The third phase of Final Fantasy XIV’s beta is here, and with it, the NDA is summarily gone. Images from phase 3 can be posted; video and audio cannot. This is the fast track to finally being back in the game for real, to play your old characters once again, to enjoy the game again.
Am I excited? Of course I am because I haven’t been able to play yet. I’m writing this from the past, and by the time you read this, I will be awash in Eorzea.
There was also a major industry event this week, one that’s known officially as the Electronic Entertainment Expo and known more colloquially to everyone in the world as E3. Final Fantasy XIV was there making an impression, revealing jobs at long last, and generally carrying on as if it owned the place. So let’s talk a little bit about what we saw from E3 if you can tear yourself away from the beta client for, like, five minutes.
The new trailer for the game was released, and it was… well, odd. For starters, the voice acting sounded very stiff on the whole. You can point to a couple of rough moments in Final Fantasy X, but by and large Square-Enix has been good about getting solid talent and good direction in games; perhaps I’ve been spoiled recently. I’m also not a fan of Cid’s new look, seeing as how he appears to be sporting a big old failure beard.
But we also saw more of Gaius (who’s shaping up to be a bigger bad with Darnus out of the picture), other high-ranking Imperials, and some gorgeous work all around. A large chunk of the trailer, if not all of it, was in-game footage rather than pre-rendered, something I always like to see. And of course, it reminds veteran players that while we’re no longer staring down a moon, things have not exactly improved over the last five years in the game world.
Trailers are just pretty pictures, though, and what FFXIV needed to do was win hearts and minds. PAX East was a dry run for this, I think, a chance for people who had scarcely heard of the game beyond “the launch didn’t go well” to sit up and take notice. And in that regard, the game did pretty darn well. People were forming crowds, eagerly trying to find out about the game, and it’s been getting more overall coverage than it has in a long while.
Not that Naoki Yoshida was just preaching to the unconverted. We also got a look at Summoner, Arcanist, and Scholar, which was always going to be a rough collection of jobs and classes.
Summoners, I think, are the hardest class to implement in an MMO, period, because there have always been two roles for the class to fill and neither one works in a shared environment. Either summons consist of hugely damaging area blasts that simply ruin everything around them or they involve discarding your allies for a uniquely powerful companion. (Or wasting a bunch of MP on a stupid toy in Final Fantasy XII, but the mechanics in that game had problems anyhow.) Final Fantasy XI wound up turning them into buffing machines with unusable pets, which wasn’t really an ideal solution, but it was about all that could be done in the game’s engine.
Scholars, on the other hand, are barely present in the series. They show up in a grand total of three games in the main series, and one of those is only in the epilogue. It’s hard to say much firm about them beyond the fact that they’re presented as Red Mages with slightly more magic and slightly less battle acumen. The one thing they have in common with Summoners is that there is a lot of vagueness to their defined talents.
Obviously we don’t know all of the details yet, but I think we can safely speculate. Summoners focus more on the pet aspect of the class while Scholars focus more on the utility side of things, with the latter probably working in a healing role and the former acting as support and damage. This is, to my mind, a really great way to use the job system in the first place.
Something I’ve discussed on multiple occasions is the need for specialization, the idea that two characters at the same level with the same gear should be able to play differently. Part of that is simply a matter of letting players focus on the aspects of a given class that they find most interesting. Giving multiple jobs to focus on different abilities replicates some of that feel, letting you back up your class choice with some endgame utility based on what you already like to do.
Also, I’m glad that we don’t have another class with staves. Seriously, there are lots of weapons out there.
Beyond that, a lot of the information revealed over the convention is already known to fans, although the fact that the game will be coming to the PlayStation 4 is a welcome revelation. It’s also the sort of forward thinking that didn’t really exist with Final Fantasy XI, but since that was in the days when having an MMO on a console seemed even more ridiculous, I think we can agree that it was an understandable oversight.
Now we’re moving into the real meat of the relaunch. Yoshida has placed his cards on the table, people have seen that the game is out there, and the next two beta phases are going to show how well or how poorly everything comes together. So let’s get to it.
Feedback is welcome in the comments or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, as in previous weeks. Next week, a look at the beta because would you expect anything else?