Review: Final Fantasy XIV – A Realm Reborn (**** stars) Part 1

Note: This series of two articles (the second of which releasing next Friday) were written shortly, around the time when Final Fantasy XIV was released. I had high hopes for the game, and apparently it suceeded, but…it just wasn’t World of WarCraft. Much as I love Final Fantasy, the experience just rang too similar in the long run, and my family seemed to agree. We quite after about six months and simply jumped out of the game, waiting for the next WoW expansion. Honestly, I may return to it, you never know! Still, the game is a quality game, so here’s my thoughts on it.

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Let me say that Final Fantasy XIV, finally, turned into a wonderful game that I’d recommend to everyone. They did exactly what I thought they should do, and my prediction of a year ago actually proved true! Bully on them, and after seeing the sales numbers, I think they nailed it. My compulsive play led me to do something that hasn’t occurred to me for at least 3-4 years. I cancelled my World of WarCraft subscription.

My personal desire, always in playing Final Fantasy games, was to share in the experience. There’s a strange sort of expectation that the developers will take us to new and undiscovered worlds. Maybe they’ll dazzle us with crazy cut scenes or a great story, but often you just want to bask in this world, its mechanics, and just dive into a long adventure towards some strange goal. Sometimes the games feel like hot messes (more recent entries, anyway), but they often hit the spot for me. No matter how trite or embarrassing the stories feel for some, that familiarity endears itself to the fans more than they could know. Of course, it was a long journey to get here to a playable, enjoyable game.

I cancelled my WoW account before, that much was certain. Many times, I just wanted a new Final Fantasy game, or just something that captured that ineffable magic of a simple story, great aesthetic qualities, and challenge. The first cancellation happened when two friends completely over leveled and progressed into level 60 raid content. Simply put, I needed to become valedictorian of my class and obtain good marks in school, not earn Tier gear in make-believe worlds. I’m sure they had fun, but I saved my parents more than a hundred thousand dollars in scholarships (thank God, truly). I think I made a good trade there.

I tried some MMORPGs in transit, however. One of them was the dreadfully disappointing Final Fantasy XI. If any game could crush your spirit and hope in the Final Fantasy brand, surely that one would. It contained the greatest assemblage of unintuitive MMORPG mechanics that I’ve yet seen, and playing the “grinding” game truly felt like a grind. To give you a quick summary:

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Grinding. Summed up in one word.

Find a group of five players, then find an area with high level monsters than give good experience (the Valkrum Dunes were especially popular), have some one pull it to the group, kill it, rinse and repeat. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? I realize that Square-Enix merely cribbed from the Everquest (and all MMOs prior) formula, so it’s somewhat forgivable, but transitioning from new style (WoW and its ilk) to old style really jars your mind. I decided rather early that this wasn’t the game for me, and it made me sad. I love Final Fantasy, but if the game’s bad, it is bad and one must move forward.

Of course, I never truly waned in interest, so then I goaded my family into The Burning Crusade after doing some classic raiding in 2006. We went hardcore into the game, completing the first tier of raid content along with our renewed play. Unfortunately, burnout, stress, and exterior circumstances forced us all to quit in the summer of 2008. It felt like a relief, but I still missed the game.  Warhammer Online came on the horizon, and Guild Wars also held our interest, but each introduced new problems to the equation. Warhammer’s inability to balance its two factions and character class divide (forever, I will tell you how unfair Bright Wizards and Warrior Priests are) made it less attractive than initially suspected, and its lack of PvE content forced another game switch. We were fifteen levels from the cap, but it suddenly became very boring. Guild Wars, on the other hand, would force us to grind previous missions to progress; we had done so well that we came into content under-leveled, and I still don’t understand how that happened!

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Toi reiterate: Bright Wizards suck and I hate them.

Thank goodness for Wrath of the Lich King, which I profoundly enjoyed. That expansion cemented WoW’s reputation, opened up raid content to casual folks (which I am now, thank you very much), and killed off most other games in its wake. At this point, I had pretty much given up on other games as a general rule. What could compare to World of WarCraft’s breadth and depth of content? How could its mechanics be bested in the MMO space? I honestly wasn’t interested in searching.

My love of Final Fantasy would remain in single player experiences. Final Fantasy XII worked well enough, and so did Final Fantasy XIII (even with its mixed reputation). Apparently, an MMORPG just wasn’t in the cards for the franchise. I didn’t want to play something like Final Fantasy XI, that seemed sure enough.

That turned into a bit of depression when, in 2010, Final Fantasy XIV came along. I waited with baited breath to see whether or not Square-Enix would learn their lesson. Could they bring a competitor, a genuine one, to World of WarCraft? Or would they stay stuck in the past, becoming a niche property to all but the most diehard Final Fantasy fans? Unfortunately, the initial release of Final Fantasy XIV proved even worse than I could imagine. When your CEO calls the game a brand damaging disaster, you know you failed. They shoved a beta product out the door, copied Final Fantasy XI play-by-play, and then improved the graphics. That’s not what fans expected, or what I expected, and that turned out bad for them. There were no tutorials, every mechanic weighed under convoluted terminology, and the game would randomly crash quite often. The game had great potential, mired by some terrible design decisions (the server-side user interface being the worst of them all, delaying actions no matter how good your connection speed). So that was the end of Square’s grand MMO experiment.

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A exclusive fishing class? Seriously? Is this a video game or not?

An experiment so bad, in fact, that Square-Enix shut the game down to completely reboot it. They’d take a loss, if only to meet fan expectations. This sounds like a different Square-Enix. I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt, but before anything happend Mists of Pandaria appeared. I love the pseudo-Asian setting, so away I went. But, you know, there’s something about Blizzard that irks me. They don’t seem to want World of WarCraft to live, announcing a new expansion without even a hint of a release date. Somehow, Blizzard thinks that we can wait an ambiguous, undefined length of time for a new expansion. No, I will not. Time to try something new.

And Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn turns into a new foray, an exciting adventure after years of the same game.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.