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So here it is, the pros and cons I've gathered from my play experience with Square Enix's revamped and re-released MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. There will be plenty of Final Fantasy fanboys and fangirls alike who probably won't like the assessment laid out with the pros and cons of the game, but this is how the dice falls, folks.
Originally, I didn't have very many nice things to say about the game in my introductory first impressions piece, and things didn't get much better by the time I hit level 10. However, things did start to turn around heading into level 20 and I found a caveat of promise around the level 30 mark. Still, the game has its rough edges and I managed to carve out both the pros and cons of the game in this here article. So let's start with the pros.
Absolutely the best part about Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. I wasn't really drawn into the game until I heard the iconic prelude piece from famed composer Nobuo Uematsu, and then I absolutely fell head over heels in love with the soundtrack by the time the night version of Ul'dah's theme started up. The original Chocobo theme making a remastered appearance; the bass guitar from Shadow's theme used during the Aleport music; that absolutely drop-dead gorgeous track for outer Lominsa, and the John Powell-sounding track from How to Train Your Dragon really had me cracking a smile in upper Limsa Lominsa. Uematsu and the rest of the sound design team really knocked it out of the park with the soundtrack and it was a much needed element to help keep players both engaged and audibly entertained.
The next best thing in the game was obviously the atmosphere. Each map felt as if it were designed to help bring to life Eorza in a fantastical and yet grounded way. Farming could only be done in forested areas – which nicely tied in with the job locations as well – mining could only be done in rocky, barren locales, and fishing areas were available every once in a while at strategically placed but topically correct spots. What's more is that there was a nice feeling of space and architectural breath to this game that's rarely captured in other MMOs. I felt like there was room to explore and breathe as an explorer, though not quite to the extent of games like Mortal Online or Repopulation. Still, I adored the very differently-depicted maps that didn't just come across like theme park locations with fetch-quest rides to pass through. I felt like it was an actual adventure having to travel back and forth between each region, and that there was an air of significance attached to the journey because each region had topographical and atmospheric relevance to the story, characters, jobs and quests, which is not an easy thing to achieve in an MMO.
Character Designs & Animations
The character designs are beautiful in the game. They aren't necessarily “realistic” looking so much as they are distinctive, especially with the varying armor designs for each of the class types. I thought the artists did a great job bringing out an idiosyncratic quality relative to the Final Fantasy series that felt right. The designs of the player characters and NPCs were creative enough that it didn't feel like the game was a typical MMO cloning facility when walking around, and that helps a lot with building a feeling of atmosphere for a game like this. This is also probably one of the few MMOs I've played where emotes aren't actually useless. It's just too bad that the game didn't force more social multiplayer interaction the way they forced the use of emotes in the game. One of the other big highlights of the game were the animations – Square's team of animators did a superb job, especially with little things like the running, sprinting and walking, which all looked and felt natural and authentic, which is rare for a lot of MMOs.
This borderlines on a con for a reason I'll mention later, but oh boy did the story feel classic Final Fantasy here. I just wish there was a real main character to helm the plot direction so that things felt more compelling, cohesive and personal, as opposed to having generic-created-player-character mute their way through the story events and bring sometimes poignant and interesting scenarios to a screeching halt due to other characters being required to fill in the context of the situation. Still, the subplots for each of the main disciplines of war were excellently told and I loved that some of them nearly rivaled the main plot in terms of character development and bringing a resolution to some matters with an apex showdown, sometimes with personal, tragic and interesting developments. But again – and this is where this “Pro” borderlines as a “Con” – the lack of focus due to making all these stories revolve around a mute, personality-vacant player-character really diminished the value of the stories the writers were trying to tell.
This here was probably one of the better gameplay mechanics, or rather, the premise of the mechanic was very engaging and captivating but the gameplay itself revolving around the jobs was mostly mundane and grindy. Still, props are due where props are due, and I have to give huge props to Naoki Yoshida for rescuing the game and building a hugely diverse system of complex mechanics into an MMO that I haven't seen the likes of in any other game. In fact, the job diversity and skill branching is almost like an evolved throwback to the “Job System” from Final Fantasy V, where you could master different jobs and eventually cross-breed them to form a whole new class of character. That's not to mention that the crafting and supplying sub-jobs could almost become entirely new games in themselves. The diversity and openness of the class system is what helps keep the player-character feeling fresh and exposed to true role-playing possibilities, which I really liked. The crafting mini-games were okay and the grind to get up some of the supplier jobs could easily grate on some players, but the fact that players aren't ever pinned down to any singular class really helps the game maintain an air of freshness and replayability about it, and that's vital for a subscription-based game.
