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Reviewed: 06/05/2017


Graphical Score: 9/10

Audio Score: 10/10

Gameplay Score: 8/10

Story Score: 9/10

OVERALL SCORE: 9/10

FINAL FANTASY XIV: ARR

Completely rehauled after an abysmal first showing in 2010, FFXIV:ARR boasts a range of classes across the classic MMORPG holy trinity, a pretty world to play in and some fantastic dungeons.

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Back in 2010, a game was released called Final Fantasy XIV (which is fourteen, for those who can’t instantly translate Roman numerals.) The reception it received? Unanimously and critically panned: the game was accused of feeling unfinished when it came to gameplay and user interface, although praised for graphics and music. The lead development team for the game was replaced, subscription fees were suspended forthwith and the planned PS3 version never saw release. In November of 2012, the game’s active servers were shut down.

Thankfully, we aren’t talking about that Final Fantasy XIV! No, we’re talking about the game that came afterwards: the aptly named Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn.

With development starting in April 2011, and development continuing alongside the tweaks to the original FFXIV, FFXIV:ARR was the replacement to the first version that was built from the ground-up. Square Enix spent, effectively, two years performing damage control and they publicly admitted that the release of the original game had damaged the series reputation overall - and that their players deserved a heartfelt apology for the poor job the company had done. An apology that players received, no less, along with an admittance that Square Enix understood it would be a long process to regain the trust of their fans and their players. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn was just one part in regaining that trust… and it’s pretty safe to say that it worked. The “new” FFXIV released to a positive reception all around, with a lot of praise being given to the game’s producer and director Naoki Yoshida (commonly called Yoshi-P amongst the fans) for managing to turn the direction of the game around.

With a new engine, FFXIV:ARR looked even better than it did in its first incarnation. It was a graphically impressive game that had good atmospheric music to match, making each different area of the in-game world “Eorzea” feel distinctly unique from other areas. Considering the graphical quality available in the game, it also ran decently well on lower-end machines (likely due to the fact that the game also had to run on the Playstation 3 - and on that note we should point out the game is getting a major upgrade in the up-and-coming Stormblood expansion due to PS3 no longer being supported.) This made the game two things: firstly, it made it exceptionally pretty and it fell well in line with the eye candy Square Enix has been famous for producing in its Final Fantasy series overall. Secondly, it made a very pretty game incredibly accessible without requiring monstrous and beefy supercomputers in order to achieve a relatively stable and playable framerate. The game also boasts a heavily customisable user interface, with almost every aspect of the game’s HUD capable of being moved and resized to suit your tastes and your resolution, and with hotbars you can align horizontally, vertically or even split into multiple rows. This is particularly noteworthy due to the game being available on both PS3 and PS4 and playable with a controller; the ability to meticulously control how your HUD displays makes the game accessible to those on controllers as much as it does to those on PC.

I should mention at this point, however, that there’s often a lot going on on the HUD at any given point in time, and that can take some adjustment to getting used to. This also means that on lower resolutions, your screen can be overtaken with UI elements and leave little space for the game itself; hell, I play on a 1920x1200 resolution and I would wager a third or more of my screen is actually UI elements during fights in particular. Here, I’ll show you: this is a screenshot I took yesterday during a “Trial” - an eight man strong boss fight against a big bad (in this case, Ifrit.)

As you can see, there’s… a lot going on. For players of games like World of Warcraft or TERA even, where the UI dominates your screen or where there are hotbars everywhere, this might not seem out of place. But for other people, this could seem extremely busy, and I wouldn’t accuse any of those people of being wrong. Of course, I could scale some of my UI elements, but I actually quite like my set up and don’t find it all that distracting. There is something to be said for this game’s combat, however: you might spend more of your time looking at your hotbars than at your game. And on that segue, let’s talk about the combat in a bit more detail.

All classes, be them tank, healer or DPS, have specific rotations that they can and should follow to optimise their role in the party. Tank rotations help them generate their enmity and let them hold aggro, healer rotations often sprinkle in some damage spells and healing spells can be chained to trigger instant-cast heals or critical heals, and DPS can crank out more damage if they order their skills properly. However, for some classes in particular (Dragoon and Black Mage make fine examples of this) the most optimal rotations for the best damage are very complex. Not complex in that they’re hard to do, but complex in that the most optimal rotation of skills is a good twenty or more skills before you’re back at step one. Now then, I will state that the developers have outright said that they plan on changing this in Stormblood, consolidating skills that go unused and trying to lessen the long rotations so that classes can focus more on the mechanical play of the game than just staring at their hotbars and madly pressing skills as they’re about to come off of their cooldowns. Which is good, because honestly as a Dragoon, I lose my Blood of the Dragon buff more than I like to admit - which in turn means I lose access to three fairly high-damage skills.

