The event, which was held at the massive ExCeL venue a few hundred yards from London City Airport, drew thousands of Warriors of Light (which is the way FFXIV players are usually named) to celebrate one of the best communities in gaming.
Final Fantasy MMORPG communities have always been special, ever since the glory years of Final Fantasy XI. Its community found its strength in its multiculturalism due to the global servers in a time in which such a thing was basically unheard of, with Japanese and Western players sharing the same game.
Many of these players were naturally inherited by Final Fantasy XIV, but while the regions ended up being split, the community was forged by something unexpected.
The abject launch failure of FFXIV 1.0 was somehow turned into a victory by Naoki Yoshida and his team, who created the story of the Seventh Umbral Calamity and involved the players in an epic saga of death and rebirth that ushered the arrival of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn.
Many communities saw their MMORPG of choice fail and disappear, causing them to disperse, especially in the post-World of Warcraft era. Second chances in the MMORPG industry simply did not happen.
Yet, a miracle did happen. One of these communities witnessed the rebirth of its MMORPG from its ashes, with an epic in-game storyline to accompany the event and make it even more spectacular and engaging.
Over a decade ago, Final Fantasy XIV players didn't disperse. They didn't "go back to WoW" (a sentence that we used to hear all too often). They returned to Eorzea and saw it grow into one of the most successful online games of all time.
This created an underlying sense of pride and belonging among the veterans in that community that has no equal anywhere else. This is the bedrock on which the foundations of today's FFXIV community are built, contributing to making it special, and a special community generates very special events.
I will talk about the reveals, the panels, and the concerts in this article, but the real essence of a Final Fantasy XIV Fan Festival is the fans themselves.
Of course, we were all eager to hear about the new expansion Dawntrail, but ultimately the most relevant part of the event has always been meeting other Warriors of Light, perhaps some we had adventures with for years in Eorzea but had never met in real life before.
I've had many of these meetings, and that kind of friendship born of virtual camaraderie and then cemented in front of a real drink is among the best a gamer can ever have.
The Fan Festival in London was also a chance for many (including yours truly) to make new friends whom we had never met in the game. We simply bumped into each other and started talking about our favorite game. That connection was all that was needed.
We met old friends and made new ones among thousands of people who share our love for the world Square Enix created and its characters, for Masayoshi Soken's music and Natsuko Ishikawa's stories. This shared experience on its own made going to London well worth it on its own.
Yet, Fan Festival 2023 in London had no shortage of content to enjoy. As a matter of fact, we got plenty. The opening keynote revealed many details about the expansion, including the new "Viper" dual-wielding job.
Square Enix then followed up and kept going strong with the Development Panel, in which Masato Shida and Tatsuya Okahisa illustrated the graphics overhaul which will bathe Eorzea in a fresh coat of paint when Dawntrail releases.
We also saw the new generation of Final Fantasy with Naoki Yoshida sharing the stage with the first generation represented by the series' loving father Hironobu Sakaguchi, who left Square Enix a long time ago, but has now returned as a player and a Warrior of Light like us all (and he intends to stick to that role).
Incidentally, these panels had in common an element that I personally greatly enjoy, and it's great interpretation. Michael-Christopher Koji Fox, Aimi Tokutake, and Haider Muttaqi (who was at his first Fan Festival) did a fantastic job of conveying the words of the Japanese developers.
I've seen many events like this marred by translations that started breaking at the seams, but this time around, everything was relayed in a way that was both clear and entertaining. Simultaneously translating from Japanese is already very challenging, but doing so while still maintaining the entertainment factor is no mean feat.
There was no shortage of lighter content on stage, including the cosplay exhibition, the competitive Crystalline Conflict PvP tournament, and more. Basically, there was something for everyone.
Entertainment was not limited to the stage, as Square Enix prepared some rather spectacular booths representing Eorzea's regions of Thanalan, Black Shroud, and La Noscea. Not only did they provide a fantastic atmosphere, but they also offered minigames aplenty to keep the Warriors of Light busy and delighted in between the presentations.
Two concerts represented the sweet cherry on top of both days of celebration. The first day saw an absolutely gorgeous performance of pianist Keiko and singer (on top of novice Warrior of Light) Amanda Achen, exacting a copious tribute of tears with their wonderful interpretation of maestro Masayoshi Soken's music.
At the end of the second day, the energizing performance of the Primals led by Masayoshi Soken himself and Michael-Christopher Koji Fox, reinforced by the voice of Jason Charles Miller, was the perfect goodbye to the fans, represented by the stage appearance of community musicians Alex Moukala and Husky by the Geek, who joined the fray armed with bass and guitar.
Ultimately, this year's London Fan Festival was an outstanding celebration of the game, its community, and its developers, and one that won't be easily forgotten by those in attendance. We played together, we laughed together, and we even cried together, and that has always been the essence of Final Fantasy XIV.