The RPG Scrollbars: Back To Final Fantasy XIV

Some games stick with you more than you expect. Final Fantasy XIV certainly did for me. I never played the original version, the one released in such a horrific state back in 2010 that Square Enix was forced to stick a knife in it and go back to the drawing board. You know it’s bad when even a game’s publisher openly admits they’ve released a flop and stops even taking money for it. Still, they took it back to development, vigorously retooled it, complete with a five-year timeskip to a new story, and in 2013, it returned under its new name, A Realm Reborn. I gather it was going to be “Oh God Our Jobs Depend On This”, but the focus groups didn’t think it had enough snap.

Luckily for Square, the gamble paid off. Final Fantasy XIV is one of the few MMOs whose name doesn’t rhyme with Earled Of Awecraft to still be ticking along nicely with a mandatory subscription, with its first expansion pack, Heavensward, due this week. I’m not planning to talk about that here… because I haven’t played any of it. But! This does seem like an opportune moment to take a second look at the original game – an often frustrating, yet intriguing take on the MMO template.

Final Fantasy XIV can be a bit of a mess. Putting it kindly, it feels like a game where about 20% of the team has played an MMO, and the others have at best glimpsed the genre and frankly PC gaming in general through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars. As just one of many examples, take the new Heavensward expansion. You can buy it on Steam, and like most MMOs, what that gives you is a serial number to put into the Square-Enix website – a poorly designed horror show in itself, hidden behind an unfriendly launcher that makes simply getting a password reminder far more hassle than it should be. Unlike most MMOs though, Square draws a distinction between a regular PC copy of the game and one bought on Steam, so a Heavensward code from one won’t activate on the other! And you’ll only see that if you click the ‘Read Me’ button on the store page and scroll down to a section that’s ‘Important’, but clearly not AS important as advertising a new hat.

Grr! And this is not isolated face-palm moment by any stretch of the imagination.

Most of my initial experiences with the game back then were as frustrating. This is a game where the Blizzard spell hurls a ball of ice at one enemy, while Blizzard II is is an area damage attack. Was ‘Blizzaga’ or something too hard to type? The new player experience is also pretty weak, with quests that think a triumphant fanfare is the appropriate response to being asked to get someone a glass of juice, and which put far too much focus on daily type quests called ‘levequests’ – a name that comes from a combination of the word ‘queste’, from the Old French for ‘shit to do’, and ‘leve’, the ancient Aramaic for ‘boring’. Having to mainline all of this for review purposes didn’t exactly endear it to me, though I was quite fond of the weirdly British script. It’s so odd to play an MMO full of lines like “Enough of this mummer’s farce!” and with characters casually muttering “Bugger me!” in conversation.

But as I said, it’s surprising how some games stick with you. Over time, and a couple of return visits without the same pressure to push forwards and stare critically at things, I’ve come to think a lot more fondly of the game – both for what it at least tries, and for what it succeeds at. A recent patch for instance added the Gold Saucer, a casino based on the beloved theme park from Final Fantasy VII. I talked about this more on my own site, but I think it’s probably my single favourite thing I’ve ever seen patched into an MMO, and it’s a credit to Square-Enix that it’s free to all players rather than being a carrot on a stick to draw players back in for Heavensward. Chocobo racing! Triple Triad throughout the world! Lots of mini-games! It was a bit empty when I popped in now just to take a look, rather than the bustling hub of the first time I took a look, but never mind. It’s easy to find examples of Final Fantasy XIV being a bit creaky, but things like this are still a pleasant reminder of it going above and beyond to actually earn its second chance and redeem itself after that terrible launch.

