There was so much good energy in the Frankfurt Festhalle yesterday. For a whole day there were no pressures, no external woes – no matter what CNN had been showing in the hotel lobby – and for the fans of Final Fantasy XIV, having made the trip from around the world, it was the chance to meet like-minded people whose love for Square Enix’s MMO was honest and simply joyful.
The first highlight of Saturday’s lineup was undoubtedly the keynote speech that opened the event, with Final Fantasy XIV director and producer Naoki Yoshida appearing on stage dressed as a samurai, clasping a huge ornate katana in hand. A replica of the new samurai outfit from the full length Stormblood trailer, a key part of yesterday’s announcements, he looked every part a man in control, and a man having the time of his life. He found the outfit so comfortable that he literally wore it all day.
Throughout the keynote it was clear that Yoshida, a deprecating, good-humoured man, was utterly absorbed in ensuring that Final Fantasy XIV is a continually growing, ever-improving game, and that while it’s driven so much by the fans, the development team are just as passionate and committed to it. The failure of the original Final Fantasy XIV is still quite clearly a humbling experience that they draw upon, and the underlying sense that this team literally had to start again from scratch in order to achieve what they have done gives a unique feel to both the game, and the way Yoshida and his fellow developers interact with their fans.
The hum of different languages during the keynote speech, the cheers, gasps and whistles that joined every new detail, emphasised just how involving a beloved MMO can be, and how successfully the team at Square Enix Business Division 5 have been. I can’t remotely imagine such an event would have happened if the 2010 version of the game had remained in place. Instead, as the keynote closed I watched a parade of beaming Miqo’te make their way past a pair of Elezen, while queues immediately formed to sit in a giant set of Magitek armour, and the crowds began to gather round the banks of PCs set up for the 24 person raids.
This is a good-natured community, surrounding a game that has clearly been made by a good-natured team. For all of the game’s action, running from city to city while battling immense creatures, it often feels more like a restful, relaxing experience, where you can chat with friends and strangers, or just meander through the beautiful locations. That feeling stretched into the real world yesterday, with a fairground feel, probably helped by the actual fairground attractions.
A big part of the game’s atmosphere comes down to the music, and despite the rest of the day’s interesting development talks, or the as ever entertaining cosplay contest – ‘Fat Chocobo’ in the header image was robbed! – it was the evening concert that brought the day full circle to a joyous and resounding close. With introductions from legendary Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu and featuring solo piano arrangements of a number of Final Fantasy XIV’s pieces performed by German pianist and composer Benyamin Nuss, this was a unique way to experience them, emphasising just how talented the composition team is.
Masayoshi Soken, the game’s sound director even took over briefly for a humorous rendition of the game’s theme, dressed in full Elidibus regalia with a tiny toy piano and kick-powered cardboard box bass bin in tow. In a number of ways it’s a shame that he continues to live under Uematsu’s imposing presence, though there’s clearly much affection between the two, with Uematsu referring to Soken as his “junior”.
For many it’ll have been the vocal performances of “Dragonsong” and “Awakening” from Susan Calloway that made the night, with her soaring vocals easily showcasing why she’s become the voice of Final Fantasy XIV. Ever humble, the musical team spoke once more at the concert’s close, thanking the community for the way in which they’ve taken the game, and its music, into their hearts.
At the close of the first day it’s clear that this kind of event is the best way to interact, grow, and captivate a community, but it takes a particularly devoted and personable development team, and a game that emphasises those strengths, to create the feeling that they have done.