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Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Inconsistent
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is of course the relaunch of Final Fantasy 14. The original game can objectively be viewed as the biggest MMO flop in history. The game was rife with bugs, had a terrible interface and could not hold subscribers at all. It got so bad that they were giving away an entire year's worth of subscription for free, but there still were not many takers.
After of running for only about a year, the original 14 was shut down. For this recreation of the game, some core mechanics were kept, but for the most part, it is an entirely different game and I am happy to say that it is actually pretty good albeit inconsistent.
So let's start off this look at the game with what it really has going for it.
#1 Story - Although side quests are nothing to write home about, the main storyline of this game is fantastic for an MMO. Even as early as level 20, do you have some fantastically epic encounters through the main storyline, and the story itself seems to get better and better as you go through it.
That said, it starts really weak, I'd even go as far to say it is initially boring. It is the opposite of Guild Wars 2's story. In that GW2 started really strong and had a lot of epic moments but it gradually became less about your character and you suddenly fell into the background.
The way Final Fantasy seems to shape up is that your own character becomes more and more important and that you play a key role in the times to come. It makes you feel a lot more invested and it helps that they give you some pretty insane fights as well.
#2 Classes - One of the main features of this MMO is the class system. A single character can be every class and switching is as easy as changing your weapon. Each class has to be leveled individually but in doing so you can gain access to advanced "Job" classes and you can even carry over some abilities from other classes making for some interesting combinations.
Even trade skills work the same way. You equip a "weapon" (usually a needle for weaver, a pan for chef, etc.) and then can craft or gather materials as said profession. Crafting simply gives you experience but what is pretty cool is that there are crafting specific quests as well to vary it up a bit.
#3 Dungeons - What came as a great surprise to me was that the dungeons in this game are good. I rarely expect MMO's to impress me with their dungeons, especially the lower level ones. Right from the very first dungeon, the bosses actually had proper mechanics to make for a good fight. Sure there are a few tank'n'spank mini bosses, but the main bosses all have something to offer. So far I have completed 4 of them and they all impressed me.
Dungeons are also done in a group of 4 in this game. Which is a bit of a downside for a damage character as that pretty much means you'll be waiting even longer to get in. There is a queue system but I have seen plenty of player made groups going as well.
#4 The World/Art Style - This game just screams classic Final Fantasy. You'll recognize all the old school monsters like Cactuars, Coeurls, Slimes, and so on. The character models all have a lot of charm and don't fall into typical fantasy trappings and stay true to the mythos of Final Fantasy. There are also a lot of different emotes and each is also very detailed. In doing so, it makes for a very high-quality experience which doesn't seem to copy the style of any other MMO out there.
#5 The Music - The only other MMO out there that can even compare to the level of music this game has is Final Fantasy XI. All the zones have a great sound track and there is even battle and boss music which can get your blood burning.
#1 Service - As you may have heard, Final Fantasy had a rough launch. Arguably the roughest launch of an MMO that I have personally experienced. However, my gripe with their service isn't only due to this factor. Service for an MMO is fairly important, and if you can't trust the people in charge of the game you are paying for, it may not be worth the money.
The website itself for the game is incredibly hard to navigate properly. I have been brought to different pages which essentially had the same information and I'm not entirely sure how I get to some of these pages in the first place. Account management through their website is a bit of a joke which is rather concerning. In fact, to find a CD Key that I needed for the game (believe it or not, they required 3 different CD-Keys for the launch), I had to use an external website to find it on theirs. Simply trying to navigate normally yielded no results.
As of writing this, the server issues which crippled the game to the point where Square Enix had to stop the sale of the game, seem to finally have been addressed. It took more than a week to fix this issue and it made for a lot of headaches for myself and many others. It actually took five days after the game's launch for a friend of mine to finally be able to make his character and play with me.
#2 The Grind - Everything about this game is a grind. Leveling starts out pretty fast but slows down past level 20. However, for whatever you decided to be your main class, through the main story, side quests, hunting quests, and the like, you shouldn't ever run out of content to level on. The grind comes for the other classes and trade skills.
So you might be thinking, if leveling other classes is a grind, why should I bother? Even if you enjoy your class, and pretty much only want to play it, to unlock your advanced class you would at least have to level one other. For example: an Arcanist can become a Summoner, but to do so you will need to level Thaumaturge to 15 and you are encouraged to level it even further to gain some more beneficial abilities for your summoner class.
And if you are a person who enjoys leveling other classes anyways, you will find the lack of quests to level on to become annoying. One can only repeat the "Levequests" (repeatable quests) so much before growing bored of them. FATE events help as well but are not always reliable to level on. It starts to feel like an old school MMO grind very quickly.
#3 The Global Cool Down - This game has a 2.5 second global cool down which makes combat a lot slower than it needs to be. This is the most irksome aspect of the game for me, and even as I become accustomed to it, I still wish it was gone. What is really bothersome about this, is that instant cast spells feel punishing. You just cast it and have to sit there doing nothing for a couple of seconds.
#4 The Inconsistency - As my title would suggest, this game doesn't know what it wants to be. Almost every aspect of this game seems to contradict itself. Heck, even the in-game errors you get seem inconsistent! Now this isn't necessarily a bad trait but I wouldn't call it a good one either. It feels like the designers of the game just didn't know what direction they wanted to go in but they were forced to quickly make a decision which resulted in a mix of old school and new school MMO design.
What really baffles me though is the voice acting. Some cut scenes are voice acted and others are not. In fact the same character that had voice acting in one scene will not have it in another. Even some scenes only have some characters speaking while others are just a text box. This really strange lack and then sudden voice acting makes it feel like an incomplete game at times. It makes one wonder if they simply ran out of cash to finish voice acting the game and simply used what they had.
Old School Vs. New School
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn really draws from both schools of design. First off, it is a classic hot key based MMO that doesn't really innovate in anyway with the combat but at the same time it also lets you play with a controller which can be pretty relaxing and it is definitely something you don't see often.
Traveling can be arduous and initially you must travel everywhere by foot or airship and traveling can take awhile. But at the same time, for a small gil fee, you can teleport from anywhere, at any time to a crystal you have been to before.
Questing is incredibly generic with simple "go kill X amount" or "go gather x" amount" and so on. Yet they add in the FATE system which are random events, similar to Guild Wars 2. There is also a hunting log to kill specific creatures for experience which also can change the flow of questing.
The interface can be pretty backwards with a initially confusing map, having the manually hand over quest items, having an overabundance of different menus but then it also has many conveniences. The inventory you are given is incredibly large, you automatically loot items, you have a separate gear chest where each item type has its own storage container, making switching classes and gear a breeze.
And really I could just go on and on about how confused this game is. For every convenience, there is a hindrance. For every modern innovation, there is an archaic system. Really the game doesn't know what it wants to be and only time will tell where the game advances to.
Personally, I would give this game a shot. It is a $30 purchase with a subscription but you will of course get a month for free. I have really been enjoying my time with this game and see myself playing it for awhile yet. Yes there are a lot of bad sides to the game, but if you are looking for a bit of an old school, polished MMO, with a few modern conveniences, then this might be the game for you.