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?  

What­ever.  

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.  

   

The Lol­warn­ing  

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  

Image taken from firsthour.net

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  

Image taken from hardtoswallow.net

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.