Some players make a case that the game doesn’t require you to be good at your rotations to play it casually and they would be right, for the most part. However, the later raids are particularly unforgiving and not only require DPS to play as optimally as possible to pass the DPS checks that bosses have (and avoid enrage timers, where a boss’ “enrage” is effectively a raid wipe) but also require good mechanical play, too. While the elite of the elite likely don’t think the coming changes are necessary, as a more casual player, I’m looking forward to seeing the changes. Naturally, I’ll have to re-review this section when the combat does change, but for now I can only review the game based on how it plays right now: and right now it has a lot going on. Some might find this off-putting or downright confusing, and I wouldn’t fault them for it for a second. Even I get lost in my own UI sometimes.

Combat isn’t the only thing available in the game, though naturally it’ll be the focus as with any MMORPG. Final Fantasy: A Realm Reborn has a pretty fantastic main story with a wide variety of characters, some of whom are more bearable than others. Each expansion expands upon the story told and takes you into new lands, but the main cast of characters doesn’t change or get forgotten about and instead they often follow you and make repeat appearances, if not play a vital part themselves. It makes the world a believable sort of place, bringing a smile to your face when your favourite character reappears for a moment in the story or conversely bringing a tear to your eye when a plot twist does something to your favourite character that you immediately regret. The struggles of the world in the main story are certainly larger than life, but they feel believable enough to make the story engaging, and in turn they help build up some serious hype for the big bads that you face throughout your journey in Eorzea. It also helps that several characters have some damn good voice acting - although I’m going to call out Heavensward on replacing notable voice actors for main characters which, in turn, somewhat gutted those characters for me completely. Also of slight note is that the world of Eorzea speaks in slight Shakespearean tongues, so you’ll be seeing a lot of phrases that seem a little odd to the average person.

The game has a housing system, though housing prices are extortionate and it’s unlikely you’ll be able to get one for yourself unless you craft your way to millions of gil in order to purchase a plot. The housing system itself is actually pretty cool; you can decorate both the plot around your house and the inside of your house, including kitting it out with NPCs like Menders to fix your gear or Junkmongers you can sell your unneeded crap to. Floor and walls can be decorated with all manner of wallpapers and floor tiles and there are hundreds of decorations in the game ranging from your basic tables and chairs, to decorative mounted heads of your enemies. (I’m really not kidding; you can get a mounted Ifrit head decoration to place on a wall.) Sadly, housing plots are very rarely free and there are always fights to snap up plots as fast as housing gets released. And, as said earlier on, it’s a horribly expensive system that requires millions of gil in order to get a house of your own, or for your guild (called Free Companies in this game.) To alleviate some of this, the developers did introduce Apartments, which cost a fixed amount and let you buy a little room of your own to try and decorate as you see fit. But an apartment really isn’t comparable to a house, right?

There’s also all manner of crafting classes in the game, through which if you are patient and willing to grind out all the materials you need by effectively levelling several crafting classes at once you can make some pretty mad cash. To add to this, crafting classes often require materials obtained from gathering classes, so strap in and get ready to equip fishing rods and logging tools if you’re really dedicated to not spending a dime on getting materials from the game’s auction house. To the game’s credit, gathering is pretty relaxing to do and it lets you play the game fairly casually if you don’t feel like battling your way through the normal hell and high water. The game also provides extra activities to engage in that have nothing to do with the rest of the game at all: the Manderville Gold Saucer is an emporium of mini-games such as Triple Triad (a game originating in Final Fantasy VIII and making a frankly glorious return in this game) and chocobo breeding and racing. The Gold Saucer runs off its own currency, too, called MGP; saving enough MGP allows you to turn it in for all manner of rewards including mounts, snazzy looking outfits and pets to follow you around. Once you’ve hit the max level of 60 (or 50 if you don’t buy Heavensward) the game doesn’t just stop, either: the game offers a well-tailored gear grind to constantly keep upgrading your classes with better gear. Doing dungeons nets you with various Allagan Tomestones, which can be slowly saved up to buy pieces of increasingly better gear with higher Item Level (where the item level represents the effective level it makes your character.) Starting at level 50 you can collect Tomestones of Poetics for Ironworks gear, moving then into Tomestones of Lore at level 60 for Primal gear and Tomestones of Scripture after those for Shire gear. If you don’t want to grind up Tomestones only, you can also enter the game’s various raids, which provide you with equally good (and sometimes even better) gear. This system works particularly well, as it means that casual players can still obtain good end-game gear without ever needing to touch raids, while raiders can get themselves their gear in preparation for the next raid release.

OVERALL SCORING: 9/10 - strongly recommended

While some could accuse Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn as being expensive given the requirement to purchase the game and then remain subscribed, I find that it has more than enough content to justify the price tag it sells at and the subscription fee to be nominally small in comparison to other subscription based games. Expansions also offer completely free updates until the time of the next expansion, which include new dungeons, trials, raids and story quests in each small update, which means that you get ostensibly more content than you feel like you’re paying for by the time a year has passed. The game is graphically beautiful and has a wonderful musical score to really bring it to life, with an engaging main story and some amazing cutscenes (which shouldn’t be surprising, really) and the wealth of content accessible to you even in just the core game gives you hundreds of hours of playtime to enjoy. There’s always something to do, from levelling alt classes to racing your chocobo to running dungeons to everything in between, and honestly I have more fun on this game than I have on almost any other MMORPG I’ve played to date.