Whose Story is It?

On a recent Massively Speaking  podcast, Justin mentioned that he’s trying to get through the story in Final Fantasy XIV. Now, FFXIV is a bit of a hot button right now; bigshot streamers are flowing to it from WoW and that’s driving a lot of traffic. By some measures it’s overtaking WoW at least temporarily as the #1 game in the MMORPG space. Briefly, Square Enix sold out of copies. Digital copies. There are technical reasons that make it less ludicrous than it sounds… but it’s still pretty ludicrous. People who did buy the game find that they cannot make characters on full servers, and login queues are lengthy for those who did. It’s bananas is a way we haven’t really seen in MMORPGs for many years.

Which is actually great; anything that breaks up a status quo in which no real progress has been made in the genre in over a decade is a good thing. Final Fantasy XIV is, by all accounts, a solid game and a true MMORPG rags-to-riches story. When it launched in 2010, it was universally panned. To their credit, Square Enix recognized this as well, and saw it as damaging to their franchise. So they did the right thing — and had the deep pockets needed — to pull the game backstage, redesign it nearly from the ground up and relaunch it three years later. It’s grown steadily ever since, with three major expansions and a fourth scheduled for the fall.

So I am, in general, fairly pleased to see this. However, I have tried Final Fantasy XIV multiple times now and have softly bounced off it each time. Part of that is the general slowness of it… and I’m not talking about the combat, which is a pretty standard and generally acceptable MMO tab-target affair, or about lag (although the client is not as responsive as it could be,) but about the pacing of the gameplay. But part of it, and maybe the bigger part, is the story that Justin mentioned. It’s not that that story is bad… again, by all accounts, it’s very good, and a lot of folks definitely find it compelling. But it’s not my story, nor is it yours… it’s Square Enix’s story, and you’re just along for the ride.

For me at least, this is a critical factor in investment in an MMORPG: the character has to be feel like mine, And the story has to feel like it’s mine. This can create problems with games like Black Desert, where the classes are gender-locked, or with games like FFXIV, where there is a primary story thread around which the whole affair revolves. Part of the appeal of the MMORPG is its open-endedness, and I need at least a convincing simulation of agency. In contrast, games like Guild Wars 2 and The Elder Scrolls Online have core storylines, but there is so much more story elsewhere in the game that I feel like I am pushing the story along rather than being dragged in its wake. This may actually be true of FFXIV as well, but it’s not visible from where I am; ESO and GW2 make it evident immediately even though there’s a story beat to get you started.

2 responses to “Whose Story is It?

  1. I haven’t tried any MMO recently save DC Online. Grew up in the heady days of Ultima Online and Everquest, haha, and did the beta for WoW (and Star Wars Galaxies all those decades ago, now).

    I hear you about the “story” and the way it is either fed us or stringing us along in some MMOs, and I am like you that when I create a character and invest my time, I want it to be my character, my story, my adventure.

    So far, I’ve only ever felt that way with table-top RPGs, and some solo board games or games like D100 Dungeon or 4AD. YMMV, right?

    Nice article! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. I like the offline console FF games. FF IV through X are some of my favorite games. To me it feels like one of those, but embedded in an above average MMO.

    It has a repuation for suddenly getting better at around level 50. While the story does improve, I wouldn’t say it’s suddenly a better game. If you are bored out of your skull now, it’s not worth pushing through to see more IMO.

    That said, I find even the 1-20 levelling game completely charming. I love the setting, and I like that style of RPG. To me it’s more like interactive fiction than a really open ended RPG like the Elder Scrolls series of games.