Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn is the second MMO to be associated with the legendary RPG franchise. Square-Enix’s first foray into MMOs (Final Fantasy 11) wasn’t a runaway success like Blizzard’s World of Warcraft, but it is probably the most profitable FF title to date (given that it has commanded monthly subscription fees from its player base for over a decade.) Final Fantasy 11 is now showing its age so it’s no surprise that Square decided to launch a new MMO back in September 2010 to replace it. The original Final Fantasy 14 was however such a shambolic mess that an embarrassed Square opted to waiver the monthly subscription fee allowing buyers (who could stomach it) to play it for free. A terrible release is normally fatal for an MMO, but against the odds Final Fantasy 14 has managed to recover. Under the stewardship of director Naoki Yoshida (Dragon’s Quest) the game was re-launched as “A Realm Reborn” and transformed from a dud into one of the better MMOs in the current market.
Set in the magical world of Eorzea, players don the role of an adventurer assisting the nations of Gridania, Limsa Lominsa and Ul’dah in their tribulations with the sinister Garlean Empire. When designing your avatar players can choose from a handful of races including your standard human and elves in addition to the towering Roegadyn, lovable Lalafells and the feline Miqo’te. Unsurprisingly, in a game populated by single men of a geeky persuasion, Eorzea’s most popular race is the Miqo’te. Regardless of what region you choose to explore one thing is certain – the number of cat girls you encounter will be plentiful. It’s almost like visiting a virtual anime cosplay convention (not that I am complaining.)
Aside from the feline eye candy, trekking across Eorzea is a visual treat thanks to the game’s graphics, which rival those of the gorgeous single player Final Fantasies. Eorzea’s landscapes include woods, deserts and coastal beaches that each have unique creatures to battle. The appealing aesthetics thankfully do not come at the detriment of performance. In addition to its stunning looks, the game runs smoother than some less flashy MMOs I could mention (cough Star Wars: The Old Republic.) Clearly Final Fantasy is better optimized, although whilst questing I did experience some latency issues that I will attribute to Square’s servers. It’s just a minor quibble, but it can get frustrating when you get bashed by an enemy even though you have positioned yourself well outside their strike range.
One of the game’s best features would have to be its job system, which permits characters to adopt whatever role they desire. This is a godsend for someone, such as myself, who rarely makes progress in MMOs (as I cannot resist creating multitudes of new characters just to sample how each class plays.) If you started your adventure as a magical healer and then decide to try out something else that’s no problem. Swapping over to a damage dealer or defensive tank is as simple as replacing your staff with a bow or sword. Levelling up different classes is actually encouraged as it unlocks advanced jobs in addition to granting you access to additional abilities (for example a gladiator can cast some healing spells if you happen to have some levels in conjuror.)
As with most MMOs levelling up involves earning experience by slaying mobs and completing quests. Final Fantasy 14’s quests aren’t revolutionary (kill a certain number of enemies, travel to a town to talk with an NPC etc) but the main ones are at least delivered via entertaining cut scenes that trump the dull text boxes World of Warcraft uses. If questing isn’t your thing there are other options available to you too. The most common one are the FATEs that appear in certain zones. These allow any players in the vicinity to band together and earn an experience point reward by defeating a powerful monster, slaying waves of enemies or escorting a vulnerable NPC to safety. Eventually you’ll unlock dungeons that can be tackled by four man parties. On average a dungeon can be cleared in around thirty minutes, but if you are in a rush you can try a guildhest instead. These four player missions are designed to teach you the game’s basics and can be finished in around five minutes.
My rating for Final Fantasy: A Realm Reborn is a five out of five. I normally give up on MMOs after a few weeks play, but Final Fantasy has managed to retain my interest for a number of months now. Unlike some other games, that get stale once you hit the level cap, there’s always something to do. Aside from having a plethora of classes to level up there are hunts for upgrading your gear, crafting skills to learn and special events to partake in. Even if it is essentially a World of Warcraft clone I am enjoying it far more than Blizzard’s effort thanks to its setting. Give me Moogles over humanoid pandas any day! Besides, who can resist the appeal of riding atop a Chocobo? It’s a must for anyone who has ever dreamt of mounting an ostrich.
For a game designed with consoles in mind I was impressed by the depth of its customisable interface along with the control scheme that functions well whether you choose to play with a controller or a traditional keyboard/mouse setup. Another highlight would have to be the game’s score, which continues the Final Fantasy tradition of boasting stellar music. The quality tunes on offer made me abandon my usual MMO routine, which normally involves muting the sound so I can listen to podcasts whilst I grind. It’s no wonder that Final Fantasy soundtracks have been known to crack the BBC classical charts. Shame that Square’s customer support team isn’t as good as their musical talent. They have been no help in resolving the payment issue preventing me from subscribing with my debit card. To play I therefore have to resort to costly game cards. It’s an inconvenience I will tolerate however as the game is so enjoyable.