Imagine a world with sprawling grasslands, lush forests, uninhabitable deserts, cliff edges that oversee an ocean that extends far out into a picturesque horizon. Now, imagine yourself on a trek to wander through these lands, alone or with your friends, to witness this beautifully crafted world, in a simple tale of how a group of heroes and heroines from seemingly humble backgrounds unite to save their homeworld and stop an impending calamity.
This is Square Enix’s latest masterpiece – this is Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (PS3, PS4, PC). To start things off, this is not the Final Fantasy XIV you remember; Square Enix has rid FFXIV: ARR of its predecessor’s clumsy controls, utterly disappointing battle system, and lacklustre areas. What we do have now is a game befitting of the title of Final Fantasy, reborn as an MMORPG.
After selecting a server (and be careful – you’re locked in once you choose, so make sure your friends know which to join), the game will drop you into the Character selection menu. Players can literally spend an hour sifting through character traits such as skin color, face shape, race, face paint, hairstyles, you name it, and in stereotypical Final Fantasy fashion, each and every one of the character combinations looks otherworldly and gorgeous. There are literally thousands of combinations, and possibly millions if taking into account different clothes, accessories, and the like. After minutes spent carefully recreating yourself – or at least a close enough representation of yourself – you will be prompted to choose what class to undertake, the revamped class system featuring more classes to choose from than in Final Fantasy XIV. More classes means more ways to see the game in a different light, with each class’s guild being based in one of the three starting home cities. It is very important to be satisfied with how one looks and their starting class/job, as for a good part of the game, the player will be unable to change it.
With all preliminaries complete, the player is thrust into the massive world of Eorzea and is initially greeted by a simple quest; more like a guide through the basic character controls and camera movements. Getting a feel for the game’s controls at this stage should be paramount, but even if the controls this time are much more refined compared to FFXIV, it is still easy to lose your way in heated battle amongst monsters all vying for a piece of you. Thankfully enough, most of the quests at this part of the game involve simple errands throughout the city, and by the time you are tasked to head out into the wilderness, mastery of basic controls has already become routine. Of course no one wants to head out into unchartered territories fighting monsters, tribesmen, bandits, and the fearsome Garlean Empire without even knowing how to use a Potion. FFXIV: ARR’s battle system is rather different from its predecessors, and works similarly to the system present in FFXII. Free movement with the left joystick, camera movement with the right, and an Active Time Battle gauge dictating when you can initiate your next command. Each move is executed with the simple press of either the L2 or R2 buttons whilst simultaneously pressing any of the face buttons. Moves can be assigned to any of the buttons like hotkeys.
Wandering around the world with its accompanying music will bring out the inner adventurer in all of us. Always a highlight of Final Fantasy games are their invigorating compositions. No FF game would be complete without them, and FFXIV: ARR isn’t that much different. Relaxing music welcomes the player during visits at the home cities, epic music stirs up courage while journeying forth throughout the game, and the battle theme never fails to exhilarate the player. Each piece certainly has a Final Fantasy “sound” to it. It would be quite difficult to explain what that exactly means, but to put it succinctly, it reawakens a nostalgia of past FF games, something ingrained since childhood, definitely a very welcoming feeling for past FF players – or maybe that’s just the effect it has towards me. There will surely be times that the player will be tempted to just set the controller down, and drink in the game and its soundtrack.
Despite its abundant and notable improvements over FFXIV, the game does have some flaws; or to the very least mere annoyances. Communicating with other players can be quite bothersome, at least on the PS3 and PS4, for players without a keyboard. The in-game navigation to chat can be a hassle, as selecting the virtual keyboard requires multiple button presses; by then you’ll have either been pummelled by an enemy for failure to communicate or the player you’re trying to talk to will have run away. A keyboard is an absolute must for console players.
Another issue arises when there are too many players in one area, such as in main cities; the game tends to lag a bit, and sound effects seem to overlap with one another at varying volumes which is unnerving, not to mention quite surprising especially if you’re playing in the wee hours of the morning. FFXIV: ARR also features a subscription fee of approximately $12.00 a month (although the game does give you a free 30-day trial), which might be quite steep for some players. Apart from these issues, FFXIV: ARR is what many FF players will have wanted from the original FFXIV – an MMORPG with a Final Fantasy touch to it, beautiful characters, an engaging storyline, expansive areas, and award-winning music. To live up to the Final Fantasy name can be a daunting task, as each new entry in the series brings about changes, not always entirely welcome. In the case of the original Final Fantasy XIV, changes that were disastrous. That was then, though, and with a new development team, constructive criticism, and renewed ideas, Square Enix has certainly turned around the fate of the game.