I feel it would be remiss of me not to talk a little about the game that has been occupying my free time more than almost any other since last August. Owing to it being a massively multiplayer online RPG, and a subscription-based one at that, I don't doubt that it will be a hard sell to some of you, but in the best tradition of the Squad, I'd ask that you hear me out, consider giving it a try for yourself and make up your own mind. (Now's a good time to do it, too; the PS3 version is pretty cheap, and the PC version is on sale in the Steam summer sale.)
Why should I care?
Well, because I don't think there's been a more quintessentially "Final Fantasy" Final Fantasy game since Final Fantasy IX closed off the PS1-era trilogy back in 2000. Much as Final Fantasy IX celebrated previous generations of Final Fantasy games (specifically, the NES, SNES and PS1 eras) with numerous references, both implicit and explicit, Final Fantasy XIV does much the same for the PS2 and PS3 eras, with a few specific callbacks to earlier titles Final Fantasy II, III and VI in particular.
Looking at it in its most basic form, it's closest in execution to Final Fantasy XII, the love-it-or-hate-it installment that abandoned the series' traditional linear adventuring and turn-based combat in favour of non-linear open-world exploration and real-time combat. The main difference from XII is that you control an individual character rather than a party -- although once you reach a certain stage in your adventure you can train your chocobo to fight alongside you -- and thus there's a much stronger emphasis on mastering a single Job at a time rather than making sure three party members are all doing the best possible things they could be doing at any given moment.
This isn't to say the game lacks in depth as a result. Rather, mastering your Job is a matter of having a firm grasp of all the abilities available to you and how best to use them in combination. As you progress, you'll then be tasked with using these abilities effectively while manually dodging the most powerful attacks the dangerous beasties of Eorzea can throw at you -- this isn't a game where you stand in one spot and simply rotate around your abilities, oh no. Late-game encounters become intricate dances where you need to recognise the bosses' attack patterns and how to counter them, as well as keeping an eye on what your comrades are up to. Successfully pulling off your first win against Ifrit, Titan or Garuda -- not to mention the spectacular clashes that close the main part of the story -- is quite an experience.
I don't like playing with other people.
I hear you! Other people are jerks. The nice thing about Final Fantasy XIV is that there's plenty to do for solo players. The majority of the main story casts you (yes, you!) as the "main character" in the unfolding adventures, and instanced battles against bosses help you feel like yes, this is your own heroic fantasy that you're helping to write.
As you progress, though, grouping up with other players will become more and more beneficial. There's still plenty to do by yourself, but once you reach endgame (level cap) in particular, you'll get the most benefit from taking on the game's cooperative challenges together. Many of the classes and Jobs are designed to work best as part of a team, and the game does a good job of gradually teaching you which abilities are particularly important when playing together. Plus there are plenty of opportunities to practice -- Guildhests are short, 5-10 minute missions for four players to take on together, while the numerous dungeons that punctuate the road to level 50 are longer challenges with three or more bosses each. But none of these assignments -- even the 24-player raid on Final Fantasy III's Crystal Tower -- are horrendously lengthy; they're all a manageable length, which helps you to learn the encounters therein, and be able to perform better and better each time you take them on.
An MMO can't possibly tell a good story, can it?
You'd be surprised! Final Fantasy XIV makes a much stronger effort to emphasise its narrative than many of its peers -- most notably World of Warcraft -- and does so through dialogue sequences, cutscenes and giving everything you do some form of narrative context. As a result, even once you get into the grind of endgame progression, the world of Eorzea feels like a real, living place filled with characters that you've come to know and love. But prior to that, there's a lengthy "main quest" to complete, culminating in a spectacular final battle that is worth experiencing even if you have no intention of continuing to play after that. And not only that, the story continues episodically every three months with major patches -- plus several new narrative threads have been introduced along the way, too, including the mystery of the ancient Allagan civilisation, what the villains of the piece are really up to, and the continuing misadventures of Hildibrand, Gentleman Agent of Enquiry.
Hmm. Anything else that might convince me?
I'm sure there'll be further discussion in this thread, but I'll leave off for now by saying that the soundtrack is fantastic and absolutely worth playing the game for. Here's a taster from one of the later dungeons.
Tolkoto wrote:I'm totally jumping back into this one my Summer of Craziness is over. I've enjoyed it more than any MMO since Wrath of the Lich King era WoW.
Yay! You haven't "finished" it yet, right? There's a bunch more story after the "ending" now, as well as lots of sidequests and endgame shenanigans. The most recently added stuff -- including a spectacular fight against Ramuh -- is some of the best content in the game yet.
RocGaude wrote:What server are you on? Just so happens that I have another friend who is nuts for this game and he plays on Moogle.
I already told you this on Hangouts, but for the benefit of anyone else curious I'll also post it here -- I'm on Ultros. I'm a member of the Giant Bomb Free Company (guild), who are an absolutely lovely bunch of people, a pleasure to play with and always welcoming of new members, so let me know if you want an invite.
