Dark days were really upon the Final Fantasy franchise when the original Final Fantasy XIV happened, including to the ones who developed it, the ones who played it, and the characters that once existed in it. In an effort to save the worst main series Final Fantasy game ever, Square Enix made the decision to relaunch the game. A new network structure was created, a new story was written, new music was composed, and major gameplay changes were implemented. The major rework resulted in a surtitle: A Realm Reborn. This is the review of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn as of Patch 2.1.
The narrative of A Realm Reborn begins during the time period of the original FF14. During a major battle between the alliance of Eorzea and the Garlean Empire, the Elder Primal Bahamut was unleashed from a descending moon, unleashing the “Calamity” upon the continent of Eorzea. The event resulted in widespread destruction across the land, damaging buildings and reshaping landscape. With a failed attempt to reseal Bahamut, the adventurers were sent into the future, to a time where it would be far safer to help Eorzea. This time period is five years after the Calamity. Your adventurer begins his/her journey heading into one of three major cities, completely broke and hoping to accomplish great things. At first glance, things seem to be rebuilding well, and Eorzea is on course to a decent recovery. However, the Galean Empire still exists, and continues to seek peace via domination of the entire continent. Employing militaristic tactics and Magitek weapons, the Empire poses a serious risk to the still-fragile and rebuilding nations of Gridania, Ul’dah, and Limsa Lominsa. In addition, there is the very shady Ascian cult seeking to create chaos through secretive means. In response, the three nations revisit efforts to create another alliance, and begin employing adventurers to assist the rebuilding effort, as well as resolve dangerous matters. As if the Garlean Empire is not enough of a problem, each nation also has to deal with beast tribes that are attempting to summon primals, bringing yet even more dangerous threats to the realm.
The main scenario line is a very standard story of Eorzea and adventurers teaming up to take down the evil empire, a shady organization, and whatever primals and problems that are considered dangerous. This is not the game to look for innovative story ideas, but it is executed nicely. The narrative explains happenings within Eorzea to new players well enough, and provides decent plot development. In addition, there are many substories that help better establish each major region’s culture and most urgent problems. The flow is a moderate roller coaster ride; there are times when things are really moving, with periods of mild dragging in between. One of the best parts of the game is the writing. The people who translated FF14 apparently have a really good grasp of the English language with access to an awesome thesaurus. Every time a character “speaks”, it somehow gives off the vibe that this is Eorzea, not Earth with posh wording. The NPCs are characterized quite well, especially with differences in culture between regions and people. The exceptional writing also led to some very clever humor within the game. These range from spin-offs of popular names and sayings, to the game’s very own gentleman investigator extraordinaire comedy series. There is a lot of finesse to be enjoyed here.
There are eight different classes to choose from, each with their own corresponding jobs starting at level thirty. The class list consists of the usual tanky people, healing people, huge magic people, archer people, and melee people. Each class plays quite differently from each other, and makes for some fun experimentation. This is somewhat encouraged by requirements to acquire job classes. For example, a Gladiator looking to upgrade to the Paladin job class needs to spend a bit of time as a healing-type conjurer. That is another nice feature of FF14. You can choose to switch and learn new classes on the same character.
The gameplay is very traditional within the MMORPG genre. Many core and basic mechanics carry a strong resemblance to the established giants in the genre. Attacking enemies involves using skill “rotations”, questing is the familiar “kill x enemies” and completing checklists, and dungeon runs feature the well-established tank- healer-damage team compositions. From a high-level perspective, FF14 is not very difficult for MMO players to adjust to. At a lower-level, there are some differences that make the game feel less of a clone and a bit more engaging. In general, gameplay works well, but there are many small things that hold it back from being ideal. For example, trying to targeting enemies in a massive mob can be clunky, and the UI can quickly become a mess during the endgame. It is customizable though, so it makes for a short fun game of UI Tetris. Overall, the gameplay is about eighty percent there compared to the ideal MMO setup.
Dungeon runs, boss trials, and raids function in a very standard sense as well. Party sizes are usually four or eight people, with the big raid being twenty-four people. The difficulty of the dungeons and boss trials has a nice difficulty slope as the levels increase. Low level instances allow for plenty of time to learn classes and familiarize with the game. Higher-level instances become increasingly stressful to learn, but bring greater rewarding feelings. Endgame content ranges from “easy-with-experience” to brutal punishment. Dungeon runs feature expected linear layouts, with expected enemy mobs to kill, and expected bosses to defeat with various strategies. Most of the dungeons are not bad though, and a few are quite a blast to go through. Boss trials are just players against the boss. These can be a lot of fun and rewarding, but some of them are also a point of extreme frustration due to the incredible difficulty and intolerance to mistakes. The difficulty is definitely there for those looking for extreme challenges.
Leveling via the long main story quest line is a pleasant experience. It is pretty much a lot of standard questing, but it is paired with a nicely made Final Fantasy narrative. The quest line also branches out to various sidequests at each town it stops by, which provides for some variety outside of stopping evil people, evil primals and the evil empire. There are also FATES, which are small scenarios that randomly appear throughout the world that provide players with a bit of experience points and money. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, finding FATEs with actual participation in most areas is going to be difficult. The days when many people actually joined in FATEs as they walked by are long gone. However, if you can find a “world boss” FATE, it is a huge blast as the entire server will attempt to defeat the boss with sheer numbers. At several points, the story will require players to head into dungeon runs in a four-person party. This does help prepare newer players for cooperative content, but the damage-type people are going to experience long queue times. Leveling secondary classes on the same character is not as enjoyable, and is quite a ways more tedious. Without the story quests and experience rewards, leveling a secondary class becomes doing repeatable levequests, FATEs, and low-level roulette dungeon runs via the dungeon group finder. However, it is a tolerable method since patch 2.1, especially considering the old preferred way was FATE-ing around for hours on end for all eternity.
