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Can Square Enix finally craft a more approachable modern MMO? by Philip Kollar
Before I get into details about Final Fantasy XIV, I should be clear about my Square Enix MMO history: Though I'm a life long fan of the classic JRPG franchise, I couldn't force myself to play Final Fantasy XI for longer than a week. I can understand the appeal of EverQuest with a Final Fantasy skin, but I had already played EverQuest. FF XI was too slow, too awkward to control, and too unrefined. By the time it was out, I was ready for World of Warcraft to come along and set a new precedent for less intimidating MMOs.
Square Enix has been upfront about it's intention to follow in Blizzard's footsteps and make Final Fantasy XIV more accessible. With the game still planned for a 2010 release and an alpha version now running, we were finally able to check out FF XIV this month, but the changes weren't always as obvious as I had expected. I watched the tutorial segment for Limsa Lominsa, one of the three possible locations to begin your journey. Choose this locale, and you'll find yourself aboard an instanced ship headed to this port city. After you learn some basic controls, the ship hits stormy weather and, in a beautiful, cinematic cut scene, is invaded by a small army of squid-like sea monsters. After watching a few powerful characters do some stylish hacking and slashing, you regain control of your character for the combat portion of the tutorial.
Needless to say, the actual in-game combat is less exciting than the cut scenes, though it also recalls other Final Fantasy games better than XI did. Once you enter combat, the action gauge begins filling up (similar to the ATB gauge that solo FF fans are used to). After three to four seconds, you're allowed to select an attack. Your available actions depend on your class, which can be changed on the fly simply by switching weapons. For example, if you have an axe equipped, you'll become a Marauder and unlock the "Hack" ability, which does a single strike.
You'll need to wait another few seconds for your action gauge to refill between every attack, which makes the combat in FF XIV sluggish even by MMO standards. Other strategic elements, such as the effect gauge, which controls attack strength, and TP meter, which builds and allows for stronger abilities throughout the course of combat, adds layers of complexity. However, they may not be enough to engage players in an otherwise very slow-paced combat system.
Thankfully, virtually everything else about Final Fantasy XIV seems much easier to jump into. Each area contains numerous crystals, all of which restore HP/MP. Guildleves grant you quick quests, and you can even adjust the difficulty to make missions easy enough for solo play or hard enough to require a party. The only major issue I found with the questing structure is that most NPC dialogue appears in the regular chat box, a problem FF XI had as well. I hope it is changed before launch.
Though I saw the PC version of Final Fantasy XIV - there will not be a beta for PS3 - it was demoed quite comfortably with a controller. The combat's simplicity tailors it to a console audience that may not be familiar with the complexity of most button-filled MMO's, but I'm still skeptical whether the game can keep me interested at its current speed. Anything in this early alpha version is subject to change, though, so I'll have to wait it out before i can pass serious Judgment.
Edited, May 15th 2010 1:26am by LordAshal