When Final Fantasy XIV first hit the market, you could say it had its flaws if you wanted to be political about it, but if you played it, you would know the harsh, un-sugar coated truth of it all: It was bad. Very bad. The laundry list of issues at launch were too numerous to mention here. But this is Final Fantasy and Square-Enix is quite aware of the legacy it carries. So they went back to the drawing board and have been working diligently to turn the universally panned MMORPG into something that can hold up to its namesake. Now, after much retooling they’re ready to show Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn to the world and we may actually be in for a pleasant surprise.
While all of the core concepts behind the game are still there such as the character classes, guilds and abilities, it’s all being tweaked to make the experience much more palatable and enjoyable to new players. The first time I ever played the original FF XIV, I was flustered with my interaction right out of the box, but things seem much more accessable from the get go in Realm Reborn. A lot of little things like a longer camera draw and the fact that your character can now jump over things like fences and rocks make the open world much easier and quicker to traverse, of course, getting a Chocobo to cart you around helps too.
Graphically, this is indeed a whole new world. Every aspect of the landscape has been given a makeover, some places to the point where you would not recognize them from their previous incarnations and they’re now much larger. The Morabay drydocks have gone from being some rocky cliffs backdropped by a large mass of water dwelling below them are now full of ivory platforms and bustling trade. Camp Tranquil now resembles a militaristic encampment rather than an overnight bonfire in the woods with the other cub scouts. And the Black Brush plains still have a tinge of that Arizona desert plains vibe, but now there’s much more color and plant life. Technical additions like lens flares, a larger color palette and fine details like fruit growing on plants in gardens hopes to make the make the world of Hydaelyn a more inviting place to play.
While combat carries out in the same traditional ways you’re used to, battles do not grind on for as long as they used to and there’s a ton of new animations to go along with all your characters abilities, adding a touch of visual feedback and breaking up the monotony of watching your avatar blindly swing away at a killer squirrel for 10 minutes. Enemies have gotten a their share of touch-ups as well and large creatures like the Treant look and run much smoother.
The story behind the Hydaelyn is probably getting the largest overhaul out of the bunch though, with a new threefold story being penned to better explain the what and why of your quest. As an adventurer, you’ve been called by the conscious of the planet called the Mother Crystal. It compels you to set out on your journey and discover the mysteries the planet has to offer you. But while that’s going on, there’s a battle raging between the Garlean Empire and the Eorzean city states. Eventually, you’ll have to choose which of the three cities you’ll wish to represent and defend in the ongoing struggle. But the fun doesn’t stop there; Primals, the summon-like creatures of FF XIV are on a rampage and destroying everything in their path. So basically you’ve just got to save the planet from the overgrowing monster population, stop an epic war and find out why the mother crystal is so into you. Simple, right?
Along the way, Square-Enix has promised that you’ll run into a ton of your favorite characters and creatures from the entire Final Fantasy catalog. Chocobos will cart you around, Moogles will run the in-game mail system, bosses from all the games will make appearances in various roles as well. Iconic figures like Cait Sith and Gilgamesh were mentioned by name along with what’s promised to be an extremely difficult Bahamut dungeon and there was even talk of seeing the mech suits from FF VI making a cameo in the future.
Fairly standard MMO features such as player residences, public quests, dungeons and raids will be available at launch and players will finally get a chance to do some real PvP matches. This is the first time PvP will be done on such a large scale for the game.
If you’re one of the many fans who’ve been waiting patiently for the PS3 port to finally see the light of day, you’ll be glad to hear that the Realm Reborn version is planned to launch at the same time as the PC version and will feature cross-platform gameplay. Meaning not only will you be able to play with your friends whether you prefer to play computer or console, but you’ll also have the ability to log in to your account and play on either machine. While we did not get any hands-on time with the PS3 version, we were told that you’ll be able to join the beta by phase 3 if you’re a Sony backer and that the controls will be tailored for the MMO experience.
The other interesting thing to note is that Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn will still be based off a subscription model. This seems a bit odd as most of the market is leaning towards the F2P micro-transaction model and it didn’t really do them much good last time around. Still, they may be banking on the fact they’ve basically redone the entire game from scratch and created something that has obvious potential beyond its less than glamorous upbringing. But gamers have long memories and are reluctant to forgive quickly, which may hinder Square-Enix in their quest to revamp their IP. Hopefully the blatantly noticeable amount of effort they’ve put into making this a respectable title will shine through enough to get folks to give a 2nd or 1st try.