James Pickard attends the fourth unofficial Final Fantasy XIV Fan Gathering to speak to the fan behind its inception and the community keeping the MMORPG going strong.
On one side of the room competition is fierce in the Chocobo Races, in the middle sets of printed cards are being used in Triple Triad matches, and at the bar some are trying a series of drinks based on boss fights in Final Fantasy XIV.
This is the Final Fantasy XIV Fan Gathering. The event is the brainchild of Daniel Grossett, a long-time Final Fantasy fan whose first experience with the games was with Final Fantasy VI. “My cousin used to play Final Fantasy and she would make me play with her… and by play with I mean sit and watch her beat everything.”
This is the fourth event he’s arranged, which has grown from a small group of 40 to a crowd of around 100 packed into London’s esports-themed bar, Meltdown. Having grown up with the series the decision to play its first foray into the world of MMORPGs was an obvious one for Grossett. Then, after six years on Final Fantasy XI, the jump to Final Fantasy XIV was inevitable.
“I love the style of the games and I’ve always loved the characters and it’s something that I feel like a lot of people (especially gamers) know. Like, with most gamers you can ask, ‘What’s your favourite Final Fantasy?’ and you can have a conversation straight from that. It’s a great series and a great chunk of gaming history so that’s what really draws me to it.”
Alongside World Of Warcraft, Final Fantasy XIV is seen as one of the few last surviving subscription-based MMORPGs. The story of its disastrous launch to hugely successful resurgence at the hands of director Naoki Yoshida has been told and retold so often that the man himself is sick of discussing it. Job done, game saved, look at where it is now. A regular surge of new content: dungeons, raids, quests and story chapters, as well as additions and refinements to competitive player versus player modes, the opening of the iconic Gold Saucer and much more. There was also the launch of the game’s first big expansion last June, Heavensward. Grossett has his own views why he feels Final Fantasy XIV is succeeding:
“I think accessibility, that there’s lots of nostalgia from across the whole Final Fantasy series and it’s got a very fun atmosphere. Like the Manderville quests, which are hilarious and everybody loves them. I think [Square Enix] has a lot of fun with it and that shines through and people get that. Not only that but obviously it looks great, it looks amazing.”
That passion for the game, along with his experience organising community events in the past for both Final Fantasy XI and World Of Warcraft, naturally lead Grosett towards a similar goal with Final Fantasy XIV.
“I found the community really nice and really inclusive and wanted to do something that everyone could enjoy. But, you know, I wanted to do it in person. I run events in the game as well but I love bringing people together so I thought why not!”
Alongside the Chocobo Races and Triple Triad tournaments other events throughout the day keep the mood light and silly. Space is cleared for a dancing competition which sees groups perform dance moves from the game. Proving Grossett’s earlier point, the Manderville dance is a popular choice – understandable once you see its ridiculous series of moves performed. Attendees also get a chance to show off their in-game character’s best outfits. Some take the more serious approach donning their avatar in glistening armour and wielding giant glowing weaponry, while others surprise by strutting along the beach in nothing but tiny swimwear and a giant Moogle head. There are winners and losers but everyone is supported with cheers and laughter.
“They’ve been very cool,” Grossett says of the Final Fantasy XIV community. “It’s actually been one of the nicer game communities I’ve been in. They’re really keen to get involved in stuff and because Square are really keen to work with them as well fan projects get supported a lot, which is great.”
As evidence of this winners in these competitions are awarded prizes generously provided by Square Enix. The game’s community team is in attendance too and has even brought a special guest along, Japanese community manager Toshio “Foxclon” Murouchi, who makes a brief speech asking fans not to ask him about any of the game’s upcoming features but to ensure they enjoy themselves. When it comes down to it these players are a big part of keeping the game alive and Grossett speaks positively of the Square Enix community team’s help throughout the whole process of setting up events.
“They’ve been very strong from the get-go, helping to supply prizes and things and helping me get the word out to the community. They’ve been very, very cool about the whole thing, so I’m very impressed from a community standpoint.”
They’re keen to support Grossett more in the future too as the event grows and looks to bigger venues. Until next time, though, fans have the official Final Fantasy XIV Fan Festivals to look forward to later this year and into 2017. Heavensward has been out almost a year now and all eyes are on the possibility of the game’s next expansion being announced at one of the shows. Undoubtedly, these same fans will meet up once again to share their excitement for what’s to come.