Review: Final Fantasy XIV – A Realm Reborn – A worthwhile hard reboot for the Square Enix MMO

Neither Jun Shen nor Pearlyn play MMOs, so they enlisted intrepid MMO gamer Hung Wei to give us the lowdown on the new Square Enix MMO Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn.  Is it everything that FF fans and MMO gamers wanted and more?  Or will this hard reset of the dismal original prove pointless?  Read on to find out.

2013 tells a tale of a Square Enix’s humbling admission of a mistake that was Final Fantasy XIV leading to an amazing comeback with Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn.

I wished Square Enix renamed the game altogether though, to avoid the confusion and association between the two because A Realm Reborn is one of the first highly entertaining and competent MMOs to have come out in a while.

The new world of Eorzea is bustling with life and brimming with quests, and most importantly – downright gorgeous. The graphics are wonderfully optimized for laptops and desktops alike and are a delight to the eyes; spell, weather effects, cutscenes and all help to immerse you into the game. The game eases you at an enjoyable pace into the world of Eorzea, the main story, key characters and gameplay through simple but varied introductory quests. You will never run out of things to do outside of the already-expansive story quests – whether you enjoy grinding with player hordes at FATE events (world events where everyone can participate), crafting, or just interacting with NPCs and players.

Where the original FFXIV failed (poor interface, repetitive music ,lacklustre questing & poor transportation options), FFXIV:ARR shines like the Final Fantasy title it carries – the story, cut scenes, the music (OH SO GOOD, BUY THE OST NOW) and the ability to now finally ride chocobos. Nothing made me smile more than the act of getting into combat: you engage an enemy, the world music transitions to combat music, you level-up, and you hear the familiar victory fanfare known to all FF fans and non-fans alike.

While modern MMOs seek to make Guild Wars 2-precedent moves to create fast-paced action combat, FFXIV:ARR chooses to dial it back with your classic tab-target/spell rotation combat which makes players of World of Warcraft and RIFT feel right at home. Yet instead of feeling like a dated system, the mechanics feel substantial (you get the feeling that the spells hit hard) and right for a game like Final Fantasy where you’re usually tackling opponents ‘Active Time Bar’ style. This doesn’t mean fights don’t get intense – head into a dungeon with a party and I guarantee you’ll be  constantly on your toes as you work with your team across plenty of mobs and obstacles, carefully and quickly deciding on which abilities to use. Your skills have a global cooldown of 2.5 seconds so choosing to dispell debuffs over healing an injured teammate may sometimes cost you in the heat of a boss battle.  The strategic layer of play is appreciated.

FFXIV: ARR also brings enough to the table to feel fresh – the Duty Finder system is one of the neatest MMO mechanics to date. No more shouting ‘LFG’, simply click on “Find” and they’ll match and gather the necessary roles (from across all worlds and servers) and you’re off questing with your new-found mates. The only pity is that you don’t get to interact with your party mates again after the quest is over if they’re not on your server, since you cannot jump worlds.

Now don’t get too concerned with the roles and the MMO Holy Trinity formula that requires a fixed ratio of healer, tank and damage dealing (DPS) characters in a party. While this is somewhat enforced and still relied upon in matchmaking for games, the class & job system of FFXIV: ARR mitigates all fear of multiple toons for the purpose of class switching; one single character can play as all classes and with the proper mix-up, take advanced jobs such as the White Mage (Conjurer + Arcanist) and Bard (Archer + Lancer).  There’s depth to the characters you choose to build, with more to discover about them as you play. With 8 classes and 9 jobs, not counting the 11 crafting and gathering roles, there’s definitely enough diversity to cater to gamers with fickle playstyles.

All eyes are on FFXIV: ARR right now and the current launch issues it’s facing are exaggerated thanks to the heightened expectations after the disappointment of 2010’s FFXIV. I urge you to see past this as there’s no doubt that things will get fixed and loads will ease up.

Right now you won’t even be able to pick up a digital copy of the game because of server overloads, but you should be able to get right in soon enough.  The game requires a monthly subscription of US$12.99 which I think is a pretty good investment for entertainment like this. I feel that with monthly subs as a barrier, you can almost see an improvement in the people that make up the community (as opposed to free to play) – the players are mature, friendly and helpful. On top of that, subscription almost always guarantees a continual level of quality to polishing the game, and those annoyed by microtransactions will be pleased to see little to none of that here.

When a big company like Square Enix cares about its game and players enough to tear down the problem entirely and rebuild from scratch, you forgive, you forget, and you have lots of fun with Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, a title that does the Final Fantasy series justice and a game that will leave you coming back for more.

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