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Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

Final Fantasy XIV (cover)Online games can be a little daunting to approach—at least they were for me. I’ve not tried many—count ‘em, two—but it seems I struck lucky with the second. I never tried games such as World of Warcraft and the like, since honestly, I never could get past the character generation screens. I look for a certain aesthetic when I play games, which is generally why I veer towards Japanese roleplaying games. Call me shallow, but if I’m going to stare at an avatar for a million hours, I want to like what I see. Generally in Western-produced RPGs, it’s easy as pie to create a female avatar that looks attractive, but male? Think again. Whilst Japanese-styled games tend to offer a wide variety of appearance customisation, from pretty boys to harsh girls and rugged men to dainty women, American ones don’t.

Which for me, is kind of meh. Diversity isn’t just about skin colour or gender, it’s also about the representation of colour and gender. And being unable to have feminine men or unfeminine women? Big nope over here. All that does is feed a global/cultural misconception, and that always sucks! (But I digress…)

FF XIV - Miqo'teThis is the first thing I noted about Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. There’s such variety, such scope. The choices of skin colour alone are astounding, from the purely fantastic—literally pitch black, blue-grey—to the familiar colours of black, brown and Asian skin tones, and with everything in between offered too. There are four playable races: Hyur, Miqo’te, Roegadyn and Lalafel, all of which are unique in their own way and with generously customisable racial aesthetics, yet with no penalty or bonus for choosing one class over another—every character is able to undertake any class.

There are so many ways to make your character precisely what you want them to be. In my case, that’s a whole range of different appearance data, because I’m one of the mad people who, instead of levelling up all classes on the same character, decides to create a new character for each class. That would be nine at present count, then (tank classes: Warrior, Paladin; healer classes: White Mage, Scholar; and DPS [damage-per-second] classes: Monk, Bard, Summoner, Black Mage and Dragoon), with a new class/job offered in the next patch, due in the Autumn, and with two new classes offered in the New Year. Though a player may only have eight characters in the same world.

The thing about XIV is that it’s got so much to offer. There are regular updates, a good variety of dungeons, raids, trails and other activities, as well as a solidly Square Enix quality plot to keep players busy. The second thing about it, is that the current incarnation of the game is essentially the aftermath of a disaster—the Calamity. After the initial launch of XIV and its subsequent dwindling popularity and numbers, the game was taken offline in order for A Realm Reborn to be developed and updated. And boy, did it get an update.

The Calamity destroyed a lot of the former world of Eorzea, leaving behind a focus on three broken realms—La Noscea, Thanalan and The Black Shroud—in which the game is played, throughout which the plot unfurls and grows, constantly updating as more and more content is added.

FF XIV - map

One of the most admirable things about XIV is how it manages to remain entirely a Final Fantasy game in spite of being entirely online. Your character feels as much the main character as did Cloud Strife or Lightning: the game feels as though it revolves around you, despite sharing each server-world with thousands of other people who are basically fulfilling an identical role. With the notion of “adventuring” being a common enough lifestyle, Square manage to make it entirely believable that one moment you are the revered warrior of light, member of the Scions of the Seventh Dawn and the next you’re raiding an ancient tower for loot and giggles with up to twenty-three other people.

FF XIV - RoegadynThere are both story quests and side quests, as well as special quests that can be unlocked as you progress with the game in general. An endgame awaits, but with the constant updates, the true end of the game is always being pushed back and back, meaning that even after months of dedicated play it is possible to hardly come close to glimpsing the end. As with all Final Fantasy games, there are optional bosses/quests, mainly in the form of trials and dungeons that are not required to progress through the story. However, many people will focus on these non-plot activities before even considering endgame. With both normal difficulty and hard difficulty dungeons and trials easily accessible (and extreme and expert challenges after that), there is always something to do.

One of the aspects of online gaming that always daunted me was the idea of having to form parties and find people to play with. XIV addresses this in the most simplistic way: by using the Duty Finder you register for whichever dungeon, trial or activity you want and await placement at random, across each and every server, in a party of however many people is required. This leads to some disappointment at times, after particularly good runs and discovering none of your party share a server, but in general it is the most efficient and stress-free way of getting your dungeons, etc, done and dusted. These randomly allocated parties are chosen from every member signed up for any particular duty.

