Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is Square Enix’s redux of the franchise’s second entry in the MMO genre. Since the original FFXIV pissed off fans and was generally negatively received, Squeenix apologized and gave it a second go with new tech, UI, and plot. Essentially, the player survived the cataclysm that marked the end of Final Fantasy XIV Version 1, waking up five years later in an Eorzea scarred by the mortals’ war and the primal Bahamut’s escape from the false moon Dalamud that served as its prison. After a very busy beta test, the game went live for pre-orders and version 1.0 subscribers on August 24th, 2013 and three days later for everyone else.
Square Enix scrapped many components of the old system (and members of the old team) in order to make FFXIV: ARR more accessible. The result is a very fluid, very progressive offering for the genre. While there are familiar elements such as the minimap, exclamation point indicators for available quests, and menial kill/fetch quests for leveling, FFXIV: ARR has a distinctively streamlined feeling to it (see Extras section below).
A Realm Reborn has fair depth of character creation. Players can customize characters by choosing Hyur (human), Elezen (elven), Lalafell (similar to FFXI’s Tarutaru), Roegadyn (similar to FFXI’s Galka), and Miqo’te (similar to FFXI’s Mithra). While the races are fairly reminiscent of those found in FFXI, the Galka-like Roegadyn can now be female and the Mithra-like Miqo’te can now be male. Hair, eyes, voice, tattoo, and a number of other features can be tweaked to make a unique character you’ll stare at and listen to for many, many hours. Class, birth sign, and deity can be chosen as additional aspects of flair.
There are crafting Classes, gathering Classes, physical combat Classes, and magic Classes: Disciples of War (Gladiator, Pugilist, Marauder, Lancer, and Archer), Disciples of Magic (Conjurer, Thaumaturge, and Arcanist), Disciples of the Hand (Carpenter, Blacksmith, Armorer, Goldsmith, Leatherworker, Weaver, Alchemist and Culinarian), and Disciples of the Land (Miner, Botanist, and Fisher). While there’s a wealth of combat options to choose from, A Realm Reborn does a good job of making the Classes feel distinct. The Pugilist hand-to-hand Class is all about hitting the Greased Lightning status that improves attack speed and damage; this is achieved by using certain stance-shifting skills in a specific sequence in order to get to that holiest state of ass-kickery. The Thaumaturge uses the fire and ice system, casting fire spells that consistently do more damage and cost more mana, then switching to ice spells that are cheaper and improve mana regeneration; the Thaumaturge routinely shifts back and forth between the two elements in order to maximize damage and manage the precious mana resource. The Lancer commands big damage output depending on positioning and mob control mechanics, such as Slow.
Crafters no longer participate in the painstakingly tedious crystal synthesis that they did in FFXI. For example, a Leatherworker will open the synthesis menu to craft an item. A small window opens and shows the stages of progress; there’s some clicking to be done to fill the bar for completion, but in that time the crafter can attempt to raise the quality of the item (and consequently make it more difficult to create). As crafters level, they’ll unlock abilities that will give them more chances to succeed, improve the durability of the item if they’ve failed on a few steps, and so on. Like mana, these abilities use a CP bar that refills after completion of an item. After a player has successfully crafted an item, he or she can then set up automatic synthesis for quick mass-production of the same item, saving lots of time churning out the same item over and over at the expense of potentially earning greater success through meticulous ability use.
Players can engage in solo play or group play. Monster kills, quests, and FATE (Full Active Time Events – scripted events that pop up in the open world) give combat Classes options to gain experience through solo play. Group play also opens up dungeons for acquiring experience and loot; partying with others allows for faster kill chains (which subsequently increase the rate of XP gain) and introduces new mechanics, such as Limit Breaks (abilities available after a number of monster kills in a dungeon; the Class that activates it determines what kind of attack/buff/heal results). While group play is necessary for progression at certain points in the game, ARR offers more options than many other MMOs have provided for solo play.
Speaking of options, there is a plethora of experience-boosts available to adventurers. Time spent in towns will grant rest XP that is tacked on to crafting and combat experience. Certain food items can be consumed to grant a few extra percent of XP. Hunting Logs targeting certain monsters for kills grant batches of bonus experience upon completion. Kill chains established for quickly and successively dispatching enemies augments experience gain. Having a primary Class higher than your current Class pads the bar with bonus XP. Are you a pre-orderer or Collector’s Edition owner? You should have a code that gives you a helm for an extra 20% XP for a Class up to level 10. Completing a dungeon for the first time? There may not be an app for that…well there probably is…but there’s also extra experience. As you can see, there are many options for getting a character leveled without as tedious a grind as other MMORPGs.
