Odds are that if you’re a gamer, you’ve heard of the epic Final Fantasy franchise. Final Fantasy XIV (FFXIV) is the latest chapter in the series to be made as a massively multiplayer online (MMO) title, following in the footsteps of Final Fantasy XI. Unfortunately, Final Fantasy XIV doesn’t offer much for either the hardcore fans of the Final Fantasy world, or MMO gamers looking for a quality title.
Before we take a look at Final Fantasy XIV, I want to preface this article with a disclosure. Here at MMORPG.com, we are aware that games are always patching and game updates are pending pretty much forever. However, until those changes are live on the servers, we cannot anticipate how they will affect the gameplay or community, and therefore those rumors and announcements do not affect the score card detailed below. We feel we’ve waited more than long enough to give FFXIV a fair shake. Check back with us later this year for an update after those changes are live.
One thing that the Final Fantasy XIV team got right is the graphics and soundtrack for the title. This game really is stunning, and the cinema openers for each of the starter lands are worthy of the Final Fantasy name. Those early moments feel a lot like a single player role-playing game, rather than an MMO version of the world. The voice acting is complimentary, and the movies really provoke a sense of curiosity about the underlining plot within the FFXIV world. The soundtrack is hauntingly beautiful at times, compelling and others, and generally pleasant whether you’re shopping in town or fighting some of the odd and but frequently recycled monsters outside the city walls.
Unfortunately, that’s about as far as the Final Fantasy XIV got as far as developing a visually impressive video game. The user interface (UI) is horrible, with far too many unnecessary steps for doing basic things, and very little in way of a visual tutorial. The UI alone marks this category down from 8 to 7 in my eyes; though there is hope later updates to the game will improve its clumsiness considerably.
The biggest problem with Final Fantasy XIV is really that it feels like an incomplete video game, as if the final release should actually be a closed beta stage of production. Even the steps for making a new account are needlessly cumbersome and frustrating; not exactly the best foot forward, as far as impressing new players. Character creation is a bit more enjoyable, which just enough races available to provide a good variety, and even some Astrology and lore thrown into the mix. Your class is literally which weapon or tool you have equipped, so the character creation process is pretty streamlined since you don’t need to decide your permanent profession out the gate. That being said, you do have to buy those bonus weapons—or find them—so try to pick a class which interests you for a few levels worth of play.
The opening cinemas for the three starting lands are impressive, I won’t deny that. Unfortunately, the moment the theatrics are over, the player is left wondering, “What now?” The tutorial is torturous and even ineffective, with many basic elements of the game left out of the explanation process. In fact, the quest which begins during this tutorial phase is a great example of what awaits players: Monotonous running around, lukewarm cut scenes, and the bare minimum of information imaginable. It quickly becomes apparent that what looked like a storyline-rich game is actually weak plots that are uninteresting and poorly woven together through dialog and quest content; I felt completely uninformed—and worse, disinterested—in the world around me.
Truth be told, I really can’t say enough about how unpolished and unrefined the gameplay in Final Fantasy XIV is. The interface is horribly clunky, and needlessly complex; why do I have to click to open a menu list just to access my inventory, or equip a new weapon? You can create macros, but the key layout is terrible. Having to click an enemy—then click a spell or effect—and then click the enemy again to attack is ridiculous. I have no idea what the game designers were thinking. Rumor has it that auto attack, and a serious overhaul of the combat system, is coming in the upcoming patch. I truly hope this proves accurate, because no matter how pretty the Final Fantasy XIV world is, the controls and cumbersome combat makes it a nightmare to play.
The final nail in the coffin might be the horrid quest system. You gather up some quests at the local inn, then head out into the wilderness to find one of the hovering “aetheryte” crystals, which you must interact with to officially begin one of your quests. The only perk is that once you’ve killed your five nutbiter marmots, a little cloud of smoke will let you redeem your completed quest for your rewards on the spot, and then teleport you back to the aetheryte crystal if you desire. That’s as far as the perks go, and after that it’s a waiting game until you can access more quests or redo the ones you’ve already completed; there is literally a real-life countdown timer for the bulk of these. If this sounds frustrating and tedious to you, you’re spot-on; it’s absolutely unbearable at times, and totally unnecessary.
Considering how many problems Final Fantasy XIV has, I can’t really say this is an innovative title, at least not in the good sort of way. The graphics and soundtrack are the best element of this video game, but neither of the two is so revolutionary that it merits a high score in this section. I have high hopes that the team behind Final Fantasy XIV will come up with some great features to make this game stand-out in a sea of (better) MMO options, since this game is still fairly new, but in the meantime FFXIV simply isn’t strong enough to lure players away from more successful titles.
