Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is a game that means a lot of different things to different people. For gamers who are primarily single player RPG fans and grew up with the magic of classic Final Fantasy games, FFXIV: ARR represents a chance to play a modern FF game with pretty graphics and a few buddies. For gamers who are MMORPG veterans who were hoping Square Enix would try a few new tricks and mix up the genre, FFXIV: ARR may be seen as a pretty missed opportunity. For gamers who are kind of in the middle and appreciate both the world of Final Fantasy and a well-made MMORPG, it really depends on who you ask.
This makes writing a review for the game a difficult task. FFXIV: ARR is an extremely niche game. It’s almost exactly like Final Fantasy XI in this nature. Some will love it and others will hate it. Square Enix did a lot of great things with FFXIV: ARR, but they also cut a lot of corners that have impacted the game in a negative way. This unfortunate fact kind of solidifies the game within its niche position on the grand o’ totem pole of MMORPGs.
But enough about totem poles for the moment. Let’s talk specifics.
Note: Reviewing an MMORPG is a daunting task. I’m convinced it can be done, however, so I’m going to split up this review into a handful of categories that are different from a standard video game review, but should make sense to most fans of the genre. If you have any suggestions for future MMO reviews, feel free to shout ‘em out in the comments section.
The Leveling Journey
Note: Nope, no spoilers ahead!
The main leveling story in FFXIV: ARR feels like it belongs in a single player RPG at times. Is the game’s story comparable to the story in either Final Fantasy VI and Final Fantasy VII, for example? No, but the story is better than the stories found in many MMORPGs. This shouldn’t really come as a surprise. Fans of Final Fantasy games expect a good story out of an FF MMO. The NPC characters are charming, and the story takes a few twists that make it just interesting enough. The English translation is excellently done. As a bonus, there are some fantastic nods to many of our favorite characters, monsters, and world-building aspects found in other FF games.
Square Enix also did something that’s a little interesting here and added in 4-man and 8-man dungeons that are required to progress through the main storyline. The dungeons ramp up slightly in difficulty, which encourages players newer to the MMORPG genre to dive in and learn how to operate in the standard teamwork-dependent environment. This was smartly done. It’s a little unfortunate, however, that leveling dungeons are largely useless except for pinging off checkpoints in the main story. The culprit? The game’s F.A.T.E. dynamic event system. I’ve ranted about it before. FATEs are immensely useful for helping players level secondary classes, which is awesome. The problem is that it’s more useful than any other leveling feature in the game.
That said, I still have to give props to SE for creating an interesting leveling story that works in instanced environments and the beginning steps for how to proceed during endgame. It’s a solid bridge between MMORPG fans and single player RPG fans. The problem with all great leveling journeys in MMORPGs (Star Wars: The Old Republic, The Secret World– I’m looking at both of you), however, is the fact that those leveling journeys, well, end.
Score – Leveling: 8
That brings us to endgame. Once the main story’s finished and a player is left stomping around in their Magitek suit (okay, I lied, maybe that was a spoiler), the game opens up, but it also kind of closes up. For the crafting enthusiast or the altaholic, there are a large number of options having to do with leveling secondary classes and leveling crafting classes. It’s really cool that a player can level every single class on one character, but if you’re not into the whole “gotta catch ‘em all!” attitude when it comes to leveling different classes, there’s little to do except grind out currencies and chain run dungeons that drop said currencies.
The largest issue with the current endgame system in FFXIV: ARR isn’t the fact that grinding out these currencies takes a little time, either. The largest issue is the fact that there aren’t many options for grinding out these currencies. The most efficient path consists of farming one 8-man story dungeon over and over (CM) then switching to farming one 4-man dungeon (AK) over and over. You can toss in 8-man Hardmode Primal battles that drop cool weapons, but these fights are simply harder versions of the same story encounters players faced while leveling. It’s all extremely repetitive. If you want to explore the one other level 50 4-man (it has Tonberries!!), feel free, but it’s not anywhere near as efficient as farming the same two places over and over.
