ZAM's In-Depth Look at Final Fantasy XIV

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!

Starting Up

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.

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Agreed on the 'BOLD' synthesis..
# Oct 26 2010 at 10:33 AM Rating: Decent
2 posts
I do hope that they'll listen attentively to the players and impove the game in many ways cuz it needs those improvements.. i've been playing (an hour or so a-day) since the collectors edition came out and have really had a love-hate relationship with this game. the LOVE comes from the simple fact that it's FF (and i've been a huge fan for ages), and that this game itself it quite unique. the HATE come's from the poorly programmed un-user-friendly UI, from the laaaaggggg that seems to be alllllways there, from the lack of perfect 'polishedness' a released game should have, and sooo many more LITTLE but annoying things! this shouldn't seem like some beta or alpha..
it's funny how you mentioned about not being able to "get a sandwich" or whatever if you need to craft/synthesize something. it's sad, though, that you'd have plenty of time to make a sandwich while waiting for all the NPC's and others characters to load. frustrating, yes, but the hope of improvement hasn't been entirely crushed.
i have a slight theory on Why crafting's annoying and isn't always consistent. it's not strictly tied solely to your CLASS RANK and TOOL OPTIMAL RANK but i believe it has quite a bit to do with both the Elements and the Chronology of EORZEA: i've noticed that everything about the chronology of the game is subdivided into SIX elements. actually six Astral (light) and six Umbral (dark) elements.
the succession is this: ice (light), ice (dark), water (light), water (dark), wind (l), wind (d), lightning (l), lightning (d), fire (l), fire (d), earth (l), earth (d). Six elements x 2 = 12 (i had read this in a book at Ul'Dah's Thaumaturgy Guild which explained that time and the elements are intimately connected.) each Eorzean month has an element. if i'm not mistaken Eorzea time goes like this: 1 Eorzean day = 48 Earth minutes, therefor, 1 Eorzean month = 1 Earth day and every Eorzea month corresponds to an element (total of 12).. if you are Crafting you need to not only take into account your character's affinities to the elements (when you lvl up via point allotment) but also the crystals you USE when crafting, also each of an element.
lets say the element of the Eorzean Calendar at the time of crafting is Earth, and you have a high affitity to earth (at least higher than the other elements), AND coincidentally the shard or crystal you need to use is an Earth one, the synthesis in this case would go smoothly.
i think this is what, most likely, could be held accountable for many folks' frustrations.. it's just a theory and i could be wronger than wrong :/
please forgive all that unnecessary rambling, and thank you truely on the Great Review!!
Agreed
# Oct 25 2010 at 1:27 AM Rating: Decent
31 posts
I agree with a lot of this review. FFXIV has already come along pretty nicely since beta and although there are still bugs/concerns they're being addressed rather quickly. I remember when Age of Conan first came out. It was nearly unplayable for the first month or so. I've tried a lot of different MMOs throughtout the last 4-5 years and I always ended up coming back to FFXI. I absolutely loved the game despite certain aspects I complained a bit about. With FFXIV I feel like there is so much more freedom than any other MMO. I realize that there is still a lot for SE to fix but I'm a patient person and I think it'll be more than worth the wait.
Odd review
# Oct 10 2010 at 9:27 AM Rating: Good
Scholar
44 posts
Frankly, I think that this review is written by someone who gives the game too much credit for things to (maybe) come, and too little blame for what is actually presented to us.

The economy is completely stalled due to no market search function or auction house.

Crafting progress is stalled due to too many complex recipies for simple upgrades. I am all for a mixed crafting experience, but there is value to making at least ONE upgrade readily available without co-dependencies (for instance, blacksmiths should be able to make level 6 weapons without complicated parts - I am a level 12 blacksmith / 21 physical and STILL run around with my starting axe!!!!)