This Should Have Been A Single-Player Game
In correlation with the “Pro” of the game having a compelling story about rebirth, sustenance and continental cohesion, I absolutely abhorred how these aspects had to be downplayed to fit an MMO structure. I also find that this game just should not have been an MMO. This game is everything I wish Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2 had been and it captures a feeling of nostalgia from the old games while also moving the JRPG genre forward. Yoshida did a fantastic job working with the team to craft this beautifully designed and aesthetically rich world, but given that it's an MMO it feels as if the full potential of the class system, the storyline and the secondary characters couldn't fully be realized due to the restrictions of the game being an MMO. In essence, the persistence of sameness for everyone prevents any sort of actual changes from taking place to the game world at large, so there's no secondary overworld effects or large scale ruin you'll encounter, etc., that can happen in single-player RPGs. That's not to mention that with a decent-enough lead (male or female) and all the supporting characters from the sub and main story lines, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn could have been a knockout single-player RPG. But alas, Square felt the need to tell more of Lightning's story instead.
This here was another big problem that ties in with the contra above. The game's focus on being atmospheric is great, the character designs are amazing, but this just isn't an MMO. There are a lot of random Companies (guilds) who will send players random invites. There are also forced dungeon-runs that will team you up with other players from any of the game's servers. Apart from the forced dungeon-runs and the random invites from guilds, you aren't going to be interacting with players all that much. There's no real benefit to joining small field parties partaking in instances called “Fates”, where you can earn extra experience and coin by completing timed objects within a limited space; most people will run in, complete the objective and run out; it's not like there's any bonus for participating in groups or teaming up with other players either. A game that's supposed to be an MMO with hardly any multiplayer interaction seems like an oxymoron, and definitely supports my belief that it could have been better off as a single-player experience.
While I like the art design and atmosphere, the graphics in Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn still leave a lot to be desired. It's rather obvious that the PS3 was the lead platform here and that many of the shaders and graphical designs were tailored around Sony's system capabilities. This design decision held back a lot of the game's graphical potential, especially compared to other games utilizing advanced DX10 and DX11 features. At the same time this also hurts the game compared to other PC MMOs like Blade & Soul, TERA, Age of Conan, APB, CrimeCraft and Bless, all of which were or are pushing boundaries in the graphics department one way or another. For most PS3-centric gamers the graphics probably look grand, but coming from typical PC games that push the limits so much further, it's like stepping backwards in time by about half-a-decade. Still, the sub-par textures and passable resolution are good enough if you aren't too much of a graphics whore. Again, the atmospheric use of the assets outweigh the quality of the assets; the team definitely made the most out of the dated PS3's limitations, even though it still negatively impacted the way the PC version looks.
I've written extensively about the combat in this game and how much I didn't like it. While I grew accustomed to its design later on in the game, it's one of those things where it's absolutely loathe-worthy until you're pushing past level 30 if you have several other classes up to level 20 to share skills with, and you'll be at least level 35 or 40 to find the combat well paced and quick-moving if you're only leveling a single class. Otherwise, it's a lot of the same-old, same-old you've been playing since Everquest. Yes, there are telegraphed enemy attacks that you can dodge and use to your advantage and it does add a bit of versatility and strategy to boss fights, but it's still that gosh-awful reliance on the clickety-click spam-fest associated with the Holy Trinity-style of MMO combat play. Anyone tired of skill stacking with such a restrictive approach to play mechanics will be put off with a large portion of the game's combat systems. There's no other way around this, but if you can stomach classic clickfests then maybe you can find enjoyment in the combat from start to finish. After being introduced to non-targeting MMOs I just can't go back to enjoying the click-spam of traditional target-based MMOs.
If you want to learn more about Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn feel free to pay a visit to the game's official website.