I have had an on-again/off-again love affair with Final Fantasy XIV since its relaunch back in 2013. I started playing it when it was a PS3 game, transitioned to PS4 with the Heavensward expansion, and then to the PC with the Stormblood expansion. I had no where to transition to with the Shadowbringers expansion, but that’s okay because the PC version is still one of the best looking games out there, and for a MMORPG to boast that is no small feat.
As I was leveling up my close-to-80 Ninja last night, I was seeing new people pop up in the Free Company chat (FFXIV’s version of guilds), and I started reminiscing about those fledgling days of A Realm Reborn and what it might mean to start a game that’s been building on itself for almost six years – and more if you count the misguided initial release of the game before its relaunch. There is so much to do in this game, and I imagine it can be quite daunting to think about diving in now, but I wanted to relay just how worth it FFXIV is, so here are some reasons to play the game (and one reason not to).
Nostalgia and Fan Service – There are two types of Final Fantasy fans when it comes to the release of a MMORPG in the series. Some embrace it and consider it every bit as worthy as the other numbered games (I am of this group). Others shun it without ever giving it a shot. This was the case for FFXI, and it has certainly been the case for XIV despite its ever-increasing subscription numbers. However, devotees of the series, if they gave this game a shot, would find so much fan service packed within that they might choke. Here are a few of my favorite examples:
- There is a portion of a raid dungeon (an 8-man, instanced experience) that is completely devoted to Final Fantasy VI. It’s bosses include the fabled Phantom Train (you can not suplex him, regrettably), Chardanook, the living painting, and the Mad Clown himself, Kefka.
- Adding to my personal favorite nostalgia, that of FFVI, there is also a fight against Ultros, who makes multiple appearances in the game, true to his character, along with his buddy Typhon.
- There is music from the entire series sprinkled throughout the game, from Cyan’s Theme used to beautiful effect in Stormblood’s storyline, to Terra’s Theme playing while you ride a certain magitek mount throughout the world.
- There is a 24-man raid that takes place in Ivalice, with one arm of it featuring cameos from Ramza, Agrias, Mustadio, and Orlando. A questline associated with this raid has you interacting with none other than Fran from FFXII.
- There is an entire Golden Saucer zone that is more thought out and detailed than what it takes its inspiration from, and yes, it has chocobo racing.
This barely scratches the surface of what FFXIV offers its long-standing fans. There are also timed events that see the inclusion of characters from some of the other games, like the boys from XV and Lightning from XIII. The development team was not satisfied to simply feature the -aga spells and chocobos in their game. In some ways, FFXIV is the ur-Final Fantasy game in that you can experience nearly every other game in some form by being a part of this one, and it’s something that I think makes it truly unique among both Final Fantasy games and MMORPGs.
That MMORPG Feeling – FFXI was a very different MMORPG from its peers when it was released in 2002. These were the days of Everquest and Dark Age of Camelot, with World of Warcraft not yet on the horizon. It was a slow game, deliberate in its combat with a heavy emphasis on group play (which ended up being the reason I never leveled past 30). It was also on the PS2, which at the time was an insane feat. When FFXIV first came out, though I didn’t participate in its initial launch, it was much the same. From all accounts it was sluggish and kind of boring, and while it was purportedly not without its charms, it obviously wasn’t going to make it in the MMO market of 2010. With the re-release in 2013, FFXIV found parity with its peers, even emulating many of them, and it would become one of the greatest comeback stories in gaming history. And now, the game is probably the best MMO on the market even if the nostalgia aspects do not appeal to you.
Part of what makes the game so successful is the tireless work of the Square Enix team, led by the veteran Yoshi-P (Naoki Yoshida to the unfamiliar), to continually improve upon its roots. Every expansion sees some kind of overhaul, whether its simplifying roles or completely redoing aspects of a certain job, the team is not afraid to go back to the drawing board if they feel it betters fits with their vision. The Paladin of 5.0 shares some traits with the Paladin of 2.0, but to anyone who hadn’t played since 2013 it would be very similar to learning a new class. This might irk some, but it is always in service of a better experience in the game.
I have been playing MMORPGs for roughly fifteen years now, with more time spent in WoW, Dark Age, and now FFXIV than is healthy for anyone, and I can say that FFXIV is far and away my favorite, and one that I keep coming back to for reasons more than just its Final Fantasy flavor. It’s the best of them.
