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Rating: Not Rated

Call it a Comeback

Talraen's Review of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (Video Games)

First off, let me admit up front that I liked the original FFXIV, in all of its evolutionary forms. I am a Final Fantasy fanboy, and I can't help myself. However, I wasn't shocked when they gave up on that version of the game. What was a shock was that they were relaunching it. Surely it wasn't possible that that could actually work.

Much to my surprise and delight, it worked.

FFXIV:ARR is the best MMO I've ever played--which isn't saying much considering my gaming history--but it's also a great Final Fantasy game. The comeback is arguably not just for this game, but the series as a whole (though I also loved the first two chapters of FFXIII). Everything about the game just works, and has been polished to near-perfection. There's a ton to do, and it's easy to experience the main storyline almost like this was a single-player RPG. In fact, the main plot will provide you with almost all of the experience and gear you need to hit the level cap with your first class.

The core of FFXIV is the Armoury system, which allows you to freely change classes at any time. The core of this system is in the abilities that you learn from each class, and these abilities work extremely well both individually and as a whole. The combat classes gain an ability every few levels, and a few of these can also be used by other classes. These shared abilities are generally good but not class-defining, and rarely really a necessity for other classes (the few exceptions are all very low level and easy to obtain).

Classes are highly customizable, but the game also has a Job system which is somewhat difficult to explain but plays into the class concept nicely. Basically, jobs are more focused versions of classes - they share levels and experience. Rather than acting as divergent options, they take the core class and narrow it, giving you powerful new actions at the cost of cross-class ability choice. In theory, jobs are better for parties while the flexibility of classes (e.g., always having Protect and Cure) works better solo. In practice, a number of jobs are great solo, too, but this isn't really an issue.

The best thing about the ability system is that it avoids the usual MMO problem of having a hotbar filled with icons that you just hit whenever they're ready. Most attacks are on a "global cooldown" and a lot of them combo with one another. It's a fast-paced system that requires you to think and react organically, which is great. Even better, every class plays differently, even the various DPS classes. Abilities never become completely obsolete, either - a level 50 black mage has good uses for all three levels of all three spell elements at their disposal.

Crafting and gathering use a similar ability system, though it's much less involved and there are no jobs to complicate things. Crafting in particular plays out almost like solo combat, and having a lot of different crafting jobs leveled will make all of them that much more efficient. Gathering classes have less crossover, particularly fishing which doesn't really use abilities at all, but the exploration aspect makes them interesting to play despite that.

There are a ton of ways to earn experience in ARR, and just killing monsters is both the worst and the least used of them. The main plot will, as mentioned, take you all the way to level 50. Provided you do all the available quests and keep up with the obvious side bits (such as the class-specific monster hunting log), you shouldn't have to level outside the main plot much until about level 40. At that point, you will have to re-run dungeons, do guildleves (repeatable side quests), or do world events called FATEs. This last option in particular is the most efficient source of experience late in the game, and it's always available.

Crafting and gathering lack quests or FATEs, but leves are even more effective when used to level them, and the rewards for simply crafting or gathering as wide a variety as possible are quite significant. Having good gear is also very advantageous when leveling these classes, since higher quality results yield more experience. And since crafting and gathering are the best way to get better gear for crafting and gathering, it's a nice closed cycle.

The game mechanics are great, and the story doesn't disappoint either. It's a very Final Fantasy story, albeit one that draws on the less esoteric plotlines in the series. The imperials appear very much like judges from Ivalice, and their goals and motives are similarly drawn from FF12. The game also draws a lot from FF6, which is appropriate since the whole game is technically post-apocalyptic (hence the subtitle) and FF6 is known for blowing up the world halfway through.

The dramatic moments of the story are, as with every Final Fantasy, top notch, but the story itself is quite solid, too. There are at least four sides in conflict, each with their own believable motives and goals. Your character rises rather organically from neophyte adventurer to world-renowned hero, and it never feels forced. The lack of character voice acting is a bit jarring, but that's the cost of customization. The game is filled with references both to other FF games and pop culture, and has some really amazing moments.

Even the community seems pretty cool, from what I've seen. While the vast majority of the main plot can be done solo, you will have to complete a number of instanced dungeons to proceed through the plot. You can use the cross-server duty finder to make finding a party as painless as possible, and as long as you're not actively getting everyone killed, people tend to be pretty helpful. The only real downside is that the last few plot dungeons are often run through multiple times for the rewards. This means you'll always find a party, but they may very well bitch at you for stopping to watch the (amazing epic) cutscenes. Oh well, sucks to be them!

Score: A

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