New Cities & Level 40 Content - A New Final Fantasy XIV Hands-On Preview

I enjoyed the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to San Francisco and take part in a Square Enix demo of Final Fantasy XIV on August 10, 2010.

I enjoyed the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to San Francisco and take part in a Square Enix demo of Final Fantasy XIV on August 10, 2010. The demo was a chance for select members of the press to get a peek at some never-before-seen areas of Eorzea, the world of FFXIV, before Square Enix showed it to the rest of the world at Gamescom on August 17.

The demo in San Francisco consisted of three parts: creating a character in the starting city of Gridania, making a second character in the starting city of Ul’dah, and experiencing some high level content on premade characters.

The female here is an NPC, but the male is a player-made character. In Final Fantasy XIV, your character is part of important story scenes. >>Gallery

Readers should note that the decision to play Final Fantasy XIV is a commitment. FFXIV plays and controls very differently from most other MMOs, so it has a steep learning curve. The payoff is the story that FFXIV delivers. Once I had created Ralsu, he appeared in every cinematic for the stories in his starting city. The immersion of the player into the story is something not seen in an MMO since…well, Final Fantasy XI. Before describing the new content I experienced, I want to comment on the aspects of FFXIV that make it so different and (potentially) hard to pick up.

The controls in the FFXIV demo are, in a word, very unusual for an MMORPG. First, I found it next to impossible to use the WASD keys by themselves to move my character. The A and D keys made my character turn at a right angle and move left and right, respectively. Meanwhile, the camera would stay fixed, so I would see my character moving from the side view. In order to turn the camera to see what was ahead of me, I needed to use the right mouse button or the camera control keys (IJKL). In the end, I found I could move very smoothly by using WJSL. This meant using two hands to move and letting go of the mouse, certainly an awkward control scheme for the average North American gamer. I could tell it would be a terrific scheme for a controller, though. Using the left analog stick to move forward while changing the camera with the right analog stick is standard on most console games. Since FFXIV also releases on the PS3, this makes sense.

Two other control settings that are counter to my MMO intuition are the use of the number pad “-“ key to open the main menu instead ESC and the use of the space bar to open the chat menu rather than Enter. It takes some getting used to, but opening the main menu with a key on the right side of the keyboard allows players to keep moving forward while opening the menu. Since FFXIV does not give players the ability to jump, the space bar goes unused outside of chat, making it the perfect key to open the chat box. Again, these controls are different from what most PC MMO players are accustomed to, so many of the guests at the demo found themselves disoriented at first.

The final way worth mentioning that controls in FFXIV differ from the norm is the Active and Passive systems. In FFXIV, your character does not run around with his sword drawn all the time. With weapons stowed, players are in the Passive mode. This is the mode for talking to NPCs and logging out of the game. To attack enemies, players must draw their weapon and enter Active mode via the F key or clicking an icon on the action bar. As with the other controls, this slight difference had many demo gamers puzzled.

Enough about controls. On to the content!

Gridania

The cinematic for Gridania opens with the Ralsu walking through a lush, green forest filled with wildflowers and vines. He hears an ethereal voice commanding him to “Hear.” “Feel.” “Think.” He glances at the sky and sees a meteor shower fade into the real sky, where an airship is crashing to the ground. Something falls from the airship, and Ralsu heads toward the projectile.

Upon entering the clearing, Ralsu sees two people lying on the ground, a Miqo’te pugilist named Yda and a Lalafell conjurer named Polyamo. Both are unresponsive at first, but on the third try, Yda rouses and Polyamo rises to wonder where they are. Yda reasons that since they fell from the sky and landed in a place filled with beauty and nature that they have “gone on to the Great Beyond.” She even thinks Ralsu is “psychopomp” come to guide them on into the afterlife. Polyamo disagrees, swearing by Rhalgar’s, the god of Destruction. The two continue arguing for a bit, but then bloodthirsty wolves close in, and Ralsu has to help save Polyamo and Yda.

Once Ralsu defeats the three closest wolves under my control, more surround the party, and things look bleak. At that moment, giant roots pop up out of the ground to pick up two of the wolves. A treant rips forth from the ground and drops the wolves into its gaping maw with its appendage-like roots. Palyamo and Yda confer for a moment, and Ralsu overhears them agreeing that the time is right to…

Gridania is a verdant forest city. >>Gallery

The camera shifts to a panoramic view of the forest, and the music reaches a heart-accelerating crescendo. Then Polyamo and Yda come tearing into the frame from the left, screaming the whole way. The angle shifts to up ahead of the pair, and we see Ralsu running for his life behind them. The treant closes in and lashes out with its roots, narrowly missing the trio as it gouges the ground with its might. Ida, Polyamo, and Ralsu are blasted into the air by the force of the swing, but Ralsu notices that his companions and the treant that pursues them freeze in time. Only he seems to be able to move, and he tentatively reaches out to bat at some leaves suspended in the air before him. Then he sees Moogles start flying by, playing musical instruments that seem to be the cause of the time stoppage.