Battles are made easier in FFXIV: ARR thanks to many baked-in features. Linking monsters are identified by a streaming ray from one mob to the other. Targeting is indicated by arcing lines (a system introduced in FFXII). Enemies will often forecast activation of a special ability as evident by a red circle, rectangle, or cone indicating the direction of attack. Enmity in ARR is easily discerned visually during combat. Clicking an enemy will reveal an A and numbers to the left of party members’ profiles; the A and sequential numbers afterward detail priority of aggression, according to that particular target. This makes it easier to manage tanking, DPS, and heals without a third-party program. Players can also easily mark targets for priority, facilitating greater efficiency in group combat tactics.
Mass player communication is accomplished through Linkshells (now more like chat rooms than guilds in FFXI) and Free Companies (essentially the player guilds in the game), giving more options for keeping up with large groups of peers. Free Companies can also grant bonuses depending on the size, such as combat or craft experience boosts. Also, players can unlock more customization options by being a member of a high-ranking FC.
By meeting certain level requirements with Classes, players can unlock Jobs down the road. For instance, a level 30 Arcanist who is also a 15 Conjurer can quest to become a Scholar. Leveling in the Job would subsequently level the primary Class…in this case, gaining experience in Scholar (which is then differentiated from Arcanist by equipping the Job-specific stone) would also automatically raise the level of the Arcanist Class. Besides the experience boost a player gets from leveling lower Classes after a primary Class outpaces others, gaining levels in other Classes will allow sharing of certain abilities; for example, a Lancer with levels in Conjurer can splash a curative spell to help out with soloing and emergency heals in parties.
Travel in the game is easily accomplished by using mounts outside of the main cities and dungeons, Chocobo Porters as battle-free escorts from one location to another that you’ve unlocked, Airship, the Return spell (sending you back to your designated Home location, only limited by a 15-minute cooldown), the Teleport spell (bringing you to areas with aetheryte crystals to which you’ve attuned yourself), the Aethernet (smaller crystals in the major cities that allow you to teleport from one portion of the area to another), and even a free Sprint ability that comes on cooldown. Class changing no longer requires you to run to the Mog House as it did in Final Fantasy XI; instead, you simply have to equip a primary weapon to immediately switch over to the Class that uses that particular equipment. The Duty Finder can be used to queue up with other players for instances; you’ll be slotted into either the two DPS openings, the healer opening, or the tank opening, depending on the Class you are playing when you register. Once the instance starts, you are whisked away to the zone; when it’s over, you’re teleported back to where you were.
The Fantasy Thus Far
Much of FFXIV: ARR’s release was slow-going, as the servers struggled to deal with a huge influx of players and gamers who didn’t want to log out for fear of getting the “World is Full” error. Character creation on a handful of servers was quickly shut down, keeping me from playing with friends on Excalibur and leading me to create my character on Goblin. Digital sales of the game were suspended to accommodate for the mass of players mashing buttons as they attempted to force themselves into the game. Days after launch, ARR was locked during a ten-hour maintenance in order to add new servers; players were given seven free days to make up for the growing pains. Also to the relief of players, an AFK timer is in the works. For the past couple days, I’ve had to wait seconds (if at all) in queue to enter the game. Extra content such as (PVP and housing) is slated to be released approximately every three months, and the general subscription rate is 12.99, with such modifiers as extra character slots and legacy subscription.
From someone who has played about a dozen MMOs for about fifteen years, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn has taken what works in the genre, tweaked components to streamline the package, and infused franchise classics of chocobos, magitek, and Limit Breaks. I loved Final Fantasy XI, but the progression was too slow; when I returned years after I first walked away from the game it was bastardized with an exploited leveling system that cannibalized much of the pre-end-game content. I haven’t yet fallen in love with ARR’s lore (I’ll never forget you, Star Sibyl), but at the same time it’s not so painstaking to learn it through gameplay. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is Final Fantasy heavily influenced by World of Warcraft, Rift, and other modern MMORPGs, but without losing the magic in the process.