Final Fantasy XIV's New Year's Resolution

Can Final Fantasy XIV recover from a disastrous 2010 launch? The game's new producer and director Naoki Yoshida hopes so.

In a New Year's note, Yoshida admitted "the last few weeks of 2010 were tumultuous times" for the company. He's referring to the shakeup in which he replaced both the game's director Nobuaki Komoto and producer Hiromichi Tanaka.

Did I say shakeup? I meant earthquake. Komoto directed Final Fantasy XI, the company's first online roleplaying venture and a game celebrated by fans and critics alike. Tanaka's an even bigger surprise. The guy designed the first three Final Fantasy game and produced Secret of Mana, Xenogears, and one of the company's highest rated games to date, Chrono Cross.

The rest of the note's mostly pep talk, though even when he's trotting out buzzwords like "fun," "live," "reboot," and "rebuild," Yoshida's quick to acknowledge the clichés and point out he's going for "global resonance." He sounds sincere enough. If it sounds hackneyed, blame the marketing team.

I'd love to give Final Fantasy XIV another try. My first few hours with it back in September were a mess. The signup process alone was spirit-crushing, a chaotic bricolage of account names, security tokens, registration codes, service accounts, and proprietary currency.

Then I logged in and the floor really fell out. You'd think the design team might have booted up World of Warcraft once or twice to see how it's done. Instead, they took the least enterprising aspects of Final Fantasy XI and folded them into a sterile, buttonless interface with static slide-in vertical menus and bland information panels that look like pieces pulled off the shelf of some MMO chop shop.

I forced myself to finish the peripatetic, baffling tutorial. I fiddled with the visual options long enough to squeeze a passable frame rate out of the clunky engine. I jogged from the tree-shrouded starting area to an equally tree-shrouded village, then watched other players blink in and out because the servers couldn't keep things synchronized. I forced myself to learn new and counterintuitive ways to perform simple tasks, like double-clicking someone to initiate a conversation, then having to double-click again to wrap up. And then I stopped playing.

If Yoshida and his development team can reinvent this flat tire, I'll be back. I've heard lovely things about the story and the multi-class system. And I'm not looking for World of Warcraft. I don't want something that grindingly mindless.

But until Yoshida reboots the interface, finds a way to meaningfully fold monster grinding into the story, eliminates arbitrary quest time limits (you can only do eight every 36 hours currently), and basically rebuilds from the ground up, I'll stick to replaying Final Fantasy XIII.

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