A great MMORPG that has an enjoyable story, mechanically solid gameplay and lots of content for Final Fantasy fans
Final Fantasy XIV Online was a complete and utter mess of a release that felt like an insult toFinal Fantasy fans. It released in an unfinished state that was so bad that Square Enix decided to remove the subscription fee from the game for over a year. The company also completely reshaped the development team to hopefully salvage the game from all the damage it had received from fans and the press. The failure of Final Fantasy XIV Online triggered its original producer to resign from Square Enix. It was a disaster, plain and simple, but rather than just abandon all hope, Square Enix took the time and money to reboot the MMO into Final Fantasy XIV Online: A Realm Reborn - probably because it was a main entry in the Final Fantasy series – a much better game that should be given a second chance from people who were left sour after their original experience with Final Fantasy XIV Online.
What’s interesting about A Realm Reborn is that the story is actually a continuation of the events that happened in Final Fantasy XIV Online. The conclusion to that game finished with a server (world) ending finale where the continent of Eorzea was ravaged by the Primal Bahamut and the heroes (the player’s character) were frozen in time, basically sending them forward into the future. Five years later, the adventurers reappear, but suffer from amnesia (kind of ironic) and aren’t sure where they came from or how important they are. Their memories slowly begin to reconstruct as they progress through the game, helping rebuild Eorzea after its destruction, while also stopping a new evil that is approaching. It’s the typical fantasy fare, where the good must stop the evil, but in regards to story for the genre, the main plot is interesting enough to keep your attention and make you feel like a hero, which I found isn’t often the case when it comes to an MMO’s plot.
In typical MMO fashion, you start the game with the character creator, which offers up five races that are similar to Final Fantasy XI’s humans, elves, cat people, a race that looks like a group of toddlers, and the giant, muscle creatures known as the Roegadyn. Players will also need to pick from one of eight class types. These are the same as they were previously in Final Fantasy XIV Online, such as the Lancer, Gladiator, Conjurer and Pugilist. These selections determine your basic stats at the start. On top of that, the game wants other details, such as a birthday and which deity you would like to worship, that affect smaller aspects of the story. Depending on what class you pick will determine which of the three major cities you begin the game in. Starting as a Lancer threw me into the forest area of Gridania, while testing out the Arcanist sent me to the coastal marine city of Limsa Lominsa. Apart from having a completely different aesthetic, each city comes with different starting quests that eventual merge into the game’s overall plot.
A Realm Reborn’s early hours won’t seem that different from many other MMORPGs, and overall, the game still contains the same player roles of tank, DPS and healer. The standardised quest lines of fetching, killing and talking to a person are placed all over the world of Eorzea as side quests for you to finish and earn experience points. While you’ll have to deal with this to progress, it shouldn’t put you off from reaching the star of the show, the game’s major story events. These demonstrate Square Enix’s ability to tell a tale through high quality cutscenes and voice acting (the only time you’ll hear dialogue spoken) that make the player feel important, as the game focuses on the player and the helpful NPCs that battle with you when fighting one of the many awesome looking bosses, such as Final Fantasy staples Ifrit and Odin. The game comes across as if it was an offline RPG, no doubt due to Square Enix’s experience in creating RPGs and blending that knowledge with an online setting.
Making your way through the beginning and hitting level 10 unlocks one of A Realm Reborn’s more open systems, the classes. You initially pick a class at the start, but once hitting the level requirement you’re free to change class at any time by simply equipping the character with a different weapon. The game recommends players to master their original class, but this isn’t forced upon, leaving you free to do as you see fit. Each class can level up to a maximum of 50, which means you could technically spend time levelling up one character to 50 seven times, although most sane people won’t do this.
However, you will want to at least grow another class or two to a competent level, as you can merge their abilities with your key class’ skills. Having a Marauder as a subclass of Lancer allows the casting of a skill to increase defence by 20% for a limited amount of time. While that’s super handy, the real reason why you’ll want to aim to increase other class roles is to eventually unlock the classic Final Fantasy Job system – specialised classes that excel in one given role. Jobs require the primary class to be at least level 30 and the subclass to be at least level 15. Using my own character as an example, the Lancer I used was transformed into a Dragoon after getting the Marauder subclass to 15. Dragoon emphases on single enemy DPS, using leaps and thrusts to deal destructive damage. Of course, given the openness to the system, you can remove an item to revert back to your base class. There are incentives for experimenting with classes, and since it’s all done on the same character, you don’t lose anything for testing the waters. They also make it easy to manage gear between classes, thanks to the added tabs that swap gear sets on the fly.
