Final Fantasy XIV is set to relaunch this summer with the brand new subtitle of “A Realm Reborn.” The new name isn’t just some marketing ploy: FFXIV is basically a brand new game now, and my time with the game’s PS3 beta has left me feeling pretty optimistic about the game’s future.
I’ll admit it — I started the Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn beta with very low expectations. The original launch of the game was a disaster: while all MMO’s have their fair share of technical problems at launch, FFXIV was released in a clearly unfinished state. The game’s areas were barren and devoid of unique features, there was a severe lack of content, the controls and menu layouts were a mess — basically, everything that could go wrong with a game did go wrong with FFXIV. PC Gamer’s hilarious review of the game is best summarized with one quote: “The kindest thing that can be said about the Final Fantasy MMO is that it has a good intro movie.”
Final Fantasy XIV’s launch was such a disaster that Square’s now former CEO Yoichi Wada had to publicly apologize for the game’s quality (or lack thereof,) and the company was forced to suspend the game’s subscription fee until they could patch it into something that was actually worth paying money for. The game became a punch-line for games journalists and fanboys who often cited FFXIV as an example of how badly Square Enix had fallen. Besides failing to live up to the standard set by other modern MMO’s, the game even failed to match the quality of its eleven year old predecessor, FFXI, and even XI’s masochistic fans quickly gave on XIV and quickly migrated back to XI en masse.
In Square Enix’s defense, they could have easily tossed their hands up, said “fuck it,” and moved on to another project, but they seem genuinely bothered by the damage that FFXIV has done to the Final Fantasy brand. They’ve poured a lot of money and time into fixing their mistake, and that effort shows through in A Realm Reborn: while it still might not be the best MMO out there, it represents a huge improvement over the previous versions of FFXIV. I was pessimistic about ARR’s chances, but it seems like Square has finally gotten it right this time.
Of course, I’ve only just started playing (my character is currently level 12,) so there’s a chance that the game completely falls apart at higher levels or during the endgame (as many new MMO’s often do,) but as of right now, I’m very impressed with A Realm Reborn.
Like the original version of the game, A Realm Reborn begins with a very impressive pre-rendered cutscene: Final Fantasy’s iconic dragon god Bahamut appears from the sky and reigns down fire across the land, marking a not-so-subtle symbolic end to the original world of Final Fantasy XIV. ARR’s setting is technically supposed to be post apocalyptic, but you’d never know that from looking around: the game’s zones are lush with beautiful vistas and unique landmarks to visit, and overall, the game is absolutely gorgeous. The PC version is predictably prettier than the PS3 port, but even on the PS3 the game is still extremely beautiful: the graphics aren’t quite as detailed as Square’s more recent single player Final Fantasy’s, but the huge scale of the game’s zones and the amount of characters on screen more than compensate. Say what you will about Square’s ability to create good games, but there’s no denying that they’re still capable of creating good looking games.
As with most MMO’s, you begin the game by creating your character. In most MMO character creators, it often seems impossible to create a character who doesn’t look like they were born with some sort of drug-related defect or scanned in from the side of an airbrushed van, but the opposite is true of Final Fantasy XIV’s character creation system: in true Final Fantasy fashion, it seems like it’s impossible to create an ugly character in this game. It doesn’t matter what tweaks you make to your appearance, if you play a human character in FFXIV you’ll probably end up looking like a member of some Asian pop group. Also unlike some other RPG’s, your race doesn’t determine your starting location — your choice of class does. I ended up picking the Lancer class, because they can eventually upgrade to the Dragoon class, and as anyone who has played Final Fantasy IV will tell you, Dragoons are badass.
Final Fantasy XIV was obviously designed with the PC in mind, but the game controls pretty well with the Dual Shock 3. The game’s devs have managed to work out a pretty clever control scheme that gives you access to almost as many shortcuts as you would have on a keyboard: holding down either of the triggers causes the controller’s face buttons and d-pad directions to become shortcut keys that you can map any of your characters’ skills or items to. Basically, you have quick access to 16 shortcut commands at all times — more than enough to quickly and intuitive handle most situations.
