I told myself I’ve had enough with massively multiplayer online role-playing games. Not because I had some sort of addiction, but I was just tired of it all; the hotbars filled with spells and attacks, the constant quests from nagging villagers, and the mass murder of woodland creatures. After playing years of stuff like World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2, The Lord of the Rings Online, and more, I thought I had had my fill.
But you know which MMO I didn’t play? 2010’s Final Fantasy XIV. As much as I love the Final Fantasy series (I’ve beaten every main-numbered, single-player entry), I had heard nothing but terrible things about FFXIV. Critics called it a boring, confusing mess.
Well, someone at publisher Square Enix must have agreed. Instead of trying to fix its blunder with a few patches, Square went ahead and relaunched the whole thing. The result is Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, out now for PC and PlayStation 3.
Despite my MMO fatigue, I was incredibly curious to see what a reboot of this magnitude looks like. Shockingly, I discovered my new favorite in the genre.
What You’ll Like
A gorgeous world
A Realm Reborn takes place in the fantasy world of Eorzea, a beautiful continent that’s home to a multitude of races, like the tall, elvish Elezen or the tiny, adorable Lalafell (like my character, whom you’ll see in a lot of the screenshots in this review). While most MMOs go for an exaggerated, cartoony style (like World of Warcraft and even Star Wars: The Old Republic), A Realm Reborn sticks with an art style familiar to Final Fantasy veterans, especially those who played Final Fantasy XII. The result is a handsome experience that doesn’t have that cheap MMO feel.
Towns feel alive and vibrant, with gorgeous details littered throughout. My favorite, Ul’dah, is an Arabian-style city-state bustling with merchants and draped with tapestries. Character models also look great, with armor and clothing adding surprisingly clear details. The fluid animation of all the characters and monsters also helps make Eorzea feel like a pretty big step up from what I’ve come to expect from MMO graphics.
When making a new character, you choose between a number of classes, including magic-wielding ones like the destructive Thaumaturge and melee-attacking classes like the Lancer. But this isn’t a permanent choice. Once you finish your level 10 class quest (which doesn’t take more than a couple of hours to get to), you may join other guilds. A Realm Reborn has something called the Armoury System, which follows something of a Final Fantasy tradition of character flexibility found in the Job systems from games like Final Fantasy III, V, and XI. Once you unlock a class, you can instantly switch between it and others just by changing your equipment, which you can save in sets for quick and easy activation. So if you’re tired of your level 25 Arcanist, you can easily give the Pugilist a whirl without having to make a new character.
This same concept applies to crafting and gathering classes. If you want to craft clothes, you have to join the Weaver’s Guild and unlock that class. You then increase your level just like you would for any other class, except you’re gaining experience from making hats and gloves instead of from hunting down monsters.
Leveling up multiple classes gives you a few benefits aside from breaking up MMO monotony. Certain unlockable skills can work across different professions. My level 10 Archer was able to use Swiftcast, a Thaumaturge ability that enables you to instantly use a skill without waiting for a cooldown. You’ll also need to level multiple classes if you want to unlock a Job, which is a specialized and advanced version of one of A Realm Reborn’s battle professions. For example, after I got my Thaumaturge to level 30 and my Archer to level 15, I was able to unlock the Black Mage job.
This sort of flexibility is wonderful. It encourages you to explore an incredible amount of content with a single character, and it also gives you an easy out if you discover that you don’t like the class you originally started with.
Thankfully, the leveling of your classes is fun, largely thanks to the diversity of quests. While most are typical of MMOs (you know, find the guy with the large, yellow icon above their head and do what they say), you quickly find other ways to earn your experience. Fates, for example, are spontaneous events which anyone can join simply by being near them. Each class also has a Hunter’s Log, which is a list of certain monsters you can kill for extra experience.
If you have trouble finding regular quests, you can also take on Guildleves, which you can accept from most towns. They’re structurally similar to regular quests, but you can do a certain allotment of them a day. You can burn through a bunch of them at once for some hefty rewards. Guildheists, meanwhile, are short instances that pair you up with three other players. It’s like running a dungeon in World of Warcraft, but much shorter. These quick tastes of cooperative play are great for players easily intimidated by the daunting task of running a full, hour-long instance.
Speaking of, A Realm Reborn offers plenty of full-sized dungeons, even at relatively low levels. The bosses offer interesting challenges outside of standard MMO tank-and-spanking, like a giant blob monster that you need to split up via exploding bombs before you can destroy it. These dungeons also have some cinematic flair, with short cutscenes introducing the final baddie in epic fashion.
