An In-Depth Review of Final Fantasy XIV
End of an Era
Final Fantasy XIV, released on September 30th, 2010, was hugely viewed as a massive failure of a game. Topping the list of complaints was poor performance, even on extremely high-end machines for the time. Seeing that they made too many crippling mistakes to recover any semblance of quality from the MMO, Square Enix pulled the plug in December of 2012, two years after the game's release.
Before shutting it all down, however, the new development team, headed by one Naoki Yoshida, began leading the game's lore down a dark path; a planetoid named Dalamud had been "plucked from the heavens by Imperial machination", (Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn opening movie). In a style similar to a precursor in the series, Final Fantasy VII, the Lesser Moon, as it was called, was called down to the planet's surface, and, upon arrival, the Elder Primal Bahamut erupted from its core, revealing that Dalamud was actually a prison for the tortured creature. Bahamut's wrath tore through the entirety of the realm of Eorzea, shifting weather patterns the world over and absolutely destroying the realm, as players knew it. The world was ending, and so was the game's life...
However, after the absolutely epic conclusion to the Sixth Astral Era, five years passed in the realm of Eorzea, and less than a year passed for us. The saga of A Realm Reborn began on August 27th, 2013, just nine months after the fall of Dalamud.
The reboot was met with stellar reviews, and the footage that was allowed to be released by fans in the late beta phases showcased a real-time battle system, with fast action and phenomenal performance on mid-to-high end machines. Even on low-end machines, (such as the PS3 and dual-core PCs), the game ran passably, with minimal lag in normal gameplay. But the game was far from perfect.
So, without further ado, let us delve into the good, the bad, and the ugly of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn!
My customized control scheme.
A Realm Reborn strays away from Legacy's system and instead implements a WoW-type engine of gameplay in the PC version; hit 1 to cast a fire spell, hit 2 to cast an ice spell, etc. All of the hotbar slots are able to be remapped to whatever you like, so long as certain keybinds remain bound to something, (such as the Main Menu button). To the right, you can find my own unorthodox control scheme, which also showcases the powerful macro commands that you can create to customize your playstyle to your own liking.
Let's look at the controls for PC for a bit. How are they good? How are they bad? How can they change?
The controls are great for many types of MMO gamer; it has a standardized control scheme that most players won't feel the need to mess with, but it offers ways to tweak the experience to better suit your playstyle. If you're more suited to ASDF or QWER being your abilities, you can remap the controls to fit that style. Want to use the keyboard, exclusively, with no reliance on the mouse? The game comes preset with the numpad being an expansive D-pad for menus, and the arrow keys for camera control. It's pretty nice.
How are they bad, though? There's this default control scheme that bases your movement on the character, which makes backpedaling with the "S" key a huge problem. My suggestion is to ditch the character-based movement scheme and go with the camera-based movement option. You can find that in your Character Configuration, (found by hitting "K", by default).
What can change about them? Not much can be said about changes that should be made, since every problem I can personally think of can be solved by tweaking the settings a bit. It would be nice if, like Final Fantasy XI, there were multiple default settings, like a MOBA-style setting and whatnot. But I honestly don't think many people would use anything outside the WASD scheme, so the point is probably moot.
As for console and gamepad controls, they are SOLID. Square has implemented a as-yet-unseen control scheme for use with gamepads: the Cross Hotbar. By holding R2/L2, (or RT/LT, for you Xbox users out there), you highlight up to eight slots that are able to be fully customized, with each slot corresponding to an action button or a D-pad direction. On a single Cross Hotbar, you have SIXTEEN slots; eight when holding R2/RT, and another eight when holding L2/LT. To use basic functions, simply let go of the triggers, and you have jumping, interacting, bringing up your map, and canceling set to your action buttons, and targeting and menu navigation set to your D-pad. It's a rather ingenious method of implementing gamepad controls for a WoW-type game, without the use of tedious menus. (Which aren't inherently a bad thing, but for this day and age, in the MMO arena... Kinda.)