An Actual Story – One of the reasons to keep coming back to FFXIV is, of course, the narrative. When I mentioned playing FFXI before, it was pretty early in the game, and if there was even a story at that point I don’t remember it. I have vague recollections of a cut scene. Dark Age and WoW both had very distant stories – like you knew some junk was happening in the world because why else would all this stuff be here but it didn’t really matter because all you wanted to do was kill stuff with your friends. FFXIV makes its narrative take center stage, and while at this point I don’t even remember everything that’s happened in the six odd years of playing, I can say that the story is certainly worth experiencing and creates real characters out of the NPCs that you are continually dealing with. Y’shotla and Lyse, for instance, have become two of my favorite characters in the entire Final Fantasy series, and I liked Thancred until this latest expansion made him into a bad dad (and it still has me feeling emotional about these fake people, so even that is to the good). The new Trust system in Shadowbringers also means that you can group with your favorites (Lyse unfortunately excluded) to run the 4-man instanced dungeons, which is a boon for many reasons.
The story also manages to infuse the aforementioned nostalgia in a meaningful way. I mentioned the Ivalice raid before, but there is an well-considered narrative around why Ramza and company are suddenly in your FFXIV, and its a touching bit of storytelling. This is important because it shows a willingness to give more than just a nod at the fan service. They do this plenty with things like minions (little pets that follow you around and sometimes interact with one another), which are largely pointless, but to actually craft meaningful story around what could simply be name recognition is clever and important.
It Has All the Lists – Do you like to check things off a list? Do you love Animal Crossing and its many daily tasks? Would you like to do those tasks without the pressure of some tight-fisted raccoon hounding you for money? Then FFXIV might just be for you because oh my word it has the lists. There is a challenge log every week that sees you ticking off check-marks on a long list for a fairly consistent reward. There are dailies duties that reward you bunches of experience points for doing things you might have done anyway but that also serve to help other people out. There are now 18 different jobs, all with a fairly distinct feel to them, to level up, and they can all be leveled on the same character. There is a gargantuan list of in-game achievements to work towards, many of which reward a new mount or minion or even a special title to show off to others. There is a sightseeing guide, which is basically just a bunch of locations scattered around the world that offer a nice view of the landscape and a bit of experience. There is the aforementioned Golden Saucer, itself a check-list of sorts with chocobo racing and Triple Triad dueling and even MahJong with which to waste time. And yes, there is a daily hunt that gives out special currency for buying fancy things.
It has the lists. Before too long, it’s easy to find oneself gravitating towards that very specific check-mark that so tempts one, or simply working towards whatever mount strikes one’s fancy that week. Don’t like lists? Don’t do any of this stuff. The rewards are never game-breaking. In fact, most of the game can be played doing the bare minimum, which is a bonus for those of us with precious little time to be playing games (though let’s be honest everyone, we find the time somewhere, even if it means we haven’t slept and are likely going to die soon). In short, it has the lists, but if you don’t like lists then you never need to check a single box. It likely has something else for you.
Why You Shouldn’t Play FFXIV – Honestly, the only answer to this is that you have tried time and again to play MMORPGs, people seem to love these things after all, and just can not get into the persistent world and whatever other baggage one of these games carries. For some, this genre doesn’t work. I don’t know what secret spice it takes to catch the fancy of someone. Dark Age of Camelot was the first MMO I ever played, and it clicked with me hard in a way that I still do not fully understand. It was a grind the likes of which this world will never see again, literally killing low-yielding monsters on repeat in order to level, but I lost girlfriends and nearly lost jobs indulging in that obsession (and honestly, it was college, neither the girlfriends nor the jobs were anything special -no offense Lori, I wasn’t that special then either). If that game hadn’t sucked me in, I might not be playing FFXIV now. I bounced off FFXI fairly soon, after all, and so even an interest in the genre might not have prompted me to pick up XIV despite its success had I not had some gene within me that responded to these odd game amalgamations.
The only thing I might say in defense of FFXIV, even for those who don’t love MMOs, is that there is a story here that might interest fans of the series. There is still a grind of sorts to be had, unless you want to drop coin for the booster packs (which I wouldn’t recommend), but there are good moments here worth experiencing. And you might even meet some cool real people along the way, which is probably the point of MMOs to begin with.