And while the regular quests usually involve simple tasks like killing monsters and collecting items, they’re often framed around interesting narratives. And aside from the main storyline, each class also has a quest-chain of its own that offers a complete tale.
MMOs are, by their very nature, labyrinthine. It’s easy to get bogged down by a million subsystems or get lost in an overwhelmingly large world. However, I never feel out of sorts in A Realm Reborn. Every time you log in, the game conveniently gives you a list of recommended quests based on your level and proximity. Also, the main story slowly and thoughtfully introduces you to all of A Realm Reborn’s tricks, so you’re never overloaded with information. It’s paced well. Traveling around Eorzea is also made easy thanks to the cleverly named Aethernet, which teleports you around the world for a small fee. If you don’t feel like spending that much money, you can always rent a Chocobo for an even cheaper price.
But it was really a lot of the smaller touches that impressed me. For example, you gain a bonus to experience gained for a new class based on the difference between it and your highest leveled one, which makes the task of fighting low-level mobs feel like less of chore. I also love how the inventory works. Right from the beginning, your capacity is massive. I rarely had to waste time selling unwanted items, which is usually a time-consuming necessity when visiting any town in other MMOs. That’s largely because you won’t find any trash loot (items that are only good for selling to vendors), and the few items you do get from killing enemies automatically go into your inventory. You don’t have to right-click on every corpse you create.
It feels like Final Fantasy
It’s hard to define what exactly makes a game feel like a Final Fantasy. Even in its own series, entries vary greatly. I mean, someone unfamiliar with the franchise would probably have a hard time making a connection between Final Fantasy XIII’s futuristic setting and Final Fantasy VI’s steampunk-inspired take on fantasy. But there are multiple common threads that tie every game together, and I don’t just mean the Moogles, Chocobos, and people named Cid (though A Realm Reborn does have all of that). It’s more of a feeling. It’s in the way characters talk, how everything sounds, and the tone of the world itself. And in all these ways, A Realm Reborn truly does feel like a Final Fantasy.
The music bears special mention. This is one of the best MMO sountracks I’ve ever heard. Not only have I enjoyed great renditions of classic Final Fantasy music, like the main theme or the Chocobo song, but I’m having a hard time keeping some of the more melodic pieces outside my head. I especially love the theme for Ul’Dah, which actually comes two ways: a soaring, triumphant fanfare that plays during the day and a softer, haunting piano melody that you only hear at night. Oh, and nothing sounds better than that classic Final Fantasy victory diddy when you gain a new level.
What You Won’t Like
It still feels a bit familiar
I think I’ve established that Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is a great MMO. Still, it does sometimes feel like “another” MMO. If you’ve played World of Warcraft or any of its many imitators, then you know what to expect from the gameplay. You’re clicking buttons on a hotbar to cast spells and abilities. Now, some cool touches do help make A Realm Reborn’s action interesting. The Thaumaturge has to juggle between two buffs using fire and ice spells in order to keep his mana from depleting, and a lot of the melee classes utilize combos that greatly increase damage when done in the right order. Still, if you’re looking for something totally different when it comes to the way we play MMOs, you won’t find it here.
The PlayStation 3 version
I spent most of my time with A Realm Reborn’s PC version, but I also played it on the PlayStation 3. Now, I’m impressed that an MMO this complex can work on a console at all, but I would never prefer to play it that way. Using a controller is great for moving your character around, but navigating through the multitude of menus quickly becomes taxing. Selecting enemies with the D-pad is also an imprecise pain, and I found myself dead more than once simply because I had a hard time targeting the monster that was attacking me.
But my biggest problem is the graphical downgrade. The PS3 version just doesn’t look nearly as nice as the game does on a decent PC. Models look jagged and animations for anything more than a few yards away from you are incredibly jerky.
I’m never thought I would be this enthusiastic about an MMO again, but I’m in love with A Realm Reborn. Its beautiful world always offers something fun and interesting to do. Sure, it’s not “the next big thing” for the genre, but A Realm Reborn shines with a hundred smart ideas and small touches. Final Fantasy fans in particular will love adventuring in the gorgeous world of Eorzea.
I never played the original Final Fantasy XIV, so I can’t really say how this stacks against it. But regardless of how truly bad it was, I’m more concerned with how excellent A Realm Reborn is now.
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is out now for PC and the PlayStation 3. The publisher provided GamesBeat with copies of both versions for the purposes of this review.