June 2009 - Square Enix announced Final Fantasy XIV for Playstation 3 and PC and surprised us all. Most of the shock was in fact confusion, as many thought it would be a fully fledged Final Fantasy adventure, until they revealed it was an online venture. Regardless, this was still something to be excited about. Final Fantasy XI was praised as a quality MMO title.
September 30, 2010 - November 11, 2012 - Final Fantasy XIV was released to heavy criticism. The game was released in a broken form, and it turned away many subscribers. This abomination hurt Square Enix, and they had no other choice but to pull the plug. Thankfully they didn't give up. Instead they announced a brand new version of Final Fantasy XIV in October 14, 2011. They promised to rebuild the entire project from the ground up on their new Luminous engine. A Realm Reborn is what we were promised, and it's exactly what Square Enix has delivered. But with stiff competition in the MMO market, is it enough to warrant it's subscription?
I consider myself a 'newb' of sorts when it comes to MMO games. I've spent a lengthy amount of time playing Guild Wars 2, but that was my first extended dose of MMORPG. I've messed around with World of Warcraft in the past, but I never had much patience to stick with it. A common factor I've realized that keeps me engaged in MMO's is having friends to keep me interested. If it wasn't for fellow editor David Jagneaux and others, I may have stopped playing Guild Wars 2 a month after release.
With Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn however, I've found that it's managed to hold my interest even given the fact I have yet to play it with a friend. Much of this may be due to the fact that I'm already heavily invested with the Final Fantasy brand; but it's also the fact that the continent of Eorzea is pouring with content that doesn't require you to be in a group. Even the activities that require a party to tackle are helped by the games Duty Finder, which automatically matches you with other players interested in taking part in the same activity. Those who have played other MMO's will know how useful a feature like this can be, as there's nothing more tedious than trying to scrape together a party to play a dungeon or take out a boss.
One of the most special moments in all MMORPG's is creating your character, and Final Fantasy: A Realm Reborn provides you the tools to create your dream FF character. You'll choose from five races (Hyur, Elezen, Lalafell, Miqo'te & Roegadyn) each with their own history in Eorzea. Each race then has two clans to pick from with their own back story, this clan will also have an effect on your beginning stats. You then get to modify your characters appearance, which to be fair isn't designed to allow you to get the most unique character design possible. Many of the options are generic, and you're likely to see similar looking characters. Still there's enough here for you to come up with something cosmetically appealing. As you can imagine, the character models are highly attractive, and there's a satisfying selection of wacky hairstyles to choose from. You're then able to give your character their own birthday and elemental god. Choosing an elemental god will give you minor bonuses to whichever one you choose.
Finally you'll then be able to select a combat class. This is split into two types, Disciples of War and Disciples of Magic. The former is obviously aimed at physical damage, with the latter focused on destructive and clerical abilities. What's great about the classes in this game is that they don't lock you in. You can chose whichever class you want to start out with, and still experiment with the other classes later on by simply selecting a new weapon set. For some it might take away from the impact of decision making, and I certainly like my decisions in games to be lasting. However, the alternative would be creating several characters and then being forced to plough through the lengthy introduction phase again. So inevitably its not such a bad thing to be able to swap classes.
Speaking of the lengthy introduction phase, if there's anything that will deter you from getting stuck into A Realm Reborn, its certainly the first few hours. There's a daunting amount of text and tutorial information to consume, and I can certainly see the impatient gamers either skipping everything and missing out on context or quitting the game all together. It would be a shame for someone to give up on A Realm Reborn during these stages, as its the level 10 mark where the game really starts to become enjoyable, and your patience will really begin to pay off. Not only will you have taken part in your first boss battle by then, but quests get more enjoyable and you'll begin to get introduced to FATE's (Full Active Time Events), Guildleve's (Objective based battles) and Guildhest's (Group based boss battles). Soon you'll never be at a loss of things to do. One feature I came to love was the recommendation of nearby (and outstanding) quests and activities to take part in every time you log into the game. Little things like this keep you from wasting time figuring out what to do.
The combat is traditional of MMORPGs, with tab-targeting, hotkey attacks and 'cooldowns' all present. You can also mix attacks to create combo's which cause more damage. But of course it wouldn't be Final Fantasy if it wasn't done in style. Animations are fancy, and the music cues help to make each battle more exciting. What's more, group battles are both exciting to watch and participate in thanks to the depth of each class and how they're used to take down enemies. Spending attribute points also gives you more control on how your character develops. There are six attributes to develop which include: Intelligence, Strength, Dexterity, Vitality, Mind and Piety.
I've seen MMORPG's before that play well but the setting in which they take place are dull and mundane. As with all Final Fantasy games the setting is beautiful and well presented. Once you're a high enough level to get mounts you'll really begin to appreciate the scope of Eorzea. A Realm Reborn is designed to run well on Playstation 3 and lower end PC's so the graphical strain has been reduced slightly from the previous Final Fantasy XIV build, but no matter what level of detail your system allows you'll still be able to appreciate the work Square has put in to build an attractive setting. Cut-scenes are also a joy to watch, but it can be quite baffling going from a scene with nothing but text bubbles to a fully voiced cut-scene later on. With games like Guild Wars 2 featuring a fully voiced storyline, it's a little disappointing to see this game suffer from a very limited amount of voice work.
Community means everything in an MMO, and there are some that are off-putting thanks to the attitudes of its veteran players. With Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn its almost 50/50. During your early stages in the game you'll likely come across friendly players willing to offer help and guidance. On the flip side, the higher level players will have less patience for 'newbs' - and noticeably less tolerance for those wanting to view cut-scenes before commencing dungeons. Hopefully by these stages in the game (around levels 30-50) you'd have found a group of people you're comfortable playing with so you won't have to endure any abuse from the vets.
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn doesn't aim to innovate. It could be described as an MMO built on a template, providing much of the standard ground work that we would all expect to see in a massively multiplayer game in 2013. What sets it apart is it's style and presentation. It's essentially a Final Fantasy game painted on top of your favorite MMORPG. But with seven different types of mounts, chocobo battles, minions and companions - it's hard to ignore its appeal. If you like Final Fantasy and have experience with MMORPG's then there's no reason not to try it.
But what lets it down? The subscription model of course. In my opinion Final Fantasy would work best as a buy to play game as I can see the subscription model turning many away. Producer Naoki Yoshida has indeed promised a big update every three months for the game, but the fact is that other MMORPGs are pushing out new content at a faster pace without the need to charge its players monthly.
So to answer my earlier question - No, currently I don't feel like there's enough in A Realm Reborn to warrant its subscription, and I say this as somebody who is indeed subscribed. But I will say that depending on the scale of the new content we've been promised, that could very well change in the months to come. While the game already offers so much, there's still more exploration that could be had in Eorzea. So it's certainly worth keeping an eye on this game to see how it evolves in the months to come.