The only time that the console controls come up short is when you have to fight a mob of enemies. On the PC version, you simply click on the enemy you want to target. On the console version, the game automatically targets the closest enemy to you, and you can cycle through nearby targets with the d-pad. The controls work fine when you’re fighting one or two enemies at a time, but when you’re faced with an entire mob, it’s really difficult to select a specific target (especially if the enemies are moving around quickly) and it’s too easy to lose track of your targeting cursor in the midst of battle. One of FFXIV’s more unique features is it’s “FATE” events, where a random mob of enemies spawns somewhere on the map and players are encouraged to band together to fight them off (players who kill the most enemies during these FATE events are rewarded with big exp. bonuses.) These events add a fun, unpredictable nature to the game’s world, but these are also where the targeting problems become the most frustrating — not only is it hard to target a specific enemy, but your targeting cursor also cycles through nearby players as well; by the time you cycle through all the players running around you, the enemy you were trying to target is usually dead.
The awkward targeting system is annoying, but it hasn’t been bad enough to ruin my experience, at least not yet — Like I said before, I’m still relatively low level, so the enemies are still pretty easy and they tend to come at you one at a time. There is a chance the targeting controls might become a bigger problem once I hit the higher levels and have to deal with more challenging mobs.
Despite the control issues, I’ve really enjoyed my time with A Realm Reborn so far. The combat is incredibly fast paced compared to most other MMO’s: the cooldown time on most of my skills feels like less than a second, and characters’ HP, MP, and TP (tactical points, which basically work like MP for melee skills,) regenerate extremely quickly out of battle, so you can spend less time out of battle recovering. Most fights are over in a matter of seconds, and the game encourages you to kill enemies as quickly as you can by offering you exp. bonuses for quickly defeating multiple enemies in a row. Character progression is also extremely quick: completing two or three quests usually nets you enough exp. to level up. The quests themselves aren’t anything special — it’s still the usual “kill X amount of enemies” missions or simple fetch quests — but the game’s pace is so quick that the quests never feel like a grind. It seems like the developers are trying to shepherd players through the early levels as quickly as possible.
The ARR community seems pretty friendly, too. There were a few situations in which I found myself surrounded by higher level enemies, and I was saved multiple times by strangers who rushed to my aid without provocation. Other players are generally nice, affable people who were willing to explain some of the game’s more complicated mechanics to newbies, and I haven’t met many trolls or griefers yet. Of course, this is a closed beta, so most of the people playing right now are hardcore fans (many of whom are veteran FFXI players) who love the game and want to ensure that everybody has a good time, so the friendly nature of the game might change once it opens up to the public.
To be honest, I signed up for the beta as a lark, and I was actually kind of hoping that the game would still be a trainwreck, because honestly, bad games are easier and more fun to write about. I totally had a whole paragraph planned out in my head about how it seems like Square Enix can’t do anything right lately and about how they need to let somebody else develop Final Fantasy from now on. But Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn has won me over, and now I can’t wait to get back to my PS3 and play some more. I laughed at Square when Final Fantasy XIV originally launched, I mocked them when they said that they were going to completely re-do the entire game, but now I’m genuinely happy and grateful that they didn’t give up on it.
MMO’s aren’t the type of games that you can judge within a few hours, and I’m still not that far into the game, so there’s a chance that it completely falls apart later on. I’m pretty happy with the game so far (so much so that I’ve actually pre-ordered the final version of the game so that I can keep playing once the beta is over,) but I’ll be sure to keep you guys updated in case my opinion changes as I get deeper into the game. If you’d like to join me (or twink me out with some high level gear,) look for a Lancer named “Ecchi Squirrel” on the North American Ultros server.