If at first you don’t succeed – Try and try again.
That is exactly what Square Enix has done. The creators of the Final Fantasy series tried once before to make a successor to popular MMO Final Fantasy XI, and they failed terribly. It’s well known that there aren’t many MMOs out there that get a second chance after a failure, and fade into either obscurity or close down entirely. But even those games have their fans and their subscribers. Square Enix never tried to sweep the terrible MMOs of the past under the rug, however, and the result was the disastrous launch – and subsequent public and critical backlash – of Final Fantasy XIV.
So negative was the game’s initial reception that it led to the game’s producer, Hiromichi Tanaka, resigning from the company. The game’s fate seemed all but sealed; but Square wasn’t ready to give up on it. A literal apocalypse wiped out the world of the initial version of the game as a newly-restructured team commenced work on a full-scale redesign. Out went Crystal Tools, the engine that had previously been used; in its place came a brand new graphics engine, one that was less demanding on modern PCs and would be able to handle the developer’s demands with greater ease and provide plenty of scalability for players. Sweeping changes were made to the game’s systems, content, and even the entire world was redesigned from the ground up – all in the spirit of wiping the slate clean and attempting to atone for past sins with a new iteration of the game that truly lives up to the franchise name.
Have they succeeded?
Well, yes, for the most part. Naoki Yoshida and his team has taken the things that players loved from the franchise’s first MMO outing, and woven it in to the gameplay and narrative structure of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. They’ve brought the game back from the brink, transforming what was a disaster into a compelling – albeit quirky and decidedly hardcore – experience, providing newcomers with a beautiful, story-driven world to emerge themselves in and giving those who endured all the foils of the last original something pleasing and entertaining. Simply put: after the stale and decidedly bitter taste of the original, A Realm Reborn is a breath of fresh air.
Available for PC, PS3, and PS4, A Realm Reborn pushes the capabilities of each system you play it on. It doesn’t always provided a consistent visual experience as a result – particularly on PS3, it to has many graphical errors and flaws. And the transition between versions hasn’t been as smooth as perhaps Square would have hoped for; there were many gameplay issues and constant struggles that almost made that game unapproachable, at least to start with. But since Square Enix ported A Realm Reborn to PlayStation 4, many of those early problems have been ironed out.
The landscapes of Eorzea are now crisp and bright, flowing seamlessly throughout the entire game. The forests and the cities are brought to PlayStation 4 subscribers in true high-definition, and it really gives A Realm Reborn the right to warrant a second look from players who perhaps felt jaded by the game on Sony’s previous console. Lag inside of cities is largely a thing of the past, while the controls for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3 and PC versions now feel smooth and intuitive; no matter what platform you play on, you can choose to use a controller or hook up a mouse and keyboard and use that instead, and both input methods work well. The UI is completely customizable too, providing players the ability to move every single bar and every button on the screen to wherever they want them.
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn offers players a wide array of choices and gameplay styles. PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and PC players all play together in the integrated worlds, giving everyone the chance to play together, which helps to prevent a fractured community. This gives players even more chances to group up and make parties and friends. A Realm Reborn offers you three or for different ways to level your characters and eight different crafting professions, with no limit to how many you can take part in. You have complete freedom to play the way that you want to play.
A Realm Reborn has successfully broken the standard Tolkien style of MMORPGs by refusing to bow to the standards of every other MMO out there right now. You aren’t going to find a world driven by halfling-orcs and power hungry elves. Instead, you are brought into a world with rich forests and arid deserts, making you quickly feel at home in whatever landscape you’re traveling through. Though some things are still textbook MMO – such as playing as a single, creatable character and gaining experience points through completing quests acquired through NPCs – there is much to set A Realm Reborn apart from many of the other MMOs out there right now.
As with most other games of this ilk, after creating an account and logging in, you’ll be instructed to beginning creating your avatar. Typical, right? Well in A Realm Reborn you have the ability to make the character just how you want them. Choose your race first – from adorable little midgets to big, hulking powerhouses. Your customization choices are full of depth and allows players to make quite a vast variety of characters, even having the choice to save the models as templates, for future use on new characters you make later on.
