Majority of my impression pieces for Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn haven't been particularly positive. It's hard for me to say nice things about some features that I felt should have been done different or better. However, the more I play the game (at the behest of Square) the more I realize that there are some really good redeeming qualities about its overall design.
Let me preface this whole article by saying that many MMOs out there, despite donning “RPG” at the end, aren't really role-playing games. You usually pick a class and carry through to the end of the game, with a few titles offering you a class change near end-game, a little like divorcing your mate 20 years into the marriage to find someone newer and younger.
The main problem is that MMOs don't actually allow you to build your character and progress some sort of history around, it's basically a series of fetch quests and a few boss fights designed around helping you level at a steady pace until you reach end-game. That's it. You might get in some crafting here or there but it's usually just a way to burn time or make a little extra cash selling off goods to up-and-comers.
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn does something a little bit different... they don't restrict you to one class or one class-change. You can be whatever you want after you complete your main class's level 10 initiation quest and you can continue to expand and allocate more jobs and tradecrafts throughout the game.
While taking on the roles of a pugilist and miner, I began branching out to other classes as well – besides, Square pestered us enough with a free account to play the game for coverage, it would only make sense to indulge as much as possible, right? Anyway, I started dabbling in other tradecraft jobs as well as trying my hand as a lancer. The thing I found compelling was that there's this added meta-game to the whole of A Realm Reborn where you begin to see how you can build up and explore a non-linear character that, in a way, you craft through experience and mix-and-matching classes.
The combat still grates on me but I'm a lot less inclined to find myself abhorrent to the idea of engaging in combat when I can pool skills from multiple classes. The skill-pooling is still limited compared to the likes of RaiderZ, which just kind of lets you class-mesh whatever you want, but the scope of hewing a character out of a mold you decide and choose is what I find most interesting.
Instead of thinking about simply getting to the next level in order to get stronger to fight stronger monsters in order to get experience to get stronger, ad infinitum, your character takes on a much more organic shape as the game lets you shape an actual character out of the class options: maybe you started as an archer who became a botanist who eventually traveled abroad to expand your knowledge of apothecary. Or maybe your character starts as a sorcerer who wants to become extremely powerful but you realize that they're weak in combat, so you travel to a distant land to excel at axe-wielding. Or maybe your character is a blacksmith and armor-crafter who wants to become a great warrior and eventually takes up the role of a gladiator who makes his own weapons and armor... it's entirely doable.
The possibilities of crafting a story around the game's classless boundaries really opens up nice a vista of role-playing options rarely afforded in other MMOs. If I did have a gripe about the player's character portrayal in A Realm Reborn it would be that they're basically a mute when it comes to anything story related, obviously done to keep the protagonist as generic as possible since it's an MMO.
However, the more I engage with the character and grow his abilities and expand his role in the game's world, I kind of wish Square had taken this time and care to make a single-player RPG with this level of character engagement. It's such a shame and feels like a huge wasted opportunity on their single-player front by not bringing A Realm Reborn's approach to character development to their mainline Final Fantasy outings.
Playing as a character with a real story and some form of development that grows and evolves based on the jobs/tradecraft abilities you sculpt would have been an amazing thing for the traditional Final Fantasy games.
Nevertheless, Naoki Yoshida seems to have a clue as to what it is to create a game that encourages players to role-play the way they want and build up their individual stories through dynamic class building. It's a nice divergence from the typical MMOs where it feels like your character growth is both stringent and unoriginal. Maybe they should get Yoshida to helm up the team for Final Fantasy XVI?
You can learn more about Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn by visiting the official website.