Final Fantasy XIV’s party setup already makes a bold step away from normal conventions. Where most games these days top out with parties of four or five players, a full party in Eorzea is eight people with according benefits. It’s definitely a game of numbers.
This offers some unique drawbacks and advantages all at once. The drawbacks are implied just by the sheer size: It’s harder to get three strangers to work with you as part of a team; it’s harder still to gather up seven without one person dragging you down through a combination of cluelessness and hapless malice. But considering the pre-relaunch game offered a lot of content that could be done solo or in ad hoc groups of varying sides, perhaps this won’t be such an issue in the long run.
So let’s talk about the potential advantages. I think the game is uniquely poised to deliver on this front simply because having more people in the party allows you to do things that more modern games don’t have the space for — things that Final Fantasy XI was quite good at doing in party composition, as it happens.
Checklists over roles
Final Fantasy XI’s classes certainly fell into roles or were forced into those roles through player use. However, this was prior to the days of the modern trinity’s rise to ubiquitousness, meaning that group composition was very different. You had your tanks and healers, but you also had buffers, debuffers, magic damage, melee damage, pullers, and various other miscellaneous functions. And for several classes, your subjob and your gear determined whether or not you could fulfill a certain role or not.
Pullers, for instance, needed a ranged attack, which cut a small number of classes out of the running, but I still fondly remember pulling with Dia as a Red Mage and having a Dragoon fling pebbles to pull targets. Healers needed to keep the tank alive, but tank survivability scaled pretty well, meaning that during normal content it was quite possible to have a healer providing some other useful role like debuffer or buffer or what-have-you.
The emphasis was more on a checklist of functions rather than a specific set of roles. It was a matter not of looking for a healer but of looking for someone who filled the needed role of healing and other possibly needed roles. A COR/RNG could be a puller and a buffer, meaning that you could fill the healer spot with something else.
Not that this was a perfect system. There are approximately a million classes capable of doing melee damage and two or three capable of tanking, which means that a lot of players are just out of luck. But this seems like something that could be applied to Final Fantasy XIV quite easily, especially while reinforcing the reason a player might choose to use a class over a job in a given situation. Sure, a Dragoon is a better melee damage dealer than a Lancer, but the Dragoon can’t also serve as a debuffer. The Lancer, when played correctly and given the right skill loadout, can do precisely that.
Depending on the skills available, of course. I’m just throwing out ideas here.
Here’s another idea worth considering: What if Final Fantasy XIV turned its party size into an advantage rather than a disadvantage? City of Heroes had the same upward limits on a normal party, but it managed to make its content more fun despite the huge party size by allowing people to group up more or less at will due to the wonders of content scaling.
CoH managed this through a fairly simple trick. As more people entered an instance, the size of enemy spawns increased so that three regular enemies turned into five regulars and a lieutenant, then 12 regulars and three lieutenants, and so on up the line. The first couple of steps up were fairly linear, but as you approached the full size, spawns got exponentially larger and major villains had to be faced at their full power.
This scaling wasn’t perfect. Archvillain scaling was sometimes dicey for small groups or solo players, and good builds could often sweep through huge spawns normally without the need for a party. But the idea and the core execution was spot-on, especially the exponential scaling part. A party with two or three members could easily just be three damage-dealing sorts, but once you got into near-full numbers, groups were meant to be large enough to require crowd control, tanking, and healing. The game swelled or shrank to account for others.
FFXIV already even has a system for marking tiers of content in the form of party size flags. Imagine a dungeon that scaled purely based on the group size. At 1-3 players, the major bosses are tough fights that can be handled solo with care or in a group without too much difficulty, and enemy groups are reasonable or require minimal crowd control. Once you hit Light Party status, bosses and enemies get tougher and require more coordination. In a full party, you’re into the full-on party vs. party combat that was talked up before the game was released, where having a really hard set of roles is an asset rather than a drawback.
I’ve mentioned the whole endgame back-and-forth before in this column, and I’d like to see FFXIV be something spectacular. Offering honest-to-Twelve scaling content from launch would be wonderful, especially since it would match the in-game leve scaling. Just food for thought.