There are very, very few options right now. And yes, that’s going to change soon, but it doesn’t erase that fact that players who leveled quickly and players who came from 1.0 ran the same few places over and over until their eyes bled. The game didn’t even launch with “Heroic” modes of the leveling 4-mans. I said it about a day after I hit level 50 and I’ll say it again– having this few options in a modern MMORPG just isn’t right.
There’s also a sort of phenomenon that occurs when you mix together a grind that requires a decent chunk of time with extreme repetition and the fact that there simply aren’t many options for players to obtain these necessary currencies. Players are essentially encouraged to min-max their way to the top of the food chain. If the only path to obtain something cool is to follow a set linear path of objectives instead of having multiple options and paths, players will do everything in their power to succeed in completing those objectives as efficiently as possible. It’s only natural. Run a dungeon 10 times and it starts to get boring, so what do you do? Speed up the pulls. Maximize your group’s DPS. Grumble every time you’re asked to explain a fight. Now, add in the Duty Finder/cross-server LFG tool.
I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. For a Final Fantasy game, the endgame community of FFXIV: ARR can be absolutely vile toward newer players who brave the Duty Finder. Most groups will be perfectly fine, of course, especially if a smart player takes the time to perform a little Google-fu before entering a new encounter, but the fact remains– today’s MMORPG community isn’t always accepting of newer/inexperienced players, and Square Enix almost encouraged this type of behavior with how few options they presented to endgame players.
The answer’s simple, of course. Newer/inexperienced players should bunker down and find an awesome guild/FC. Sure, the answer may be simple– but that doesn’t make the situation right.
Score – Endgame: 4
Endgame and replayability are often intertwined loosely around one another, so for this category I’m going to ignore the endgame grind for a moment and talk about leveling secondary characters and replaying the story on completely new characters if that’s your cup of tea. The main story, unfortunately, can’t be replayed on secondary classes. This goes for side quests as well. Secondary classes are essentially forced to grind FATE events, grind dungeons, grind out hunting log objectives, or grind out leves. It’s a bit of a shame, but at least there are still a few options here.
There is little point in rolling new characters thanks to the multi-class system that’s actually quite awesome, but aside from that, one issue with doing so would be the fact that main story is extremely, extremely linear. It’s almost as linear as Final Fantasy XIII. It doesn’t feel that bad while leveling your first class due to the fact that the story’s fairly interesting and broken up nicely with new dungeons to explore, but doing it a second time would probably, well, take a special type of Final Fantasy fan. And that’s where the niche-ness of FFXIV: ARR really starts to bubble up.
Score – Replayability: 6
Another niche factor in the game can easily be found within its aesthetics. Character models are nicely animated and quite pretty. Even the emotes are full of custom animations and plenty of charm. The level of detail here is very Final Fantasy-esque, and the same goes with the game’s combat animations. Despite the animation lag that sometimes comes along with many combat animations, the animations themselves are well done. When playing a Monk or Dragoon you really see and feel the power that goes behind each melee blow, and honestly I love seeing that in an MMORPG.
The graphics are fairly good for a recent game, but nothing truly world-shattering. Some of the views are quite pretty to behold, and the game’s weather effects and day/night cycle graphics are top notch.
The user interface is about 1000 times better than the one that launched with 1.0, which is awesome. It’s not perfect, but it’s decent enough as-is and just customizable enough to deal with the quirks it does have. Should an MMORPG have those quirks to begin with? Probably not, but considering MMOs that are made for both PC and console are still kind of “finding their wings” so to speak, I’ll give SE props here.
As far as sound and music go, Square Enix– as usual– did great here. There are quite a few memorable musical tracks, and the general sounds of the game are about what we’d expect from a console RPG. The voice acting is extremely random and not always present, but it’s not completely awful when it is around.
Score – Aesthetics: 9
This category’s pretty broad, so I’m going to jump around a bit in order to cover all the bases.
