Square-Enix was in deep trouble. Their second foray into MMO gaming, the fourteenth iteration of the mega-popular Final Fantasy game series, came out of the gates in the fall of 2010 not only limping, but fundamentally broken in every major area.Gamers everywhere signaled the death knell of the title a month after it was released, which coincided with the end of the 30-day free trial period included with each sold copy.
Square-Enix could have thrown in the towel and focused on a incredible Final Fantasy XV, or they could have tried to fix what was wrong with XIV, even though the flaws were so fundamental (among its many flaws, combat was slow and extremely difficult to pull off, and this is a game where combat is probably the most important feature of the production) that the entire game would have to be scrapped and rebuilt from the ground up. Faced with that choice, Square-Enix did the unthinkable in gaming: they chose the latter and scrapped the game completely, rebuilding it from scratch. Two questions remained: could they pull it off, and would fans and players give them a second chance? The answer to both questions is yes.
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (ARR) is not only a better, faster, cleaner MMORPG, it may very well be one of the best in the history of the genre. The producers have taken the standard mechanics of the MMO genre and applied the Final Fantasy mythos to them with gusto. While Final Fantasy XI, the first MMO in the Final Fantasy universe, was a good game, ARR ups the ante at every turn and in so doing, may have finally created the “World of Warcraft Killer” that players have been yearning for.
A Realm Reborn takes place five years after the events of the original XIV. In a nod to the troubles of the past iteration, as well as remembering the players who trudged through that terrible game, A Realm Reborn is just that. But now, story-wise, the reborn realm is under a new threat from the evil Garlean Empire, and it’s up to the players to save the day, via fetch quests, F.A.T.E.s, and dungeon crawls that end with spectacular boss battles, as any Final Fantasy-branded game should.
The graphics and interface are both clean and beautiful, and the world of Eorzea comes alive. An early group battle with the powerful Eternal, Ifrit, is spectacular with the flames and the lighting. Dying as much as my group did was okay, just to see that magnificent entrance over and over. The sounds–including the iconic Final Fantasy music–are sweeping and epic, as they should be, and the classic end-battle fanfare rings out anytime a character levels up.
The player takes control of a character, created from one of five distinct races (with two sexes each) and chooses their starting class and job, and then they join up with a world (server) and the adventure begins.
The first few quests are simple in design. Fetch this, hunt three of that, etc. Quests earn EXP and Gil and with level increases, the player can grow stronger, and at level fifteen, can even choose a new job (knight, black mage, dragoon, etc.) and become stronger. Job changing is handled by simply changing weapons. If you carry a sword, you’re a warrior; if you switch to a staff, you’re a mage; a bow makes you an archer.
Each job can be leveled up separately, with learned skills crossing over to create powerful hybrid characters. This is important, as late game quests get kind of crazy and the players skill comes into play more so than the character’s weapons/armaments/abilities. A Realm Reborn doesn’t coddle the player. Learn and help save the world, or perish. And don’t let that scare you. Let it inspire you.
And since this is a MMO, the first M stands for massive, and Eorzea, the fictional land that ARR takes place in, is massive with stuff to do. Metalurgy, crafting, fishing, and farming, among others, are all things to do on top of fighting to save the world. Certain quests move the story forward, and to be clear, there is a story here, with a definitive beginning, middle, and ending. But players can spend as much time doing the other quests, participating in FATEs (Full Active Time Event), which are game wide events that spring up and anyone can join, going on levequests, which are level-based quests that cans core some good armor and weapons, and so much more.
Players can also join with like-minded folks in free-companies, which are like clans, and work together for a common goal.
At this point in the review, it must be said that I could write 10,000 words and still only scratch the surface of what A Realm Reborn does and does well. If you’ve played a MMORPG, you understand how it works, and just know this; all of those MMORPG tropes are applied to the Final Fantasy universe in new and exciting ways, and it’s spectacular.
Anyway, the main story wraps around level 50, and the promise of updates and new quests, armors, dungeons, and Eternals (think Espers/Guardian Forces/Summons) to conquer and collect means that there is so much more in Eorzea to do at any time.
A Realm Reborn is a cross-platform title, which allows PS3 (and soon PS4) players and PC players to fight together. Whereas PC players can use a controller, keyboard, or a combination of the two, PS3 players use a controller and hot-mapped buttons, accessed via a combination of button presses. As a PS3 player, it didn’t take long to get the buttons down and my fighting skills are up there with my PC brethren. It must also be said that PS3 players will automatically get the game free for the PS4 in early 2014, which is a huge win for console players.
A lot has been said and/or written about the launch trouble of A Realm Reborn, and it was all true. Square-Enix has created this sweeping, beautiful, epic MMORPG and everyone wanted to play. It clogged up servers, which created long wait times. People could not only log in, they couldn’t create a character in any world, meaning they essentially bought and paid for something they couldn’t use.
Those days are past us now, but even during the nightmare (Square-Enix rewarded those early adopters with a free week of play and a few in-game items), this was not indicative of the game play or the story, it was a testament on just how good it is. Everyone wanted in. Everyone wanted to play. That–when it’s all said and done–is the greatest testament to the risk that Square-Enix took in rebooting. Something inherently broken was fixed and is now incredible. I know personally, four people who have closed their WoW accounts to play ARR, and they do not regret it at all.
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is easily my favorite MMORPG that I’ve ever played, and I look forward to playing now and in the future. There are friends to be made and help, dungeons to be cleared, rare armor sets to complete, and Eternals to take down. And all the while, the Garlean Empire is waiting, watching, ready to take over Eorzea and cast it into a new age of darkness. I can’t let that happen. You can’t let that happen. Together we can stop it.
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn was reviewed on PS3 and is also available on PC. It was released on August 27, 2013, and a PS4 version is coming in early 2014.