The UI leaves nothing but frustration on this side of the screen. There is no reason for all those sub-menus, even on a PS3. A lot of menus could be joined together without any loss whatsoever - for instance when you craft and you open up a list of things you can craft (1 screen), select one (2nd screen), confirm your selection and learn the crystal requriements (3rd screen) and only THEN you find out if you actually have the materials on you - if not, you have to click "back" three times through the 3 screen with each leaving a 5 second lag = a total of at least 30 seconds in order to get the respons "insufficient materials". This check should and could be moved to the first stage, where the game shows you a marker or icon in the inital list on the items you have crystals for.
This is just one of many examples of the dysfunctional UI - where too much priority information is hidden in sub-sub-sub menus.

The retainer system is simply useless. The only way to sell something is to plant your character in a crowded part of the cities, /sit it down and go to work or bed for 8 hours.

The lag and targetting system is insufferable in combat. I play a marauder and my boyfriend plays a healer. We sit in the same room and we are separated by about 3 seconds. We constantly die due to the server lag since he can't effectively heal me, and the targetting system suffers due to the lack of targetting frames for your party member.

You have to do macros for the most simple things. It's 2011, I shouldn't have to manually write a macro for battle targetting or switching gear! Manually switching gear using the user interface can easily take 5 minutes if you need to change several pieces of attire and weaponry - a macro does this in 5 seconds. Why are these basic functions missing from the game?!?

You cannot sort your inventory. Insufferable. I have 80 slots on me and 80 on my retainer that I CANNOT SORT. IN ANY WAY. Not even alphabetize it!!! This is a deal-breaker for me.

The chat and social functions are under-developed. Even the early MUDs had better chat- and social functions. The SMS-lenght chat messages that you can send after correctly typing in both the name and surname of your friend Ynymnminjh Zhvtcyth is unacceptable for a MMORPG and the area chats have the same range as an average **** radius. Without a functionig chat system, this is nothing other than a very dysfunctional and clunky one-player game. I get more in-game social interaction from Dragon Age, and that's a single player game.

The user interface is what we actually USE to play the game. If the UI isn't working, the game isn't working.

Now, I don't need everything to be just like WoW, because I hated the way that WoW developed over the years, but one thing that WoW DID excel at was a user-friendly interface that was easy to use and understand and let you do multiple things at once, such as checking out your ínventory or organizing your bags while you were crafting, inspecting a fellow player while running, and chatting while doing ANYTHING etc.

I have hoped for FFXIV, but frankly, this game blows so far. Big time.

I will be returning to the game in the future if the UI, the social, and the trade are fixed, but in the mean time, I am not paying for this. The game is, at best, in an alpha developement state and the PC launch seems to be only an attempt to finance the PS3-launch in 6 months.

In short, I will NOT be playing past my free 30 days at this time. The game is way too unfinished. And yes, while WoW and other games also had rough starts, they were nowhere near as unfinished as this product. This is, by far, the LEAST finished MMORPG I have ever seen launched.

Sorry, SE, I am NOT paying a monthly fee for access to a game in Alpha state. No f*cking way.
____________________________
Journal of the Kitty - the adventures of Vivacia Yuuki of the Rabanastre world
http://ffxivjournal.blogspot.com/
-_-
# Oct 08 2010 at 4:53 AM Rating: Decent
5 posts
SE did great job for the graphics ! My computer run the max settings and @ 1900 x 1200, but I really don't think its accessible to users due to high standard to run the game to actually enjoy the graphics.

I think they should work alot on the combat system or the selection of monsters or using spell on teamates (you need to face them for ****, etc).

Overall as we know the game will better as time goes on.

