Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker signifies the end of an era. One story, started nine years ago, has ended with a stunning and heartwarming conclusion, while the promise of a new adventure awaits on the horizon. But Endwalker doesn’t merely mark the end of the Hydaelyn / Zodiark saga. For a few diehard players, Endwalker also provides a final coda for the game Final Fantasy XIV was before it was rebooted into A Realm Reborn.
The original Final Fantasy XIV Online — colloquially known as “1.0” — had a rough release. Reviews at the time said the game “lacked character, cohesion, and joy” and lamented its every feature from the UI to the storytelling. The one thing Tatjana Vejnovic remembers of 1.0 was “[h]ow un-fucking-playable it was.”
“Everything loaded in super slow, and it was laggy as all hell,” she told The Verge.
Lag was one of the foremost complaints of 1.0 players. While the game was visually impressive for the time, the developers sacrificed performance for aesthetics. During 2014’s Game Developers Conference, Naoki Yoshida, game director of FFXIV, talked about some of the things that went wrong with 1.0, citing specifically Square Enix’s overreliance on delivering a pretty game at the cost of performance and content.
Jake Dehlinger recalled being very disappointed in 1.0.
“I spent my middle school years playing FFXI with my friend (shout out to Raphiell!), and we planned to play FFXIV together,” he told The Verge. “The experience was super underwhelming, and I didn’t last very long playing it.”
Dylan Fitzgerald remembered his time more fondly recalling some of the interesting bits of the game’s history.
“Did you know failing to affix materia to a piece of gear used to blow up the entire item? Or that conjurer at one point had fire, blizzard, and thunder spells in addition to the earth, wind, and water they have now? While it was obviously a mess, I did still have a lot of fun with 1.0, in no small part to the community that stuck around after most people jumped ship.”
Final Fantasy XIV 1.0 released in September 2010 and lasted two years before Square Enix killed the game in a fiery conflagration, thereby setting the stage for its phoenix-like rise from the ashes. Yoshida said in his GDC talk that Square Enix kept the name Final Fantasy XIV in order to regain the trust of fans, and while some elements of 1.0 were carried forward, A Realm Reborn is essentially a totally different game.
The battle system was revamped, and more classic Final Fantasy jobs were added. The main story quest was significantly improved, and graphical updates were more balanced. The game was and is still relentlessly pretty, but your system won’t chug when loading a flower pot.
“ARR was a success in my mind,” Dehlinger said. “It made me feel like I had a game where the story actually mattered.”
Though 1.0 ended with Square Enix literally blowing up the world, Endwalker’s story still took time to acknowledge the journey 1.0 players made from those rough early days to now. Veteran players noticed and respected Endwalker’s homages to 1.0, including one that is a direct, almost shot-for-shot remake of a 1.0 intro quest.
“I think they pulled off the ending as elegantly as they could for something with such a troubled start that had been going on for so long,” Fitzgerald said. “I absolutely felt a sense of closure by the time all was said and done, and Endwalker inspired me to finally get my character’s legacy mark tattooed on my own body.”
(Legacy marks were a special in-game cosmetic given to players who subscribed during 1.0 and subscribed again to ARR.)
In Yoshida’s GDC talk, he said that one of the key takeaways from 1.0 was to “never forget your roots.” FFXIV 1.0 shut down in 2012, and there have been several expansions between the ARR reboot and now, but you can still see the roots of 1.0 embedded in Endwalker. “Answers,” the song that so neatly summarizes Endwalker’s plot, was written by Nobuo Uematsu for 1.0.
“FFXIV’s team never forgets characters and storylines,” Dehlinger said. “Watching Endwalker bring back and tie up so much story in such a beautiful way left me extremely satisfied.”
It’s rare that a video game can pull itself out of a terminal velocity tailspin. Final Fantasy XIV 1.0 was so bad that Yoshida said in his GDC presentation that it hindered Japanese MMO development. It would have perhaps been easier or even expected for 1.0 to die the death it did without remark. But Final Fantasy XIV is a game with a long memory in a space where it seems like sequels and spinoffs, video game or otherwise, don’t like to acknowledge where they came from. Though ARR and the subsequent expansions are games that dramatically changed the trajectory of Final Fantasy XIV’s legacy, 1.0 laid the foundation on which all of what fans love about FFXIV now sits.