Square Enix’s Final
Fantasy
brand is an intellectual property with mass market
appeal. Many faithful fans of the series have played every iteration
for over a decade, and Square Enix converts a new throng of zealots
with each Final Fantasy
release. Luckily for newcomers, nearly all style="font-style: italic;">Final Fantasy games
stand alone with their stories; most new titles require no previous style="font-style: italic;">Final Fantasy
experience.

This is because Final
Fantasy
is more a style or philosophy than a continuing
story. Fair analogies include works of art, such as music or paintings.
The artist of the piece, Square Enix in this case, uses signature
movements or brush strokes that identify the piece as belonging to the
series. In a new Final
Fantasy
title, gamers can look forward to an epic story,
outstanding graphics, and familiar monsters and spells. The
similarities to other Final
Fantasy
games tend to end there, though, and quite often
the battle systems and mechanics of the latest release in the franchise
differ greatly from anything fans have seen before. style="font-style: italic;">Final Fantasy XIV,
the second of the Final
Fantasy
massively-multiplayer online games, is the same as
the rest of the series in that it is so very different from anything
players are used to.



Ten Ton Hammer covered some of the differences between style="font-style: italic;">Final Fantasy XIV
and, well, every other MMO on earth in the href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/ffxiv/preview/aug-2010-hands-on/story">August
hands-on preview  from San Francisco and the href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/ffxiv/interviews/pax-2010-sage-sundi">candid
interview with Square Enix’s Sage Sundi from PAX 2010. In
reviewing FFXIV, it is impossible not to reference these blatant
differences and attempt to assess their impact, positive or negative,
on the release product.

Additionally, Square Enix dramatically changed
some gameplay elements between the time when the game went “gold” and
release on September 22, 2010 with a launch day patch. The degree to
which FFXIV differs from the competition and the level of revision from
open beta product to the retail install mark a theme for the review:
Square Enix does things very differently in a market dominated by
companies all trying to clone the success of Blizzard’s href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/wow"> style="font-style: italic;">World of Warcraft.
A product that is so radically different is sure to polarize gamers,
and it is likely that Final
Fantasy
fans will love FFXIV while most other gamers will
be intimidated by its unusual game play and mechanics.

Cautions

Final Fantasy XIV
is rated “T” for teen (Alcohol Reference, Animated Blood, Language,
Suggestive Themes, Violence).



Payment for Final
Fantasy XIV
subscriptions requires one of two methods:
  1. Sign up for ClickandBuy.com. The player’s credit card pays href="http://www.clickandbuy.com">ClickandBuy.com,
    which pays Square Enix for the subscription.
  2. Pay with Crysta. Crysta is a proprietary virtual currency
    invented by Square Enix. Players can buy it in three ways:
  • Use the ClickandBuy.com method above
  • Buy an Ultimate Game Card (from PlaySpan.com or a local
    retailer)
  • Use PayPal to pay PlaySpan to pay for the Crysta at the
    time of transaction

Square Enix never directly takes the credit card information of FFXIV
subscribers, which can href="http://forums.tentonhammer.com/showthread.php?t=53665">cause
frustration but protects gamers’ finances in the event their
account security is compromised.

Gameplay - 70 / 100

Final Fantasy XIV
tells the story of the conflict over the region of Eorzea, a landmass
filled with diverse people and climate zones. The five href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/83664">playable races
include the Hyur (humans), Elezen (think elves), Lalafell (halfings),
Miqo’te (cat women), and Roegadyn (hulking beastmen). Each race comes
in two flavors, or clans. Other beastmen and humanoids inhabit Eorzea
as well, some of them friendly to the playable races and others
fiercely opposed to the encroachment of “civilized” races. To
complicate matters, the advanced country of Garlemald has begun an
invasion of Eorzea with the capture of the city-state of Ala Mhigo.
Players start the game right at the point in the story where the action
is about to get intense as the beast tribes resist settlement of Eorzea
and the Garlean Empire seeks to conquer the land for itself.


href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/image/view/90247"
target="_blank"> src="http://www.tentonhammer.com/image/view/90247"
alt="Final Fantasy XIV Coerthas"
style="border: 0px solid ; width: 250px; height: 200px;">

The beautiful Coerthas
in
Final Fantasy XIV

Character creation first involves choosing a race and customizing its
appearance before selecting a class, birthday, and guardian deity. Each
race has different starting values for the physical and elemental
attributes, but the difference between the race with the lowest
intelligence and the race with the highest is only one or two levels
worth of attribute points. Square Enix really wants players to choose
their race based on appearance. The options for customization are not
as deep as some MMOs but rich enough to create distinct-looking
avatars. Players can adjust height, skin tone, hair style and color,
color and shape of eyes, chin shape, mouth shape, and features
(tattoos, scars, braids, and more).