A great game! but....
# Oct 06 2010 at 8:40 PM Rating: Decent
39 posts
i like the review, makes allot fo sence. and its so true about MMO's allways having teething difecultys.
i allso like how forwerd SE are being about this game, and some of the confusing content.
(there not being verry forwerd at all, but what little they are doing, for SE thats like 9,999,999 times more than they used to)

im just anoyed at what they DIDNT put in,
theres bugs with things sure, and lag issue's, but those will go shortly.

but the targeting system? there isent one.

the Retainer wards? no, just no.
i LOVE the idea of retainers to sell stuff for you, but who realy has the time to run half way acros limsa, zone, then troul threw 1000s of people bazzy's in the hope you'l find something, Especialy as people are now using there OWN player bazzys in places players travel threw, becouse frankly, thats when people are going to check. "/sit" and then go to bed, job done.
there is a reason why fortifyed town in middle ages had the Markets near the main entrances and gatways.
becouse THATS were they can find plenty of customers.
so theres still 100s of people clogging up hallways and doorways, selling things (successfully) there louds of Lag in towns becouse of this, and SE solv nothing with there new "retainer idea" :(
makes me sad beocuse if they had made the retainers in the same zone as limsa, and allong that GIANT pathway or next to it, problem would be solved.
there my 2 big major overlooks for this game, that should have been though about pre production realy.
that and the crafting system, but i think most of the issues i have with that are just bad luck failing lots XP
once im rank 20 weaver/leatherworker im sure i'l love it XD

i hope SE do something about these issue soon,
but keep us informed!
we like to know what on the go!
:)
(please excuse poor spelling)




Couldn't disagree more
# Oct 06 2010 at 5:11 PM Rating: Good
2 posts
Well, actually, I do agree. Look, I'm biased towards FF. When I bought the collector's set this week, my first thoughts were how mad my WoW guild would be that I quit the raid group for chocobos! But then I get it home. 3 hours into patch loading, I finally switched over to just dloading the patch through a torrent service. Then I had to sign up for a Crysta account (I thought this was 30 days of trial/free period? I'm going to be auto-billed already?). Then I had to wait 30 minutes in a queue on the lowest pop server because they didn't put enough servers online at release. Then (my bad) I realize that this game was designed only for desktops with top end graphics cards, so my dual 2.8ghz/8gb memory computer ranks 300 on their benchmark because it's a laptop with the minimum graphics card. So it sloggs along. I told all my casual gaming friends not to buy it, since their computers CAN play LOTR, WoW, and Modern Warfare at decent graphics settings, but they aren't good enough for FFXIV. Apparently SE doesn't want to sell copies to the average user, only to the dedicated gamer. And then there's the obscene lag.
But I persisted. I love FF. All of 'm. I'll love this one. And sure enough, there were the beautifully done cutscenes, the familiar characters, the great soundtrack. And a gazillion people farming and doing the exact quests you seem to think it doesn't do. Kill XX mushrooms, half of which you won't even see because of lag. Collect XX items. Same stuff as any other, but hey the storylines for FF are always coherent and amazing. Except there doesn't seem to be one this time, not yet.
There's no mail system, but some annoying version of a friend whisper. There's no annoying "Fly to this point on a griffin while I make dinner", sure, but there's no point or continuity. My character off'd some super monster in a parade as her very first introduction to battle, and now is hunting little vermin. It's an MMO, but every quest is essentially instanced, so if you're out and about seeing dozens of other people, you're still questing solo unless you've grouped to begin with.
The crafting seems annoying. There is no specialty. Every character levels every thing. I don't need to pick a specialty, I'm required to skill them all. There's no racial differences except starting stats, which look like they'd disappear quickly. And really, saving up mats to set it on 'auto-create' is boring, but is spamming a key for that amount of time hoping you proc a good item better?
You get funneled from some crystal that hands out quests to some inn that hands out quests, in such a rough manner that it makes Perfect World seem like a seamless story.
I am sure that when the PS3 version comes out, it will be smoother and the simplified U/I will suit it much better than a computer. What I don't understand is why, several months prior to the PS release, SE would release an obviously unpolished version of the game that is incompatible with the entire laptop world and a good chunk of desktops to boot. Yesterday at GameStop, there was a full blown conversation on how this was the worst MMO release anyone has seen. That kind of word of mouth isn't what I'd be looking for.
I wish I could be as apologetic and hopeful as you seem to be, but I've tried to slog through and get to the good points of the newest release of my favorite franchise. Unfortunately, I just haven't found any.
Very well done!
# Sep 30 2010 at 11:20 PM Rating: Decent
*****
12,622 posts
This game has a certain rawness that goes a step beyond the usual current gen MMORPGS (No Auction House) but at the same time, it's delivering that rawness that maybe more veteran MMORPG players have wanted to experience.

