A realm redeemed.

My history with the Final Fantasy series has been rocky at best. I started with the remake of Final Fantasy III on the DS and absolutely loved it. I went on to love IV, VI and IX as my favourites in the series, but never really liked VII, VIII or X; XIII was seen by many fans as a complete abomination, too, for a number of reasons.

Now, while many of you are undoubtedly sharpening your internet pitchforks given my love/hate relationship with the series, I’m happy to say that my love for the series has yet to be extinguished, given that Square’s latest in the series, Final Fantasy XIV, is not only a positive step forward for a franchise debatably waning in quality, but also an outstanding MMORPG that is head and shoulders above most others in its genre.

When Final Fantasy XIV originally launched in 2010, it was met with an embarrassingly negative critical response. The game was buggy, boring and in some instances flat-out unplayable. Thankfully, Square Enix mustered up the courage to admit their failure and set to make the game as brilliant as it could possibly be. A Realm Reborn’s setup even takes a jab at the original’s failure: your player character leaps forward in time five years after the events of FFXIV to avoid being killed in an apocalyptic event known as the Calamity that destroyed most of the land of Eorzea.

Now, five years on, Eorzea is on the mend, but its people live in fear of an imminent invasion from the northern Garlean Empire. As is the case with most MMOs, the story is mainly there to serve as an excuse for your endeavours, but there is a decent amount of lore in the background that you can gather from exploring or talking to various NPCs that contribute to fleshing out the gorgeous world of Eorzea.

Who Are You?

Like most MMOs of its kind, Final Fantasy XIV starts with the important step of creating your character. There are five races to choose from and you can freely pick between genders. Customisation options are expansive, allowing you to craft a character with a unique face and measurements. You can even add a gradient colour to your hair and apply a face tattoo should you be inclined to do so.

Like any character creator worth its salt, you are free to craft a character to be as elegant, or as ridiculous, as you see fit. After this you choose your class, arguably the most crucial choice in any MMO, and A Realm Reborn is no different in this regard. The class you select will affect your starting in one of three hub cities, which in turn offers a difference in how your story begins.

Later in the game, you’re given the choice of joining one of three Grand Companies, which will branch your story yet again. Square Enix have realised the lofty task an MMO has to carry out; everybody is playing the same game, yet at the same time they’re not at all. In this sense, Final Fantasy XIV makes every player feel unique in spite of the millions of other players, thanks to the healthy amounts of customisation and player choice.

creation ff14

Busty cat ladies: present and accounted for.

In regards to the class roster, A Realm Reborn plays it safe with tried and true MMO roles, which perhaps takes a degree of uniqueness away from the game, but also strangely works in its favour. Classes typically fall into one of three roles: tank, healer and DPS/support. If you’re the kind of player that likes to hold the enemy’s attention, then the shield-bearing Gladiator or the heavy-hitting Marauder might be the class you pick. If you prefer the more nimble types the Archer and the hand-to-hand Pugilist have you covered, too. Magic users needn’t feel left out, as a separate division of three mage classes should give you plenty to choose from.

Classes are divided into two groups: Disciples of War and Magic. Only three of the eight starting classes fall into the latter, but act as your white, red and black mages the series is known for. As you progress further into the game you’ll unlock the ability to choose a secondary class, which can lead to you becoming an advanced class depending on your combination. In addition, there are separate classes dedicated to professions like smithing, leatherworking, botany and so on.

A Realm Reborn really takes the concept of role playing and fully encourages it. You could be a trash-talking hulk of a Marauder with a soft spot for picking flowers for alchemy. You can be an enigmatic Thaumaturge with a passion for archery. It even extends to the game’s involving PvP features: perhaps you’ll be a mild mannered Gladiator who absolutely wrecks reputations in the arena? If you love to get invested with your characters in MMOs, then A Realm Reborn might just be your next obsession.

A Winning Formula

If you’re familiar with World of Warcraft (or indeed, any number of MMORPGs) then A Realm Reborn’s gameplay style should instantly resonate. Taking up a good portion of your screen is your character’s hotbar in which you can slot the various skills you acquire as you level up. Similar to WoW, forming a synergy with regards to what order you use those skills in is often key to your continued success in the game, especially when facing much tougher enemies more than capable of taking you out. For the most part, however, you’re not just rooted to one spot as you attack; A Realm Reborn encourages frequent movement to avoid enemy attacks, and some of your own abilities can only be used from certain ranges. This is an astronomical improvement over 2010’s Final Fantasy XIV and its slow, static combat. In short, A Realm Reborn almost crosses into action-RPG territory, though ability cooldowns and the balance in regards to them keep this in check.

As for progression, A Realm Reborn doesn’t add much new to your usual MMO formula, but that’s probably for the best. From levels 1 to 50 you’ll be completing quests to rack up Gil and experience, hoarding items and equipment like a walking knapsack. As you grow stronger you’ll also be introduced to features like levequests, a system of repeatable quests designed to be grinded to squeeze out those last extra drops of experience for your next level up. Strangely enough, they’re never really required; the game is paced so well that you’ll never find yourself having to spend hours grinding yourself into dust.

battle solo

Your enemies, however, will be doing some grinding of their own.

The Raid

What you will find yourself grinding, instead, are the game’s excellent 4-man raids. You’ll be introduced to these as you progress through the main questline, and once you’ve gathered (or joined) a party consisting of one tank character, one healer, and two DPS/support, you’ll be transported to the instance of your choosing. These raids can last from anywhere between 30 minutes and two hours depending on how powerful your party is. Naturally, the longer they take, the greater the rewards potentially are.

Raids feature super strong enemies that must be taken down with teamwork, and at certain points a loot chest will activate with a piece of equipment inside. When it does, you’ll be presented with a menu displaying the item (usually a rare weapon or piece of armour). If you’re able to equip it, the “Need” option will be available to you. There are also “Greed” and “Pass” options if you’re not too fussed about the loot, or simply can’t equip it. Pro-tip: don’t ever pick Greed. Your party will hate you for it, especially if you greed an item someone else has been after for 20+ instances of the same raid.

Eorzea: Wish You Were Here

Of course, such excellent mechanics would be wasted if the world wasn’t fun to explore. Being an MMORPG as well as a Final Fantasy title, there is an expectation for A Realm Reborn to really shine in its world design. Thankfully, Square Enix have delivered on this front in spades. The world of Eorzea is gorgeous, and only grows more so the further into the game you delve. Each of the three starting cities have a distinct theme and personality about them, such as their architecture, lore, even the types of people who inhabit them. Even quest givers have been injected with a degree of likeability; most people in the land sport a variety of British accents, and the text is written well enough to be able to distinguish between which accents the game is trying to portray, very similar to the Dragon Quest series in that respect. It also helps that the soundtrack is pure magic: one of the greatest to ever grace a video game. I’m deadly serious. Many of the game’s sweeping orchestral themes are enough to make your hair stand on end.

eorzea

Eorzea is, in a word, beautiful.

A Realm Reborn does run on a subscription-based service, though it is fairly priced. At around £15-£18 or your regional equivalent (and depending on where you buy your game time) you’ll get 60 days of playtime. This does count down even if you’re offline, but if you play regularly you’re essentially looking at less than a tenner a month.

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is almost too good to be true. As the successor to one of the worst MMO launches in history, it absolutely shines in every aspect of the genre’s design philosophies. It doesn’t tread much new ground and is a largely by-the-book MMO, but it’s without doubt one of the finest games of its kind, perhaps even toppling the king of the genre, World of Warcraft, in quality.

Final Fantasty XIV: A Realm Reborn was reviewed on PlayStation 3.

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