Honestly, how do you review a massively multiplayer online game? I mean, this a game designed to be played for eons, offering up a very different experience in the early game to that of the later levels.
Also, your MMO experience very much depends on how your play the game. Do you play with your real-life friends? Do you play with your guild? Do you play solo?
I tend to play MMOs that same way I always have, pretty casually. I join groups when the opportunity arises or when necessary, but generally I’m a lone wolf or at best a sword for hire. Probably not the best way to play MMOs, but there you go. But it is the way most new players will first experience these sorts of games, so I probably serve well for me to review Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn on the PlayStation 4 this way.
Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XIV is the long-running role playing game franchise’s second foray into the MMO realm. But things didn’t start well for the game when first launched on the PC way back in September 2010. It was a cataclysmic disaster- it was broken and fans were angry.
Rather than try to patch the game back together the publisher instead started afresh. Late last year the game was relaunched as Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, with a new graphics engine and sweeping changes to the game mechanics.
In-game this change is referred to as The Calamity, an apocalyptic event that saw the original version of the game switch off and, a year later, the new version switch on.
At the relaunch the game was made available on PC and the PS3, with players on both platforms co-habiting the same servers. Xbox 360 owners missed out due to Microsoft’s rather protectionist attitude to cross-platform gameplay (something that they are going to have to deal with eventually).
Now, PS4 owners also have the opportunity to enter the wondrous world of Eorzea, playing alongside their PC and PS3 brethern.
No matter what platform that you play FFXIV on, first you are going to need a Square Enix account. On the PlayStation 4 this account will need to be linked with your PlayStation Network I.D.
Compared to Sony’s easy-to-use accounts system the Square Enix account website is a bit of a dog’s breakfast, but you’ll get there in the end.
With your Square Enix FFXIV account linked to your PlayStation account, it’s a bit annoying that you have to log into the game every time you start it. Also – considering that it’s the serial number included with the physical PS4 retail release that allows you to play – having to insert the disc in the machine each time you play it is another annoyance. There is a workaround- uninstalling the game and downloading it from the PSN Store – but it’s not good, really.
Once you have logged on and selected your server (check that your friends are playing on the same server as you) the first thing you need to do is to create a new character. As you’d imagine there’s a meaty character creation process to go through before you can set a foot into the world.
There a number of races a character types to choose from. Being Final Fantasy you can create an avatar that is as heroic or cutesy as you like.
There are five races to choose from; each one with its own strengths, weaknesses and starting location. Whilst unique to Final Fantasy, they still follow familiar MMO conventions.
First up are the pointy-eared Elezen, with their high-elven looks. Then there’s the human Hyur. The short, childlike Lalafell are an interesting character type. The Miqo’te are very similar to the Elezen with the addition of a tail. And finally there’s the huge, muscular Roegadyn (whom seem to be found on my server anyway, running around in nothing but their underpants).
The game’s class system is based around four disciplines: Disciples of War and Magic are combat focused, whilst Disciples of Hand and Land focus on crafting and gathering.
A Disciple of War will be a gladiator, pugilist, marauder, lancer or archer; a Disciple of Magic a Conjurer, Thaumaturge or Arcanist; a Disciple of Hand classes a Carpenter, Blacksmith, Armorer, Goldsmith, Leatherworker, Weaver, Alchemist or Culinarian; and a Disciple of Land a Miner, Botanist and Fisher.
The races and classes provide plenty of character variety and are a welcome change from your usual paladins and elves. It’s very easy to get lost in creating your character, and it’s worth spending the time to get it just right.
I had the opportunity to spend a few weeks with the PC version shortly after the relaunch last year and so I was pleasantly surprised to find my FFXIV character that I’d played on the PC version ready for me to pick up and play on the PS4 version. Which was nice.
The reason for this is that your Square Enix player account is tied to you as a player and not the platform that you are playing on. If you’ve purchased the game on PC and you then go and buy it on PS4, as long as your account is paid up (and, of course, you used the same Square Enix account) you can play on both platforms. The same goes for the PS3 and upgrading to the PS4. It’s very sensible and rather awesome.
With your character created the game drops you into the land of Eorzea and it’s every bit as magical and colourful as you’d expect from a Final Fantasy game. From lush meadows to foreboding volcanic ravines, this is a world apart from your usual gritty MMO.
The world of FFXIV has a surreal, almost cartoony, feel about it. The developers have clearly spent a lot of time ensuring that the PS4 experience is as close to the PC version as it can be.
Whilst the game looks very nice, the graphics don’t push any boundaries. Occasionally I found the visuals to look a bit too clean, too sanitised. Also, there’s not really any gore or dismemberment.
The flipside of this almost anime art-style means that the game has a PG rating. Unlike the other MMORPG I’m playing right now, The Elder Scrolls Online (with its M rating), FFXIV is a game that kids can play, without getting too traumatised.
