Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn
May 1, 2014, Author: Neil Hickton
Two massively popular things in the world of gaming as you very well know are MMOs and Final Fantasy. They are also two things I’ve mostly avoided for one reason or another over the years. Massively multiplayer online games can feel a little gutless to me, lacking any form of storyline. Any game that tells me to go see someone over there, do that and repeat until bored without a good reason is not onto a good start, and one that does this without giving me a brooding story will generally lose my interest quickly. Final Fantasy VII was my last foray into the universe filled with big swords, logic puzzles, random battles and chocobos, and I’ve not seen any reason to go back or try any of the newer games.
With my obvious disdain perhaps I am the wrong person to review a game that is a mix of two things I don’t tend to gel with (are you? – Andy). However, I may well be the type of person that Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is intended to entice to the universe, all the while attempting to please its die-hard invested fans.
Recently being released onto the PS4, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn originated on the PS3 and PC. PS3 version owners can upgrade to the PS4 version for free before the 31st December 2014. Upgraded features are limited to “upgraded graphics” and “Vita remote play compatibility”. These in themselves don’t really inspire a real need to upgrade, but it is a pretty-looking game on the PS4.
The character I decided to create was small of stature and resembled a mildly effeminate hobbit with bigger ears. He’s a Lalafell. Small in size, big in personality, perhaps.
I spent a good part of my first hour of play going through all the options, browsing heavily over all the choices available to me. There are many and the selection on offer is both vast and detailed. Many RPGs allow to you to create and produce a character in your own near likeness; here they steer slightly away from this capability to retain a sensation of the unreal or other worldly, and it’s no bad thing. As ever, the options were at this point completely alien to me and only became clear once I’d completed a few hours of actual gameplay.
With my little person all ready and and raring to go I selected a server and I was off; my first involvement in Final Fantasy for many years began.
It’s a steady, rather slow beginning. On a carriage I rode as a passenger, a travelling salesman my guide into the universe I found myself in. After an odd incursion with some solders and a serious amount of text-based background story to read, I felt a little underwhelmed. An echo to the world of RPGs perhaps; the need to build your character up from nothing to something ever more powerful, slowly enabling them to take on bigger challenges, little by little. Like playing Ridge Racer, where the only way to win isn’t by skill, but merely by owning a faster car.
After being dropped in the city it was clear I needed to learn a few things, and quickly. The main thing that I needed to learn were the controls. Okay, moving is simple enough; left and right sticks do what you expect, but suddenly there’s a whole mouse pointer style selection method that you need to get your head around. The second is navigation and this should be a simple thing, but here Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn throws two maps at you. The first is a world map and the other is meant to be a local map. It is clear that it’s possible to change the scale and information on both, but it’s no mean feat for the unaccustomed. I’m told to go see someone, and I eventually worked it all out, but the control scheme is far from intuitive.
The controls continued to bait me as I played, and I noted that simple actions I’d expect on one button are in fact a multi-button affair. The controls proved over-complicated in my mind and detracted from what I was being asked to do in each task. This level of convolution could give the impression of depth, but I felt it was just an inconvenience, slowing down my interaction with the world unnecessarily.
Something that really bothered me about Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is the general disdain the non-player characters have for you. So I don’t expect to be liked by everyone, sure, but it seems they are quite hateful at times. Approaching someone with a lovely Lalafell smile and jaunty step I half expected them to pick me up in their arms, cuddle me and confess that they find me so cute they would die. Instead they tell me to go away and go die.
If that wasn’t enough, other NPCs seem angry with other NPCs and the incessant need to swear occurs. I have no problem with swearing, profanity or cursing as long as it’s in context and here I couldn’t help but feel it’s out of place. With the wording being used it seems A Realm Reborn is trying to sound grown-up, like a twelve-year-old pretending to be older when surrounded by older teenagers. It seems neither clever or necessary and proves nothing other than a lack of writing prowess on the author’s behalf.
The main reason the wording becomes so impractical is that you have to read everything. There are no voice-overs to be heard anywhere, other than player character sounds like laughing or crying that you can trigger from the complex control system. While this is not surprising as it keeps things simpler for the developers to expand and grow, it is quite an odd sensation “going back” to a game that doesn’t have the sound of people talking. I’ve been used to the frivolity of real speech in games for the best part of fifteen years, and to play Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, it seemed a step backward.
Initial tasks are really boring, but really necessary. Feeling more like a chore than a game, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn forces you to “go and see that person and talk to them”, or “go here and take this ring to that person”. It takes task-based gameplay and pushed it to the limit of my sanity, forcing me through the mundane. It seems this mandatory path is the only way you can progress onto the important stuff, like killing ladybirds.
Combat feels a little lazy in terms of implementation and again overly complex for what it is your character is actually doing on screen. Being an odd mix of direct button bashing with a smattering of turn-based hostility, I didn’t really feel I had control over my little Lalafell when he was kicking crap out of an adversary. Likewise when the opposition was kicking my butt it was clear that I wouldn’t have a chance due to the simple levelling structure.
For example, when my level five Lalafell attacks a level eight creature of whatever type. The creature will almost undoubtedly have the upper hand. Expected yes, but when you can see an information card hovering over a creature as you approach it, it kind of takes the immediacy and adventure into the unknown away from you. I’ll admit this is the nature of the MMO rather than a distinct failing of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, but the way creatures potter about in plain sight seems a little too structured and lacks an amount of surprise or indeed, the element of discovery.
Attempting to play a friendly bout of co-op with Andy Buick was a complete no-no it seemed. We tried for about thirty minutes to connect to each other’s game, ensuring we were both on the same server, but there is a distinct lack of logical pointers to guide you. While we clearly need to try again at some point, my experience of it so far leaves me with the impression that while it may be possible, joining your friends may not be as simple as you would hope in this modern age of connected living. Some of this may well stem from PS4’s less than perfect friend management and invite capabilities. Something Xbox 360 did so very right.
Make the world, they will come?
MMOs clearly appeal to the player that enjoys sharing their quest with many others and Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn provides the opportunity to do just that. My experiences so far, however, lead me to conclude that sometimes being online with so many others can feel quite lonely and a little frustrating. Other players rarely wanted to interact with me on my travels and even when I made an effort to assist others in need they just ran off without a word. This is by no means a slight at Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn’s offerings, but it undermines the need to play in a permanently online form.
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is a massive game, of that there is no doubt, and for me to do it true justice I would really need to spend many hours longer playing. I did begin to understand how things work, but my journey to that point took a long time. With the controls being over-cumbersome when a contextual button configuration could have been used, it seems there were some arguably poor design decisions made.
If I’m honest, I personally found Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn to be a little boring due to the “go-here-do-that-come-back” gameplay and this hampered my experience, chequering my opinion considerably. However, I don’t feel overly negative about it, but merely underwhelmed by what it has offer. Of course, if you are willing to put in the time, and have a past love for everything Final Fantasy, then I believe you might well get a lot out of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. It certainly seems to be a game that rewards the player for the time they put in and with proverbial carrots dangling everywhere to entice you to push forward and reach a higher level, you may well be tempted to stick with it.
The last off-putting thing I see is the monthly charge that ranges from £7.69 (10.99 Euro) to £10.69 (12.99 Euro) a month depending on which membership tier you plumb for. With so many other MMOs to choose from, some free-to-play, I find it quite hard to recommend Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn just on the merits of the gameplay itself. Digging deep, it’s a real try-it-you-might-like-it scenario, but if you’ve never played one of the other epic Final Fantasy episodes, then this perhaps shouldn’t be your first experience.