While I have enjoyed many a Final Fantasy title through the last 20 or 25 years, the MMORPG is a genre from which I’ve always shied away. It isn’t that interaction with other real people isn’t my thing, it’s just that the notion of having to buy a full-priced game and then spend more every month to be allowed to play it has never quite sat well with me, no matter what franchise I was spending my money on. I never did play Final Fantasy XI or the original Final Fantasy XIV, but now that Square is back in the MMORPG world with Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, I have bitten the bullet and fired up the title.
I did not have an auspicious start to the game (which is a complete overhaul of the original FFXIV, something that occurred due to that game’s apparently serious issues). It isn’t that the download/install times are long (but they’re not short), it is that I wasn’t able to actually connect my Square-Enix account (having one is mandatory) to my in-game login. Or, more accurately, I repeatedly found myself staring at an error message saying that my account was based out of North America even though the Square site said it was (I seem to have been at the wrong Square-Enix website even though my login was correct).
Those hurdles surmounted, I spent a whole lot of time on creating a character (there are a lot of options here, not enough to blow your mind, but enough that it takes a while) and, at the same time, chose an online server world. I then tried to play. This, as you may suspect if you’ve ever played an online title, led to a message wherein I was told that the server was full. Sadly, it was too late to choose to put my character onto a different server.
Now, I could have chosen any server and I understand why a character once in a world would have to stay there, but this was a brand-new character and, I assume, most people when they create a character instantly wish to play a game. I should have, upon starting character creation, been recommended a server where I could, immediately, play the game and have had my space blocked off. Spending a half-hour going through options for my character and then being told I can’t play that character because the world I chose is full is bad form in the extreme.
Okay though, leaving that aside, presumably as the game gets older server load will decrease and everyone will always be able to access their chosen world (unless the servers are down for maintenance or permanently removed or goodness knows what). What did I find when I entered the game?
Truthfully, my first impression was that the heads-up display is awful. Once you land in Eorzea with your character, the distressing HUD is the absolute first thing you’ll notice. It is exceptionally difficult to navigate and even to learn about. Then, the lack of a real manual to tell you how to do anything only exacerbates the problem. Things on the HUD can, to some extent, be adjusted and changed, but it seems mandatory that you have enough open to seriously impinge upon screen real estate.
Another problem is that the learning curve on Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is exceedingly steep (perhaps less so if you’re a frequent MMORPG user, perhaps not). Shifting from one active part of the HUD to another active part of the HUD, and figuring out how to get the mini-map to show you where you want to go so you don’t need the main map up, and how to get the main map to appear and disappear, and even how to read it so you know where you are and where you want to go takes a heck of a long time. A ridiculously long time. There has to be a better way. One actually gets the sense that this may be a game better played with a keyboard than a controller, that learning to navigate the HUD and the world and the menus requires more buttons than are available on a controller.
Stay dedicated though and you’ll work all of that out… or at least enough of it to get by. I am sure there are better ways to navigate anything than the ones I use, but I can now, generally, get where I want to go. Heck, I can now even tell you, more or less, the story of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn.
Let me backtrack there, I can tell you the story, in broad strokes, because I watched the opening movie. After entering the world and figuring out how to navigate everything, I quickly lost track of the main tale. Instead, I found myself doing a whole bunch of fetch quests and a whole bunch of go out and kill some bad guy quests all in an attempt to level up and get gil (money) and see more of the world and get better equipment and all the things that one does in an open world game. You will lose track of the story too, but you
will also find your way back there eventually… if you want to, if you don’t just keep on leveling up.
In terms of character choices, A Realm Reborn is constructed so that while your character will have certain aptitudes at the beginning, you can end up going in any of 17 different directions and back and forth again as much as you want. There are plenty of tools and weapons and armors and things to collect/repair/make/buy/sell/etc.
I am not going to delve into the intricacies of the class system or navigating anything here. That way lies madness. Were I to try, as soon as I would start telling you about it all, we would find ourselves thousands of words down the line and I still may not end up answering your specific question about how x, y, or z works. I will say again that there are a whole bunch of different classes available and that the way the system is setup, you can go back and forth between them. Of course, to progress to a decent depth in any of them requires lots of leveling up and so to get to a decent depth in a lot of them requires even more grinding, and the grinding here just isn’t all that fun.
The honest truth is, a game guide wouldn’t be a bad idea if you choose to get the title. I don’t like suggesting guides, necessarily, but there is little to no hand-holding here and there is so incredibly much to learn. It feels like there are tons of ways to go through the world and advance from point A to point B, and that many folks will do it all via points C,D,E,F,G, and X.
The graphics are good if you exclude the HUD, the amount of content (repetitive though some of it may be) is going to keep folks busy for a long time, and at least at present there are a whole lot of people out there playing with whom you can band together to take down some big bads. Once in the world, I didn’t notice any lag or graphical glitches, and while there were characters everywhere, it never felt overloaded or forced. There are massive battles with other people you can find yourself in a FATE (Full Active Time Event) which requires you to work with other people in killing enemies and the like, but massive amounts of coordination isn’t required.
Let me though return to my original point. I entered this title trying to work out not only what it was all about, but to answer that question of is it worth buying and then buying again every month so that one can continue to play it. Essentially, that’s what any review is, right? The question of whether or not it’s all worth it.
There are devotees of MMORPG titles, the genre wouldn’t be so successful and have proliferated quite so well if there weren’t fans. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn costs about $40, meaning that with the one month included with purchase of the game and then buying another couple of months extra, you’ll wind up hitting the price of a major release. How many games do you really play beyond that first few months window? I’d bet not many.
If you have the time to devote to the game (you’re looking, easily, at something in the realm of 100 hours) in those first few months you’re going to enjoy yourself and get your money’s worth. I would say that you’re going to like it. I also suggest turning the sound down or off. The music may sound very Final Fantasy but it also gets so incredibly repetitive so quickly, and the voice-acting is wholly unengaging.
As for me? I don’t really see myself revisiting the game at any time. If I want to muck about in such a massive open world and work my way through every little nook and cranny, I’m going to do in Skyrim, not Eorzea. The grinding required in this title is too tedious, the battle system nowhere near as engaging as it is in The Elder Scrolls, and the notion that the servers might go down at any point too distressing. Plus, even if I can navigate the HUD at this point, I think it’s simply too cumbersome to use.
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Language, Mild Blood, Sexual Themes, Use of Alcohol, Violence.