After making the character to your satisfaction, you get to choose a class. Each class in A Realm Reborn is delightful and distinct from the others, despite what kind of caster or hitter you are. Of course, once again, it falls in to the standard choice of tank/dps/heals that all the other MMOs have, but with much more customization. Once players progress in the game, they will be able to pick up additional classes. So you want to be a Pugilist and punch people like Zell in Final Fantasy VIII? Alright. We got that. But later on if you pick up the Lancer class and get your Pugilist to level 30 and Lancer to level 15, you get the choice of the advanced class. Monk. So on top of the eight classes you choose from in the beginning at character creation, later on you have even more classes you can choose from. From the frightening Black Mages to the powerful Dragoons, the choices are endless in A Realm Reborn.
With World of Warcraft-style progression and EverQuest-styled monster slaughtering, A Realm Reborn offers players mechanics borrowed from both MMOs new and old. And it does all of this while giving you many ways to change what you’re doing so that it doesn’t get tiring. Sure, the quests are a bit repetitive. Go kill this, bring me this, talk to him… they’re much the same fare as what you’ll be used to from so many other MMOs. But the mechanics are tight enough to never make them feel like busywork, and the world is so attractive to look at that you’ll be glad for another opportunity to venture through the game’s many and varied landscapes.
A Realm Reborn sticks to the classic genre mechanics of selecting abilities and spells from hotbars, and providing plenty of different crafting professions to choose from, but it provides constant twists and turns thanks to the ability to mix and match and experiment with all of its different professions. Tired of hitting things like a gladiator? Equip your tome, change your armor, and you’re instantly a casting Arcanist. You’re not locked in to playing as a single class, and this eliminates the need to create a large number of alts before you’re able to get a feel for how each archetype plays. You can invest your time and energy into a single character, and each of them can do as much as five characters in World of Warcraft.
Combat in A Realm Reborn is stock, but engaging to say the least. Highly polished and fast paced, you aren’t going to be spending twenty minutes on one mob of enemies… unless you want to. Having an easy combat system is key here, and with the tab targeting, a few hotbars, auto attacks and the ability to actively dodge, A Realm Reborn has combat in its pocket. But even though it’s simple, there are some wrinkles that require you to pay attention to what you’re doing. Pugilists have forms they fight in, making certain abilities available only at certain times. The Marauder receives bonuses for executing abilities on specific sides of enemies. Gladiators have abilities that do more damage and trigger added effects if executed in the right order. The combat system offers fun and rewarding avenues for exploration and experimentation, and as a result it feels immensely satisfying.
A Ream Reborn does require grinding though. With the level cap set at 50 right now, it takes work to reach the peak of your abilities, and most of the time you will be running around playing errand boy or killing 10 rats at a time, much as you might expect. Levequests – a form of questing that is slightly customizable in difficulty and offer rewards for speed – and standard quests really aren’t that different, but offer a degree of flexibility with the difficulty choices given to allowing you to opt for a stern challenge or simply unwind after a long day. Grind sensitive players will get tired out though; there’s no way around it. If you want to reach the level cap, you will have to grind to get there.
Another thing that makes A Realm Reborn stand out is the well-designed group scenarios, where teams of players need to focus on fulfilling their roles and supporting fellow group members. A Realm Reborn isn’t afraid to provide a challenge, making the scenarios more difficult the the rest of the so. To the point where you might want to pull your hair out at times. There is a lot of pressure on the tank to hold the enemies while the dps has to focus on their discipline in their output, so that they do not pull the attention away from the tank. And healers are once again tasked with making sure no one dies, because those bonuses you get at the end if there are no deaths are sometimes way too good to pass up.
Dungeons early on in game are easily accessed through the group finder, and the dungeons range from simple ‘tank and spank’ to complicated games of pattern recognition. All of these dungeons prepare you and teach you to get you ready for the end game content in the First and Second Binding Coils of Bahamut. There will be times where you defeat the enemy by the skin of your teeth, and there will be times where you make it at the last second. A Realm Reborn really offers players a heart racing and fulfilling dungeon experience.
