A lot has changed with Final Fantasy XIV in the “A Realm Reborn” remake. For starters, it runs on the PlayStation 3 and on PCs with specs short of a world-class gaming rig, which is how I was able to try it out.
I’ve never played the original Final Fantasy XIV Online, a game which I gather Square-Enix would like everyone to forget. But I’ve spent a few days with A Realm Reborn in its early access program for people who preordered, as well as years playing FFXIV’s predecessor, Final Fantasy XI Online. Here’s what I make of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn so far.
FFXI was state of the art for its time, but mostly embodies the Everquest generation of “oldschool” MMOs. It explains almost nothing to the player, and while its harsh penalties for dying have since been reduced it’s still not a very forgiving game.
In contrast, FFXIV: A Realm Reborn is solidly part of the modern generation of MMOs. The closest comparison I can think of is to Guild Wars 2, both because of its FATE system (which is reminiscent of GW2’s random events anyone can join in) and because of its graphic design, which is more realistic than World of Warcraft’s and at the same time somehow more vibrant.
Speaking of WoW …
Questing is typical World of Warcraft fare, but the dialogue’s much better written. And besides normal grinding, you’ll also be marking stuff off on your hunting log, participating in FATEs when they turn up, and doing the main storyline quests, which are marked by a special icon and often have better rewards and fully-voiced cutscenes.
There’s a very high immediate “fun factor” that wasn’t there with FFXI, and holds up well compared to other modern releases. At the same time, though, it’s still solidly a Final Fantasy game, with almost-too-real characters, a beautiful soundtrack, and extremely shiny crystals. Every named NPC can be talked to, and you’ll want to talk to all of them. Finally, you can change jobs and ride chocobos starting at level 10, and crafting and gathering professions are all their own jobs now.
The console experience
Playing FFXIV: A Realm Reborn on my PS3, I’ve noticed a choppiness to the graphics that isn’t there in videos that I’ve seen PC gamers upload. The models and textures are all very good, but the animations for seemingly every character besides my own have a bunch of frames dropped from them, giving it sort of a stop-motion animation feel.
It doesn’t keep you from being able to tell what’s going on, though, nor does it apply to cutscenes. In my opinion it’s a good compromise between modern graphics and a decent framerate — something the PS2 version of Final Fantasy XI frequently lacked. The controls also work better than the PS2’s, with the D-pad and face buttons assigned to hotbars you can access with L2 and R2. Combat is extremely fast-paced, and this way you don’t have to scroll through (or manually build) macro books the way that you did in FFXI.
It’s too early for me to tell if Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn will be worth playing over the long haul, the way I thought FFXI was. It looks very promising, though, and I’m looking forward to getting to know the world of Hydaelyn better.