There were high expectations going into Buried Memory, patch 6.2 for Final Fantasy XIV - new raids, new story, and, most importantly, a new mode called Island Sanctuary to fulfil all of your farming dreams. There were Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing memes aplenty in the run up to release, with players hungry to customise their own cosy piece of Hydaelyn.
Meant as a casual mode to relax away from dungeons and grinding levels, Island Sanctuary has no Job level limitations and can be enjoyed by anyone. Even though you can craft your own buildings and gather materials, you don’t need to have played any gathering or crafting classes. With a base to customise, crops to tend to and a pasture full of animals to pet, it’s easy to see why comparisons were drawn to other farming games such as Stardew Valley.
With only a little information before the release, hopes were high. Too high. A lot of people were hoping for customisation similar to the player housing that lets you design your own home with hundreds of furniture pieces. As much as it pains me to say it, Island Sanctuary could never meet those expectations. How could it? It’s a game built within another game and confined within the limitations of it.
It’s also introduced to you by one of the most ruthless business owners in the world - Tataru Taru. After saving all of existence you deserve some peace and quiet on a picturesque island of your very own - it’s a gift from her to you… Except there are strings attached. Complex, micromanaging strings. Island Sanctury isn't quite the restful retreat you thought you may be getting. It’s a business venture.
Things start off well, though. The Island itself is huge with grassy fields, thick forests, rocky coastlines and secluded bays. It’s beautiful - the kind of place that ticks all of the boxes on any Island paradise fantasy. I’d frequently get lost in just admiring the landscape and jungle plants. You have your own hideaway with a cosy cabin to relax in. But wait! You also have employees now, ‘Helpful’ Mammets that take care of things like clearing trees to make room for pastures and building plots. You can build gorgeous windmills and bath houses to decorate your space by heading out into the wild and collecting the appropriate materials. Chop trees, dig up plants, dive underwater to collect shells, etc. The mechanics of gathering are relatively simple - you just select the correct mode you want to use in the Island menu and click on any rock or shrub that sparkles - and it feels very much like foraging in Stardew Valley or Harvest Moon, but with much faster respawn rates.
But then you get your workshops, and it’s time for your inner Tom Nook to come out to play.
The island has its own currency, two types of cowrie shell to buy things like mounts and nice clothes to reward you for playing. You earn them over time from things like levelling up or selling the things you find on the Island. They’re also used to pay your mammets to build things, so if you want to expand your hideaway you need to start earning those sand dollars, and the best way to do that is through the workshops. Let the ruthless sales tactics begin!
Essentially, workshops let you build and export goods that can only be made from materials on your island. Give the workshops the right ingredients and they’ll knock together potions, weapons and furniture to sell on the mainland so you can start raking in those bells- er, I mean, cowries. However, buried inside that simple premise is a crafting and shipping schedule to manage, as well as a market research panel to see which items are in most demand or are oversupplied so you can gauge what items will net you the best returns. It’s safe to say that no one was expecting that kind of management experience as part of their peaceful respite. But while it may not be very relaxing, it is fun. There's satisfaction in creating an efficient schedule. Of course, players have already devised spreadsheets to track animal spawns and plot the fastest routes for gathering materials in what is meant to be casual content.
Your island also gains exp and ranks up when you do things like gather items, tend to your crops or build anything, and with each new rank comes new recipes for making stronger tools to catch larger animals for your pasture, or more customisation options. Ultimately, though, every player island looks the same. Every Island is identical, and while you can choose what to build in each plot, the plots can’t be moved. You can change what your paths and stairs look like, and let loose up to 40 of your own minions to roam around, but that’s it. You can’t create anything truly unique like with player housing.
The lack of meaningful customisation is disappointing, but the Island does still work as the calm respite it’s supposed to be. Sure, you can grind it out to reach those mount rewards and you wouldn’t be blamed for becoming bored by the basic-ness of what's on offer in Island Sanctuary, but you can’t fault just how wonderful the space actually is. The island has become my new favourite place to hang out while queuing for raids or just chatting and playing hide-and-seek with our HUDs turned off. It’s a completely private space - no comedy randoms running past you (or rubbing up against you) like in the busy streets of Limsa Lominsa, no FC recruiting shouts or Gil spammers - just peace and sanctuary as intended.