The world of FFXIV: ARR is extremely linear, as I’ve said. Exploring the maps even seems far too linear at times, especially for an MMORPG. Zones are cut simply in order to streamline the paths players can take. There are optional paths in dungeons which usually contain treasure chests (which I adore), but the open world paths are so linear that it almost seems a chore to not teleport through them the second time around. This comes as a disappointment.
The class system has a lot of depth for players who love tanking, healing, and DPSing, but it will come off as nothing more than extra achievements to earn for some players. The real downside of the class system and the depth it offers has to do with the lack of options for both cross-class skills and players who enjoy more than one role at a time. The trinity system is rigidly in place. If you love the feel of the Marauder but don’t want to tank, you’re completely out of luck. If you want to heal endgame progression raids but don’t want to level Thaumaturge for Swiftcast, you’re probably out of luck there, too. Cross-class skills end up being pretty cookie cutter by the time you get to level 50, and the same goes for attribute points and gear.
There are some positives with this rigidness, however, and it kind of goes back to the whole niche thing. It all seems very Final Fantasy-ish somehow. You have your party, and you know who’s doing what by what role they’re in at the given moment. The spells are iconic and the classes are iconic. The Limit Break system isn’t perfect, but it serves a function that strikes a balance between iconic Final Fantasy and classic teamwork building skills. Some nasty boss abilities can be stunned or silenced, but if you want to maximize your CC, you’re going to need the appropriate classes and be wary of diminishing returns. Not every class can do absolutely everything. Party makeup matters. This is both good and bad, of course, but that word ‘niche’? Definitely applies.
Crafting in FFXIV: ARR is a mixed bag. All crafting/gathering items are essentially useless until level 45 or so except for leveling said crafting classes. This is mostly due to how quick the leveling process is and how easy upgrading gear is. Nearing level 50, crafting becomes a lot more useful, but the journey to level 50 can either be very quick and painless or very long and tedious. It all depends on who you ask.
There are multiple ways to level a crafter/gatherer– which is awesome– but those ways aren’t always evident without a bit of research. This is actually a strength in the crafting system, I feel, but the overall uselessness of the early crafting levels really holds down the system. Materia is also useless during the leveling process.
Score – World/System Depth: 5.5
The community of a game is always going to depend on a bazillion factors as well as fluctuate rapidly throughout a game’s existence. For the moment, the community of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn can be split up into two categorizes– niche, and, well, niche. There are folks who are helpful, friendly, and welcoming to new friends and new adventuring buddies, and there are also folks out there who are only focused on advancing their characters as rapidly as possible and may come off as pretty rude about that fact. It’s probably safe to say that all MMORPGs house both types of folks these days, but with the case of this game, I’d say that before assessing the community in its totality, it’s vital to first find your own niche.
Some games can be played just fine without a guild/FC or group of awesome friends to run dungeons with. This one is far, far better with all the friends you can gather. If you love Final Fantasy and absorb lore like crazy, find a FC of players who feel the same way. If you love raiding, find a group of raiders. If you’re interested in roleplaying, you’re bound to find a good home if you search around.
Simply put: The game’s community isn’t terrible, but it may seem that way unless you find your niche. Niche games are kind of like that.
Score – Community: 6.5
Final Verdict: 6.5/10
I’ve used the word ‘niche’ a lot if you’ve noticed, and there’s a good reason why. As a Final Fantasy game, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is a solid addition to the FF universe that allows fans to group with other fans and enjoy a good ol’ Chocobo ride through the hills and a fun fight against a cool enemy like Odin or Ifirit. The leveling adventure is great, and the dungeons are enjoyable since there are so many familiar sights and sounds.
If Moogles and Chocobos and dudes named Cid (whoops, there’s another spoiler) aren’t your style, however, you may find yourself questioning endgame and questioning the depth of the game’s world and systems. Heck, you might even question these things as a lifelong FF fan. You’ve every right to raise questions. Square Enix is offering a lot of talk about updates to come, housing to own, PvP to take part in, and 24-man raids to conquer, but one fact remains– FFXIV: ARR– in its current state– is far from perfect. But Moogles might be worth it, y’know? I’m cool with that.