(I’ll even forgive its inevitable shilling of Lightning, the most boring of all Final Fantasy characters, in person during the launch event and in Triple Triad card form more recently. Goddamn, Square couldn’t shove her down our throats more if they stuck her face on an endoscope…)

In particular, it smacks of a game that doesn’t quite understand the rules of its genre, and I don’t mean that as a complaint. Well, okay, sometimes. Mostly though, I mean that it feels just a little uncomfortable enough to have thought about things that other games take for granted – like dungeons. Every game has dungeons. This is one of the few that insists you do them even on the largely single-player focused storyline, and early. There’s even a boss fight against Ifrit (a fire monster, for non Final Fantasy players) who is quite happy to show rookie players what a total party kill looks like. It does admittedly go a little nuts with this, demanding three dungeons in quick succession – unless that’s been patched – but the message is pretty clear. You bought an MMO? Then damn it, kupo, you’re at least going to play with some other people for a while.

That might be a plus or minus depending on how you roll, and how bad the dungeon queues are while looking for groups, but it does come with a definite plus – Final Fantasy XIV is one of the only MMOs I can think of that actually takes the time to explain how to do it. As a Thaumaturge for instance, there’s training in what your role as a damage dealer actually is and what your party tank will expect from you. It’s maddening how little that usually goes explained, with games simply assuming that already just knows about tanks, healers and DPS. Honestly, this was a breath of fresh air.

Sticking with a Thaumaturge, because that’s what I focused on (FFXIV uses a Job system so you can chop and change, levelling each class individually), combat was also oddly fun. It’s a very stodgy system compared to many, but with some nice touches. In that role for instance you get both ice and fire spells, with the gimmick being that the more you use one in a fight, the more powerful but draining it gets. Levelling up classes also unlocks cross-class skills, in a cool extra gimmick. The game’s full of this kind of thing – not necessarily huge sweeping changes to the status quo, but at least something different. Then it often throws you into a poorly designed map where you can’t bloody find anything, or something else worth grinding your teeth for. But then, after that, usually something cool. It shakes out a lot better than it feels like it’s going to while annoyed early on.

Past those first impressions, it’s also a surprisingly good Final Fantasy game in a way that, say, The Elder Scrolls Online utterly failed to convey the spirit of its own franchise. It’s very different in terms of play, but it still works, in the surprisingly good story that unfolds, in the characters you meet, and the cute details like the chocobo song playing as you bop around. It manages to make you feel important, as a game with a personal quest should, while still making the multiplayer side an advantage on a regular basis. Guild Wars 2 style FATE quests that just spring up and offer the chance to jump in and fight alongside a party for instance, or the range of group/duty finders. One I particularly like, small as it is, is the Recommendations panel that opens up at login, pointing you towards suitable things you might want to go and do, like a specific dungeon for your level. Another, again a little like Guild Wars 2, is the ability to just zap around the world on command instead of wasting endless time on taxis or running to find one of the world’s teleport crystals – though they do serve as free local teleports for getting around larger locations, saving much shoe leather.

There’s a fair whack of grind associated with all this, and it’s a game best taken slowly – though given that Heavensward demands you’ve finished all of the story before letting you into the new stuff, I suspect that the dungeon queues are going to be quite brisk at the moment. A little now and again certainly takes the edge off the annoyances, some of them still at a point where it feels worth getting on a plane to Japan and booking an appointment with the game director just to scream in their face and stride out with a sense of happy purpose. (When checking out Gold Saucer for instance, it took a wiki to find out what I was meant to do – heaven forfend the airship to it simply sell a ticket instead of declaring I didn’t have authorisation to go there. The actual solution? Find a random NPC on the other end of the world willing to give me his for free. Ngggh! Seriously, what the hell?)

Even with everything I like about Final Fantasy XIV, I can’t say it’s a game that I feel compelled to actually play long-term. It’s a slow burner at best, there’s a lot of grinding to be done both for your main and additional classes, and the frustrations do build up over time. Still, thinking about it, dipping in now and again… yeah. The more time passes, the more I’m glad that it both got its second shot at success and embraced it like a bear with a particularly cuddly bunny rabbit.

Certainly if you’re a Final Fantasy fan and it fell off your radar at launch, it’s worth at least trying the 14 day trial to see how it rolls and if its unusual mix is enough of a change from the usual theme-park MMO style. If not, well, maybe check back in a couple of years. I hear that can help…

19 Comments

  1. Soulstrider says:

    FFXIV was the mmo that rekindled my love for this genre, I played a lot of these games, WoW, GW2, SWToR, AoC,WH:AoR, but since WoW:BC I haven’t been so addicted to an mmo.