FFXIV launches with eighteen classes spread over four disciplines, two
of which enter combat. The Disciples of War are the physical fighters.
They include the gladiator (tank brandishing sword and shield),
pugilist (tank/DPS hybrid with hand-to-hand weapons), lancer
(DPS/support wielding polearms), archer (DPS using bows and crossbows),
and gladiator (DPS carrying large axes). The Disciples of Magic are the
two caster types in the game. The conjurer learns elemental direct
damage spells, healing, and buffs. The thaumaturge showcases debuffs
and light and dark elemental spells while mixing in the occasional
small heal over time spell.



The non-combat disciplines are the Disciples of Land (harvesters) and
Disciples of Hand (crafters). The Disciples of Land include the
botanist, fisher, and miner. They collect the materials needed for the
Disciples of Hand, comprised of the alchemist, armorer, blacksmith,
carpenter, culinarian, goldsmith, leatherworker, and weaver, craft
items used by the players in the world.



The impact of the non-combat classes on the economy is tremendous, as
monsters and quests in FFXIV almost never yield gear. Instead, they
most often produce materials needed to craft gear. Furthermore, each
crafting class must cooperate with other crafting classes in order to
produce valuable goods that meet the demands of the player base.



Of course, a single gamer can try to master all of the classes. FFXIV
allows players to change classes merely by changing the weapon or tool
equipped in the main hand. Because a single character can become any of
the classes, Square Enix provides only one character slot with the base
subscription price. Start as an archer with a bow? Simply equip an axe
to become a marauder or a hatchet to become a botanist. It also is
possible to mix and match most skills from the different classes. Want
to add some heals to your pugilist? Just level conjurer or thaumaturge
for a while. The number of skills you can equip is a factor of the rank
of the currently equipped class.



Speaking of rank, character progression happens on two fronts: rank,
which is tied to each class, and physical level, which is independent
of your class. Fighting monsters, crafting, and harvesting all reward
players with skill points to improve their class rank experience points
to increase their physical level. Higher class ranks result in greater
HP & MP totals dependent on both class and stamina and mind
scores, respectively. Even-numbered class ranks reward players with new
spells and skills. Gaining a physical level produces points to allocate
in both physical attributes and elemental resistances. Disciples of War
might favor strength, dexterity, and stamina while Disciples of Magic
are likely to prefer intelligence, mind, and piety. For players trying
to blend the two disciplines, FFXIV allows gamers to reassign stat
points, but the process does not happen all at once. Players can
redistribute only a handful of points every few hours, making hybrid
builds tricky. Additionally, physical attributes affect crafting and
harvesting actions while elemental resistances play a role in
determining the types of shards and crystals (needed for crafting)
obtained in loot. Players must look for clues in game and experiment to
find which combinations of classes complement each other best. While
the trial and error can be fun for theorycrafters, it can be plain
annoying to more casual gamers.


href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/image/view/90248"
target="_blank"> src="http://www.tentonhammer.com/image/view/90248"
alt="FFXIV Combat"
style="border: 0px solid ; width: 250px; height: 141px;">

Combat in Final
Fantasy XIV

Casual gamers who play Final
Fantasy
titles are the primary audience Square Enix has in
mind for FFXIV, and the developer implemented many features to try to
cater to them. The most controversial of those features is called
Surplus XP. This is a complicated system whereby the game limits the
rate at which players can progress their characters. Play long enough,
and gamers reach a cap, or threshold, for gaining skill points for a
class. Players will then have to switch to a new class or eventually
gain no skill points for their current class. Likewise, players can hit
a cap on experience gains. These caps are on a weekly timer, so players
can go back to 100% growth every week. Confused? Many people are when
they first encounter the concept. One FFXIV fan made a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=abE09-tqhoM">helpful
video to help explain.



