Final Fantasy XIV Beta Preview: The Game So Far
Joshua Temblett (Dontkillmydreams), OnRPG Journalist
Final Fantasy XIV is Square Enix’s latest entry in the Final Fantasy series and the second game in the series to be a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG). The game aims to provide fans of Final Fantasy XI, the first MMORPG by Square Enix, with a unique yet familiar experience, whilst also hoping to draw in Final Fantasy fans that have never tried the genre. Does the closed beta build show that the development team has hit the nail on the head or does it just sink to the bottom of the sea amid a variety of design flaws?
The Final Fantasy series has always had a predominate focus on telling a story. In fact the creator of the popular series, Hironobu Sakaguchi, once said, “I don’t think I have what it takes to make a good action game. I think I’m better at telling a story.” when asked what type of game he wanted to create during the development of Final Fantasy I. Unfortunately Sakaguchi has since moved on from Square Enix, however Final Fantasy XIV proves that he has left remnants of his magic behind.
Once you have created your character with the fairly in-depth customisation tools, you’ll find yourself on a boat travelling to the port town “Limsa Lominsa”. Anyone who has played Final Fantasy XI will be very familiar with the concept of starter cities as, much like in the first MMORPG in the series; Final Fantasy XIV will drop you off in one of three City States, which will act as a hub for you at the beginning of your adventure.
Your trip is suddenly interrupted as a storm brews up and monsters attack your ship. Just after you’ve managed to fend off the troublesome fiends, a giant sea dragon jumps over your boat and seems to communicate some sort of message to your character, which leaves you with a lot of questions.
This opening scene is incredibly engrossing. Whilst I’m sure my description doesn’t sound as epic as the opening actually is, if you get the chance to play the game, you’ll instantly find out what I mean. This fantastically absorbing storyline doesn’t stop there though. After you land in Limsa Lominsa you’ll do a series of quests that will introduce you to the game whilst also gradually introducing you into the environment and giving the game world some context.
You’ll immediately find the quests interesting and you may even find yourself becoming attached to various NPCs. While the game’s storyline appears to focus more on the politics of the world, much like Final Fantasy XII, it isn’t forgetting the importance of having key characters that you can connect to, unlike Final Fantasy XII. Overall, the storyline for Final Fantasy XIV is shaping up to be something special and I personally can’t wait to see where it goes.
Graphics have always been an important part of Final Fantasy games, with most entries in the series pushing the technical boundaries of their platforms. Final Fantasy XIV is no different. If you have a graphics card that can display high-end visuals, then you’re in for a treat.
If you’re worried about purchasing the game and it not running on your computer then you should know this: I had a NVIDEA GeForce 9500 GS for the majority of the closed beta and I can confirm that even I was able to run the game. Of course I did have to lower the settings drastically and, if I wanted a picture perfect frame rate, I had to turn the graphics down so much that it looked like I was playing a PlayStation/PlayStation 2 game. I was able to run the game on the higher settings, and while the game was playable, my frames per second (FPS) was very inconsistent.
Even if you can’t run Final Fantasy XIV on the highest settings you’re still in for a treat. The character animations are simply fantastic. Never, in any game, have I seen characters move so fluidly. Everything from general movement, to battle animations, is simply amazing. The amount of care that has gone into the visuals of this game is astonishing.
Additionally, the fashion, which seems to have a very Studio Ghibli feel to it, is wonderful, as is the architecture and general world design. To put it simply, this is an environment that has character and essence. The only problem is that the world feels lifeless. While the NPC’s are performing actions, such as flipping burgers, these are just pre-scripted and there doesn’t appear to be any spirit in them. Hopefully this can be fixed by the time the game is released.
The gameplay has been heavily refined from Square Enix’s last MMORPG, Final Fantasy XI. The battles in Final Fantasy XIV use a version of the series traditional Active Time Battle (ATB) system. Instead of players waiting for the bar to fill up completely and then attack, your attacks only use up a portion of the bar. This means you do attacks in rapid succession, much like in Final Fantasy XIII.
While the battle system is incredibly spammy, you have to constantly hit one of the number keys to do basic attacks, there is a fair amount of strategy involved, especially if you’re a caster. If you play a magic role then you need to be very careful about what spells you use and when, as your MP doesn’t refill as in other games. To counter this, casters are given a spell that will replenish your MP however the cool down on this particular ability is thirty minutes. You can also go to an Aetheryte Crystal in a nearby city or campsite to get your health and MP fully healed.
At these Aetheryte Crystals you can also activate your Levesquests. Levesquests are essentially quests, however they don’t have any story attached to them and they consist of you killing a certain amount of monsters, or building a certain item. Levequests are supposed to support your levelling up process, which is thankfully very quick.
I didn’t manage to get a lot of hands on with the various crafting/harvesting classes, and it didn’t really help that there wasn’t an in-game tutorial to guide me through them, however what I did try out appeared to be very in-depth and I believe that Final Fantasy XIV has one of the deepest crafting systems available.
Whilst what I did see in this preview build was very well done and finely polished, I cannot help but feel like this is just a standard MMORPG. Apart from the engaging storyline, and interesting battle system, Final Fantasy XIV isn’t really pushing the envelope. Whatever polish there is in the game, is destroyed by the horrible User Interface, which is slow and lacks simplicity. You’ll find yourself having to go through so many menus just to equip items and skills that this simple task will quickly become a chore. It also doesn’t help that there isn’t an auction house, which was one of the best features about Final Fantasy XI, instead you have to check every player in a small “trading” room, to see what they’re selling.
A lot of work needs to be done to improve the general user experience, and I hope that Square Enix will listen to their soon-to-be consumers as in its current state Final Fantasy XIV is not worth the buying price yet alone the monthly fee. Considering the game is less than a month away from shipping, that’s not a good thing.