Combat is very traditional, you click on enemies to automatically attack, while numbers on the keyboard are assigned to skills that you can cast as you wish. There’s a global cooldown after a skill, so you can’t just spam your best skills without waiting for them to recharge. Some skills are highlighted after an attack to show that they are a combo, resulting in additional damage. These combos are often the go to skills for most of your fights. Veteran MMO plays won’t have a problem getting into the game, while for newcomers, small instances called Guildhests set up small tutorial-esque events that teach crowd control, targeting and other MMO specifics. It eases you into the game’s gradual rise in difficulty, as each dungeon gets harder and harder, demanding more awareness from you and your party that people must play their roles correctly or succumb to the dreaded death screen time and time again.
Finding a group was never a problem, thanks to the Duty Finder. I approved a quest, and then went on my way doing my own thing until it found enough people to form a party to tackle the task. If someone decides not to join, you’re put back into the queue as the game looks for a replacement. It’s streamlined and very helpful. While not doing major quests, you can take part in FATEs, which are quests with monsters that randomly appear on the map, very similar to what RIFT and Guild Wars 2 does with its active events. There are, of course, multiple crafting options, such as Blacksmith, Alchemist and Carpenter, although I didn’t dabble much in that.
An amazing accomplishment by the development team is making this all work on a controller, to the point where I preferred setting up my PC connected to the television and using an Xbox 360 controller to play A Realm Reborn. The game even has a setting in the options that shifts the UI to the PlayStation 3 version of the game, except replaces all the buttons with the Xbox 360 controller layout. The sticks control the character and camera, while holding down either LT or RT will bring up the skills list, with each skill either assigned to the face buttons or D-Pad.
Since each trigger has different skills, this means you have access to 16 skills are once, more than enough to survive in A Realm Reborn. If you desire access to more skills, then a tap of RB will switch to the next block of 16. You can even hold down RB to do a quick set selection, with up to 8 available. It works so well on a controller that I wish more MMO titles would spend time adapting to the Xbox 360 controller. The only issue I had was adjusting to selecting people with the D-Pad. It was strange at first, but you soon familiarise with it that it doesn’t become an issue. When you’re in a group and feel the need to speak, you might find it better playing with a keyboard, or at least having the keyboard close to you so that you can communicate faster to your team.
A Realm Reborn doesn’t hide away the fact that it is a Final Fantasy title – there’s fan service galore tucked into every corner of the game. Items and moves are named appropriately. Weapons, units and enemies are familiar, and even the Magitek armour from Final Fantasy VImakes an attendance as the main army’s machine of choice and is even a mount accessible later on in the game. There are lots of homages to past Final Fantasy games littered in this title that I feel I should stop spoiling them. Fans will get a huge kick out of discovering these little tidbits. With Lightning coming to join the game in November in an FATE event, it seems this title will keep on giving fans of the series updates that relate to the past and present of the franchise.
As technology improves, the MMO genre seems to be getting more gorgeous with each new title release. A Realm Reborn is one of the more beautifully crafted MMOs I have had the chance to play through. You’ll need a beastly machine to run it on maximum settings, but if you can, you’re in for such a treat. The world is lush; full of colour and life, and the lighting adds that final cherry on top of the already tasty looking cake. Seeing it break through the trees in the starting area of Gridania is a wonderful sight, and it only gets better as you explore the game’s 40+ locations. Characters look great, the armour detail is high; thanks to great texture work all around and spells look as magical as they should. Square Enix has always pushed for great graphics in their big budget games and this MMO doesn’t make it any different. Music is just as good, with the score composed by Masayoshi Soken that brings together classic Final Fantasy melodies, along with new material that fits right into the game’s action.
A great thing about the game is that you don’t need a power machine to actually run it. It scales rather well on medium rigs, allowing more players to get into the game. Servers were packed during the 30 day free trial period, but I have no idea if this will retain the player count once the £8.99 fee hits. Fees are something I wish was dropping – or at least going cheaper – from the MMO market. Games like Guild Wars 2 show that you can run a subscription-less MMO and still offer a great game.
I can’t think of a situation in video games where a company has gone back to completely overhauling a title and producing something with such a running success. I was sceptical, MMO titles are huge games and trying to rebuild one to fix the issues is no easy task, yet Square Enix has done that and they have to be applauded for it.
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is a great MMORPG that has an enjoyable story, mechanically solid gameplay, lots of content for Final Fantasy fans to love, but also offers rewarding and challenging dungeons for people who adore playing online RPGs. It’s not innovating the genre, but it’s taking aspects from other games and spinning them with a flavour of Final Fantasy. This mixture makes it easily the best MMO of the year and one that certainly goes into my top five of all time.