The idea behind Surplus XP is to keep hardcore players and those with
more time on their hands at about the same physical level and class
rank as a casual player. Those who play more will level more classes.
The idea is interesting, but it garnered a lot of negative feedback
from gamers who do not want to be limited in their growth or told how
to play. Square Enix tweaked the system so that most players can reach
a physical level near 20 before ever hitting a wall. The real test of
the system will be near the level cap of 50, when it will take players
nearly a week of experience to gain a level. If the Surplus XP system
halts development in an intrusive way then, Square Enix will have hell
to pay.



The way to the level cap is paved with a system called Guildleves.
These are quests, or leves, issued by NPC guilds that give much higher
skill and XP gains that grinding random mobs and crafting items. The
majority of Guildleves that the player base knows about are
straightforward fetch and kill quests. This is because Square Enix
withheld some of the more interesting and challenging quests for
release, a huge gamble considering the negative impression Guildleves
could create in open beta testers. A player may log two to four leves
for combat, harvesting, and crafting in each of the three city-states
for each camp in the area. While gamers can log only eight leves of one
type simultaneously, they can trade in completed leves when they pick
up new ones. Like the Surplus XP system, leves are on a timer. Do all
the leves for Camp Black Brush, and you will have to wait 36 hours to
do more at that location. Once players pick up a Guildleve form a city,
they go to the camp for the leve and activate the quest by accessing
the Aetheryte crystal there through the main menu. Aetherytes serve as
a sort of teleporter and quest hub for players in the field. The
difficulty of a Guildleve is adjustable from one star (designed for the
solo player) to five stars (for multiple parties). With party sizes of
15 players maximum, the more difficult settings for Guildleves involve
complicated strategies and require clear communication. While multiple
players can work on the same combat leve together, harvesting and
crafting leves are more for solo players.



The turn-based battles of the console style="font-style: italic;">Final Fantasy
titles do not work for an MMO, but FFXIV manages to blend much of the
feel of the console titles with the action bars and targeting systems
standard to MMOs. Players have access to up to three action bars with
ten slots each. Combat requires targeting a creature and selecting it,
which pulls up the action bar. Players then select a skill or spell to
use to draw their weapons and begin combat. Every skill requires
stamina, a sort of timer essentially. When the stamina bar fills up
enough, the skills fires off. The cycle repeats until one of the
combatants dies or flees. To run faster and regain HP, players need to
put away their weapons (F key by default). MP recovers only when quests
are completed and players teleport back to camp or through special
skills and spells. Thus, conserving MP during Guildleves is a tactical
necessity.


href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/image/view/90249"
target="_blank"> src="http://www.tentonhammer.com/image/view/90249"
alt="Exploring Gridania"
style="border: 0px solid ; width: 250px; height: 141px;">

Exploring Gridania

Two other aspects of combat that do not appear in other MMOs are
Technical Points (TP) and Battle Regimens. TP accrues in combat as the
player deals and takes damage. Some player skills require TP to use.
This adds a tactical layer to combat because some of the most powerful
skills cannot be used at will but only upon gaining enough TP in
battle. Battle Regimens are sequences of moves used by two or more
players in a party to produce special effects and extra damage. The
first player activates the Battle Regimen by clicking the icon to the
left of the action bar. The he uses the first skill in the chain. If
the other players in the party use the right skills in order, they can
generate special debuffs to the target to make tough battles easier.



The story of FFXIV unfolds outside of the Guildleve system. Square Enix
immerses players in the story right from character creation with an
opening cinematic featuring their character. Players get one more story
quest (called class quests by Square Enix) upon entering their starting
city. Each subsequent class quest comes at rank 10, 20, 30, 40, and 50.
Each features great cinematics, most often used with in-game footage,
and highlights the player’s avatar as a direct part of the story. Other
stories may unfold by joining class-specific NPC guilds and gaining
their favor by completing special Guildleves. This is yet another
aspect of gameplay that Square Enix has kept secret for better or for
worse.