One aspect of FFXIV that is a refreshing change from the norm is the class system. Instead of being limited to just one class, you can freely switch between class options with a (ridiculously complicated) swap of your weapons. You even retain some of the abilities from some of the other classes you have leveled, above and beyond a true “dual class” system. Now, if only leveling-up was more than frustrating quests or mindless grinding.
In truth, a lot of the cutting-edge cinema effects are misleading, giving players false hopes about the quality of gameplay that lies ahead. I’m going with a straight 5 here, because although this title certainly isn’t among the best as far as being innovative, it also isn’t among the worst.
As I mentioned above, Final Fantasy XIV feels like an incomplete game, or one still in beta testing. There are too many glitches, too many problems with the interface and mechanics that should have never left the beta phase without being addressed. FFXIV will celebrate its one year anniversary at the end of September, which means these glaring problems have been endured by the player-base for far too long.
Currently, there is no monthly subscription fee for Final Fantasy XIV. When (and if) that policy changes, players will likely be forced to purchase the base game and pay a monthly fee per character instead of a flat rate. The ironic thing is that there is currently no reason to have multiple characters, considering every toon can access every class option. Unless you just want to test out the alternative races, you can simply do everything on one main character. If you want to roll an alternate toon to level with friends, you normally would have to pay an additional $3 USD per month for that character slot. Perhaps if the game was of higher quality, this system wouldn’t sound as ridiculous to me as it does. However, I was annoyed with Square Enix after going through their ridiculously tedious account creation process, so the cryptic membership policy—do I get a free character slot, more than one, or none at all?—had me further irritated.
The visual engine is really the only thing with polish here, and that certainly doesn’t extend to the user interface, as outlined above.
If you are a die-hard fan of the Final Fantasy series, you might stick with this one, at least for a little while. That being said, I cannot truly recommend this title to anyone who wants a quality MMO with plenty of long-term appeal. The developers need to do some serious work to get this one up to par with the other major contenders currently available, and even then I’m afraid it won’t stand-out enough from the pack to be a top MMO.
The only perk is that you currently aren’t required to pay a subscription fee, as I mentioned above, though you still have to buy the PC version of the game for $15-30 USD depending on your chosen vendor. This arrangement is subject to change at any time, of course, so make sure you cancel your account just in case the fees kick-in after you’ve abandoned this one.
I really, truly wanted to enjoy Final Fantasy XIV above and beyond what I had expected. When the clerk at the video game store tries to convince you not to purchase a title, because the company “practically apologized for ever releasing it,” it doesn’t bode well. Unless some serious improvements, updates and finishing touches which were neglected prior to the original release are implemented, Final Fantasy XIV is likely to fade into oblivion—and quickly.
As you may have come to expect by now, the social element of Final Fantasy XIV—wait for it—feels incomplete. The chat system is weak, and the guild system is just as disappointing, which means communication in the game is poor at best. Characters display a guild emblem in front of their names, but that is about as far as it goes for the in-game guilds creating a sense of unity and companionship. Even adding someone to your friends list is a chore, just like so much else of this video game.
On the bright side, you currently only have to pay for the base game to delve into the visually appealing, beautifully scored world of Final Fantasy XIV. However, that’s about as good as it gets, and I can’t imagine many players trying this one and feeling much of anything beyond frustrated and unsatisfied. The opening scenes are misleading, and very quickly all of the excitement of character creation and the opening movies leave players wandering around searching for vendors, navigating with little help from the horrible map, and trying to complete quests that have little guidance available.
In the end, I want my $14.99 back.
Two words: Look elsewhere. While this might sound harsh, and I’ll go ahead and apologize to those of you who actually enjoy this MMO title and are reading simply to agree or disagree with my sentiments, I simply will not recommend this title to anyone. If you love the series, I expect you to be disappointed; if you love fun, even addictive MMO video games, I can’t imagine you being anything but disappointed. The elements of Final Fantasy XIV which are high quality and worth the purchase cost are buried underneath all of these totally unnecessary problems, and the poor design decisions.
If you’ve ever seen the classic film "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" then you’re familiar with the blank slate of the humanoids which emerge from the pods, only to gradually shape and mold into a duplicate of a human being. That’s what Final Fantasy XIV feels like—an undeveloped pod person, and the probability is that it will eventually become little more than a shallow duplicate of a real game.