Final Fantasy is finally back with rave reviews; here’s what to know before you join in

Image: Square Enix

It is the best and worst time to be a newcomer to Final Fantasy 14. With the game having reentered the market on January 25th, a fair number of people are deciding to give it a try, and for good reason. Its latest expansion, Endwalker, has earned the game its highest metacritic rating yet, along with record subscription numbers. 

For those unaware, Final Fantasy 14 is an MMORPG—a game where you build a character and participate in an online high-fantasy world populated by players from all over the globe. And Final Fantasy 14’s ongoing story structure is the closest thing video games have to TV, with new expansions functioning like new seasons.

The game is a particular favorite amongst queer players, and that’s not just because you can live out your dreams as an anime cat boy (I know I’m not the only one). True, there’s not much in the way of cannon LGBTQ+ characters, despite whatever was going on between Gaia and Ryne in the last expansion. But Final Fantasy 14 has a reputation for a welcoming and friendly community—to the point that it recently won Best Community at the Golden Joystick Awards—and that’s certainly a big plus for marginalized players in online spaces.

Queer gamers have also made their own communities through the platform, connecting through LGBT discord servers like Gayorzea. And when the game added same-sex marriages in 2014, fans organized their own in-game Pride Parade.

But what went wrong with Final Fantasy 14’s latest release? Essentially, there were too many players logging in at once which led to server crashes and hours-long wait times to boot up the game. All of this resulted in the game being temporarily taken off the market.

Final Fantasy 14’s runaway popularity is the result of a few different factors. After a disastrous initial launch in 2010, the game’s quality has steadily built up over the years, garnering more attention from mainstream gaming press. Additionally, players from Final Fantasy 14’s biggest competitor in the MMO space, Blizzard’s World of Warcraft, have been switching sides lately, including some of its biggest Twitch streamers. Part of this has to do with WoW’s in-game monetization, and part of it has to do with the sexual harrassment lawsuits that Blizzard is currently embroiled in—some players are choosing to support a company that has fostered a more positive community.

On top of all of this, COVID and the associated supply-chain issues have created a computer chip shortage, making it difficult for publisher Square Enix to simply purchase new servers to mitigate the problem.

It’s unfortunate that Final Fantasy 14’s reputation as a friendly environment for players has earned it so much trouble, but on the bright side, the server issues are likely to subside once enough players have finished the new Endwalker scenario—roughly a fifty hour experience. In addition, the game’s director Naoki Yoshida has outlined a plan to address the issue over the next several months.

So back to our original question: is now a good time to join this purportedly queer friendly community? For complete newcomers…not quite yet. Under normal circumstances, the game offers new players a free version that gives access to the base game and its first expansion, the critically lauded Heavensward—well over a hundred hours of gaming—absent the usual subscription fees. The free version is not coming back on January 25th, but it will be returning once login queues settle down.

With the pandemic still causing in-person event cancellations, digital community building has become increasingly important. And at the end of the day, Final Fantasy 14 is one of the best online gaming spaces where you can make friends while slaying monsters. But maybe give it another month or two before signing up.

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