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Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

19:0017/05/2014Posted by Dave StuartNo Comments

If at first you don’t succeed…

The history of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is an unusual one, almost unprecedented in the video game space. Initially released back in 2010, Final Fantasy XIV was heavily criticised and quickly lost support. Rather than simply abandon the project though Square overhauled the development team and set about righting their wrong. This isn’t a simple remake either, the whole game has been rebuilt from the ground up and actually uses the destruction and rebirth of Eorzea (the region of the world both titles inhabit) as it’s starting off point. As such A Real Reborn can be seen as the first game sequel that actually functions as a replacement.

Using the Calamity, a world changing event that occurred at the end of the original game, as its starting off point A Realm Reborn sees you (with whichever character and class you decide upon) an adventurer, last seen setting off to try and fight against the calamity, now transported into the future to a world still recovering. With some convenient video game amnesia you find yourself in one of the game’s three starting areas discovering the world and playing your part in rebuilding Eorzea and protecting it against the Garlean Empire that threatens the land. It’s a fairly standard fantasy story, enhanced by some typically fancy Final Fantasy cut-scenes and world building. Whilst much of the gameplay, especially in the early stages, will be very familiar to any veteran MMO players, the setting and characters help the game stand out. Wherever you start the scale of the game is immediately impressive. From the bustling city of Ul’Dah to the visually striking port of Limsa Lominsa, poorly named perhaps but my favourite of the starting zones.

Your starting area depends on your character, and whilst there is a fairly customisable creation screen you are limited to one of 5 main races and two primary disciplines, those of war and those of magic, with subsets within each. Helpfully your starting class is not actually of great significance; once you reach level 10 you gain the ability to change classes signing up to other guilds, in gameplay terms this boils down to simply changing your main weapon. It’s a smart and flexible mechanic that lets you juggle multiple play styles without feeling tied to one. Later on the ability to combine these classes into new combinations allows you a great deal of control to adapt your character to your particular strengths. Though on the whole you still broadly fit into the usual MMO categories of character, playing either a damage dealer, healer, support role or tank. These are most useful when participating in the later game raids and quests that require a balance of roes within a team of players in order for you to succeed.

Once you are up and running you set about the tried and testing gameplay loop of racking up quests and earning XP. You are eased gently into the mechanics (thankfully so for a relative newcomer to the genre such as myself) but this gives you a chance to learn your way around the sprawling towns and interconnected areas found in each location. You can attune to various Aetheryte Shards in each area to fast travel, and each main hub has a larger Aetheryte Crystal that you can set as a homing point and us to travel across the land. As you level up you also get access to your in-game mount, which of course can be a Chocobo and this helps open up the sprawling world at just the time you will be itching to leave your starting area and explore.

As well as standard quests you unlock many different types and styles of gaining experience as you progress in game. From early on there are FATE missions (Fully Active Time Events). These randomly pop up in the world for players of certain levels and allow you, along with other active players in the same location to complete a timed mission for XP. These usually revolve around either taking on a stronger enemy, or killing a set number of a specific enemy type. These FATE’s are limited to a time and location and the amount you contribute helps towards the share of the experience you get at the end.

Similarly as you progress you unlock levequests and guildhests. These are daily quests you get from characters in the world that you choose to activate whenever you want. So you can queue them up and activate missions when you find yourself in the relevant areas. You can also scale these quests to a harder difficulty to gain more experience, and the customisation options make them a good choice for someone looking to just hop in for couple of hours and make some progress.

The systems keep on building as you progress and eventually you will have dungeons to explore and larger quests involving parties to participate if you want. These dungeons pave the way for group play and also lead you to the more advanced mechanics around guilds, crafting and other high level activities including PVP, if that’s your thing. Because of the ability to level different classes separately there is not much danger of hitting the level cap and being left bereft of content. For an MMO seemingly stuck in a outdated payment model, an upfront fee along with monthly charges, there is at least plenty of content here, and new patches being released frequently to keep even the most ardent of fans busy for weeks and months to come.

To those less familiar with the MMO space this can all seem somewhat overwhelming, and it has to be said that though the game is rife with tooltips and help, it doesn’t do much to accommodate those players who may have enjoyed the single-player Final Fantasy games and dipped their toes into the water to see what it is like. For a start the combat mechanics, which are often the most interesting and enjoyable parts of a FF game, instead here they simply ape the typical MMO setup, with abilities mapped to hot-keys (or the bumpers on a controller) with various cool-down periods and combo possibilities.

Unlocking and allocated the abilities does give you a lot of flexibility (especially as you learn abilities across classes that can be used in tandem) but the tactile feeling of a turn-based battle system is lost and more often than not, especially when playing solo, battles either become a war of attrition or a simplistic affair where mashing your strongest attacks wins out. Though it may seem harsh to criticise an MMO for maintaining the status quo, it is a shame for one based on a brand known for its battle mechanics not to take more risks in this department.

Like any MMO you will tend to get out of the game as much as you are willing to put in, thankfully the care and craft that has gone into the game makes this sacrifice worthwhile. Throughout this is a gorgeous game, especially for one in this genre and the scale of the world allows it to have a scope much larger than the recent Final Fantasy games have managed. This sense of wonder keeps the exploration elements of the game rewarding, with each peek into a new area, or at a far off town or locale you can’t help but experience a short burst of excitement at what lies ahead. Whilst the game world looks very nice, the limits of the genre are sadly obvious in the character models and interactions. Again its possibly hoping too much for A Realm Reborn to distinguish itself from its contemporaries in this area, but a lack of voice acting in the majority of interactions and wooden stilted animation do detract slightly from the fidelity of the world at large.

As a standalone product FFXIV would be easily recommended to MMO fans, as an extended apology for the game’s predecessors faults it is incredibly impressive and something of an anomaly in the gaming space. Final Fantasy fans who might see this as a way into online RPGs may face a rather steep learning curve if they are unfamiliar with the genre, but the inclusion of familiar characters, items and story eases this slightly, even if the gameplay and business model are firmly rooted in the genre’s history.

On consoles the game is eminently playable, however the game’s PC roots shine through at times; the menu text can be a tad small, and getting used to mapping actions and navigating the various icons you have available can take a while for those without access to a mouse a keyboard. The PS4 controller is well suited for this tough with the touchpad acting as a mouse proxy, surprisingly well. T is also currently unique in its position on the console platform and as such offers an experience only otherwise available to PC gamers.

Ultimately Final Fantasy XIV is a worthy replacement for the failures of the original game. Its world is gorgeous and jam-packed with enough content to keep players going for months and years to come. The variety of activities and missions helps break the monotony that often plagues MMOs and the robust class system adds some neat wrinkles to the traditional standards. Some may feel slightly disappointed that more chances were not taken with the gameplay, adhering so closely as it does to traditional MMO tropes, but it fits well into the genre and those fans looking for a new world to lose themselves in will be right at home. It doesn’t do anything especially revelatory, but as a follow up to such a public failure Final Fantasy XIV goes a long way to restore confidence and favour with Square Enix, whilst showing the developer’s commitment to its fans. The fact that it works as well as it does is a testament to this, and shows there might well be some life left in the MMO genre after all.

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