Well, I made it. It took a while and there was a lot of grinding, a lot of pain, a lot of tears and plenty of sweat, but I made it. Level 30. So what can be said about this game at level 30 that wasn't said during the level 20 impressions piece? Actually, there's plenty to be said.
Just to get the air clear, these impression pieces were done using a review copy provided by Square Enix. I didn't have to drop a dime for the game (though if I did, it probably would have resulted in an even more negative tone to the impressions given how I would have felt like that was good coin wasted).
Anyway, the plain and simple truth is that opposite of just about every single other MMO out there that I've played, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn actually scales better the higher you go in level as opposed to thinning out in content in the upper echelons of grind territory. I honestly have to admit that I loved this concept. In fact, this is something I wish single-player RPGs adopted: more quest variety, more mount types, mount combat, new guilds to join and new quests to conquer in those guilds. In a way, I'm pretty sure I just described Elder Scrolls III to a lot of gamers, and in a way, that's exactly how A Realm Reborn scales as you grow in level.
Beyond level 20 you'll find that on the main quest line you can join one of three guilds, each with their own directive and branching quests, as well as specialized gear and quest locations. I loved the concept of this because the choices I made with my character and the way he developed really made me appreciate the experience of his growth. I've always wanted that out of an RPG and I touched over this in another impressions piece, highlighting how well the game captures the magic of role-playing and exploring the depth of your character(s) through gameplay and leveling.
While many of the quests are still fetch quests one way or another, we do get to see the variety of those quests breakdown into greater variety. For instance, in one quest a player is required to manually dispatch of supplies by throwing explosives on them; this quest required players to actually go into their inventory and throw the bombs using a targeting reticule while either engaging or dodging the enemy. That's a very rare thing required in an MMO, as most times technical gameplay skill is left at the door, save for the ability to skill-cycle like a fertile tree's leaves changing with the tides of each season.
The game also dabbles in the exotic flavors of unique gameplay mechanics that open up once you join a company and unlock your mount. First off, I'd like to explain that multiple currencies to buy different items from different vendors was a superb idea. The normal money you save up (which is usually used to teleport to different areas the higher in level you get) is reserved for necessities, where-as the guild currency is what you'll be saving up for new armor, weapons and rare items needed to evolve your character or items.
But circling back around to that the “unique gameplay mechanics” – I was surprised to see that your mount is treated like a second character. You don't just ride your mount, you can eventually call it into battle with you, level it up, give it skills, even earn new armor for it. One thing that really sparked my interest was the Magitek Mechs from Final Fantasy VI, it was so awesome seeing them the way they were designed in sprite form, but in 3D. Square even tossed old-school fans a minor bone by referencing Biggs and Wedge (even though it was supposed to be Vicks and Wedge)... nice.
Crafting/gathering also takes an up-turn at the higher levels, though you'll need to grind like an obsessive compulsive maniac to get there. Being able to craft in Materia for eligible items gives them a slightly longer wear-life and adds a bit of flavor to finding armor and gear that suits you.
The one thing I liked most about heading into the level 30 territory was how exploration became a quest in itself. Players venture all throughout the game world and many of the “log” quests (e.g., Hunting Logs, Crafting) will require you to travel to far reaches of various locations so that no matter where you start or which company you join, you'll find yourself becoming entrenched in the atmospheric journey. It's a delightful step away from the typical linear, location-leveling system in just about every other MMORPG out there, save for emergent MMOs like Wurm Online or Mortal Online.
In some regards the game does seem to take on more openness as you grow higher in level. There is more to do, more places to go, more to explore. I felt Final Fantasy XIV did in fact become more organic and free-form, much like Snail Games' Age of Wushu: a game that actually started with players having open-ended options and play-styles available to them, as opposed to growing towards that motif the way it's done in A Realm Reborn.
Still, if you're not fond of the “Holy Trinity” style of MMO gameplay, you're really not going to find yourself enjoying the dungeon runs in Final Fantasy XIV. So badly I missed my Berzerker/Healer from RaiderZ, where he could whoop the living daylights out of anything but, with a little skill and patience, could briefly keep teammates healed so long as they didn't try to tank anything. The play-style for such a build was frantic and exhilarating given that you usually don't get to fuse such unlikely classes together. In A Realm Reborn, all the dungeon runs have a mandated requirement of classes that must be in a party: a tank, a healer and two DPS. You don't run the dungeon without the required party.
In a way, the restricted form of play-style in the dungeons reminded me of how much I hate the restricted classes deigned to the MMO genre and having to play the way the designers so deemed.
Combat actually doesn't really get better either, you just skill-cycle faster and have more skills to keep track of. Games like Dragon Saga, Vindictus and RaiderZ alleviated the stockpile of skills by having newer skills link and branch from older skills. So instead of rapidly tapping on the keyboard (or cycling skill sets with a controller) the aforementioned games would link skills to one another so it was based on timing and player reflex to pull off impressive or stringed combos. Here, you're still sort of cycling and some skills can combo with one another, but it's a very tedious affair where you're watching your cooldowns more than you are the actual combat taking place on screen.
Still, the highlight of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is in its content-scaling. Opposite of games that are top-heavy with content at the beginning of the game, Naoki Yoshida brilliantly paced the content to roll out so that players are always finding something new to experience in their journey.
My only other major gripe is with the silent protagonist... I just wish this game had been a single-player RPG instead with a solid main character, this way all the cool supporting characters wouldn't have been wasted talking around the player character (who rarely says anything at all). Technically, this should have been what Final Fantasy XIII was because it has a much more coherent story, atmosphere and tons of throwback content to the older Final Fantasy games from nine on down (plus, the bass that plays in the Aleport theme almost had me marking out because it sounded a lot like Shadow's theme from Final Fantasy VI).
In a way, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is content-rich for the long haul. I can't say this game justifies its subscription, but any Final Fantasy fan looking for a true Final Fantasy experience, you'll definitely find it sooner here as opposed to what money you may have wasted on (or will waste on) Final Fantasy XIII and Final Fantasy XIII-2.
You can learn more about Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn by visiting the official website.