    Can’t really point out what, it’s a mixture of a great aesthetic, fun boss fights in the mid/late game specially the primals, or a proper story and atmosphere, but I have been pleasantly engrossed with it.

    Weird you mentioned grinding since I never felt that I ever grinding in the game barring the 46-50 interval where I got out of the story and regular quests and had to farm dungeons and fates.

  2. DCEnygma says:

    For me, Final Fantasy XIV was my first foray into the “modern” MMO. I haven’t played with any real interest since Ultima Online and Everquest, so it was a wholly new experience for me. To that extent, I really have enjoyed my experiences in FF14. The game has so much content, provides so many things to do with even just a single character that I never find myself losing interest in the game. Whenever I get tired of doing something, I just change classes or start working on crafting, or gathering, or play games at the Gold Saucer, or whatever.

    To me, it’s one of the most fun experiences I’ve had in games overall. The dungeons are mostly fun, the big boss fight-y trials are great, and I just like it a lot.

  3. iamgenestarwind says:

    i bought this game for 30$ and payed another 15$ to play on their sever for a month i played for 10 hours in the hope things would get more interesting they did not, other players in the forums told me that once i got to lvl 20 things would be more interesting and there would be more customisation for your character i wondered how would i get to lvl 20 seeing as getting to lvl 12 had been more boring than any other game i had ever played
    this game is basically world of warcraft with a final fantasy skin on it you pick a class your class does a few things like attack in one or 2 different ways and then every two levels you get a new skill, you dont get to pick that skill nor do you get to pick a skill from a group of skills you just get one skill there are no options to customise your character, maybe some where you can get different clothes to look different but you cant customise your character as in getting different skills different fighting skills or different spells you get what you get thats it
    also quests are exactly like quests in any other OMM game not some what the same or alike or similar EXACTLY the same as other OMM games go there get this bring that here or bring that to him go there kill this go there kill so many of this
    i really wonder what was going the the creators minds making a game like this, we want to make a really bad game that is so boring free OMM games will beat the shit of of us maybe we want to drive the franchase into the dirt
    cant say i would recommend this game to any one unless you like poor game play, mindless grinding, no customisation and paying for a game when you could get almost the very same game for free else where

    • thanosi says:

      In the name of all that’s good in the world, please take some of these and scatter them liberally throughout your text …………………………….

      • grom.5 says:

        Sir ? You owe me a lung. I laugh far too much at this.

        Please keep on.

    • MugiMugi says:

      If you actually did leve a bit more and digged into the customisation in the you would learn that you can share skills between your classes on your char. While it’s quite limited on a Jobb it’s still there and do offer some customisation.

      Later on there is quite a few customisations as well beside that, but you need to reach end game to unlock most of it, not something you would experience or even know at level 12. In fact I wodner if you even unlocked subclasses as you would have learned about skill customisation then.

      I wouldn’t say the game got the most customisation in the world, but it got enought, but I would recomend you to studdy up the game a bit more so you can provide actuall proper information rater then providing wrong.

    • Resdarva says:

      First off it’s an MMO if you think any MMO is going to completely open up and show and give everything the game has to offer you sadly in the wrong genre. You have to invest time, not a small 10 hours, to get anywhere in a MMO.
      Second off the creators of the game wanted no one to be discriminated on not having an ideal build and you talk about customizing your character and choosing skills and the likes of that, but in the end especially for MMO games its all an illusion of choice. Sure in some games you can pick and level up certain skills but more than likely only a few builds will be good and optimal to actually use. So whats the point of making a system of where you can pick certain skills that will be boil down to either subpar or optimal.
      and lastly please do tell me of a MMO or even RPG in general of any sorts that does not have a Kill X and Get Y questline? You demand for some type of innovation but in reality what can be placed instead? Fetch questlines are in almost all RPG’s