On a ridge ahead of the adventurers and Moogles, a young boy with horns appears, thrusts his staff into the ground and calls upon nature to quell its anger. His words banish the treant, and the Moogles restart time. As a band of warriors joins the horned boy, one Moogle flies near Polyamo and comments in Mooglish that surely someone as puny as him could not have started this chain of events. To the surprise of everyone on the ridge and the Moogles, Polyamo understands Mooglish. He objects to being referred to as puny. The horned boy notes that the Elementals foretold of the coming of Yda and Polyamo. He says all three adventurers are marred by a taint that angers the forest, and offers to lead them to Gridania for cleansing.

Once inside the Carline Canopy tavern at Gridania, Ralsu hears conversations about how a local sage named Brother E-Sumi believes Yda and Polyamo are summoned by the wood. People seem to be very interested in the pair who fell from the sky, and all are concerned that the three of them get a proper cleansing, lest the forest try to claim them again. When Ralsu is alone with the tavern owner, Miounne, she takes a squirming vine from him. This vine is very rare. Was it what was angering the forest? How did Ralsu get it?

Ul’dah

The cinematic for Ul’dah opens with Ralsu arriving at the city on a chocobo-drawn carriage. The people on the streets and his fellow passenger exchange axioms about making money and tease about the nastiness of the city. As Ralsu steps onto the street, a bard named Thancred who was traveling on the same carriage already has a woman under each arm and is working his romantic game on them. Then Ralsu hears a voice tell him to “Hear.” “Feel.” “Think.” When he glances to the sky, he sees a meteor shower. A nearby girl excitedly points out the fireworks in the sky to her father. The camera pans to her, and when it switches back to Ralsu, the meteor shower he sees fades into the true sky, where fireworks really are going off to signal the start of a parade.

A Miqo’te passes out white flowers in the street as spectators congregate. An officious looking Elezen admonishes the Roegadyn driver of Ralsu’s carriage for being late, and Llaminn, the Miqo’te, presents the driver with a flower. The Elezen advises him to take the flower as a symbol of good luck. Since flowers are rare in the desert, they represent growth and strength in the unforgiving desert surrounding Ul’dah. Next, Llaminn passes a flower to Ascilia, the little girl who had called to her father about fireworks. Llaminn gives the basket with the remaining flowers to Ascilia and bids her to distribute the rest. Llaminn performs some acrobatic flips to get atop a float easing down the street. A bystander seems to recognize her as a famous dancer in a well-known act. The float is the same one featured in the E3 2010 video. It carries a giant beast called a goobbue constrained by a magical collar.

Ul’dah is a fortified city surrounded by an unforgiving desert. >>Gallery

When the float enters the main street, the magical seal holding the goobbue breaks. The gooobbue’s handler begins casting a spell to restrain it, but the goobbue swats him away like a fly and begins a rampage through the city. It moves toward Llaminn, but her friend Niel tried to distract it. When it pursue him, he has no real plan and merely hopes he will live to regret his chivalry. Soon thereafter, Ralsu takes action.

Ralsu attacked the goobue under my control. He nearly has it defeated when Thancred leaps in with the final strike. Thancred gratefully accepts most of the credit for saving the Llaminn and Niel, but the goobbue is not dead yet. It rises and turns on Ascilia. Someone jumps in front of the girl and the screen flashes. When the smoke clears, the goobbue is down in a pile of smoldering debris. The local militia has come to take out the creature for good.

In the aftermath, Ralsu makes his way to the Quicksand, a tavern run by a female Lalafell named Momodi. She inquires whether rumors of a rampaging goobbue are true when Thancred strolls in and tells story. He claims he was thinking about leaving the city before he saw how beautiful Momodi is. She enjoys the attention. Thancred admits that Ul’dah’s proximity to the Empire makes him anxious. The Empire recently attacked and conquered the city-state of Ala Mhigo. Momodi boasts that the Empire would fail to take Ul’dah if it attacked. Thancred pretends to feel comforted by her bravado and promises to hang around to write a ballad of her beauty. As Thancred returns to the streets, the blushing Momodi observes that Ralsu has a rare bauble of unusual color. She takes that as a sign that he is destined for wealth and fame. She sends Ralsu to the nearest camp to begin his adventure.

Level 40 Content

For the last portion of the demo, Square Enix had guests log onto a premade level 40 character and asked everyone to form a party. All 13 guests could fit into one party. At the time of the demo, Square Enix told described the maximum party size as 15. The party leader started a quest, and everyone went off to try to complete some high end content.

The toughest enemies do not go down without a coordinated strike from a skilled team. >>Gallery

Unfortunately, a combination of the guests’ unfamiliarity with the controls and the difficulty of the quests resulted in several wipes. After regrouping a few times and actually killing one monster, chaos prevailed; the guests split up into smaller groups and tried killing weaker monsters. This did not work much better, and the demo concluded with all players feeling a need for revenge on the monster that killed them so easily.

End of the Demo

As I mentioned in the outset, several aspects set Final Fantasy XIV apart from other MMOs. Mechanics, particularly the controls, may act as a hurdle to the mildly interested gamer who tried to pick up the game and jump right into play. The reward for learning a unique system is high for players who want an engaging story from a game that values player skill over time spent online. Final Fantasy XIV is set to release on September 30, 2010. Players who buy the Collector’s Edition will get the game eight days earlier, on September 22.

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