To coincide with the launch of the Final Fantasy XIV Standard Edition, Editor Chris "Pwyff" Tom decided to take an in-depth look at this ambitious and immersive MMORPG.
lBeing the MMORPG enthusiast that I am, I can very distinctly remember setting foot in my very first subscription-based MMORPG: Final Fantasy XI. I was still in high school at the time, so I had to borrow my sister's credit card to pay for the subscription, but I'll never forget just how excited - and confused - I was to be wandering around the world of Vana'diel. It's difficult to believe, then, that seven years has passed since my first real MMORPG experience, and here we are, all standing on the eve of the launch of Square Enix's successor to the Final Fantasy MMO franchise: Final Fantasy XIV.
While I would admit that I have too much nostalgia for Final Fantasy XI than is probably healthy for me, what truly made me interested in playing Final Fantasy XIV was to see the evolution of one of the most experienced MMO development teams in the industry. What many players forget is that Final Fantasy XI was released at least a year before World of Warcraft came along and, because of that, Final Fantasy XI remains a unique title in the market. Today, however, Square Enix is ready to throw the gauntlet down. Since FFXI was released with very little competition, SE was allowed the freedom to expand and develop their MMO as they saw fit. These days, the industry has become a very different beast and Final Fantasy XIV will be a real indication of whether Square Enix can truly compete head to head with other 'triple A' MMORPGs. So let's get on with the preview!
One tip that a lot of MMO veterans have for new players is this: "if you really want to love an MMORPG, don't play it in its first month." Everyone will put on their rose-colored glasses and spout nonsense about how specific MMORPGs like World of Warcraft, or even Final Fantasy XI, didn't have launch day bugs, but then you would be forgetting WoW's crippling server crashes, or perhaps the fact that Final Fantasy XI was out for at least half a year in Japan before hitting North American markets (remember that FFXI launched in North America with an expansion: Rise of the Zilart).
Final Fantasy XIV is no different than its other MMORPG counterparts, and there are a fair number of bugs and problems that have accompanied it out the door. Luckily, I didn't struggle too hard with Square's confusing "Crysta" subscription system, but I suspect if I had not spent three years mucking through Final Fantasy XI's horrendous PlayOnline application, I would not have been so adept at dealing with this new one. For those of you complaining that you need to pay an extra $3 to unlock a single character slot (on top of a "basic" $9.99 account fee), the only consolation I can give is that you can deactivate and activate your characters at will. I recall having three characters in Final Fantasy XI (two for gardening and storage, one for playing), and when I felt like taking a month off from gardening, I could simply disable two characters for a month to myself a whopping $2.
No More Hand Holding
As someone who has played every major MMO to come out in the past three or four years, I've begun to develop a very basic set of skills that has allowed me to flourish within any given MMORPG. The fact is, since World of Warcraft patented the "streamlined MMORPG experience," a lot of MMOs have followed the concept of creating guided systems for introducing players to their game. You get a quest, you kill the requisite amount of spiders to complete the quest, and then you get sent to a new area to get a new quest. Weapons and equipment will follow, as long as you just keep listening to the NPCs and you kill the bigger spiders at the end of the quest line. Sound familiar? There's a good reason why nobody really knows much about the storyline of an MMORPG - since quests are all presented in the same way, the only time you can tell if you're on an important part of your storyline is when the reward is a different color from its previous bretheren.
Final Fantasy XIV, for better or for worse, eschews this entire system of hand holding and, like its seven-year-old predecessor, throws your character into the fairly overwhelming world of Eorzea without so much as a "good luck." There is a basic tutorial that follows a storyline, but, truthfully speaking, you'll probably end up remembering more of the storyline than anything else (please stop making me spam emotes at these angry miners). Like Final Fantasy XI, there seems to be one storyline to follow per capital city but, outside of that, you're really on your own.