  4. trn says:

    I’m afraid I’ve never been able to get into an MMO – FFXIV was no exception. It reminded me of an ARPG like Diablo, but one in which every time you clear a dungeon of monsters you then have to teleport back to town and spend an hour clicking on every villager and telling them about it, only to be sent straight back to kill a whole lot of different monsters in the same dungeon. Grind, rinse, repeat. Which is a shame, because I felt FFXIV had the most distinctive and appealing graphics of a FF game since FFIX and it was squandered on a plot-less fetch-quest simulator.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      FFXIV is far, far from plotless. The plot takes a bit to kick in but it really goes into it when it does, especially with the initial defeat of Ifrit and ambassadorship to the other lands.

    • Soulstrider says:

      Look I am ok with most of your points since different tastes and whatever but calling it plotless is utter nonsense, it’s one of the most if not the most story based mmo I’ve ever played, if anything a better argument would be saying you are too restricted by the plot.

  5. borghive says:

    I have played the game since it’s relaunch, and while I keep going back, the combat in the game is pretty bland. The long global cool down makes the game feel like you are playing in slow motion. Also the game is heavily instanced which is also a huge turn off for me. I do however keep an active sub going, the main story isn’t too bad and the huge amount of dungeons in the game is a nice draw for me.

  6. solidsquid says:

    Just a brief warning for people wanting to use the trial, although it says 14 days that’s from when you register, not from when you first log in. With the amount of data you need to download and depending on whether you can leave your machine running through the day this could cut the time you have to play by at least a few days

  7. Jenks says:

    I played it for 4~ months after (re)release, it’s a good MMO for people who miss the combat/pace of vanilla WoW but not the raiding. I may try the expansion eventually but right now I’m enjoying the Everquest progression server which launched last month.

    It’s also proof that subscription based MMOs fail because they’re bad games, not because the subscription model doesn’t work.

    • malkav11 says:

      Not really. I pretty much guarantee that if FFXIV continues to survive as a subscription-only affair, it likely will have to do with it being out for consoles as well (not true of almost any other MMO ever), having a substantial crossover audience from the offline games (like WoW), or many other publishers just being wildly unrealistic in terms of their expectations. But I don’t expect it to stay sub-only, personally.

      • Emeraude says:

        I think a subscription based model could work – I certainly endorse it myself, but not t the scales those games are being produced nowadays.

        • malkav11 says:

          It’s not like you can’t get some people to pay subscriptions, but I don’t think it’s a smart basket to put all your eggs in these days. I’m damn sure I’m not the only person who’s crossed into adulthood with a full time job and other demands on my time (not least of which are the many, many other games I would also like to play) that make paying an ongoing fee for access to a game not feel like a wise expenditure of money, whereas one-off investment s in something that I can return to whenever I have time and inclination is a no-brainer. I’ve come back to games like The Secret World and Guild Wars 2 over and over, but I’ve almost never reupped on a subscription game, and when I have it’s almost always been for WoW and the launch of a new expansion.

  8. thekelvingreen says:

    I tried to give the free trial a go on PS3 when they relaunched the game but in order to log in I required a bit of extra kit that would scramble my password or something. It was a free gadget so I tried to order one, but to do so I needed to log in, which required the gadget I was trying to order.

    I gave up at that point.

    • Samuelson says:

      For anyone having an issue creating an account for, or logging into Final Fantasy XIV, here are a few tips that got me in: If you already have a square enix account using the email you try to register with, it won’t notify you, it will just not send you a confirmation code. If you need to login to your account and you haven’t set up the “One-Time Password” thing, just leave that field blank. Hope that helps somebody!

  9. skittles says:

    Yeah the website and authentication systems and all are so counter-intuitive and crap for S-E and always has been. I remember several years ago losing access to my account for XI since I hadn’t played in a while. Trying to get the password reset was a nightmare. I went through about 20 different screens and eventually the process started looping because of one missing bit of info I could not provide. I tried contacting support who were no help whatsoever. And basically permanently lost access to the game.