That the original Final Fantasy XIV, released for the PC back in 2010, was a complete, unmitigated disaster is not something that even the most ardent Square Enix fan can deny. The game, representative as it was of poor game design and rushed development, was rightly panned upon its release, and seen as the final blow to the diminishing Final Fantasy brand, which had already taken some beating earlier that year thanks to the release of the very divisive Final Fantasy XIII.
Square Enix promised to get the MMORPG back on track, and they spent the next three years rebuilding the game from the ground up. Every aspect, every facet of the game was carefully rebuilt, until now, what we are left with is almost completely unrelated to the mess we had before.
With Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, Square Enix have worked many kinds of miracles. They have taken a fundamentally bad game and turned it into an excellent one. They have created a game that transcends its genre and works to appeal to even those players who innately have an aversion to MMORPGs (including yours truly). And, perhaps best of all, they have created the greatest Final Fantasy game in nearly a decade, a reminder of the kinds of heights the series used to touch back in the day, and a plea to all fans, a demonstration: this is why we should care about Final Fantasy.
In what is a stunning return to form for the series, A Realm Reborn gives us the greatest Final Fantasy title in at least seven years, and arguably the best one since Final Fantasy IX, way back on the original PlayStation. It builds a compelling world, embraces the kind of full fledged, free form role playing that this defined this series to begin with, revives age old Final Fantasy concepts like the Job System, offers some great quests for the player, looks stunning, has an amazing soundtrack, tells a great story, and it has incredible charm and incredible atmosphere. The original Final Fantasy XIV failed as an MMO, and it failed at being a decent game. To address that, Square Enix rightly rebuilt A Realm Reborn not as a good MMO, but as a good game. And in doing so, they built what is possibly the best MMORPG currently on the market.
"Square Enix have created a game that transcends its genre and works to appeal to even those players who innately have an aversion to MMORPGs (including yours truly). And, perhaps best of all, they have created the greatest Final Fantasy game in nearly a decade, a reminder of the kinds of heights the series used to touch back in the day, and a plea to all fans, a demonstration: this is why we should care about Final Fantasy."
There is a lot that A Realm Reborn does right. Take, for instance, the game world. Fantasy worlds and tropes are so synonymous with the genre that it’s all cookie cutter now- of course your MMO is set in a fantasy world, with different races with some possibly uneasy interracial dynamics inhabiting it, and pockets of urbanism dotting the otherwise wild landscape. Why should this be any different?
It’s different because it’s a Final Fantasy world- it’s Final Fantasy world building at its peak. Everything about it is just so interesting (and a large part of that surely has to do with the setup for the story, which, in a rather oddly self evoking way, talks of how the world and everything in it was destroyed after some cataclysmic event five years ago, only to be reborn): everything feels lively and mysterious. The central city of Ul’Dah? It feels like a real, bustling capital of the kingdom. The surrounding wilderness, with its pockets of civilization? Equally real.
A large part of this has to do with the little touches, such as the NPCs, and the care that went into developing the unique architecture of the world, but it all comes together to create one organic, cohesive world that is a joy to explore. As a player who is tired of fantasy worlds in MMOs, and in RPGs in general, I spent hours just exploring the city of Ul’Dah- and that was just one location. The sense of wonderment that you feel upon entering this world is on par with the feeling of awe that would strike you when you first began to explore a Final Fantasy world back in the classic SNES and PlayStation days.
A Realm Reborn also gives you some compelling reasons to go out and explore the world. MMOs are notorious for the sheer banality and triteness of their quest and mission design (hey mighty warrior destined to save the world some day, go and kill three rats in the woods so I can use their pelts for my purse).
"A Realm Reborn also gives you some compelling reasons to go out and explore the world. MMOs are notorious for the sheer banality and triteness of their quest and mission design"
While I am not going to pretend that A Realm Reborn doesn’t have those kinds of fetch quests (it does, and especially early on, quite frequently), overall, it has some excellent quest design that just really feels compelling and organic, like the rest of the game- it makes sense, too. These people in the city, these are real people, with real problems, and they exist independently of you playing the game. That is why their problems, sometimes surely banal, never seem artificial and always have context.
The one place where ARR does not mess with the established conventions of its genre much is the combat. You still get multiple skills assigned to a bar (and to the corresponding hotkeys on your keyboard), their usage is still governed by cooldown periods and mana, your combat abilities are still governed by your class (archers play differently than marauders play differently than warriors than differently than mages), and the actual fighting is still you tagging a target and then furiously hitting your hotkeys to take it out, all the while keeping your potions handy in case your HP or Mana begins to run low.