There is also the option of forming parties manually both through the Party Finder tool, wherein players can specify how many players required for whichever activity they want. Here, players will use the PF, join the party with a click of a button and be immediately joined together. It works just as smoothly as the automated Duty Finder, allowing players to choose whichever method best suits their needs.

FF XIV - GoldsmithAs well as advancement through both war-based or magic-based classes and jobs (the class is the starting point, leading into post-level-thirty specialisation and jobbed roles), there are several crafting and gathering classes open for players to master. As well as being much more fun than crafting roles in other games, which can become tedious and unrewarding, crafting is solid way to earn gil as well as be able to make your own gear, repair your own gear, and even meld item-enhancing material to your own gear. Crafting at higher levels can be incredibly lucrative, as well as very useful to lower-level players, with some items available only through crafting. Gathering is less entertaining, but with the option of hiring “retainers” and eventually sending them off in your stead on boring gathering errands, the game really does seem to cover every base. The level cap of 50 exists over each and every class, whether crafting or otherwise, though it is possible to surpass this level cap through item level.

Basically there is always something new to do—more so when a new patch has landed. The most recent patch, “Defenders of Eorzea” welcomed main scenario progression as well as a myriad of other activities including the Hunts, chocobo raising and a brand new dungeon for high-level (item level 70) players. The promise of the additional DPS class/job Rogue/Ninja is tantalising enough, due in the autumn, without even mentioning the introduction of in-character marriage, which will allow cross-race, cross-gender unions. Additional tank and healer classes are promised for the New Year—this, after the addition of the Scholar class in a previous patch, bringing the number of healing classes to two instead of one.

The value for the money is sensational, with subscription being just £8.99 per month. Furthermore, players are rewarded with in-game mounts and loot the longer they continue to subscribe for.

Finally, let’s talk about gameplay.

FF XIV - GameplayI tend to be all fingers and thumbs with gaming systems and am heavily biased towards the turn-based mechanics classically offered by the Final Fantasy franchise. Generally this system has been tweaked and fiddled with, meaning that the current generation of mechanics (up to and including Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning Returns) sits somewhere between real-time and turn-based. However, other fantasy RPGs such as Dragon Age and another popular online game, Aion, offer different takes on the concept of a crossbar or hotbar system and are fully real-time. XIV offers something that feels unique, but still incorporates the crossbar/hotbar system. Ultimately how you design your gameplay user-interface is largely dependent on you; it is highly customisable and easily fiddled with. It also depends on whether you choose to play via a console or a PC.

FF XIV - Gameplay2Whilst there are some loading issues for players on the PS3, for the most part it is just as rewarding an experience to play on whichever platform the player chooses, though be warned that for some of the more extreme duties, players with slower connections will suffer if playing on a less-powerful PC or on the PS3. Having recently upgraded to a PS4 I can testify to the differences in the serious-business duties and trials, but for the casual gamer there isn’t much of a notable difference between the platforms.

The graphics are, of course, astounding, because we’re talking about Square Enix, after all. The game is aesthetically pleasing, engaging and entertaining and players will find it difficult to complete it 100% before something new is added. With ample rewards for a plethora of gaming styles and intensities, XIV really does offer something for everyone. And with the current seasonal event offering summer yukata and hanging lanterns, sparklers and fireworks constantly illuminating the night skies of Eorzea, now is as good a time as any to pick up a copy and give it a 30-day trial.

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5 Comments

  1. Avatar Andrew GArber says:

    What? No rogue class any more? how about a shadow ninja? I had them in MY rpg system had them and it ain’t that hard top make these classes

  2. Avatar Mark says:

    Although I love Final Fantasy, and I actually may end up purchasing this game from your review, I can’t help but not get the chills I used to. I mean, when it feels like all that Square Enix cares about is sexy outfits and fighting moves, it’s hard for me to really get into them again. FF Advance Tactics was by far one of the best IMO 🙂

  3. Avatar Natersby says:

    Just finished the main story yesterday, woohoo! Looking forward to finally taking on Leviathan. Can’t imagine getting there with 9 different characters. Great article, and it’s nice to see more fantasy game articles popping up lately 🙂

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