Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn has been open to the public for three days, so a full-blown review at this stage would be a little premature. Instead, we’ll be following one Final–Fantasy-fanboy-slash-MMORPG-newbie as he learns the ropes and explores the wide, wide world of Eorzea.
Having been consistently letdown by the franchise this generation, I’m going into Final Fantasy XIV with moderately high hopes. That probably isn’t wise – after all the series’ recent missteps, Final Fantasy XIV was the one Square Enix singled out for having “greatly damaged” the brand. The company publically declared its crappiness and vowed to fix it. A Realm Reborn is that fix, a completely overhauled product.
I figure they wouldn’t dare stuff it up twice. And besides, my favourite Final Fantasy, lacklustre plot aside, is XII, which is as close to an offline MMO as you can get. So, while my previous MMO experience is limited to a one-week trial of World of Warcraft, I have a sense of what to expect.
The first time you log in to A Realm Reborn, you’ll be prompted to create your character. It’s a detailed tool, allowing you to significantly modify your player’s appearance, so much so that I was able to inadvertently create a mate’s digital doppelganger. You’re not just dealing with aesthetics though, you also choose your character’s birthdate (don’t ask why) and star sign (again, no clue), but most importantly, their class. Players are prompted to choose between being Disciples of War and Disciples of Magic. The former (Gladiators, Pugilists, Marauders, Lancers, Archers) specialise in weapon-based combat, and the latter in magic (Conjurer, Thaumaturge, Arcanist). Don’t feel locked in to the decisions you make in these first minutes though, once you reach Level 10, you can equip different weapons and effectively change your class.
After my character is finalised, a brief cut-scene plays. My hero stands still while a hooded floating man says vague, mostly unintelligible things (a Final Fantasy staple), and then suddenly, I’m in a Chocobo-drawn cart on my way to a bustling city. Within minutes, I’m within the city walls. I’ve joined a guild and am accepting missions with reckless abandon – compared to other Final Fantasys, the time between the game starting and the game actually starting is refreshingly short. None of the initial quests amount to more than ‘visit this person’ or ‘touch this crystal’ or ‘kill four ladybugs’, but I’m actually doing stuff, and all the while, learning the mechanics of the game (information is gradually relayed to the player through helpful popups).
I spend a handful of hours with the game, accepting side quests, upgrading my character, exploring the open world – it’s fun, but already, the differences between an offline and online Final Fantasy game are becoming apparent. The biggest one? Even though I’ve largely focused on completing side quests, the main ‘narrative’ quests don’t seem to be moving any kind of narrative forward (unless you count giving pretzels to guards a narrative). Maybe there’s more to come, or maybe I’m just exposing my MMO n00bishness and this is all I should expect…
What’s really striking about the game is how Western it feels, not in terms of mechanics but it terms of aesthetics. The world of Eorzea and the characters that inhabit it seem geared towards Western gamers. The quirkier aspects of the Final Fantasy are muted. It’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out.
Things that are awesome
Customisation options, how soon the game allows me to explore, FATEs (Full Active Time Event, spontaneous events that see you working with other players, easy to join, easy to abandon).
My hopes going forward
Again, I might be expecting something that I just won’t get from an MMO, but I’m really craving a deeper narrative. But it’s still early days.
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