The innovation Final Fantasy XIV brings to the genre is with its class system, and how it retrofits the famed Final Fantasy Job System to this game- you start out by selecting a class, but it’s not permanent. Class switching is allowed, and hell, it is encouraged and even necessary. As you level up, you unlock more classes that you can switch to, and this gives you access to more skills that you would otherwise not have, while still retaining your old ones. Switching a class is important in the later parts of the game, and flat out essential in some of the dungeons.
A Realm Reborn also has another innovation related partly to its quest and combat structure- the FATE system, which are spontaneous, random dynamic ‘quest’ events that come up on the field map, that any and every player in the vicinity can join. You get extra experience (based on your contribution, which in turn is weighed by your level). These can keep things interesting, and often at times completely divert you from your original destination, as you see them show up on your world map and decide to see what’s up, and end up discovering a new location along the way, taking on new quests.
"A Realm Reborn also has another innovation related partly to its quest and combat structure- the FATE system, which are spontaneous, random dynamic 'quest' events that come up on the field map, that any and every player in the vicinity can join."
All of this works to make Final Fantasy XIV feel like a living, dynamic world, and to keep it interesting where most other MMOs begin to fall prey to crippling boredom later on. Final Fantasy XIV, on the other hand, feels like a true RPG, a true Final Fantasy game, that also happens to be online (and be really good at being online, at that).
A big part of why Final Fantasy XIV feels like a true Final Fantasy game is because of the story, and how, in a rare departure from genre norms and conventions, it is placed centerstage. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn takes a leaf out of the Dragon Age: Origins playbook, and has the beginning parts of your story play out differently depending on which character class you choose. All storylines eventually converge in one grand, sweeping plot regarding a group of heroes trying to save Eorzea- that’s the game world- and ensuring it will never fall prey to calamity again. All the while, you have to deal with political and racial tensions, motivations, worthy of a real Final Fantasy plot.
The best part is how all of this works with the quests- as mentioned above, A Realm Reborn has some compelling quests, but surely, being told to find missing inventory for a trader is jarring when the future of the world is at stake? But A Realm Reborn is that rare game that somehow fuses the epic with the personal, and none feels out of place or diminished because of the other, but rather, feels enhanced.
It feels like Final Fantasy in other ways too- take, for example, the graphics. Seriously, there is probably not a better looking MMO on the market right now. It looks lush, stunning, and it immediately stands out. It presents itself with the kind of visual panache and flair that you expect from a mainline Final Fantasy title. The game world looks stunning, it looks like a true fantasy world, and it looks like some place that might actually exist.
"The best part is how it seems to suffer no major visual degradation even on low specc'd rigs. Switching visual settings to 'Low' has negligible impact on how great the game looks, and a large part of that has to do with the artstyle, I'd say. It's got that timeless Final Fantasy artstyle pervading everything about it, so it's bound to look great."
The best part is how it seems to suffer no major visual degradation even on low specc’d rigs. Switching visual settings to ‘Low’ has negligible impact on how great the game looks, and a large part of that has to do with the artstyle, I’d say. It’s got that timeless Final Fantasy artstyle pervading everything about it, so it’s bound to look great.
That’s not to say it’s a technical slouch, though. As mentioned above, it looks great, and a large part of that has to do with the textures, the animations, the lighting and shadows, and the fact that it seems to suffer no framrerate drops on a good connection. The technical graphics do justice to the gorgeous artstyle, and it all comes together to give us the best looking game in its genre.
Equally great is the music- Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn has some incredible music. The tracks in the cutscenes are predictably great, but it’s the music that plays in the background while you’re in the city, talking to someone, or just walking around exploring, or maybe out in the fields looking for some rare herb, that really stands out and adds to the trademark Final Fantasy charm and atmosphere that some of the recent releases were lacking so sorely.
With Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, Square Enix have done the impossible. They have taken a bad game, and they have made it a great one instead. They have made a game that goes above and beyond its genre, transcends it along with all the limitations that it brings. And they have, incredibly, created the truest Final Fantasy game in years. Remember that feeling of thrill and adventure that you used to get from the classic Final Fantasy games, that the recent installments have all lacked? Remember when Final Fantasy was good, a name synonymous with good role playing? Remember when a new Final Fantasy game instantly meant a few hundred hours of your life lost to a lush, fully realized game world?
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is all that, and more. It is truly a wonderful apology, not just for the original Final Fantasy XIV, but also for the sheer bullshit series fans have had to put up with in the last decade. It is truly the best MMORPG on the market right now, the rare one that actually justifies its monthly fee. And perhaps most importantly, it is the best Final Fantasy game to have been released in a long, long time.
This game was reviewed on PC.
The class system breathes new life into MMO combat, the quest structure along with the dynamic FATEs, the great story, the incredible game world, the beautiful graphics, the wonderful soundtrack, the classic Final Fantasy charm and atmosphere
Some quests can be boring
Square Enix's MMO is reborn as the best in its class, and the most compelling Final Fantasy game in years.
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