I’m relatively new to Final Fantasy XIV, beginning the game at the tail end of last year, after the first trailer for Shadowbringers finally brought me into the fold after abstaining for as long as I could. You see, I knew that I would likely become pretty addicted once I started, so I tried to put off the game despite knowing that I would likely really enjoy it.
But here I am, years later, completely addicted to the game and loving every moment I spend in Eorzea. I’ve gone from an overwhelmed and panicked fledgling Conjurer to an overwhelmed and panicked White Mage, and the story never ceases to amaze and enthral me. I genuinely want to save the world from it’s various ills and that’s a testament to the writing throughout.
And so, I jumped at the chance to attend the Final Fantasy XIV Fan Fest in Paris a few weeks ago for work, not knowing what to expect but having been promised an experience I wouldn’t forget from friends and colleagues. So, after a lot of help from Square-Enix, I was on my way to Paris to experience the Final Fantasy XIV community first hand.
If I were to describe the experience in one word it would be – fun. Everything from the various panels, to the fairground-like attractions, to the boardgames and other activities, all centred around this core premise, and this could be felt absolutely everywhere in La Grande Halle de la Villette. Everyone was enjoying themselves, and this means everyone.
It’s probably because the passion for enjoyment came from the very top of the ladder. The Director and Producer of the game, Naoki Yoshida, places himself as the ringleader of this fun, and his eccentric and deeply engaging personality endears you to him immediately. His close relationships with his team, and the community itself, are apparent from the start.
Coming out for the Keynote Address, dressed in the very outfit Thancred wears in the Shadowbringers trailer, shouldering a gunblade, the man is met with one of the most rapturous applauses I have ever heard. In that 90 minutes, he reveals more about the upcoming expansion to the title, including the Gunbreaker job, the Viera race, and breathtaking new locations, with fans not losing their passion whatsoever from reveal to reveal.
It isn’t just him though. As I mentioned earlier, his relationships with his team and how close they all are feeds into this energy in the arena. Co-lead world and lore developer Koji Fox was a partner in crime through, acting as a translator and more than occasion foil to Yoshida’s humour. Along with the rest of the team, including character designer Ayumi Namae and composer Masayoshi Soken, there was a feeling of almost family between them all.
This wasn’t everything at the event, as mentioned earlier, there was activities to take part in, including Raids, Dungeons and a variety of fairground-like attractions. The last of which of these, comprising of archery ranges, mini-golf, and Chocobo Racing among others were all simple, dumb fun. This might not sound like much, but this sort of thing is missing from a lot of events.
Getting involved in these activities also got you stamps that could be exchanged for a selection of different items too, including am adorable key-ring and iron-on patch. If that didn’t take your fancy, there was also a phenomenal cosplay contest and a fair few development panels too, so attendees were spoiled for choice.
Raids and Dungeons were high-level encounters (we’re talking level 70), so I was completely out of my depth as an (at the time) level 31 White Mage, especially during the Duty Roulette Raid in which I was landed with playing a level 70 Astrologian (a job I don’t even have in-game). We won, but I don’t feel like I added anything to the team beyond healing a little.
The Yojimbo Encounter, however, was a different animal. An intense battle with the series mainstay that did not relent for even a moment. However, a team of us banded together, with the unusual set-up of 3 Healers, 3 Tanks, and 2 DPS, and felled the noble warrior. It was incredibly challenging, but we had the support of each other and the even the staff. It felt tremendously rewarding when we finally won, and got that victory sticker.
Finally, if that wasn’t enough, were the two concerts. Both evenings saw a concert; the first being a piano-led and softer affair, the second, a hype-inducing rock concert. Featuring the composer himself, along with pianist Benyamin Nuss and singer Susan Calloway, various songs from the game were played. There were various interludes of eccentricity throughout too, but overall this was a far softer way to end such a busy day as the Saturday.
The same cannot be said for the concert by The Primals on the Sunday. A band comprising of several members of the development staff, they played multiple songs from boss encounters in the game. Not only did this have a tremendous amount of energy and get the entire venue jumping, it has severely made me want to get to these encounters to hear the music in context, which is a testament to how good the music was.
Attending Fan Fest has made me a more passionate player of the game, and more adept in my role, owing to being thrust into high level Raids with far more abilities than I possessed at the time. In fact, coming back to a lower-level Healer afterwards felt so bare in terms of utility. Final Fantasy XIV Fan Fest was an experience that I wholly enjoyed, and would recommend to anyone, even those with zero experience with the game.
It’s rare to find events that are this fun and community-driven in the games industry. A lot of companies and games could learn a lot from how the team behind Final Fantasy XIV operate. Really, the fact that the game can even hold events like this speaks volumes alone. I eagerly await the further information about the future of the game at Tokyo Fan Fest next month, and I’ll definitely be at the next European one. Thanks for having me, Square-Enix!