Opinions will differ as to whether or not Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is doing something “new and innovative”. However, much of the sentiment out of this past weekend’s beta test seems to indicate that Square Enix’s new Final Fantasy XIV team under Naoki Yoshida has done the impossible in completely overhauling the hot mess that was the original Final Fantasy XIV.
Last year, Final Fantasy XIV was off my radar until I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Yoshida himself at E3 2012. It was at this appointment that I truly began to appreciate not only the massive undertaking Square Enix had committed to with A Realm Reborn, but also the passion and drive of the people behind it, with, of course, Mr. Yoshida counted amongst them.
Fast forward a year later to E3 2013 and I was set to meet with Mr. Yoshida once again. I approached our meeting with a follow-up on our previous conversation in mind. As a longtime Final Fantasy fan, I was never drawn to the EQ-like Final Fantasy XI and, at least at face value, FFXI was what I saw in Final Fantasy XIV on the run up to launch, ensuring that I would pass over it as well. I explained this oddity to Mr. Yoshida in our prior discussion; I just didn’t feel like FFXI or FFXIV screamed “Final Fantasy” at me. As someone who loves Final Fantasy games and MMOs, you would think that games like FFXI, and more particularly, FFXIV, would be an easy sell. They weren’t. How could that be?
Mr. Yoshida instantly latched onto this question. Apparently, this had been one of the primary issues with the original Final Fantasy XIV and it was an important one to address for the team behind A Realm Reborn, both in the title’s game design and in Square Enix’s communication to fans of the franchise. To that end, we saw the beginnings of this just a few short months later with the release of “End of an Era”, an epic six minute CG trailer that, at least to me, was as convincing of a “Final Fantasy” game trailer as one could hope for. Had I never heard of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn at that point, this trailer would have definitely caught my attention.
Mission accomplished, then? I wanted to find out and so this was the first thing I asked Mr. Yoshida about in our latest discussion. Mr. Yoshida pointed to the “A Crystal’s Call” trailer that they had just put out earlier that day and said that the feedback coming in through their various feedback loops (social media, forums, etc.) was along the lines of what they were looking for. Fans of the series were telling them that the game looked very Final Fantasy, what with the storyline, the summons, and now Limit Breaks that were shown off in the video.
Our discussion then moved onto housing. Square Enix is kicking it a bit old school with housing in Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. Instead of using the typical instanced housing we’ve been seeing in recent years, FFXIV: ARR will actually have entire open world areas dedicated to supporting player houses and players will be able to buy plots of land where they can then build their houses, decorate them both indoors and out, and even grow things in their yards. It’s important to note that housing won’t be available in FFXIV at launch, but is slated to be included in a forthcoming update shortly thereafter. We’re told that players probably won’t mind this, as they will need all the additional time to earn enough Gil to purchase their land and such.
While Square Enix may be taking an older school approach to housing with FFXIV, that’s not to say they aren’t implementing some more contemporary MMO features into their game. FATEs, or Full Active Time Events, are essentially the game’s public quests, rifts, dynamic events, etc. Basically, you run around the world in between all your questing and these events will pop up all over the place.
This feature has become pretty standard fare at this point, but Square Enix is offering a bit of a new wrinkle to the formula by adding something called “Level Sync”, which will allow you to participate in events you may have otherwise outleveled. It’s pretty much reverse sidekicking from City of Heroes. Your available skills and such will be restricted to what would be available at your temporary new “level” (scaled down appropriately for the event), but you’ll be able to acquire experience and rewards worthy of your actual level.
As someone who has experienced just about every iteration of this type of dynamic content out there, one thing that has been a common thread amongst my experiences is the often confusing or unequal method of judging players’ contribution. When asked about this, we were told that Square Enix is essentially tying contribution to threat generation or “enmity”. In short, if you’re doing damage, you’re accruing threat with creatures; if you’re healing other players, same thing. Obviously, tanks are also gaining threat as well. This ensures that the game is counting what you are doing no matter how you are contributing to the event. It sounds good to me, but we’ll have to see how it plays out.
Despite the mostly standard implementation of dynamic event content, I wondered if the system could be used to deliver some iconic Final Fantasy moments. Dungeons are one thing, but why not use FATEs for some large scale open world events? Mr. Yoshida told us that this is something they definitely want to do. For example, maybe a fight against Behemoth or heck, maybe players will get to collectively experience being run through and instantly killed by Odin’s famed Gungnir lance.
Speaking of summons, we briefly discussed the new Summoner Job. I was disappointed to learn that players wouldn’t actually be summoning Ifrit or Garuda or what have you, but it does makes sense that players wouldn’t be able to call forth these massive theatrical events with a giant monster flying around at any given moment in an MMO. Still, I wondered if these sorts of moments would perhaps be available as a Limit Break for Summoners. We were basically told that Square Enix intends to use Limit Breaks to deliver these sorts of dramatic moments for each Job and they hope to do something similar for Summoners. Well, they didn’t quite say no, but they didn’t say yes either. I suppose we will have to find out when Summoners officially arrive in the game.
We also learned that Limit Breaks themselves will be role dependent. For example, Black Mages will bring AOE focused Limit Breaks to the party, while a Paladin will have access to Limit Breaks that protect the party in various ways. The specific Limit Breaks available to you will be separated into three ranks and the ranks available for use will be determined by the sort of content you’re doing. If you’re walking around the world, you may only have rank one Limit Breaks available to you. If you’re tackling a major boss fight in an instance, though, Limit Breaks up to rank three become available.
There is one Limit Break gauge for the entire party and it’s basically up to the party to communicate as far as what Limit Break to use and when. Filling that gauge can also be influenced by solid and efficient play. For example, if Ifrit is charging up his Eruption attack and the Paladin stuns him to interrupt it, the game will recognize this and give your party a bonus to your Limit Break gauge for appropriately reading and reacting to the event. Mr. Yoshida tells us that figuring out these opportunities to earn these bonuses will be part of the fun of utilizing Limit Breaks to their optimal effects.
We did spend most of our time with Mr. Yoshida discussing the game, but they did briefly show us the novel gamepad control scheme they’ve implemented for A Realm Reborn and appeared to be particularly proud about what they’ve managed to pull off here. The main idea was to accomplish parity with mouse and keyboard users who can activate abilities with one button press (1, 2, 3, etc.). To accomplish this, the controller will handle targeting, camera, and movement in a typical way, but the face buttons will also be used to map up to 16 actions available at one time.
Square Enix is calling this the “Cross Hotbar”. First, think of the eight buttons typically available on the face of the controller (D-Pad/Buttons). Now imagine holding down the left or right trigger and pressing any of these buttons and you essentially have two sets of eight actions you can access at any moment. You can also create and store additional hotbars that can be switched to on the fly via the controller expanding your options quite a bit. It’s a pretty genius idea, in my opinion, and I honestly wouldn’t be surprised to find that this control scheme sets a standard for console MMORPGs down the line.
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn goes live on August 27, 2013 for PC and PS3. Pre-orders are now available for both standard and collector’s editions.
Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined MMORPG.com as the site's Community Manager. Follow him on Twitter @eMikeB
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