Fast forward to 2013 and Final Fantasy XIV has been completely overhauled by a brand new development team and rebuilt from the ground up with a new engine, story line, and gameplay style.
I had not played any massively multiplayer online role playing games before Final Fantasy XIV, so this was uncharted territory for me. I had heard that massively multiplayer online games tended to lack the story depth and character development boasted by single player role-playing games – however, that was definitely not the case with Final Fantasy XIV. I was pleasantly surprised with the effort put in to present a triple-A quality storyline in a genre that generally offers a sub-par offering.
The story follows your player character (created by the player in one of five races) as they travel to Eorzea looking for adventure. Soon after arriving however, you become embroiled in a conflict between the Imperial Garlean nation, the various beast tribes, and a mysterious organisation known as the Ascians. This sets the stage for a deep and engrossing story of the quality seen in the single player Final Fantasy titles.
At the beginning of the game, you are given the choice of five races for creating your character: Hyur – the human equivalent in Eorzea, Elezen – a slight variation on the traditional Elven race, Lalafell – a race relatively unique to this game, being very short in statue with button noses, Miqo’te – a race of humanoid cat-people and lastly the Rogaedyn – a race of large masculine humanoids. After choosing your race you are greeted by a number of customisation features inluding size, hair colour and facial features. As for classes, there are eight combat classes featured in the game – the Disciples of War – Gladiator, Pugilist, Marauder, Lancer and Archer and the Disciples of Magic – Thaumaturge, Conjurer and Arcanist of which all are upgradeable into their respective Job after certain conditions are met, two in the case of Arcanist. Also available later on are the Disciple of Land and Disciple of Hand classes, which represent the gathering and crafting side of the game.
The game’s graphics are stunning, even on the ageing PlayStation 3, offering beautifully-rendered lands and characters, befitting of the Final Fantasy name. Rivers, trees and mountains look realistic and aesthetically pleasing, the cities look robust and lively and the characters ripe with life and emotion. Complementing all this is the fantastic soundtrack composed by series veteran Nobuo Uematsu adding atmosphere and augmenting the mood in the many story cutscenes and setting the mood in the many dungeons and battles throughout.
Gameplay in Final Fantasy XIV is a hybrid of exploration and combat similar to Final Fantasy XII, featuring full active time with combat taking place in real time, allowing the player to utilise various skills and combos in combat, when played with friends and other players However, the gameplay changes a little, adding roles to the classes depending on their proficiencies and skillsets grouped into either Tank, DPS or Healer. Playing as a tank has you luring and taking the brunt of hits from enemies, DPS has you focus on damaging and taking out enemies and Healer is quite self-explanatory, charging you with keeping the party fighting fit. There is a large variety of dungeons to take on with a party, each featuring its own mechanic and boss battles.
One feature that sets this particular title apart is the armoury system, which allows you to change class on the fly by simply equipping another weapon (once the class has been unlocked). This allows you to change to a different role on the fly and experience the game differently and switch to a needed role if playing with friends. Also featured in Final Fantasy XIV is the Full Active Time Events – or FATE for short. These events are random-spawning, popup battles or missions that appear on the map and allow you to join by simply walking into the mark on the map, instantaneously joining up with any players already participating. They vary from defeating a horde of enemies to some unique and unexpected boss battles and award experience according to how well you perform. While not needed to fully enjoy the game, they make for a nice diversion and are great for levelling up in a hurry.
The game also features a vast variety of social features, from the guild-like Free Companies, to the market economy of the crafting classes. The active player community helps to give a sense of the world being a lively and active environment, unlike the occasional barren loneliness encountered in many single player role-playing games. To add to the free company social aspect, it is possible to purchase land and housing, which can then be customised to the group’s liking.
The game boasts extraordinary replay value (as expected from an MMO) featuring about one hundred hours alone to be had progressing through the story, followed by endless hours in the endgame (content is still being added every few months). The developers have already confirmed that the game will be getting expansion packs and with the current release of updates the content is actually quite overwhelming.
All in all, I am greatly enjoying Final Fantasy XIV and can always find something to do. Being new to the genre I expected the learning curve to be harsh, however I was pleasantly surprised to find the game steadily teaches you to play through the early story quests and gradually eases you into it making it very beginner-friendly. Overall I highly recommend Final Fantasy XIV to Final Fantasy fans and MMO lovers alike.
Final Fantasy XIV A Realm Reborn is available on PC and PS3.