What's bad about the gamepad controls, though? I play with a gamepad when I am able, and I have yet to find any complaints with it. On PS3, I can see it being annoying to have to navigate menus to customize your hotbars, but on PS4 and PC, we have mouse functionality to make that easier. The software mouse feature, (activated with a gamepad by hitting L1 and R3, or LB and LS on Xbox), is a slow workaround, at best. But it's still better than nothing.
A Realm Reborn, (and Legacy, before it), stray away from the restrictions of other MMORPGs. One major way is that the game has always allowed a single character to play any and every character class. Final Fantasy XI did this, as well. Through quests and exploration, as well as leveling, you gain access to different classes and advanced classes, known as jobs. You might start as an Arcanist, using a tome to summon magicks into the world, but you might change to Lancer, using a spear to smite your enemies. You can always go back to being an Arcanist simply by re-equipping an Arcanist's weapon. All class levels are separate, and some quests require a certain class to be a certain level, or to have completed a certain other quests as a different class. To unlock an advanced class, or job, you must reach level 30 in your main class, and 15 in a secondary class. For example, Summoner is unlocked by reaching level 30 as Arcanist, and level 15 as Thaumaturge, then doing a quest that requires both classes be the requisite levels.
There are also crafting and gathering classes, which allow you to create items and farm materials for use by other classes or even other players. For instance, Botanist can get Moko Grass, which Weaver can use to craft robes, which can be equipped by mages. All done on a single character.
Now, how is this good? Since ARR has a character limitation, (which varies depending upon your account type), this makes it so you can play the whole game on a single character, and experience all of the content, without making mules or alts to reach certain parts of the game. This also allows players to very quickly and easily find their preferred role, without having to grind the same quests/cutscenes over and over again. However, since you can make up to eight characters in a single world with a standard account, this allows you to make role-play characters very easily. You'll still need to grind out levels and quests over and over to get all the best-looking gear, but that's beside the point.
How is the class system bad? It adds an element of grinding to the game that seems entirely avoidable. In order to level up every single class and job in the game, you need to put in an atrocious amount of time and effort, which then equals money, since this is a subscription-based game. On one hand, you only have to level up whatever classes you want to play, but making the main story quests, (which can only be completed ONCE), the most lucrative leveling content then leaves sidequests which don't pay off as well and the dreaded monster grind, which can wear down a person's willingness to play the game and wastes their time. This only applies to completionists and those with a ton of time and money on their hands, but the point still stands that this is a glaring flaw in the system.
As for the leveling content, the lore and world are rich and engaging, making the player character an instanced Warrior of Light. When you team up with other players, you are the Warrior of Light, reborn, recruiting other adventurers to help you out. The Duty Finder is a quick, easy way to find instanced encounters within which you can fight bosses, clear objectives, and earn loot. As stated before, the Main Story Quests are the most lucrative way to level up your main class, as they give gear and large amounts of gil and experience points. Sometimes, they get a bit monotonous, ("Go get wine from this guy, then play 'hide'n'seek' with the kiddies!"), but they make you, the player, the centerpoint of the story. You want to go out and fight monster, and save the world! Well, guess what? That's your role as the player character. And this point is driven home more often than not.
However, the content does dry up at multiple points. Usually right after a string of dungeons, you'll find yourself blocked from the next Main Story Quest by a level requirement. This REALLY can get annoyingly tedious, especially if the rise in the required level does not match the amount of experience points earned from doing the forerunning quests. Notably, this happens at levels 17, 35, 45, and multiple times after level 50. Sometimes, it's only one level's difference. But other times, it's five or more levels between truly lucrative and engaging quests and, in the new expansion, EVERY SINGLE LEVEL feels like a huge mountain between you and the next quest. This is particularly prevalent in the expansion's content; level up to 57, do three quests, and be level-blocked for the next two days while you grind out over a million experience. It's simply poorly designed, and I pray for a revamp of the 50-60 leveling content.
One of the most glaring flaws of Final Fantasy XIV: Legacy was the performance. The game looked absolutely gorgeous... If you could run it. A Realm Reborn uses a new graphical engine that makes it able to run on most any machine on the market. On my Intel i5 quad-core, with no GPU, it runs at 30 FPS, standard, on mid-range settings. With a GPU, on the highest settings, it never drops below 20 FPS, an sits at about 30 FPS, on average. That's pretty good, all things considered. On my preferred settings, it runs at about 50 FPS, on average, which is damn good, considering most machines couldn't run Legacy at higher than 15 FPS.
