In the past few weeks, I have been able to spend a little time in the reimagined world of Eorzea. Eorzea is the world in which the MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV is set. FFXIV was released in September 2010 to largely negative reviews. Claims that the game was poorly optimized, that it offered a sluggish and convoluted interface, and that quests felt boring and uninspired left many to feel that the game was unfinished upon release. The absence of the promised Playstation 3 version didn’t help matters. Fortunately, Square Enix realized the mistake it had made and announced in December 2010 that a major shift in the development team was taking place to correct the issues. The new dev team, lead by Naoki Yoshida, began work immediately and made several big changes and implemented patches that added significant new content. Finally on October 14, 2011, Square Enix announced its intention to relaunch the game as Final Fantasy XIV 2.0. Thus, FFXIV: A Realm Reborn came into existence.
FFXIV: ARR is set to include many changes upon launch, such as a revamped server system, redesigned graphics engine, a redesign of the game world, an optimized user interface, a revamping of the current jobs (as well as adding several more), PvP, the introduction of the FATE system and the long-delayed Playstation 3 version releasing alongside the PC version.
Well, enough of the history lesson, let’s talk about how ARR stands today. I played a few levels as a Gladiator but spent most of my time plowing through enemies as the Marauder (seen decked out above), both as as the human-like Hyur. My beta access was limited, so I didn’t get to a really high level or find any really good gear, but I did get enough of a taste of most of the game systems that I can offer some insight of what to expect.
The character creation is pretty standard fare as far as RPGs go, but I haven’t seen many MMOs with quite as extensive an offering of customization. I won’t bore you explaining every detail, but I want to make a note of the fantastic presentation. All the categories you can tweak to your liking has a distinct Final Fantasy feel to them. If you like the character design you’ve seen in the series, you shouldn’t be disappointed. Once you create your character, pick your class and choose your server, the game sends you into a dream-like cutscene sequence where you see yourself in common attire floating in space. A crystal appears in front of you, and next thing you know you see yourself decked out in high-level gear related to your class confronted by a menacing enemy that you engage in battle. The cutscene concludes with you waking up and being introduced to your character-specific starting area. I think this is a really cool way to give the player a tease of how badass his or her character will become. The cutscene also shows off how beautiful this game is. I can honestly say I haven’t seen a better looking MMO on the market. I played both the PS3 and PC versions, and while the PC version looks better, the PS3 version isn’t far behind at all and ran much smoother than I expected it to.
Once you get unleashed into the world, the game again turns into pretty standard MMO fare. What helps set ARR apart are its controls, U.I. and class system. If you’re using a keyboard and mouse, you aren’t going to see anything different than anything else on the market when it comes to the control. But if you’re using a gamepad, which you have the option to on PC and is the preferred control method on the PS3, you’re in for a treat. ARR uses a unique interface for use with a gamepad, which is a XrossMediaBar-like interface called the “Cross Hot Bar.” Playstation users will be familiar with this setup. This bar is used to access everything from configuration menus to maps to inventory to character loadout. The Cross Hot Bar also maps the action bar and macros to four icon sets horizontally arranged at the bottom of the screen. These are accessed through the combination of L2 and R2 trigger buttons and the directional pad and face buttons. Yes, it sounded a little confusing to me at first, but after a short while of using the system I couldn’t imagine playing any other way. The class system is very interesting as well. You can change classes by simply equipping different weapons, and at level 30 you can do quests to unlock an advanced version of your starting class called an advanced job. I can’t comment in detail on this as I did not personally get that far, but I like that it allows you to experiment with different classes so freely.
The questing and leveling also seemed like more of the same, but I had fun regardless. Most of the quests have gear rewards, which was highly motivating for me, especially in the beginning levels of the game. I can’t comment on how well the different Jobs work together as I didn’t run many instances with other players, but the few that I did seemed to be well-balanced. I did not get to partake in any PvP, so I can’t really comment there (personally I’ve never engaged in much PvP anyway). The battles I ran through were fun and engaging and took a bit of strategy to get through alive. One new mechanic that I find very interesting is the FATE mechanic. FATE stands for Full Active Time Event, which a large number of players can participate in no matter what their party status is. They are location-specific and vary in their objectives and offer good loot and experience if you participate. One may have everyone take down a giant monster, while others will have a specific number of a specific type of enemy that you must take down in a set amount of time. These ran seamlessly and are completely optional even if you find yourself in the middle of the fray accidentally. I’m intrigued at the potential that the Fate system has for varying the content of the game.
While the experience is almost identical on PS3 and PC, there are some differences. Unless you have a USB keyboard and mouse to hook up to your PS3, conversing with other players is going to be a chore. The U.I. is also going to take a little getting used to. If you do not use a mouse, you have to cycle through the different elements such as chat, world map, quest logs, etc., but a credit to the game is that the optional tutorials are invaluable and not intrusive. There is a bit of a learning curve, but if you can stick it out, you’ll be playing this MMO like you never have before (well a lot of you anyway). Another gripe I have about the PS3 version is there is no voice chat. When I play with friends I will more than likely play on my PC so I can use some kind of voice client. Just a few things to keep in mind.
I had a lot of fun with the limited time I got to spend with ARR and cannot wait to get my hands on more of the game. I can’t deny that it feels like most of the MMOs that are out there already, but it also feels fresh and has brought in some original systems to the table that has me intrigued. There’s no doubt that from the character creation screen to wandering around the world, it feels like a Final Fantasy game. It truly feels that Naoki Yoshida and Square Enix have gone to great lengths to make this a Realm Reborn. Look for its release on Playstation 3 and Microsoft Windows on August 27, 2013, and on the Playstation 4 in 2014.