Harvesting feels a bit like mini-games in FFXIV. In harvesting, botany
and mining are games of “hot/cold.” The player finds a tree or node of
ore, picks the height or depth to harvest at, and begins harvesting.
The first stroke of the hatchet or pickaxe may not find anything, and
players will see a message telling them how “hot” or “cold” they are.
Using that clue, players select the next location within the node. Most
nodes can be harvested from five times, but a single turn of harvesting
only allows for two to three strokes. Thus it is important to get good
at the game of hot/cold. Fishing requires bait, and its mini-game is
more of a combination of knowing when to wait for a bite versus taking
in some line and understanding how to reel in catches without letting
them get away.



Like harvesting, crafting uses a sort of mini-game. Players choose the
ingredients to use in a synthesis and decide whether to use their main
hand crafting tool or their off-hand crafting tool. The goal of
crafting is to get the progress to 100% before durability reaches 0
while getting quality as high as possible. Each round of crafting,
players choose between standard synthesis (high progress gain with
normal quality gain and durability loss), rapid synthesis (small
progress gain with small quality gain durability loss), bold synthesis
(normal progress gain with high quality gain and high durability loss),
and wait (doing nothing for that round to change the status of the
synthesis). It is possible for a synthesis action to fail, which mostly
costs in durability. Additionally, players must consider the status of
the synthesis, represented by colors of the orb that represents their
crafting item: white (normal/safe), red (bad/unsafe), pulsing through
different colors (volatile/risky), and yellow (good/low-risk). While it
is possible for synthesis actions to fail on rounds when the item is at
white or yellow, it is less risky. Players should wait on rounds when
the color is red or pulses. At launch, players do not get a recipe
book, so it is important to write down recipes that work or visit a fan
site with a good wiki.

Graphics - 95 / 100

FFXIV continues Square Enix’s tradition of creating peerless graphical
experiences for fans. The realm of Eorzea is beautiful on every front
from the tree-shrouded city-state of Gridania to the mountainous
deserts outside Ul’dah, to island city of Limsa Lominsa. A little
exploration of the lands reveals gorgeous crystal caverns, dark mines,
barren wastelands near Mor Dhona, and towering structures dotting the
landscape. Since FFXIV uses a seamless world, players can feel the
depth and learn to appreciate the massive cliffs and deep underground
grottos.



Of particular note about the graphics in FFXIV is the excellent use of
lighting and shadows. Players emerging from a dark cave will experience
the same overwhelming bright light when climbing to the surface that
they would in real life. After a moment to adjust, the lighting returns
to normal, and players see a landscape draped in shadows caused by a
consistent light source and filled with nooks and crannies to explore.
Nighttime shrouds the land in an eerie darkness underneath a starry sky.



The graphics come at a cost, and graphical processing power is of the
highest demand for running the game. Many players get good results from
dual core processors, but everyone needs a beefy graphics card to enjoy
FFXIV.

Sound - 97 / 100

World-renowned composer Nobuo Uematsu lends his legendary talent to
FFXIV, resulting in a masterful soundtrack. Susan Calloway adds her
high-powered vocals to the href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JxQIciJWx9g">theme song,
which is supported by a haunting performance from a full chorus. The
soundtracks from most other MMOs cannot even begin to compete with the
quality found in the one for FFXIV.



The full array of sound in FFXIV is a real highlight. Players in the
field will enjoy upbeat battle music, serene melodies in open valleys,
and eerie and foreboding tunes in dangerous areas. Howling winds carry
blinding sandstorms, and soothing rainfall echoes on the ground beneath
the player’s feet. Weapons clang with satisfying metal sounds, and
monsters make a variety of noises that players will be able to use to
identify them with their eyes closed.

Value - 87 / 100

FFXIV carries a $49.99 price tag like other MMOs on the PC. $74.99 gets
the Collector’s Edition, which includes a journal with some artwork and
a security token in addition to the in-game item. Many gamers may find
pricing of the subscription plans offered confusing. Square Enix
charges $9.99/month for the service (with no playable characters) and
an additional $3/month per character slot. This means the minimum
subscription price is $12.99 per month (less if purchased in 3- or
6-month bundles), which is below the industry standard and makes a
terrific value so long as the gamer is content with only one character
slot. One slot is all that is needed to play every class. The same
subscription price gets players one Retainer, an NPC assigned to the
player to hold his gear and buy and sell items in the bazaar.



