/MMORPG hybrid style, the attempts to change things up for the sequel were met with, well, disgust from the community. Square Enix was almost screwed, but managed to reboot the whole thing, bringing in a new director in Naoki Yoshida and practically starting over from scratch. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn was the result, and it’s one of the highest-rated MMORPGs of all time.
That was in 2013. In the years since, Final Fantasy XIV has only continued to grow and evolve, bringing in higher and higher numbers. Summer 2019 will see the release of the game’s third expansion, Shadowbringers, and the fanbase is hyped accordingly. As is usually the case with each expansion, Shadowbringers is adding new story content, new multiplayer events such as a raid crossover with NieR: Automata, new jobs (classes), and a couple new races. It’s jam-packed with content, and supposedly has so much meat in its main story scenario, it’s practically comparable to a full-length JRPG.
The secret sauce, perhaps, is how much variety can be found in Final Fantasy XIV. Unlike, say, World of Warcraft, there’s much more to the game than maxing out gear and challenging raids over and over. Raids are merely one facet of a broader world, and players can get a wholly satisfying experience out of Final Fantasy XIV without ever touching a raid. It’s even possible to get through most of the main story with only playing with other people for key dungeons, and a new NPC-based system for Shadowbringers will even remove that from the equation (optionally, of course).
Along with the expansive, normal Final Fantasy-sized story scenarios, Final Fantasy XIV is also full of side attractions. Sure, the usual MMO tropes such as crafting and earning things like mounts are present, but there is so much more. For example, there’s a housing market, and dedicated players can actually own property. Property is in high demand, and many players use their property for different purposes. Some guilds will buy a house as a headquarters, and there’s even a story of a chat-based brothel being run on one of the servers. I’ve seen stories about Tarot card reading and even fashion contests. Players can get married in the game too! It’s almost as much of a virtual community as it is a game about smashing monsters with big swords.
That sense of whimsy and friendliness is a big part of what helps Final Fantasy XIV continue to grow. Square Enix even runs massive, lavish conventions dedicated solely to this title in multiple locations around the world. The fans of this game are so involved because of how much joy they find in playing, which is often a very distinct sort of vibe compared to most other MMO titles. Final Fantasy XIV has this special sauce, that keeps it thriving in an age that sees MMORPGs as a novelty, a relic of a past that is slowly eroding. Square Enix itself has even shown reluctance to bring other online titles, such as Dragon Quest X, over to North America. But this game has staying power unlike most of its competition, and when you take the time to try it out for yourself, it’s easy to see why.