I really wish I had started Final Fantasy XIV much sooner. It’s one of those MMOs I was always interested in playing, but never had the time. I was too busy playing The Lord of the Rings Online, or in many cases I was reviewing The Elder Scrolls Online or slogging through my Atlas review for another outlet at the time (that game still makes my blood boil). In the meantime, FFXIV was earning award after award, and it was one of the most talked about MMOs in my circle of friends and colleagues.
I vividly remember being at a dinner with other journalists who were at an event to cover EVE Online, yet the conversation was dominated by how great Final Fantasy XIV was. One of my best friends, Mac World’s Associate Editor and one of the most knowledgeable MMO journalists I know, Leif Johnson, had been hinting at me for months to play this game with him. Finally, I relented, eager to see what the fuss was about.
I’ve been an avid Final Fantasy fan since I can remember. I lived in Michigan for a year as a kindergartener while my father was stationed in South Korea for a year. During that time I watched my uncle play Final Fantasy on his NES in my grandmother’s kitchen. When we moved from Michigan to Las Vegas, I played Final Fantasy on my Gameboy during the long drive.
Growing up on the Air Force base here in Vegas, my friends and I would reenact our favorite games in the dirt lots behind our houses (base housing in Vegas was full of ditches and dunes we could get lost within). I always played the Red Mage I used in Final Fantasy Tactics. So when I started Final Fantasy XIV my goal was simple: Become a Red Mage.
I started with a Lancer in Gridania and quickly fell in love with the forested world around me. The NPCs all felt like they had character missing from many early NPCs in other MMOs – I really enjoyed too helping the Adders as I tried to grind through the story. However, one of the major flaws of starting an MMO so late was that there was a lot to catch up on to even remotely be in a place to quest with friends and truly understand where a lot of the recent praise was coming from.
With other MMOs it’s easy when you buy an expansion to just level boost and start from there – many of the expansions pre-orders now come with those bosts and I did so in World of Warcraft with Legion. I had been told how paramount the story was in FFXIV, so initially skipping the content didn’t seem like an option.
Questing with Leif, who decided to roll a White Mage on his main thanks to Final Fantasy’s incredibly flexible job system, we pushed forward, grinding through the early content. However, about two weeks in I started to fall into my gaming vice – I have a hard time sticking with just one game for any length of time. Part of that is simply my job requires me to play multiple different games at a time so my focus is often split. Part of it is simply my own attention span. I get burnt out easily if I grind in a single game for too long. This is why, years later, I still have not beat the main quest in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (though I did find Ciri, so technically the game is beaten).
Sensing this, we made the decision to get one of the boosts to level 70 and immediately become a Red Mage, or in his case, a White Mage. I also bypassed the Realm Reborn and Heavensward stories, instead relying on the cutscenes in the game and recaps online to catch up like I did with Legion previously.
Normally I hate doing this – I’ve done it before in Lord of the Rings Online with when Eastern Gondor hit and I wanted to take part in the Battle of Pelannor Fields right away, but never had I progressed like that out of sheer laziness.
I’m glad I did though as I’m not sure I’d still be playing Final Fantasy XIV if I was still grinding that Lancer today.
I love the Red Mage in Shadowbringers. The rotation isn’t something overly complicated – you’ve got your ranged attacks with rotations for single targets and your area-of-effect rotations for multi targets. You have a balance meter where you gain either Black or White Mana depending on the spells you are using. It literally is a balancing act – one that made me think of LotRO’s Runekeeper at first glance until I realized how it worked – go too far one way and your damage suffers. This does keep you engaged in your skill rotation, as swapping between skills like Verathunder or VeraAero to ensure you keep balance between the types of mana you’re building up.
Understanding the right skill rotation is crucial too as long induction times can mean the difference between blasting your enemy with Jolt every second and a half or waiting four-to-five seconds for a skill to fire off because you cast It out of rotation. My biggest issue, though, is any movement interrupts your casting time. I’ve gotten so used to the mobility of my LotRO hunter that I find myself playing ranged classes the same in any other MMO to my detriment. I can’t count how many times I’ve screwed up a rotation because I triggered a skill only to strafe to my left or right out of pure habit.
One of my favorite things to do as Red Mage is when I have 100 White and Black Mana – being able to dash in and unleash devastating melee attacks using Corps-a-Corps and a few melee attacks like Enchanted Riposte. Then to simply backflip out of harms way and rinse and repeat? I feel incredibly acrobatic and powerful when I do so – which also breaks up some of the monotony of normal MMO skill rotations.
So far I’ve been working through the Stormblood storyline and just finished the Crystal Tower series with Leif so I would understand more of the Shadowbringers story when we get there. Running trials and duties helps keep things fresh each time I get the chance to play as well as I’m never wont for something to do, unlike how I feel in ESO or even The Lord of the Rings Online right now.
The style and flair of the Red Mage makes me happy I chose to continue down the path Childhood Joseph would have wanted. Growing up playing Red Mages in Tactics, and even in our own roleplaying when away from a TV, I’m happy I get to experience the class yet again in a new way.
Playing Final Fantasy XIV was a long time coming for me, and while I’m kicking myself for not playing when the MMO first launched, or even when A Realm Reborn refreshed the game years ago, I’m happy I’m playing it now when it’s reaching new heights with its DLC releases. Whether that stamina remains or eventually I fall back into my old habits again remains to be seen, but until then I’ll continue to explore Eorzea donning the stylish Red robes of my Red Mage, content to be the flashiest DPS dealer in any group I’m a part of for the foreseeable future.