Inside Final Fantasy 14 Fanfest 2023 – the house that Yoshi-P built | The Sun

FINAL Fantasy 14 is celebrating ten years since the launch of A Realm Reborn, a reworked version of the MMO following a disastrous launch.

A Realm Reborn’s efforts were spearheaded by Naoki Yoshida, who serves as director for Final Fantasy 14.

In the years since the release of A Realm Reborn, Yoshida, alongside key staff, regularly talks directly to the community via livestreams. 

But, once every two years, something special happens for Final Fantasy 14 fans.

Square Enix hosts a trio of festivals where attendees can expect information about a brand-new expansion, meet the Final Fantasy 14 team, and attend live rock concerts featuring tracks from the game. 

The first 2023 edition of FF14 Fanfest was held in sweltering 40-degree heat at the Las Vegas Convention Center, but that did not stop 15,000 attendees from gathering at the venue.

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The convention kicked off with an electric atmosphere as thousands of fans descended into a hall to glimpse the first trailer of the brand-new expansion, Dawntrail. 

In Yoshida’s own words, Dawntrail is intended to be a “summer holiday” for Final Fantasy 14 players, featuring lush greenery, South-American-inspired architecture, and a brand-new plotline that pits beloved characters against each other.

This is a distinct break from the bleak atmospheres present in the prior two expansions, the appropriately apocalyptic-sounding Shadowbringers and Endwalker.

Dawntrail also brings with it a host of new changes and features for the title. 

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However, Final Fantasy 14’s developers are not solely focused on delivering content to existing players.

The MMO’s extensive free trial is also getting expanded, with Stormblood, the game’s second expansion, now being included for free.

Dawntrail’s inspirations could hit a nerve

Dawntrail’s initial trailers showcased clear inspiration from Nahua, Mayan, and Andean indigenous cultures.

The game’s developers have previously been accused of cultural appropriation, as well as lightening the skin of one of its main characters.

Still, they’re aware of those criticisms and are seemingly learning from previous missteps.

One such example is given by localisation lead Kate Cwynar during a panel at the show: 

“…when we do draw on real-life cultures and languages, we want to develop an understanding and respect for those cultures, and we want to try to demonstrate that the best we can.

“And this is a real point of focus for 7.0 [Dawntrail]. I can’t say much about it, but I will say that is something the team is very aware of.

“They’re aware that we have not always made our goal of demonstrating the proper respect for cultures in the past as a game and as a franchise, and we are really working on it.”

We can only reserve judgment until Dawntrail is released, but the developers are seemingly taking the feedback on board.

Creative Business Unit 3 even went as far as to rename a type of quest to drop potentially offensive naming from “Beast Tribe” to “Tribal Quests”, wherein you befriend and assist local native species throughout your travels. 

An infectious atmosphere

No matter what was announced, from Final Fantasy 14’s new expansion to even just showing off members of key staff on stage, the Fanfest atmosphere was one of unrelenting positivity. 

“The community is not like other MMOs, like WoW or something,” Fanfest attendee Nick Sozemann told us.

World of Warcraft’s more unforgiving community has a reputation, which crossed over with Final Fantasy 14 several years ago.

“I was mainly heading to Fanfest to meet some of my FC in person for the first time,” he continued. 

This is the first in-person Fanfest in North America in almost five years, and the shared camaraderie at the show was palpable, as players gathered to take on various activities at the convention like battle challenges or hunting down and completing quests from real-life NPCs.

Being there felt like being stuck in the middle of a Final Fantasy-themed travelling circus, with something to see or do at the turn of every corner.

One highlight was the lengthy cosplay walk, where attendees were decked up to the nines in intricate outfits that represented themselves in-game, or characters and bosses.

A brave endeavour, considering the sweltering Las Vegas heat over the course of the weekend. 

Devs and fans have a shared reverence for each other

Each appearance from developers at a panel or showcase was met with rapturous, almost cult-like applause.

Near the media room, away from the hustle-and-bustle of the convention floor, gathered a group of fans, eagerly awaiting a glimpse of their heroes: members of Final Fantasy 14’s development team.

One fan waited with a signature Fender Final Fantasy 14 Stratocaster, eagerly anticipating the appearance of Masayoshi Soken, the game’s composer. 

“Our intention is not to flaunt around like a rockstar,” Yoshida stated to us when quizzed about being stopped by fervent fans for photos and signatures.

“I’m honoured, I’m flattered. I’m very thankful for that.

“I want to point out too, I’d love to accommodate fans as long as I have time, and as long as they’re okay with a middle-aged man.

“When I went to the first NA Fan Fest, in the casino, someone asked if he could pick me up princess style,” Yoshida chuckled.

“…there was one girl who asked me in Japan at an event if she can do a backdrop wrestling move on me.

“So as long as it’s fun and interesting, I’m open to it.”

We were treated to a piano concert on the first night, where composer Masayoshi Soken once again brought out his Otamatone to perform a duet with pianist Keiko.

The next evening heralded a performance from in-house band The Primals, featuring localisation maestro Koji Fox, who took to the stage with a brimmed fedora, singing a nu-metal track from the game as if he were Jonathan Davis from Korn. 

Our favourite performance was The Primals’ encore, where members of staff came out in coloured shirts, representing each role during the track “A Long Fall”, which came with its own dance.

We even spotted Yoshida in the front-row mingling with fans mid-set.

It’s clear that Fanfest is as much a celebration for the game’s developers and fans, as it is for the game itself. 

Scanning the crowd during the emotional Endwalker track “Flow Together” hit home with how much this game means to its community, as I spotted a group of fans joined arm-in-arm.

It felt meaningful to be a fly on the wall during these moments, with both fans and developers showing a shared reverence for each other. 

During the closing ceremony a tearful Natuko Ishikawa, FF14’s lead story designer, was reduced to tears at the support she received, while crowds chanted her name as she thanked the community for their support.

Koji Fox soon took up the mic, and closed with a simple statement: “You are the best f*****g community in the world.” 

While many idolise the FF14’s developers, it’s clear that there’s just as much respect from them to the community itself, which helped them keep the MMO alive for a decade since its relaunch.

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Written by Sayem Ahmed on behalf of GLHF.

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