How Final Fantasy XIV Fan Fest reaffirmed my love for the game and the franchise
If there's one thing that permeated my entire time at 2023's second Final Fantasy Fan Festival in London, it's the sheer overpouring adoration its community has for the game, and how that is reflected back just as unmistakably.
From the wonderfully constructed recreations of three Final Fantasy XIV starting areas to the panels that made the long days ever-engaging, there are few better places to be than at a Fan Fest if you're a FFXIV fan, and the first return to London since the original European edition in 2014 was certainly a triumphant effort.
Opening with a bang
Perhaps the standout feature when it came to the London Fan Fest this year was the outstanding selection of panels that festival-goers could attend, which included talks with the development team (and a certain industry icon), fan contests and competitions, and two wonderful musical concerts.
Heading everything up was the Keynote address on Saturday morning, where the game's director and producer Naoki Yoshida gave players an update about everything that is on the horizon in patch 7.0 and the new Dawntrail expansion.
Disregarding the content itself, even for a non-fan it would be difficult not to get wrapped up in the overwhelming energy and excitement of the room during the Keynote. It is easy enough to get hyped when watching these things from afar on a stream, but being surrounded by the rapturous excitement in person is another thing entirely.
The screams when fan-favourite characters like Alphinaud, Alisaie, and Erenville appeared on screen were infectious and embodied the connection that so many Warriors of Light have to the narratives that have been so meticulously carved across the main game and its five expansions.
Furthermore, there was genuinely so much to love about the Keynote's actual content, with a new dual-wielding job revealed in the form of the Viper - that I am definitely going to pick up as soon as possible - a number of new clips and images from the sun-soaked shores of Tural that we will soon be able to explore, and the confirmation and reveal of the FFXVI crossover.
The excitement didn't stop there either, with a wonderful developer panel shortly after the Keynote that went into detail with all of the new graphical changes that are arriving shortly. Having this insight into what happens 'behind the scenes' was one of many steps taken to create a connection between those behind FFXIV and the fans who love it so much.
Stories of the father
My own personal highlight of the weekend though was getting to see and hear from the father of Final Fantasy Hironobu Sakaguchi as he headed up two panels alongside Yoshida and Toshio Murouchi.
I would have loved the opportunity to hear from Sakaguchi at any time, but this did feel extra special as it was his first time attending a Fan Fest as a Warrior of Light, after starting his FFXIV journey over two years ago.
In a unique twist, Sakaguchi was attending the conference as both industry icon and XIV superfan, as well as purveyor of the sakaGUCCI fashion brand - and the man himself admitted to spending 'at least 80% of his day' exploring Eorzea.
The first panel involving Sakaguchi was the return of 'Welcome to Naoki's Room', which this time centred around his various memorable moments from his time playing FFXIV, ending with a fan Q&A. It was amazing seeing things like his FC House guest book log - featuring messages from various Final Fantasy names like Yoshi-P, Akihiko Matsui, and Yasumi Matsuno - alongside surprise proof of his first Ultimate Raid clear, which both Murouchi and Yoshi-P were unaware of.
There was plenty of discussion surrounding the history of the Final Fantasy series, which is literal gold dust for any of the countless attendees who are so enamoured with the games that came before XIV too, with wonderful features like an illustration sheet by Koichi Ishii that detailed the many iconic jobs that have appeared time and time again.
This continued into the second panel, 'A Stroll with Yoshi-P' which saw Naoki Yoshida join Sakaguchi and members of the FFXIV community to take down several different bosses while discussing some of their favourite moments in Final Fantasy history.
While the answers themselves were as illuminating as ever, it was genuinely hilarious to see Yoshida and Sakaguchi playing together, and the chaos that ensued - which involved both being knocked off the map at multiple points - made detailed answers understandably difficult to come by.
What also particularly stood out within this section - but also remained a true highlight throughout the fest - was the immaculate translation work across the entire team, making the language barrier a complete non-factor in even the most chaotic of moments.
This is not a feature unique to the London Fan Fest in particular of course, but it is something that you truly notice and appreciate when you attend in person, as the speed and emotive nature of every single translation continuously conveyed the inescapable excitement within the ExCeL.
Magical musical moments
What has also become quite the tradition in Fan Fests is magical musical performances, and in London, we were treated to both a piano concert and a show from THE PRIMALS at the end of each day.
The piano concert was a personal favourite of mine, as the countless orchestral themes produced in the long-running series truly do hold a special place within my heart, and it certainly didn't disappoint when hearing them live.
The ever-wonderful Keiko took to the stage on piano and was joined by the angelic voice of Amanda Achen at points, and even an appearance from Masayoshi Soken himself - Otamatone and all. They could have gone on for hours and hours and the audience would have remained still in adoration, and outside of the Keynote there was perhaps no better place to point to than this to see the connection so many players have to the game.
ExCeL turned Eorzea
Outside of the panels and concerts, there was an abundance to explore within the ExCeL that spanned three starting areas and an extensive crafting station. You could explore the wonderful recreations of The Black Shroud, Thanalan, and La Noscea, each with their own distinct set dressing that made you feel like you were stepping into Eorzea.
As a Limsa Lominsa native, I headed straight for La Noscea on the east side of the conference centre where attendees could partake in activities such as a Dodo Egg Run, a spot of fishing, or a well-earned rest at The Bismarck.
Other highlights from The Black Shroud and Thanalan include Miners' Guild Training for any keen Disciples of the Land out there and a spot of sharpshooting with the Archers' Guild Training if you fancied your own skill as a trained DPS.
Perhaps the only downside I experienced during the Festival though was the lengthy lines you had to partake in for pretty much everything, whether it be training, any of the mini-games, or the dreaded merch line. The crafting station was particularly affected by this due to the time it takes to build your own keychain, bracelet, or pouch, and it is a shame that not everyone will have had the opportunity to get involved with this. Despite this downside, the staff throughout the event were always helpful and kept things running smoothly regardless of whether the queue was one person or one hundred.
Another marvellous feature of Fan Fest is how high the chance is that you're going to bump into a prominent member of the Final Fantasy XIV community when simply walking around the conference centre. This didn't just include key content creators that we all know and love, but also members of the development team - which was lovely to see.
Fan Fest does stand out in this regard compared to more general conferences, as everyone is there for the love of Final Fantasy XIV, and seeing everyone so unified in their excitement for the game makes it impossible to not have a truly magical time, and I hope I get to experience it again sometime in the future.