There are some great remixes of past Final Fantasy themes in there, too. Here's one from Final Fantasy III:
The whole game is dripping in FF series fanservice, be it the lovingly recreated Magitek Armours straight out of Final Fantasy VI, the beautiful 3D incarnations of classic FF enemies, or the whole Crystal Tower dungeon and plotline.
The talk of esports over in the EBP forum has got me wanting to wax lyrical about one particular aspect of this game that doesn't really show itself in its full glory until the later encounters: the strange beauty there is in between 4 and 24 people working together in harmony.
FFXIV isn't a competitive game. There is a new PvP mode that is pretty good, but for the most part it's strictly cooperative, and the most demanding encounters are highly choreographed affairs that require everyone to know their role and execute a plan to perfection.
It's legitimately satisfying and somewhat heartwarming to see a whole team moving as one to avoid dangerous attacks. When confronting powerful foes such as Titan, everyone has an important part to play, be it Black Mages and Bards pelting him from afar, Monks and Dragoons getting up close and smacking him in his sensitive areas, and Paladins and Warriors absorbing the brunt of his damage output -- in later, harder incarnations of this fight, the two defender types have to "juggle" Titan back and forth between them as the rest of the party avoids crushing blows that can send them careening off the edge of the precarious rocky platform where the battle takes place.
Even the smaller-scale encounters in the dungeons have this element of choreography about them. One dungeon sees you battling a ghostly disembodied head, avoiding increasingly complex patterns of deadly magic beams emanating from gargoyles around the outside of the arena. Another sees you taking down one dragon the old-fashioned way while another simultaneously attacks you from outside the windows of the castle you're in, requiring one party member to disengage and man the cannons. Another still sees you fighting a goblin who is basically Bomberman -- periodically throughout the fight, he flings out bombs that explode in cross-shaped patterns.
It's a feeling that's hard to get across if you're not playing it, but it's a real strength of the game. It rewards both skill and knowledge of what to expect from the various encounters, and it's enormously satisfying to get right, particularly if you're playing with friends at the time.
I'm aware at present I'm the only one posting in this thread, but hopefully Mike and AJ will have some stuff to contribute when their respective busy summers are over and they're playing again.
Anyway, what I wanted to talk about today was user interface and, specifically, how a game communicates important information to its players. In complex games like strategy and RPG titles, it's often necessary for information to be communicated in as efficient and clear a manner as possible, but this doesn't mean you have to sacrifice graphical bells and whistles. This is something that Final Fantasy XIV does exceedingly well, and is something that it's predecessors Final Fantasy XIV version 1.0 and Final Fantasy XI, conversely, did not do at all well.
In Final Fantasy XIV, an important part of combat is staying abreast of status effects -- both positive buffs and negative debuffs. It's also extremely important to be aware of what contribution you're making to the fight, and whether or not you need to adjust your strategy accordingly.
There are several aspects to how the game communicates this information to players. There's your character's own basic stats -- HP, MP and TP -- at the bottom of the screen. There's information on both you and your party members in a dedicated window, including small icons for buffs and debuffs -- buffs have an icon shaped like an upward-pointing arrowhead, while debuffs are shaped like a downward-pointing arrowhead and are also usually red in colour, making them easy to spot for healers. Then at the top of the screen you have icons for your own buffs and debuffs -- buffs on the left, debuffs on the right, following the same shape convention as in the party window -- as well as the HP bar for your current target, with their buffs and debuffs beneath. Ones you applied to the target are highlighted in green so you can easily see when you need to refresh them, or you can even optionally set the interface to only display conditions you've inflicted.
The final piece of the puzzle is staying abreast of what your own individual character is achieving. In 1.0 and XI this was confined to a log window, which was fine for soloing but scrolled way too fast in a party situation. XIV 2.0 gets around this with an elegant system of floating text. Anything you do to your target is clearly indicated by text floating up the screen; anything happening to you is likewise indicated by text floating down the screen. Simple to understand and parse, even with chaotic spell effects going off in the background.
I've found it to be a very good solution to a problem a lot of MMOs have -- understanding exactly what impact you, as an individual, are having on a battle that is a group effort. When you're dealing with enemies that have hundreds of thousands of hit points, you can't always see the impact you're having on a simple HP bar, but if you see "Fire III 1300" floating up the screen you're left in no doubt as to whether or not you're actually being useful. (Black Mage damage for the win.)
Since 2005, the Squadron of Shame has been embedded at the vanguard of underappreciated, obscure and noteworthy videogames. Crossing title after title off our collective Piles of Shame, the Squad continues its mission of exploring noteworthy games from the frontiers of civilized lands and reporting, discussing and podcasting in a spirit of cameraderie. Join us!
About The Squad
Since 2005, the Squadron of Shame has been embedded at the vanguard of underappreciated, obscure and noteworthy videogames.