The foundation is set for something truly massive here, though. The genius of FFXIV lies just underneath the surface. No Auction House means the players have set the market on day 1. The GuildLeve system being open ended for solo play as well as group play allows the character to balance their needs of growing their characters money to their needs of level/grinding. The ease of teleportation also makes the game very accessible to the player and is a VERY welcome change to taking the 9 millionth gryphon ride in WoW. The leveling system itself is very fresh and the ability to mix and match your abilities allows the kind of freedom I simply haven't come to enjoy in any MMO I've played as of yet... Not to mention, it is a VERY NICE change to see people laughing off death rather than ragequitting because they've lost hours of grinding time *glares at FFXI and the endless game of musical chairs in Yhutunga*

But it has problems. It has pretty big ones, too. To turn a blind eye to them now is to permanently doom the game to it's current captive audience. It wouldn't be fair of the FFXIV fans to other gamers or themselves to say "Everything is perfect." This game really is an unpolished diamond but we're only going to get a diamond out of it if we are proactive and honest with ourselves. I don't want to play another game of FFXI.. Some of you people already have FFXI for that, know what I'm saying? With an open mind and a fresh community, we can help SE make something truly special. There is so much promise here!

Edited, Oct 1st 2010 1:22am by Lefein
____________________________
Blah
22hrs still downloading the first patch to play the game
# Sep 30 2010 at 10:44 PM Rating: Default
2 posts
I bought the game At midnight MST and still downloading the patch to play the game with a 10Mb Connection. It says I have 14 connections and it shows my upload speed 2Mb and my download is 0 checked my anti virus, un installed my virus program still no download speed. Called SE they said I just have to wait because its release day. WTF are you serious I just spent 50 bucks on a game and 22 hrs later I am still downloading the first patch for the game. I have never experienced this with any other MMO i have ever played on release day. Square Enix have to pick up the pace they should have anticipated the demand for people to download the patch and have a fix in place rather than for us to just suck it up. Oh yeah for the record I am not even past 50% for the first patch it seems.
22hrs still downloading the first patch to play the game
# Oct 04 2010 at 2:10 PM Rating: Decent
4 posts
enable port forwarding on your router.... i downloaded it with a 3mb wireless connection with no problems on launch day
22hrs still downloading the first patch to play the game
# Sep 30 2010 at 10:51 PM Rating: Excellent
I actually bypassed the Square Enix downloader because, yeah, it's pretty bad. What you can do is go straight to the torrent files and just download them via a regular torrent program (Bittorrent, etc). Go to C:\Users\______\Documents\My Games\FINAL FANTASY XIV\downloads\ffxiv and find the individual torrent files. Then put them into your FFXIV folder.
____________________________
christopher "pwyff" tom
ctom@zam.com | @Pwyff
kudos
# Sep 30 2010 at 2:24 PM Rating: Decent
9 posts
I wasn't going to read it all either, thinking it would just be babble or one-sided. But it definitley wasn't and had nice flow. I agree.
Good review
# Sep 30 2010 at 2:20 PM Rating: Good
This is a really good review. I think it is pretty much inline with my current opinion on the aspects talked about except for two.