Unlike The Elder Scrolls Online, FFXIV is more of the old school MMO. Whilst ESO seems desperate to keep you on board, throwing content at you like it’s going out of style, you have to work for your rewards in FFXIV.
The early game doesn’t really stray from your typical MMO, settling you in for hours of grind quests. You’ll be doing quest for your guild and the many random NPCs, some of whom provide quests for the main story as well.
Tasks involve gathering stuff (usually from the bodies of your victims) and dispatching nuisance creatures. There’s also a fair amount of packages that need couriering about.
The game keeps you busy and if you can overlook some of the bog standard fetch quests and low level monster bashing, it’s all good. FFXIV breaks you in gently, carefully exposing you to an otherwise overwhelming game.
Completing quests will not only earn you those all-important experience points, but also Gil, the standard currency in Final Fantasy games and the occasional item.
In time you character’s Level, stats and equipment increase so that you can hold your own against less-generic enemies. For one quest I got a warning that I was about to enter an instanced area.
Without thinking (and without a party) I accepted and spent the next half hour getting myself killed by a huge tree and its sapling goons until I figured out the best way to win.
The only thing that doesn’t really translate over to the multiplayer game is the traditional Final Fantasy single-player combat. FFXIV makes the compromise that it must make and swaps the turn-based battles for real-time button mashing. There’s really no other way that they could do it, but for a lot of people the strategies employed in the series trademark fights is what differentiates Final Fantasy from the other pretenders. Still, you will recognise the names of many of the buffs and negatives effects. There’s even an appearance by titans such as Infrit and Shiva.
Another staple of Final Fantasy that is all present and correct in FFXIV is the beautiful soundtrack. It’ll be unmistakable to fans of the series with both the main theme and the in-game audio cues packed with nostalgia.
A beautiful as the games setting is, the narrative is a bit of a mess.
Don’t get me wrong, awkward dialogue is endearing staple of Final Fantasy; probably more down to the literal translation from Japanese than by design. The result is less of a dramatic tale and more of a fantasy soap opera. Whilst Final Fantasy and general anime fans will be ready for this, your average western gamer may find this type of story-telling a bit, well, lame. You will either love it or hate it.
Swapping the keyboard and mouse for a PS4 controller is a bit of a liberating experience at first; sitting on a sofa playing an MMO being quite a novelty. The absence of the PC’s keyboard and mouse isn’t an issue until you need to start typing. You can get around it by using the Vita or the PlayStation smartphone/tablets app, but if you are serious about playing the game, I think I’d still recommend a proper keyboard and mouse.
Whilst I remain unconvinced that the PS4’s DualShock controller is the best way to play the game, the PS4 version has an instant advantage over the PC version if you own a PlayStation Vita.
Using the Vita with the PS4’s remote play means that you can play the game away from the TV; under the bed sheets and, if you’ve got a decent enough connection, away from the house as well.
With all that text, playing FFXIV on a tiny Vita screen would ordinarily give you some vicious eye strain. This is where the fully customisable user interface comes in handy, allowing you to change text sizes and menu/dialogue box locations. There’s several profiles that can be used allowing you to easily switch from your preferred TV layout to your Vita UI layouts, making FFXIV a very portable game.
Even though I spent hours with the game, I still felt as if I’d only scratched the surface. I did, however, meet up with the game’s producer and director, Naoki Yoshida in Sydney recently and had a go on some of the later game. As a Level 50 I roamed Eorzea on the back of a comically obese Chocobo.
The landscapes of the high-level areas were breathtaking and the enemies colossal.
I asked about playing the game solo and Yoshida-san told me that the game was really designed to only be playable solo until about Level fifteen, after which you will need to use the game’s Duty Finder to join a party. Duty Finder takes all the agro out of finding a party, automating the process so that you don’t even need to communicate with the other members. Pretty handy for a game with such an international following.
FFXIV is a subscription game that’s going to cost you around AU$16 per month to play.
I spoke to Yoshida-san about this and asked what exactly we were getting for our money.
His answer was simple: extra content. With each themed patch extra content is added to the game. He’s not just catering to the hardcore fans either, some patch content will be aimed at lower Level players as well; perhaps alternating patch releases in the future to accommodate newbies and endgame players.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is a classic Final Fantasy experience. The art style, the musical cues and the endearingly awkward dialogue will be instantly recognisable to fans of the series.
It’s a beautiful-looking game, with the PS4 version running graphically on par with the PC version. The game is packed with things to do. There’s a bit of grind at the beginning, but no worse than what you will find in any MMO. With extra content on the way and the promise of support for a long time to come FFXIV is certainly game that every PS4 RPG fan should at least take a look at.