The game, itself, is beautiful. Lush, rolling landscapes, complete with realistic skyboxes, grass physics, and realtime shadows. Take a look at this screenshot of Middle La Noscea and tell me it's not gorgeous...
And this isn't even on max settings. This is at mid-low settings, with the only thing maxed out being the shadowing.
However, every game has graphical flaws. For example. ARR's occlusion culling SUUUUUUUUCKS. There's always a massive delay between when an object is not visible and when it is. You end up seeing through the geometry of the world in multiple places, and it doesn't even grant that much of an FPS boost on mid-range computers. My suggestion: turn that garbage off. I've even seen it spaz out on PS4, which is the equivalent of a high-end gaming PC. Live with a loss of 2-3 FPS; trust me, it's worth it.
This game has some of the best soundtracks I've ever heard. And the community keeps coming out with awesome covers inspired by them, which makes it the gift that keeps on giving. Songs like Torn From the Heavens truly give a feeling of weight and epicness to an encounter, and the backing track to the final boss of the 2.0 storyline is chillingly awesome. However, some tracks, such as the theme for the Primal Leviathan suffer from a strange case of annoying lyrical work. Compare the original Leviathan theme with a cover by Husky by the Geek for a taste of this flaw...
Final Fantasy XIV
Husky by the Geek
For the most part, however, the music is awe-inspiring. If you haven't already, check YouTube for all the themes you could ever want, and give Husky by the Geek some love for his covers of the game's music. There are also many, MANY others who make covers and remixes out there, so go find them and enjoy!
The Voice Acting
The English voice acting is absolutely awful. The only character who sounds legitimate is Urianger, and that's because he's voiced by the legendary Gideon Emery, (voice of Fenris from Dragon Age II and Balthier from Final Fantasy XII). All the other English VAs sound forced and fake, like they're putting on over-dramatic accents to sound like they fit in with a crowd that they don't fit in with, at all. Some of them are laughably terrible, like most lalafellin voices. They're notably squeaky and annoying, like they're playing up the trope of "HEY. LOOK. THEY'RE TINY. GET IT?!" I, personally, prefer the Japanese VAs, but even some of them feel out of place and just odd. Some of the characters are fine, (like Thancred and Admiral Merlwyb), but, for the most part, these are Budget Brits and bad at what they were hired to do.
As of the release of Heavensward, the first expansion for the rebooted game, some VAs have changed for the better, others for the worse. I'll leave it up to you to decide which ones are good or bad out of that crew...
In the end, Final Fantasy XIV was a failure. A heaping pile of dung that ran like a toaster trying to divide by zero. (I am not proud of that analogy.) A Realm Reborn, however, takes the game to grand heights and allows even less advanced machines to be windows into the world of Hydaelyn and the realm of Eorzea. What was the end of something awful became the beginning of something wonderful. My breakdown of the game is as follows...
CONTROLS - 8/10 - Highly customizable, even on console, and easy to pick up and play for the seasoned MMO player.
GAMEPLAY - 7/10 - Grindy, but fun with friends. The story is quite engaging... When it's not being all two-faced about how important the player character is.
GRAPHICS - 8/10 - Beautiful, but able to be run on damn near any modern machine. Slightly buggy in some respects, and shadows suck on anything other than the max settings.
MUSIC - 9/10 - Epic, awe-inspiring tracks, paired with the visuals make for an immersive experience.
VOICE ACTING - 5/10 - Gideon Emery is literally the only redeeming factor here. The rest of the English VAs are fupping terrible. Some of the updated VAs in Heavensward are good, but they're good, AT BEST. I suggest turning on another language's voices and enjoying not being able to judge them based on their shitty accents.
OVERALL - 9/10 - The issues that exist with the game do not fully take away from the fun and enjoyment of the game, itself. Most issues are purely aesthetic, or tied to a certain platform. Overall, the game is fun, social, and dynamic. It's always growing, and you truly get your money's worth out of your subscription.
Keep livin', folks! Cheers!
- 2br02b, 2015