Final Fantasy XIV

It feels incredibly strange to give a Game of the Year award to something that’s more a decade old. However, here at Half-Glass Gaming, we have a slightly different approach to how we handle these things. Unlike most of our peers, we don’t necessarily believe that the Game of the Year should be awarded to the best game that came out in a given year. No, we feel that the game most deserving of the award is the one that had the biggest impact, or was the most important game of that year.

Case in point, last year we proclaimed Animal Crossing: New Horizons as our Game of the Year. You can read our full defense of this proclamation in the corresponding article, but in summary, it was the game that really defined the pandemic-centric life of 2020. In an alternate version of 2020 where COVID-19 never existed, we would have instead given Hades this particular honor. But the circumstances for why and how something becomes important are very much out of our control; we can only react to them.

Because of this philosophy, weird things can sometimes occur. Like how this year, Final Fantasy XIV is the most obvious choice, despite originally launching way back in 2010 (and re-launching as A Realm Reborn in 2013).

There are two main factors in how this happened. First, the game finally has an ending. With the Endwalker expansion, the game’s Hydaelyn arc has finally wrapped up, and you can now play a complete story from start to finish without having to hypothesize over all the dangling loose threads. More importantly, though, in 2021, Final Fantasy XIV dethroned World of Warcraft, which had been the dominant MMORPG for more than a decade.

Final Fantasy XIV - Quest Complete

I can barely even begin to describe how massive of an achievement this is. World of Warcraft has been the king of the genre for as long as any of us can remember. While gaming websites have long been looking for “the WoW killer,” such a game never materialized. And really, no other game actually killed WoW; Blizzard’s MMO kind of killed itself.

In the second half of 2021, Blizzard was constantly dominating the gaming news cycle, but not in the way they would have liked. It was revealed that the State of California had launched a full-on lawsuit over Blizzard’s less-than-scrupulous company culture, and that brought some really nasty things to light.

Now, it’s really, really good that these things were revealed about the company. It serves as a warning to other companies with similarly toxic cultures: No one is immune from criticism, and when you mess up as massively as Blizzard did, even the most adoring fans will go elsewhere. And one can hope that, with these allegations coming to the surface, other companies will take a little more care to make sure these sorts of things don’t happen again.

In the meantime, playing anything that Blizzard makes just feels kind of gross, so longtime World of Warcraft players needed a place to go to get away from it all. And Final Fantasy XIV had quietly been getting better and better and better in the background. In the same way that Animal Crossing was a place we could go while waiting out COVID lockdowns, Final Fantasy XIV was a place we could go while waiting out the Blizzard lawsuit.

Final Fantasy XIV

And this shift in dominance from WoW to FF14 was not a subtle one. After the lawsuit went public, we saw many long-time World of Warcraft content creators swear off the game for good. Over the summer, Final Fantasy XIV became the fastest growing category on Twitch, signaling a rapidly growing interest in the aging game.

I should, of course, point out that this shift had already begun before the lawsuit came to light. But once the shift started, the lawsuit severed a lot of people’s bonds with the game. It was a little bit like temporarily leaving your home to stay at your cabin, then finding out your house burned down while you were away. You might have planned to return, but those plans were altered, and now you can never go back.

Final Fantasy XIV

Honestly, this change was a long time coming. While World of Warcraft changed the template of the MMORPG in a lot of huge ways, that template had grown pretty stale over the past decade, and MMOs seemed to be on the decline as a result. But with fresh interest in Final Fantasy XIV — which again alters that template — the genre seems to be making something of a resurgence.

One of the many things that Final Fantasy XIV gets right is that it respects the players’ time. Yes, there’s plenty of grind to be found in this massive game, yet that grind is rarely there simply for the sake of the grind. In fact, the game’s director Naoki Yoshida, known by fans as Yoshi P, says that players should simply log out and play other games if they get bored of Final Fantasy XIV in between patches. Yes, the team has so much confidence in their product that they’re not “holding players hostage” in hopes of squeezing a dozen more hours of game time out of them. That’s a hugely refreshing change of pace for the MMORPG genre, and one that I hope other game studios are paying attention to.

Final Fantasy XIV also serves as a textbook example of getting the story just right. While impactful stories have long been Final Fantasy‘s jam, storytelling tends to take a backseat in MMOs, with gameplay mechanics taking the wheel. If FF14 proves anything, it’s that there’s no reason an MMORPG can’t tell a story that’s on par with its more traditional JRPG peers.

I could go on and on about why FF14 is worth playing in 2021, but I’ve already done that elsewhere. You can read my gushing adoration of the Heavensward expansion here, and my loving ramble about the Shadowbringers expansion here.

Final Fantasy XIV - Tonberry King

But in 2021, Final Fantasy XIV was more than simply “worth playing.” It was the industry’s David that toppled Goliath by believing in itself, and it became the year’s most important video game as a result. Even though there were plenty of great titles that came out last year, there’s only one obvious choice for Half-Glass Gaming’s 2021 Game of the Year, and that’s Final Fantasy XIV.

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