Unfortunately, however, the Player versus Player options aren’t quite as glorified as the PvE is. Having been implemented later on after the release, the PvP experience doesn’t feel like it’s quite done. There is only one PvP area at this time – a four-on-four arena. Your objective is to kill the opponents. Sure there may be a little skill involved in this, but the outcome can be predicted easily and patterns are easily noticed. The learning curve for PvP is far too steep. Gearing for PvP is also a long, drawn-out process and it takes a lot of time for something that doesn’t have great rewards. Of course, PvP is optional – so it’s not so much as a flaw as it is just an upsetting truth. But A Realm Reborn holds no real value to anyone who favors PvP over anything else. At least, not yet. We’ve yet to learn if there will be some advancement on the area at a later date, but as with any game that it’s in a state of ongoing development, that could change.
For those players that don’t want to sit in a queue waiting for a dungeon, and who can’t stomach the idea of trying PvP, A Realm Reborn does offer players one more thing. Just as in Guild Wars 2, there are events that happen in the world which anyone can join and reap the benefits of. Full Active Time Events – also known as the FATE system – are open world quests scattered throughout the entire world, all of which are marked on your mini map and easy to spot. Their objectives range from collecting items and giving them to an NPC, to slaughtering stampeding enemies one by one. And, of course, there’s also FATEs which involve everyone rushing at some big-ass baddie and hitting him until he falls over. The FATE system is great for the wandering adventurer, but there are many groups out there who party up solely for the purpose of moving from FATE to FATE, simply to get the rewards.
A Realm Reborn offers even more. Outside of combat, there are crafting classes. Just like in the combat classes, each crafting class has their own experience level and they allow you to level them independently of one another with no compromises to the others. Each comes equipped with its own story-based quest line and special Levequests, making it all too enjoyable to advance your crafting levels and make an in-game living off of them, if you choose. Of course you can always just craft one of every item until you’ve made and learned everything, then set it aside and start on another crafting class. Like many of the other offers in the game, the choice of what you want to do is entirely up to you. But money does get tight at the end of the game, so it may be beneficial to pick these up early.
The crafting and gathering process isn’t just grab-and-go, however. As you level through each class, you’ll learn new skills, giving you the ability to make better items or find better quality items. Crafting is depicted as a turn-based battle between you and the materials, making it so that you have to carefully use your skills to complete the items before the durability runs out. And there is usually more than one step needed in making items. Making a pair of pants involves you needing to turn the cotton in to cotton yarn then the yarn into cotton cloth. After that you’d have to combine that with leather and rivets just to finish what you’re doing. There is a Quick Synthesis option which allows you to make multiple bathes of the same items if you have the mats on hand, relieving players from numerous steps to make a few things.
There is a very solid market in A Realm Reborn. The Market Boards are available scattered out across the major cities and can be extremely addictive at times. Later in the game, once you begin to make a name for yourself, you’ll even obtain a Retainer, a person who will sell items and work the Market Board for you if you don’t have the time to do it. The Retainers act as your own personal servants that you get to create using the same character creation tools you used in the beginning for your own character. You can summon them at any summoning bell in the city or in you Inn room and ask them to look after your gear or sell it on the marketplace. With an easy to understand interface, you are able to track the market history on particular items and set a price of your choice for it. And if you’re trying to buy something, there are some pretty decent tools available to make what you’re looking for simple and fast. Prices vary throughout the cities though, encouraging you to branch out and see what the three city-states have to offer.
Square Enix has promised us new content releases for Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn every three months. This will bring players new things to do and new items to get on a constant basis. If they stick to this promise, then A Realm Reborn could offer subscribers a lot of future potential. Updates so far have included new dungeons, fresh Primal fights, tons of new gear, crafting recipes and even core features. For example, because of the way that some of the higher level quests are designed, they encourage more experienced players to help lower and mid level players. Sqaure Enix is helping to ensure that all players of all tiers have more then enough to do, a noble goal in a genre where people are often faced with an empty world when starting, thanks to everyone being in the enddgame areas.
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is a vast improvement on the original. With a solid storyline and some beautiful voice acting, alongside a gorgeous soundtrack, A Realm Reborn has everything it needs to become a very good MMORPG, and it’s well on its way to being a worthy successor to Final Fantasy XI. It may not be revolutionary, and it may not be anything too different from the MMOs that we’re used to, but it is extremely addictive, satisfying and enjoyable to play. Sure, maybe the narrative could be a bit better at times, and the PvP aspect could use a re-haul, but it still doesn’t detract from the fact that Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is an extremely enjoyable experience that any Final Fantasy fan should consider trying out.