I anticipated Final Fantasy 14 to be good. Then it turned out to be the very opposite, yet the game still lingered in my heart even with its Epic Failure status within the MMO sphere. I conducted some self-reflection and found out my high expectation of FF14 was not rational. I was never a Final Fantasy fan, as I never managed to finish any game of the series; plus FF11 does not adhere to my taste either. Given the generally unsatisfied reviews of FF13 (of being ‘linear’, yeah I still laugh at this one), how could I have thought that FF14 would be huge hit MMO?
Six months ago I did participate in the game’s open beta. When the game was released, Squqre Enix had the balls to ask game media to hold off reviewing their product. Currently, SE seems to be working to salvage their game and reputation, and the game does not charge for subscription fee. It is such a good move that without it I wouldn’t be writing this impression piece :p Anyhow, I eBay’d a copy and started my journey in Eorzea, just to check how things are going now.
Opening Movie (view on YouTube)
Ignoring the oddity of two Square Enix logos pops out in the beginning, the opening cinematic is quite an enjoyable watch. It exhibits high level of CGI rendering with realistic physics, and portrayed key elements of a fun MMORPG: The company, and the epic battles. The cinematic starts with a Midlander guy choosing Guildleves to do with his party… and somehow sucked into one of those leves in which he had to cooperate with his (totally different) team to defeat a mean-looking tentacle monster. Unsurprisingly, the tentacle monster is then defeated. Then the plot thickens… into something rather cryptic and random. The Midlander ends up on one of the small aircraft that are battling a huge dragon and its minions… The dragon shoots down what seems to a mothership to the ground, and turns into a mysterious ball of light…
I don’t really understand what happens next, but fortunately the Midlander guy returns from his “daydreaming” or whatever with his original company. Despite his hand is still shaking, he “boldly” informs his party to start their adventure from that soul-sucking guildleve.
We know cinematic trailers are never an honest representation of what one would see form the actual gameplay, I need to point out that there currently is no airship as a in-game feature. Also, the fighting scene depicted in the trailer is a gross romanticization of a combat system riddled with senseless UI problems and network latency. Well, I may sound harsh here, but these are the things that one wish to know earlier than later, trust me.
As expected, the installation of the game is less of a hassle than making an account on Square Enix’s website… but after logging in I saw this for the first time.
Hmm. Am I living a certain communist country or what? Seriously? Mr. Square Enix do you think I will forget my family, friends, my school or my work just by playing this game? Well, you guys keep up the good work on making a godly and addictive MMORPG that is so fun that when I play it I will forget everything around me.
Character Creation & Beyond
Given the game’s highly advanced graphics, player customization is implemented during character creation is surprisingly limiting. First, we have two races that only has one gender. Then during during the shaping of characters, very few choices are given to the players for hairstyle, eyes, and body shape, etc. Although I am not applying Aion’s character creation richness to games that come after it, the system in FF14 is just lacking, plain and simple.
Yet I got my cute little Lalafell Dunesfolk, so I am satisfied… at the moment.
You can choose from three starting cities. Each choice will lead to a distinct in-game cutscene, basic tutorial on combat, and kicks off the main story. The fight is simple enough… if you are a either a warrior or magic fighter class. I remember in beta that my character was Disciple of Hand and had to throw stone on the monster to cause the NPC teammate to attack. Silly, yes, and I am not sure if it is still the case or not right now, but again, the fight is still easy even if your class is not designed for fighting.
Speaking of classes… there are much more gathering and crafting classes than combat classes. But don’t worry, class distinction is very thin and players can change between classes on the fly by switching weapons. One of the few good points about the game is that one can pretty much be whatever they want, and whenever they want. Although having blurred classes distinctions have made player builds overly generic, it still is better than an alt army, in my opinion, since I regard the need to create many alt characters in MMO is the biggest killer of immersion and bond between players and their characters.
Graphics, Music, and Plot
Not going to reiterate on the general consensus on how good the game looks, so let’s do some comparison. Aion is one of my favorite game for such purpose due to its vivid strengths and weaknesses. Aion’s graphics (when it was first released), has been universally praised. It was praised not only because the powerful CryEngine, but also for the overall the quality and quantity of art content. On the other hand, FF14 has been (rightly) accused of many copy&paste terrains, while its Crystal Tool engine has raised many eyebrows for the unusual high hardware requirement. Anyway, if there is such thing called “graphics quality versus hardware requirement ratio”, then FF14 certainly does not score well on that.
All of that being said, the city environments and character designs in FF14 are indeed top notch. And I was surprised SE couldn’t push the quality a step further, such as giving more customization options to the players and make certain parts of the maps so it doesn’t take me 5 minutes for running from one quest NPC to another.
I guess I am one of the few who are not pleased by the game’s BGM. Sure, there are few notable tracks on the official website, but those aren’t the loopy music I hear everyday in Ul’dah and its fields. The music surrounding the city is generally uninspired and easily put me to sleep.
Hmm… the plot… not sure about this one. The main story line is certainly there in game… and it is one of the few elements in FF14 that provide enough sense of direction to a newbie. Unfortunately, the main story quests is over very soon, and rest of the play time is pretty much doing “special” form of quests–Guildleves. I don’t know who to blame for conjuring up these obscure names for stuff in this game… but oh well.
Gathering & Crafting -> Guildleve <- Combat
The concept of Guildleves is basically daily quests that refreshes not everyday but every 36 hours. Most of them have juicy rewards so a character can only do a limited amount of them in at a time. Currently doing guildleve is one of the very few activities beginners are expected to enjoy… despite the system could be considered part of the infamous fatigue system. The system prevents players from focus on doing many of the same kind of gathering/crafting, forcing players to try out other classes. It sounds terrible, but in practice you probably will be bored on doing one thing anyway so it did not turn out to be too bad for me.
Although there are many gathering and crafting classes, the minigame which one has to do in order to gather and craft is essentially the same thing. The minigame is simple, but can become laborious given how many times you would have to play it even if you are only doing leves. As a beginner, there really isn’t any opportunity to make Gil from low level crafting other than leves. Gathering leves are shallow and boring. Those often require the player to run on the world map for an extended amount of time to get to the resource, play the gathering minigame a few times, and done. Sadly there is no way to conduct more than one guildleve at a time, so scrap the idea of having both a combat leve and a gathering leve out to save time.
Combat leves are probably the most interesting component. It functions as a simple “kill x amount of y”, or “kill y until you get x amount of item z”. Of course, such form of questing is an ugly cliche in most MMORPG, but doing them involve combat, hence allowing things to get fun.