Triumph through adversity. Such has always been the way of Final Fantasy, which seems to exist in its own perpetual struggle. Indeed, it thrives off it - the series name famously originated from creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, working out of a then-beleaguered Square on what he believed at the time to be his last project. Later projects, such as Final Fantasy 12 - a high point for the series, in my own opinion - came from tumultuous development, and of course most recently Final Fantasy 15 marked the end of a very long, winding and often torturous road.
On 27th August 2013 Naoki Yoshida, over-worked, overtired and twitching on caffeine, paced backstage at a press conference in Shibuya, Tokyo. In a few minutes he was due to proclaim the arrival of Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn to the world in a live broadcast. It should have been a happy moment, yet Yoshida felt nothing but nausea.
A girl lies prostrate on the cobblestones. Her body is contorted in a way that implies complicated internal injuries. In these early days following Final Fantasy 14's relaunch, you often see these patient bodies: adventurers fallen in battle who, in the stiff grip of paralysis, await resuscitation. But Eorzea's emergency services are in crisis. There simply aren't enough healers around who have learned the ability to revive all the fallen yet.
As a collapsed casualty, your options are limited. You can warp back to your chosen 'home' crystal - one of the towering blue shards that lunge into the stratosphere at the centre of each of the game's three major cities. You'll resuscitate there restored to full health, but such an airlift comes at considerable inconvenience. If you've fallen in a more remote region (and chances are you will have; the monsters near the cities are weedy and amicable) then the grim trek back can take up to 30 minutes. Alternatively, you lay back, watch the weather (and Final Fantasy 14 enjoys nothing if not tremendous weather) and wait in hope that some kindly mage might wander past and take pity on you.
I know how you feel, I think to myself, surveying her predicament. We've all been there, decked by a lumbering elm's mossy punch, or pecked to the ground by a nesting buzzard. In that moment I decide that, instead of merely walking by, I'll express some cordial consolation to the poor girl. Not particularly useful, perhaps, but kindness is the spice of virtual life, and besides, I'm tired of all that hitting and fetching that makes up the daily grind in this sort of game. I target her body and scan the list of emotes - animations used to express some kind of sentiment in the game.
"Five years have come and gone. Man labours tirelessly to raise himself from calamity's ruin." Is the voice over played during Final Fantasy 14's all-new introductory sequence a cry for help from the game's weary development team? Certainly the 200 staff at Square Enix's Shinjuku office tasked with re-making this forsaken MMO - the greatest and grandest critical and commercial failure to bear the Final Fantasy name since 2002's CGI disaster movie The Spirits Within - are eager to let you know just how hard they've been working. 'Tirelessly', they assert, before promising that Eorzea, the setting for this online role-playing game, is "forever changed".