Additional character slots cost $3/month each, and extra Retainers cost
$1/month each. The value of the Retainers is high, but the extra
character slots feel a bit pricey considering the low impact they have
on server maintenance and data storage for Square Enix. If anything,
the price tag seems to aim to keep players on one character per account
in order to build a strong community.



The real value of the game in the long term greatly depends on the
player’s patience in overcoming the many aspects of FFXIV that are
unintuitive. The controls baffle many gamers. The default key settings
put the camera on the IJKL keys. Players need to open the main menu
(NumPad – by default) to interact with objects, such as Aetheryte
crystals, or to accept party invitations. Quests almost always come in
the form of Guildleves, which must be activated at a specific Aetheryte
Crystal. The payment methods are odd compared to mainstream MMOs, and
the pricing structure is awkward because of the itemization of
characters slots separately.

Lasting Appeal - 87 / 100

The appeal of Final
Fantasy
games is their epic story lines. FFXIV delivers
story in spades, but the level grind in between and the complex (almost
to the point of being obtuse) systems in FFXIV may scare odd many
players. Likewise, the Surplus XP system will help Square Enix control
content releases, but it may disappoint gamers looking for more freedom
in an MMO if it slows people down too much in the higher levels.



style="border: 0px solid ; width: 250px; height: 200px; float: right;"
alt="FFXIV Mor Dhona"
src="http://www.tentonhammer.com/image/view/90250/preview">
Square
Enix is no newbie when it comes to producing and supporting an MMO. href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/taxonomy/term/211"> style="font-style: italic;">Final Fantasy XI
has been going strong for 8 years, and many corners of the internet
perceive its subscription base as third only to style="font-style: italic;">Lineage and style="font-style: italic;">World of Warcraft
for a long stretch of time. This means early adopters of FFXIV can
expect frequent and meaningful content updates, and expansions will
almost certainly be in the mix 6-12 months out from release. Gamers can
look forward to a long and healthy life for FFXIV.



As an example of how FFXIV evolves, Square Enix incorporated beta
tester feedback to lower the Guildleve refresh timer from 48 hours to
36 hours at launch. Additionally, the rate at which Anima—a pool of
points used for teleported between Aetheryte crystals—regenerates was
increased to help players get around the world more often. The UI lag
that could make the game almost unplayable for some in open beta has
decreased significantly. Finally, the game launched with very stable
servers despite frequent crashes in open beta.



The biggest challenge for FFXIV will be getting players acclimated to
the unfamiliar mechanics fast enough during their free 30 days of
gameplay that comes with the purchase of the box. Players who figure it
out soon enough to get into the game will find it an enjoyable
experience with a cooperative community and bright future.

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Engaging and deep story
  • High-quality graphics
  • Outstanding musical score
  • Terrific sound effects
  • Chocobos and moogles
  • Flexible class system

Cons:

  • Unnecessarily complex mechanics, unintuitive UI
  • Lack of tutorials
  • Limited/shallow quest system
  • High system requirements
  • No built-in voice chat
  • Inaccurate mob difficulty indicators

Conclusion

This review
has not done justice to the level of complexity, both positive and
negative, in Final
Fantasy XIV
. The learning curve for FFXIV is tremendously
steep, and even gamers who have followed the game since its official
announcement at E3 2009 until launch have much to learn about its
clandestine systems and hidden calculations.



FFXIV is a love song to Final
Fantasy
fans, but its peculiar mechanics, unwieldy
controls, and deliberate differentiation from its competitors will make
it a tough sell to gamers who do not already follow the franchise. Of
course, Square Enix may not care so much about tapping the market of
mainstream gamers considering each game in the series sells 3 million
copies within weeks of launch.



In the case of FFXIV, the game will be insanely popular with most style="font-style: italic;">Final Fantasy fans
who enjoy MMOs. Its deep story and high level of immersion will attract
a few first-time MMO players who will not have enough experience to be
put off by the idiosyncrasies of the game. The game will have a tough
time penetrating other demographics, but it will be a resounding
success if it captures even a third of its target audience.

Overall 75/100 - Pretty Good

Metacritic

To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn Game Page.

Last Updated: Mar 29, 2016

Comments