I completely agree that the game is design as a "life style" game and it will be interesting to see how it works out. I feel in the beginning most MMOs started out with this style of play in mind. To say that FFXIV is a "next-gen" MMO is kind of a stretch in my opinion. Free Realms, Second Life, and previous now defunct MMOs (Horizon Online comes to mind) are doing this currently or have tried in the past. Time will tell if there will be a resurgence in this style of play or if it will only grow to be a niche market.

Secondly the part of the payment system is something I would only except from someone who is getting paid by SE. I'm sorry but I can not read I'm being given the option of paying to have multiple characters and deactivating the ones I don't want to play as something new and progressive on the customer's behalf. Every MMO I have played has given you at least 6 slots to mess around with. With the character system FFXIV has in place there isn't really the same need to have multiple characters though so for me it isn't overly a big issue. Its SE game so they can sell it how they want. But to so grossly gloss over the facts of how FFXIV stacks up subscription wise to other MMOs is a little hard to swallow. You have to be looking through some bright neon rose colored glasses to not feel a little burned when you are paying $20 a month for one playable character and 7 non-playable retainers to get the same capacity that most MMOs give you for $15 a month.

Also I'm in the US but from what I saw if you use Crysta and you use the £ or Euro the pricing is just horrid. For that same $20 USD I pay if you use £ you pay an equivalent of $35 USD. I feel for people outside of the US in regards to how SE treats the USD as equal to 1£ and Euro.
Good review
# Oct 01 2010 at 3:36 PM Rating: Decent
2 posts
darkasmodai|WH wrote:
You have to be looking through some bright neon rose colored glasses to not feel a little burned when you are paying $20 a month for one playable character and 7 non-playable retainers to get the same capacity that most MMOs give you for $15 a month.


Don't fret. You can lease in-game "retainers" (using gil) which can be used as mules. I also believe SE plan on increases the number of retainers you can have at once. The retainers are used for other things also.


Edited, Oct 1st 2010 5:45pm by hurricanes2k5

Edited, Oct 1st 2010 5:45pm by hurricanes2k5
Correction.
# Sep 30 2010 at 2:16 PM Rating: Decent
24 posts
"Final Fantasy XIV sought to be the first next-gen MMO, and they've definitely succeeded out the gate."

It's actually a watered down last gen MMO.

It's a watered down cheaply made FFXI with no lessons learned.

Loved it!
# Sep 30 2010 at 1:52 PM Rating: Decent
11 posts
I hadn't planned to read it all, but the way you stated things made me do it :D Great review, I hope that all our wishes of ingame-improvements will come true !
It will get better
# Sep 30 2010 at 1:16 PM Rating: Default
Scholar
*
72 posts
Well written review. SE will no doubt make many many adjustments to game as time goes on.
____________________________



Well said
# Sep 30 2010 at 1:02 PM Rating: Decent
11 posts
Quote:
Now, however, if Square Enix is really planning to compete, they will need to put a pause on that progress bar to raise the quality of their MMO with some bold strokes and a good amount of touching up.


Great review and great game, but you are right. Square Enix has a great game here. We will have to see if they can, not only compete with other MMORPG's, but set the bar for them.
Detailed to the point!
# Sep 30 2010 at 12:55 PM Rating: Decent
2 posts
Impressive review, I don't normally read through reviews for most the time it's just a single opinion. But this was on point every sentence was the truth in which we are all experiencing, Thank you, as a fan site I hope SE is reading. Summed up FFXIV is an amazing game, but SE needs to fix key issues ASAP.
*thumbs up*
# Sep 30 2010 at 12:49 PM Rating: Decent
Scholar
*
84 posts
Yes, I like how you spun this. You enjoyed it, but you see a HUGE potential for improvements. I applaud you!
Great review!
# Sep 30 2010 at 12:34 PM Rating: Decent
4 posts
Very well stated, and I applaud the honesty of your review. Here's to watching that quality bar rise over the next few months!
thumbs up
# Sep 30 2010 at 12:24 PM Rating: Decent
6 posts
great review, i couldn't have said it better myself.
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