By Remko Molenaar (Proxzor) OnRPG Journalist
What would you do when your game has the Final Fantasy name but it didn’t receive the popularity expected with soft a franchise? Final Fantasy XIV knows this fate all too well, receiving negative reviews throughout the community on its initial launch; a title that simply didn’t hold up the quality standards fans of Final Fantasy have come to expect. The game was in bad shape, and because of this the Square Enix’s president assigned an entirely new team to fix it up in a super rework project nearly unheard of in the online industry. For over two years the team has been working hard on this remake, and I got the chance to finally see their progress in the recent closed beta.
I have to be honest about my history prior to this write-up so you know where I’m coming from. I have never been a real big fan of the Final Fantasy series. Even though I appreciate the well thought out story line and depth of each title, they just brought something to the table that I felt wasn’t for me. The 2010 FFXIV launch more or less cemented this bias. I expected grandeur and polish and left the 2010 beta feeling let down.
In my eyes, turn-based combat has always been a signature feature of the FF series, giving a throwback to a simpler age of gaming. Yet the first thing I noticed when jumping into 2013’s beta when I engaged my first foe is that turn-based fighting is no more. In my eyes they have finally made a huge step forward into the new era of action gaming. The combat’s overall flow is much improved and it truly adds the feeling of playing an MMORPG instead of a single-player RPG that happens to be online. Another thing I have always liked is the slickness of Final Fantasy; the user interface in every Final Fantasy game has been the absolute best, and its locales and various regions are so simple yet beautiful. Back in 2010, I really felt the atmosphere was rather dead, and the soul of the series was lacking because of it.
However when I stepped into the updated beta, I was immediately sidetracked from questing by the sense of exploration to see the beautiful new starting zone. My adventurer Lalafell set out to do just that but unfortunately stumbled into something I dislike the most, invisible walls. Now I understand that having an instanced world makes invisible walls a necessary, yet it completely ruins the experience for me when there is no apparent reason why I cannot jump onto some places or reach some of the beautiful distant vistas. Still the areas you can reach have restored that FF soul the previous iteration badly lacked. The world feels vibrant and alive and they are now utilizing the epic graphics their engine was capable of in levels the franchise deserves. Heck even the attention to small details like door opening animations help draw you in and feel a warmth about the game. The improved chatboxes also provide a bit of nostalgia for the oldschool console RPG’s; they are simple yet appealing.
It’s often hard as an online gamer to have to choose between the eastern versus western style of games. Although a few try to find that perfect melding between the two, they usually lean heavily towards one or the other. This goes beyond just graphics into the gameplay style itself. FFXIV also aims for this middle ground to attract both types of gamers. And while it’s impossible to perfectly appeal to both elements, I must say, I’m impressed by their approach. They really ‘westernized’ the game completely, and scrapped some of the core elements that have been standard in their titles for years. Luckily they haven’t changed what they’ve done best, and that is being as detailed oriented as possible. From the people you meet, to the objects you find, everything has this rich background story that could fill whole books. The combat has been made so much faster that it matches the games from this era, and the questing has been improved to the point that leveling doesn’t even feel like a grind. Public Events, known as Full Active Time Events or FATE, have been adopted as a core social gathering point to make PvE more addicting. Mostly they involve defending a location or person, by killing the foes with all the force that you have. They’re certainly optional but a lot of fun to break up the questing and meet new friends. But they seem to have the contribution to reward set up properly to encourage players to take them seriously when they get involved.
Even though the game is still heavily into the beta testing and much still resides behind NDAs and blocked access, the rate that change is coming gives me hope for the relaunch. I must say that this new and upcoming Final Fantasy game has changed my attitude towards the FF franchise. Normally when an MMORPG extends beta, you expect some slight polishing to balance and graphics. Yet FFXIV went the extra mile and hit their core mechanics to meet the increased competitiveness in the industry head on. I am not one to say ‘Game X will be the death of Game Y,” but with a bit more fine tuning FFXIV has the potential to blow the MMORPG into a new era of higher quality titles. The combination of modern refined UI and console level graphics with simple RPG elements shows the developers know what they’re aiming for and are pushing towards it ruthlessly. No longer is FFXIV a single player RPG trapped online, but an online rpg that will do the MMORPG genre proud.