Final Fantasy XIV Review
Developer: Square Enix / Publisher: Square Enix / ESRB: Teen (Alcohol Reference, Animated Blood, Language, Suggestive Themes, Violence) / Price: $49.99
Imagine you go to a job interview, and shortly after shaking your interviewer’s hand and making small talk about the weather, you vomit right in the guy’s face. Also, this dude was in the middle of a yawn. That’s about on par with the first impression you’ll get from Final Fantasy XIV, but believe it or not, there are some positive aspects to the game. After a month of bi-weekly updates in “Eorzean Escapades,” it’s time to wipe off the barf and pass final judgment on Square’s oddball MMO, Final Fantasy XIV.
FFXIV implements a basic character creator, offering you a lacking handful of noses, eyes, and hairstyles to construct the catgirl of your dreams. From there, the game goes into a very cutscene-heavy sequence relaying an uninteresting story involving an emo kid who lost his father to a flaily arm monster and the remorseful man who accidentally let it lose. The game’s introduction does very little to educate you how to play.
Guildleves are the only progression structure to the game. You can accept a leve that will set combat, item creation , or resource gathering goals, and once you meet them you get a gold bonus. Aside from these activities, you’re left to set your own short- and long-term goals, which will often lead to you feeling lost and directionless.
Collecting materials for crafting in FFXIV revolves around playing a short minigame in which you must guess a “hot zone” in an automatically moving meter. The activity is just kinetic enough to make the task mentally stimulating, though you’ll definitely want to have Cops or a sporting event playing in the background.
Crafting in FFXIV is an unapproachable mess. Creating items is a simple matter of throwing all the ingredients into a window and hitting “go.” Then, you play a simple minigame in which you generally trade quality for durability. The big problem here is that there are tons of resource items and no in-game reference to tell you which combinations will result in items. You’ll have no idea how to make anything, much less something you might want to use.
Buying player-made items is done mostly through the Market Wards, where you can place NPCs to sell items you’ve created. This system is extremely hard to use, because as a shopper you have no way of knowing how to find any item you may be looking for. You have to browse nearly a hundred NPCs hoping that one of them will have something you want.
Leveling in FFXIV is achieved on two fronts. Experience–earned for using any skill in any progression–counts towards your physical level, which earns you stat points and elemental affinity. Skill points level up specific jobs, earning you better skills and abilities. Contributing all progression to a central character is nice, but there’s no incentive to level up aside from, well, leveling. The game doesn’t tell you when you’ll get new skills or what gameplay enhancements unlock at higher skills.
After grinding for hours at a time, I stumbled across several features of the game that clumsily duplicate modern functionality like that of World of Warcraft’s that seemed to be lacking. Even with these band-aids slapped on the gameplay, FFXIV is still functionally half a decade behind.
So Final Fantasy XIV is unapproachable and gives you no incentive to keep playing. In this way, Final Fantasy XIV is basically a MUD (multi-user dungeon) with an impressive graphics overlay. Thinking about the game this way explains a great deal about it, both in the experience it offers and the sort of player that will enjoy it.
As such, it still has its charms. In the same way a MUD can provide incredible levels of immersion and atmosphere, Final Fantasy XIV –through deliberate pacing and slow progression–will instill a hard-wrought feeling of attachment and accomplishment to your character. Any nub can reach level 80 in World of Warcraft, but it takes a player willing to learn and research to reach level 50 in Final Fantasy XIV (not to mention getting multiple skills there). It rewards experience by punishing ignorance.
FFXIV’s graphics are as advanced as its gameplay is dated. It’s easily the best-looking game I’ve played this year, and one of the best-looking PC titles available today. Draw distances in outdoor environments are amazing – seeing a mountain in the far, far distance and running all the way to its base without a single load screen is quite an experience. Some lighting effects are impressive too, such as when moving from indoors to outdoors – the light dazzles before adjusting down in the same way your eyes react when moving into sunlight. Models and animation for players and monsters are fantastic as well. A lack of variety is the only down side. I spent the first forty hours of play in the same area – same enemies, same camps, and same terrain. By then the awesomeness had worn well off.
The soundtrack in FFXIV is decent, but not incredibly catchy or timeless in that way Final Fantasy music typically grabs audiences. The greatest virtue of the music is that it didn’t become intensely annoying for how much I heard it. Even after spending an hour in the same city, I wasn’t clawing at my ears to make the music stop. However, saying “it didn’t make me want to kill myself” isn’t the highest compliment. The sound effects fare similarly – the various zings and clanks of combat are suitable but not ground-breaking.
Mechanically, Final Fantasy XIV is downright behind the times. Every MMO since World of Warcraft has borrowed its interface ideas for a reason – they’re really good. FFXIV, on the other hand, willfully ignores them. I get the impression that devs at Square actively tried to develop an MMO for an alternate reality where World of Warcraft doesn’t exist.
FFXIV has almost no mouse support, and every window of the interface has a strange half-second lag as though the game has to check with the server first before opening your inventory. On that subject, you can’t even sort your inventory, which is one of a handful of annoying interface omissions. On a higher level, the game doesn’t include necessary mechanics like an auction house or mail system. Playing FFXIV is a near-constant exercise in finding a suitable alternative to functionality that you’d expect to be included but isn’t.
Final Fantasy XIV is in no way a game for everyone. It’s not even a game for some. FFXIV is a game for few. Simply playing the game must be its own reward, because you won’t get any others. If you enjoy immersing yourself in incredibly complicated game systems and reaping the benefits earned from hours of research, FFXIV is your game (sort of like Demon’s Souls). If you instead want an experience that properly educates you and provides incentives and rewards for your continued play, just wait for World of Warcraft: Cataclysm.