Let's be clear on this, Final Fantasy XIV wasn't a good game. In fact it was such a bad example of interactive software that its developers actually apologised for their concept, design, and execution of the errant MMO. Additionally, various staff members committed cooperate harakiri in an effort to show that the publisher would atone for such mistakes and also to placate the growing buster sword wielding mob. How's that for a response?
Square Enix are of course not alone in the realm of bad videogames; on the contrary on a monthly basis terrible products are released, mostly with a straight face, staring blankly into the middle distance waiting for the eventual Steam sale. Just ask Gearbox: nobody need stand down in Dallas.
Slaughtering Wildlife gives life experience
But you don't become Japan's premiere androgynous spiky fringed purveyors without a little effort. Attempting to salvage the reputation of Final Fantasy's online adventures, the developers have taken XIV back to the workshop, stripped the body, tinkered with the engine, and put the components back together to form something that resembles a worthwhile MMORPG.
It is important to think of A Realm Reborn as less of flimsily attached moniker and instead a complete rebuild of FFXIV. The original game harboured nothing but a set of broken mechanics, a very awkward UI, and a complete lack of things to do: this has changed.
Toeing the tight rope between reverence to the MMO formula and also the Final Fantasy Über brand, this latest iteration of Moogles and experience bars is deliciously enjoyable - and more importantly actually playable.
My first couple of steps into the newly reformed world of Hydaelyn started out in the usual methodology of an MMORPG. After a brief cutscene introducing the world as one of both danger and opportunity, my character was shunted into the desert kingdom of Ul'dah ready to make his virtual fortune.
Immediately the sheer beauty of Square Enix's creation is visible. Characters are lovingly crafted, while the environments themselves vary from rolling vistas to, my current location, a sprawling, sandy cityscape complete with ornate architecture. The UI too is reimagined, in the place of the clumsy menus of the past are fetching JRPG inspired hotbars and vital monitors which can be adapted to fit either keyboard or mouse.
Moving around the city, I found myself marvelling at the mottled sites, whilst making enthusiastic use of the emote system. /Bow, /Wave, /Cheer, /Dance all make my hulking, white-faced Roegadyn (Final Fantasy's hairless Wookie type) spasm and twist with movement. Other players walk past me, /Tutting and /Sighing as their cat tails and bunny ears drag in the wind.
Like World of Warcraft, exclamation marks make their customary appearance, but in a less pronounced manner. Storyline driven goals will carve out the first steps of FFXIV but the core here is less copy-and-paste Blizzard clone and more nostalgic; Square Enix haven't just gone back to 2004, they've pilfered, borrowed, and built on the concepts of older games such as EverQuest, Anarchy Online, and, naturally, Final Fantasy XI.
PC and Keyboard UIs cater to different control schemes
The upshot of this being that quest hubs remain but the general collect/kill X of Y missions are less present in bulk, with self-directed monster slaying in place and dynamic events such as the Rift inspired "Fates".
Moving out of the dusty streets of Ul'Dah and into the wild outback of this desert realm, I make my way to the city gates and the steps leading out into the wild. The place is teeming with critters and creatures, all pootling around the general area, fodder for my, soon to be embarked upon, campaign of snapping shrew genocide.
Unlike its peers, FFXIV manages to inspire a greater sense of freedom, fostering those early MMORPG pangs of slaying rats outside of city limits to eventually sculpt an amateur warrior into a world class murderer.
As with their past MMO, the job system remains intact, meaning a distinct lack of character linearity. Unlike other online romps, classes, or jobs within the Final Fantasy mythos are interchangeable using equipment rather than locked at the character creation. What this means is that your character doesn't just exploit their own particular brand of stabbing, but can also dabbled within the dark arts, pugilism, and a spot of farming on the side.
After destroying a substantial portion of Ul'dah's wildlife population, my appetite for destruction is sated, and one or two quest criteria met. Retiring my tired ladybug-killing arms for the moment, I return to the city to accept reward and glory.
While questing garners items and equipment, seemingly, Square Enix have concentrated less on players running the usual treadmill of quest/reward and encourage a degree of self-interest. New weapons and armour are harder to come by, with fewer and fewer characters looking exactly the same, and a better degree of importance placed amongst quality inventory.
And this sense of individuality found within Final Fantasy XIV for player characters could well become its calling card. Amidst too many MMORPGs that treat players exactly the same, the degrees in which you and others can differ, either in abilities or appearance, harks back to those earlier online adventures.
Taking the fight back to the goblins
So while Square Enix haven't reinvented the wheel, they have recreated a type of MMO that has been lost somewhere in the fallout zone of Blizzard's success. This is a modern RPG excursion, with the trappings you might come to expect of any contemporary product, but the developers have gone to lengths to make you and your character feel special and unique - and that's quite a feat.
Gearing up for (re)launch on the 27th of August, those with a passing interest in MMOs, Final Fantasy, or software-based apologies should now start to feel those tingling feelings of excitement for Final Fantasy XIV A Realm Reborn. Coming to PC, PS3, and PS4, the wait for a complete and enjoyable XIV is nearly over.
Most Anticipated Feature:Finally getting to play a coherent version of Final Fantasy XIV.