Focusing on leveling content is good, but endgame is also very important. FF14 offers a decent amount of endgame content. It continues the standard MMO path of more story, more dungeons, more boss trails, harder primal fights, and slowly earning currency to exchange for the next piece of high-level gear. However, the game does display signs of dryness. Patch 2.1 added what appears to be a very long list of new things, like hard mode dungeons, houses, and continuing the main storyline. However, after about two months, there were indicators that people were already finished with most of it, and the next big patch was still a month away.
So, besides dungeons and such, what is there to do while waiting for the next big primal to bring yet more terror to Eorzea? Well, as mentioned earlier, there are secondary classes that one could level. There are also the desirable tasks of equipping those secondary classes to epic levels. There are daily quests to raise reputation with certain groups, which lead to more unlocked items and expensive mounts from the vendors. Occasionally, Square Enix carries out special events in the game. Some of these are standard celebration of holidays, while others are crossovers of other Square Enix games, such as Final Fantasy XI and Lighting Returns FF13. While community experiences are a very subjective area, having a good Free Company (guild) will provide for some more activities. In addition to aiding fellow company members, there are treasure hunts which net nifty amounts of rewards, and then there is the farming up the millions of gil that is required to buy a property lot for a house in one of three nice-looking major areas.
When it comes to farming items and making items to sell on the marketplace, such specialists function as their own separate classes. You have gathering classes known as the Disciples of Land, and the crafting classes called the Disciples of the Hand. The gathering classes, such as miner, fisher, and botanist, can be a real drag to level. In the case of the miner, it is running around completing the same levelquests for long periods of time, mining the same five spots until it is time to move to a new region. Depending on the rarity of the item, quality, and market conditions, items gathered might not even sell for much. Crafting is a much more satisfying story. There is a very large list of recipes available for the classes, so there is much variety in the types of goods one can produce and sell. While it can still be somewhat tedious to level for long periods of time, having a high-level crafter can be of benefit, such as money income, and creating pieces of gear for people at lower levels. Crafting can get really expensive though, since recipes can depend on materials made at other professions. However, having a craft circle with people of various professions may be of great benefit, since people are exchanging goods with one another. Craft circles also can give quite the amount of enjoyment, especially with a group of friends.
The art style is reminiscent of the Super Nintendo days of the franchise (FF4-FF6), and has been implemented with much success. There are plenty of really nice details that invoke a strong, distinctive sense that this MMO carries the Final Fantasy name. Each major region has been created with vast differences in landscape, vegetation, and climate. It makes for some excellent scenery during the countless times spent traveling on foot through the areas. However, the variety is somewhat limited. Unlike some open-world games, which are rendered as one massive world, each major region is divided into separate zones with their own loading times. It somewhat hinders the open feel and sense of scale in the world. To get the game to look at its absolute best, it does require quite a fair amount of computing power, especially with huge crowds of people and certain environments. However, those with less powerful systems or those on the PlayStation 3 can still enjoy a good-looking game. Almost everything is modeled and textured quite well. Looking at things relatively close will reveal somewhat blocky modeling and iffy textures, but things look strong enough. Animation likewise is also nothing spectacular, but still nicely done. As for the special effects, they are awesome. They are not flamboyant, but they certainly do an amazing job of making skills, environments, and tasks look very satisfying. The overall look is not revolutionary, but Final Fantasy XIV is gorgeous.
The sound effects are great, and can feel really cool along with the special effects. The occasional voice acting during the story could be better, but it is alright. Most of the music is performed by conventional orchestra and ensemble instruments. It is very normal for a Final Fantasy game, but it still accomplishes a lot. The pieces composed carry the unique “Final Fantasy” touch to them, and feels powerful enough to possibly work in a massive movie production. The music suits environments well, such as the snowy Coerthas Highlands, to the coastal city of Limsa Lominsa, to the chaos that is trying to survive against the never ending punishment from a giant rock lord. Like the game’s art and graphics, the sound is not a breakthrough of new ideas. However, the audio and visuals pair to create FF14’s strongest selling point: An MMO with incredible attention to detail to create a strong, traditional Final Fantasy feel. It is grand, it is epic, and it is absolutely beautiful.
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is a very well-made standard MMO with the beautiful Final Fantasy style. It certainly is not innovative; it uses many well-proven genre mechanics that other games have. Some things could be better, such as more endgame content and gameplay refinements. However, the game in its current state is exceptional, with massive potential and a bright future. The development team has truly pulled off the feat of remaking Final Fantasy XIV into a gorgeous game that people are willing to play. It truly is a realm reborn.
Final Score: 9.0/10
Note: Because MMO games can have such diverse experiences, it is hard to give a single gameplay perspective that covers even half of all common types of possible playthroughs. This review was from the perspective of a Level 50 Elezen Paladin tank, who was a part-time Dragoon damage guy and White Mage healer, explored some of the endgame, did a bit of crafting, and had yet to enter the fray of Player vs. Player matches.