For the last few days I’ve been playing Square’s latest and greatest MMO (I mean…they only have two right?) that is Final Fantasy 14. I’m currently level 15 or so on Pugilist and nearly the same for Blacksmithing. I’ll talk a bit about my experiences thus far and maybe slap in some images along the way. I don’t really know what is considered spoilers but rest assured I’m basically nowhere in the story so far. I apologize though if something that seemed trivial to me in this retrospective is crucial to you when you play. It went over my head if it was.
The first thing I’ll say is that I’m a pretty long time fan of Final Fantasy. I’ve played every Final Fantasy game (though admittedly not all to completion) from 1 up until now. The ones that I’ve played the least were 13 (which I’m kinda lumping altogether, I’ve not technically played 13-2 or 13-3 yet) and FF11. When I was younger I saw FF11 as nothing but number padding. Square being unwilling to name their game “Final Fantasy Online” and instead calling if FF11 because 11 sounds big and grand! Yes…both those things. I can be redundant if I want! Just let me have this.
I’m going to try and give it a more fair shot but my experience with 13 has thus far been awful. The same can be said for my time with 11. They both were experiences that shook the very foundation of my faith in Square. I’m hesitantly hopeful for 15 (and have no feelings at all on the remake of 7) but 14 has thus far been a pleasant surprise. Final Fantasy 14 reminds me a lot of FF12. For those of you that liked 12 (as I did) this is fairly high praise. My pugilist (read: Monk) started off on a Caravan to the city of Uld…Ul…shit. One moment. Ul’dah (had to google it) reminds me a lot of the starting city in 12. A desert oasis that is surprisingly charismatic and colorful for a place filled with dirt in every corner. The NPCs littered around the city are varied and active. With dancers performing in front of crowds, strong men showing off to onlookers, and shops dealing their wares with the local citizens. It’s nice because the city does actually feel fairly alive even though I didn’t feel like many player characters were in it with me.
Visually the game is pretty stunning. The character designs are just what I expect (and want) from a square title. I feel like this is about the fidelity they should be shooting for. I know they won’t stop here, they’ll keep pushing until a single character costs them a million dollars, but I can be hopeful that someone at SE will grow some sense. The creatures I’ve met so far have all been very imaginative. Some of them too cute to hit (though I did so anyways), others super creepy, and some still remarkably reserved. In the first zone alone I found myself fighting giant ladybugs, weirdly adorable toads, and Cactuar. Which is to say little of the fortress like turtles, creepy daddy long legs, and whatever the hell these cute little motes are!
Just look at that thing! Holy crap! How am I supposed to hit that? I don’t know what to do. It’s too cute. Wait…is that…I’m sorry little guy, there appears to be a hunting log icon above your head. FF14 is packed to the brim with things to do. You can be all classes on a single character and even crafting is treated like real legitimate classes (as you’d expect of hunter or fighter etc). It’s neat to me that there is almost no incentive to have a second character in this game. Your primary avatar genuinely becomes the epicenter of your existence in the game. Naturally I made myself a cat person whose name is a Portmanteau of my two cats. Eclipse being a reference to how Artemis is bright like the sun, and Venus is dark like the Moon. Then the last name being the Japanese words for “Moose” and “Venus” respectfully. Moose being our nickname for Artemis (I’m sure you can figure out how we got from one to the other with a bit of creativity).
I had a great time with the character creator making him. If anything I think most folks would have fun working out their own avatar in this game. The tools aren’t “thorough” but they do allow you to sort of divine what you’d look like if you were a Final Fantasy Character (Read: Probably attractive).
Unfortunately there are some places this game is just very unrefined in. The controls are kinda awful. Even as far back as Alpha, World of Warcraft had far better handling than this game. Your character feels a bit like they are on rails. If you jump it feels like you are tweening from location A to location B, as opposed to being a physics driven object. When you are running and turn it can often feel like you are stopping in Grid A5 and turning to then run towards B6. Additionally the user interface in many places is absolutely awful. I’m told that this is an improvement on the original UI which makes me wonder just how bad that one looked.
Questing too is kinda awful to deal with. You must hand select (or right click each greyed out item) the quest items for turn in. Even if the only item in your inventory happens to be the quest item. Again, I’ve been pampered by the quality of WOW and this stings for me a bit.
The actual questing itself is pretty good by contrast. It’s weird really. The team that made the UI must have never met with, or was paid far less, than the team working on the game proper. I realize that’s not how game design works (or god I hope I’d realize that by now) but it feels like that regardless. There are events that just kinda “happen” out in the world ALA Guild Wars 2 and that’s pretty slick. Further you can “sync” your level to do old events and still get a nice meaty chunk of EXP from them. This is cool to me and means that rarely will I feel left out from content I’m passing by.
So far I’ve only played a Pugilist so my feelings on combat are going to be very skewed. I’m told that it’s fairly slow for most classes. But in the case of pugilist you are almost always doing something. Your character punches and kicks like a madman until the enemy is dead. All of your skills combo into another skill which sounds cooler than it feels mechanically. Additionally the “proc” skills like “only works after a dodge for like 2 seconds” are neat in theory but in practice don’t work great when your room is cold and your fingers aren’t moving very fast.
I’m jumping all over the place here, but when am I not I guess…anyways, the music is great. The sounds in this game are stellar from start to finish. Square has almost always delighted me audibly and this is no different. I don’t mind having my sound on (and up) just about anytime I’m playing. The background music even makes for an amusing garnish to the science videos I watch on YouTube. Makes that beaker filling a bit more dramatic.
The story thus far has been interesting. It starts pretty chill with you crushing shrew skulls and then gives you a haymaker with dragons and airships. It was really jarring but in a way that was delightfully JRPG. I’m over here trying to make shoes from animal skins and then BOOM basically star wars in a cutscene. I’ll take it. I’m hoping that this game has a lot more of that really jarring and out of place content.
As a single player game (which is how I generally play MMOs) I’d say this is definitely worth the 4 dollars I spent on Humble Bundle for it. If that deal is still going I’d recommend you check it out and maybe come find me on Siren. Certain elements like crafting (or just about anything UI related) are just the height of miserable, but the actual RPG portion of the game is pretty good so far. I’ll probably play it until I finish the story and then go on to other things but until then I’m at least fairly confident I’ll have a good time.