It takes a certain amount of balls to do what Square Enix did. When Final Fantasy 14 first came out back in 2010, it was a genuine hot mess; the battles were slow to a crawl, graphics were constantly bugging in and out, and it was dismally unpolished. Now, despite what people would claim about the present status of the Final Fantasy brand, SE actually does take pride in its role-playing series. Having a numbered main title release to the type of reception it received was not only unfathomable for the brand and SE alike, but effectively secured the downhill status of what was once king among kings in role-playing, at least in the general sense of the consumers. Granted, Final Fantasy XI was not necessarily a champion in the MMO world, Square’s first foray into the sub-genre, but it was still of equal or similar caliber to titles of past. Still, I would never have imagined that Square would pull the plug, and call a mulligan on FFXIV.
However, almost three years late to the date, and Square Enix has managed completely flip a terrible situation into what has been frequently dubbed “gaming’s greatest comeback story.” Never one to shy away from a new entry in the famed series – hell, I bought the original FFXIV – I decided to enter my hand into the MMO ring once again. This is no ordinary review, I wont tell you when a review score will be posted. No, by the end of this journey I will have grazed the lands of a realm reborn with a fine tooth comb and made a verdict in (likely) my own simple words. For reference, I will be playing the game on the Playstation 3, because sometime I like to just chill on the couch and whisper sweet nothings unto my chocobos as we ride of into the sunset. Bah, but I digress… Let us begin!
Part One: An Elezen and His Polearm
If there was a word to describe my first moments after popping in the blu-ray disc into the tray, it would be, “what?” Its not meant to carry a negative connotation or question installations based procedures associated with thick, dense games. But I’ll be damned if it didn’t take me a few minutes (30 or so…) to figure out how to make an account. I’m glad that PlayOnline is gone in a way, but no for want of trying – its still damn confusing to use Square’s services! However, I won’t let simple frustrations get the better of me, no sir! I was patient and in due time, a cinematic describing the events leading up to present day Final Fantasy XIV were played out beautifully. A large portion of me enjoyed it mostly because I imagined the whole thing as being a metaphor for Square Enix taking Final Fantasy XIV, tearing it a new one, and creating something new. Ah… The miracle of re-birth.
Eventually I am greeted with my character creation tools. Never one to stray from my choices, I went with what I always go with. Elf? Check. Polearms? Check. Sure the names are different, Elezens and Lancers, but its all the same really. The end result will be a warrior with a bit of a step to his jump in due time – Im a sucker for dragoons. Reason? None particularly, but if I were sent to do battle in these types of setting, a glaive has always been a preferred weapon of choice. I blame Dynasty Warriors 1 through infinity.
(Thirty minutes later…)
Well, it took long enough, but I had the basic foundation for my character picked out – he was a strapping young lad with a decent faux hawk not unlike my own, sans receding hairline. I was also asked to choose my birthday, guardian (similar to a zodiac), and name. Since Everquest, my main characters have always taken up the name Recyx – I didn’t see any reason to change that. When all was said and done, I chose a server that wasn’t full (not many of those I might add, this game is truly a far cry of its former) and jumped into Eorzea. I had goosebumps, I swear. A large cinematic took over, establishing a foundation for my characters backstory followed by a man, seemingly drunk, asking for conversation whilst we are driven via carriage. Then I am rudely interrupted by a moogle, whats more, the bastard drinks all the booze, and leaves us none the wiser. (Those unfamiliar with moogles, see below) The carriage eventually reaches Gridania, one of several starting zones in the game – this one seems made specifically tailored towards Archers and Lancers. I am greeted by guards and led to my first main story quest.
I want to point something out about Gridania: its gorgeous. Its colorfully detailed, and full of nature. Even though the PS3 was running the game at a cool 30fps in 720p, the details of which go beyond me, the environment was able to leave an a very good impression on me. Granted, I haven’t played any of the other starting zones, but if this level of detail translates as well in those zones as it does here, then I look forward to seeing the rest of the world. One can only imagine how the game will translate on Playstation 4, or how it looks in todays powerful gaming PCs. But just making do with what I have, I was genuinely pleased.
My first quest giver was an inn matron. She tasked me with visit people across the city, most importantly, my guild master. The lancers guild was a whiles aways, but a network of transportation crystals, known as aetheryte, made backtracking rather simple. Simply attune with a crystal, and then you could use it to travel to another crystal you’d attuned with, free of charge.
Even button configurations where rather simple in terms of opening the map, and finding you way around. Virtually everything can be accessed via the start menu, but the DualShock 3 hotbar layout is brilliant in terms of design – especially in battle, but more on this later on. As I made my way to the Lancers guild, I would pick up quests left and right from NPCs with quest markers above their heads, similar to World of Warcraft. When I reached my guild, to no ones surprise my new sensei tasked me with killing some monsters -this would prove to be a pattern later on.
The map directed me towards the lower level zone right called North Shroud; I killed some squirrels with no problem. The controls really are something; the cross-hotbar may look confusing but it works so well for chaining combos and selecting attacks with ease. Targeting takes some getting used to, but all in good time (I hope). I should mention, if none of this is to your liking, just plug a mouse/keyboard combo via USB, and you can go traditional style.
If I had one complaint up to this point it was the damn help windows. They were clearly built with the PC in mind, but felt like there were time when it was inappropriate. Thats not to say I didn’t need the help – quite the opposite actually, I needed it desperately. But why on Earth does it have to pop in the middle of the screen? I’d imagine there be a way to move the screen itself, but I am dreadfully afraid I might have closed that screen prematurely among all the frustration. Oh the irony.
I won’t bore you with everything that went on with the city, the mundane things that happened in Grindania are so numerous, it would take an entire entry to like the things you can do in the city. Perhaps another day? But to drive the point home, Final Fantasy XIV clearly knows what the modern MMO gamer enjoys, all of the wise trapping we expect from cities are there in spades. And chocobos too.
Time to kill monsters, and I dare say, there were many ways to do that as well. Im certain that eventually the cacophony of killing countless minions of dooms, or ladybugs as the game would call them, gets rather repetitive, but progression is both acceptable and intuitive in the early levels. ARR is trying to teach you what it has to offer, and it has so much that it takes quite a bit of time to tell you about it. By this point, I might have been playing around 6 or so hours. Maybe it was the reviewer aspect of me, but I actually blame it on the sheer amount of dialogue available to players. Be it a child, or hardened guard, I wanted to know their story. Nothing was really memorable, but it was all very detailed. Beyond the dialogue, there were just too many options available to the player. Leveling up is never complicated, but somehow ARR gave me so many options to do just that, I became rather overwhelmed. Short of them giving me experience for getting double kills – which kind of exists actually – there were more ways to move that experience ticker than any other MMO to date. The only one that comes close to mind in rivaling that counter would be Guild Wars 2, but even then the end was rather finite – you can level every class with one character, where as GW2 you cannot. I explain what that means another time, but know that everything felt like it was furthering my path to go from a lancer to dragoon.
I think this about covers most of my early thoughts that come with starting Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. But these are my beginning thoughts, I merely ended my sessions this week with a cool 7 levels. Its a long way to the top, and I plan to tell all. If you want to read more about it, come back next week. Or better yet, find me in the world of Eorzea – Recyx Arkhamut on Famfrit. We’ll make it a party!
Paco likes JRPGS a lot. If you like JRPGs a lot too, or the Lakers, scuba diving, surfing and/or killer sound equipment, then hit em up on Twitter @RTBL1990.