MMO stories don't get to end. The demands of a live-service game require there to always be more content, the worlds of Destiny 2 and World Of Warcraft bound to never know peace until their servers finally go dark. Which is why it came as such surprise when Square Enix revealed that Final Fantasy 14 would be closing the book on a ten-year plot with its next expansion, Endwalker.
Speaking to PC Gamer, game director Naoki Yoshida explains that it's precisely because of FF14's strong emphasis on story that it needs to wrap things up. While Square Enix could easily trail things off indefinitely, the game's story would ultimately suffer not being brought to a close.
"Final Fantasy 14 is very unique for an MMO in that it is heavily story driven," Yoshida told PC Gamer. "It's true we can continue to stretch out the story, but by delivering the climax for this current story arc, we create a new experience which players may not get from other MMOs.
"I've made it clear that we will continue creating new content, but specifically for Endwalker, it was exciting for me and my team to think about what kind of ending we would depict through the story with this kind of game."
Normally, FF14 expansions come in two phases—the expansion itself, and a post-release "season" of patches wrapping up the plot. Endwalker, however, is breaking from that mould by wrapping everything up at release, a decision Yoshida feels necessary to make the ending land.
"This is not simply the finale of a single expansion pack, but the end of a long-running saga, so I wanted to make it as grandiose as we could. Since we allocate the most development resources into creating the expansion pack itself, doing this as part of Endwalker could achieve that wish.
"Utilising three additional patches worth of resources would result in more to work with, but that would also mean we would have to stretch the story out over the course of those patches as we normally do. In this instance, we wanted our players to experience everything to the end in one exhilarating blast, and so we decided to mix things up and conclude the arc with 6.0."
Of course, that focus on story makes getting into FF14 a daunting prospect. There are hundreds of hours of narrative twists and turns spread across four (soon to be five) distinct arcs, and it'd be easy to see a post-Endwalker reset as a way to create a fresh jumping-on point for newcomers.
But Yoshida isn't concerned, saying that the decision to start anew wasn't driven by a desire to cater to new players. The feedback overwhelmingly seems to be that while new players are brought in by the latest expansion, they don't much mind starting afresh from A Realm Reborn.
"Fundamentally, Final Fantasy 14's story can be thought of a TV series that has different seasons. We are not forcing people to play all of the previous expansions—however, we do want to offer the opportunity for players to enjoy the story from the beginning, just like one would with a new show they want to watch. That’s really all there is to it."
Yoshida ended on a somewhat refreshing note for seasoned MMO players. We've all burned out on the endless content churn, and the director seems surprisingly accepting of folks who've taken an extended break. The team simply hope they can tell a story worthy of luring lapsed players back to Eorzea.
"I would love to tell those currently on a break from the game that there are even greater adventures and stories waiting and invite them to return to the game. I think the best way to accomplish this would be for us to make a game that is worthy of our players voicing their love for the game to let others know 'it was the best!'"
Final Fantasy 14: Endwalker arrives this Fall, with Patch 5.5 laying the groundwork for the climactic expansion's storyline on April 13th.