keskiviikko 8. tammikuuta 2014

REVIEW - A Realm Reborn - Final Fantasy XIV | PS3 | 2013

RELEASED: August 27, 2013
DEVELOPER(S): Square Enix
PUBLISHER(S): Square Enix

With the release of Final Fantasy XIV in 2010, Square Enix attempted to relaunch Final Fantasy as a massively multiplayer online game for the first time since the success of Final Fantasy XI - failing miserably. What critics called a "shallow, broken, incomplete" game very nearly destroyed Square Enix, and very nearly brought an end to their flagship franchise of 23 years, which had already been in a rapid critical and commercial decline for some time. In late 2012, a beta testing cycle for a wholly redesigned Final Fantasy XIV began, and as Square Enix described it, this game was to be their "last chance", which kind of reflected on the series' humble beginnings back in 1987. The original Final Fantasy XIV storyline was concluded with an in-game extinction event that disabled all player services - and A Realm Reborn picked up from where the "previous game" was killed off, serving as a complete remake and a direct sequel at the same time, faring quite well and, according to many critics, delivering the most immersive and real Final Fantasy experience in years. ...And now, a lifelong MMO-naysayer, but also a lifelong Final Fantasy fan whose heart was torn to shreds by the previous main series game and all related to it, and is therefore very torn about this new generation of Final Fantasy games as it is, even without the MMO part, is here to spill his personal can of beans. Is A Realm Reborn - Final Fantasy XIV any good? I gave myself a month of free trial to figure that out, and here are the results.

O, what a world

Five years after the "Calamity" - in technical terms, the "end of the world" which effectively killed off the previous game - the Adventurer (that's you), having granted passage through time to avoid the devastation, returns to the land of Eorzea with no memory of his past deeds, just the urge to explore, accomplish, help the people rebuild their once flourishing continent and finally, defend them from a full-blown invasion from the north.

Let's get one thing straight: I believe... no, I KNOW what you're about to read is not my best review ever, but I rather hope it to be a good analysis. I'm not into MMO. Even if I played this game for 500 hours, I'm sure I wouldn't know everything about it, nor would I even WANT to know everything about it. It all starts with my reaction towards multiplayer games in general - it has been the same negative perception for 26 years. In recent years, I have started to play a lot of 2-player games, both versus and co-op, but it's just been the two of us, me and a really good friend who pretty much shares the same skills and train of thought as I. Online co-op with a stranger? Has worked for me only ONCE. The other times, the player's style has been so different from mine that the game's gone to hell, for whatever reason. More than two players? There's always the asshole who wants shit done his own way. If shit isn't done his shitty way, he gets mad and starts sabotaging the game. OK, perhaps you've played with nice people. Perhaps you have better ways to communicate, and perhaps you're better accustomed to it - I find typing messages or actually speaking to the other players, moreso listening to them speak, very distracting. Especially if they speak in other languages. Perhaps you love multiplayer games and wonder what the fuck I'm ranting about here. Do I have a point here? Maybe.

About seven years ago, my neighbor and good friend passed me a free trial of World of Warcraft, knowing very well I had no time to waste on MMO games, and that I was not much of a PC gamer. He, however, wanted me to have an idea of what World of Warcraft was about, and why people were so constantly excited with the game. And, perhaps he wanted me to have an idea of what social gaming was at its best. I kinda liked it, it changed some of my views on MMO. I thought that if you couldn't socialize with people, or if you weren't blessed with serious skills right from the game's start - meaning both you as a gamer, and your avatar - you would have no business in the fabled lands of WoW. I had no idea that you could prance along all by yourself, all you wanted. I didn't even know that the game actually had a story. Or pre-developed quests. I thought MMO's were all about user-generated "content". Random raids and stuff. Well, I played the game for a day, sharp. I had ten days, but my then-girlfriend hated the idea of me sitting in our bedroom for ten straight days playing some stupid, lifeless game. (Let it be known that she couldn't understand what was so wrong about Bubsy games.) It wasn't just because of her, though. Although I enjoyed my brief time with World of Warcraft, I ultimately came to the conclusion that it was not my thing. I know that by being able to socialize with people, maybe even form my own group, I would find the game that absolutely everyone's playing, talking about and willing to pay for, every single month. More than this neat little back-and-forth run of an RPG with generic errands and quests waiting to be undertaken around every corner. But, it's just not me. I'm not that kind of gamer. I like stories, I like my own (s)pace, I like outdoing myself instead of desperately trying to outdo a million other souls on the planet.

Humble beginnings in the city-state of Ul'dah.
Promised land for us gladiators.
So, even if it was for just a day, World of Warcraft remained my deepest touch into the ever-growing nether realm of MMO for these past seven years. As far back as 11 years ago, my favourite video game franchise in the world produced me its first in a long line of severe disappointments. Final Fantasy XI came out, only on the PC in this part of the world (at launch). If it was simply called Final Fantasy Online, it would've been OK, but when you make a main series entry, you're supposed to remember or take care of a few things. 1. make the game available to those people who fell in love with the previous main series entries, in other words console players. What's the point, really, of releasing an almost exclusive main series entry for a platform that may have had its share of Final Fantasies, but is not famous for them? 2. these games are known for immersive single-player stories. 3. for the love of God, just call the game Final Fantasy Online. Save the numbers for games that deserve them. I have surely noted the great and long success of Final Fantasy XI, and I'm sure it's going to turn out fun if I ever get around to playing it (bloody confusing registration, I tell you), but some opinions never change. Final Fantasy [insert number here] is a story-driven single-player game. Period. If the number is replaced with something else, you can do whatever the hell you want. Tactics, Fables, Legend, Online, Chronicles, all the same to me. But do NOT give it a number. ...And here I am, ready to plunge into a realm reborn. And these old pet peeves come over me like a tidal wave right off the bat. But from the middle, I can spot and fish out a perfectly good game... with surprisingly cool players.

The storyline is thin as air. Once again, storyline is not the main focus point of an MMO, but the storyline should be the main focus point of any Final Fantasy game graced with a number. The story characters are shoddy, cliched and unmemorable stock material, and even your own player avatar is not quite as customizable in terms of looks and behaviour as I expected in this day and age. The storyline is also very heavy to follow, due to the very limited voiceover track, lengthy text dialogue, and simply the wide open nature of the gameplay, which almost inevitably steers you off the story for several hours at a time. You must do those side missions in the between - you won't level up in this game for too long at all by just fighting enemies. What's great is that the game constantly tells you outright if you're capable of doing shit or not - most enemies do not attack you on sight, and their level is clearly indicated by a number on top of their heads. Access to any mission in the game, be it a story mission or side mission, with or without other players, is restricted until your experience level and skills meet specific requirements (and if your level's too high, it's lowered for the duration of the mission). Finally, FATEs (Full Active Time Events), big, dynamic battles that any player that happens to be in a designated area can join, are also marked with a warning when needed. If your level's too low for a certain FATE, you can still join, but you won't get as much spoils for the victory (which is probably a fluke anyway, as far as you're concerned) as those players with the proper set-ups. If it's too high, you're forced to sync it lower for the duration of the battle so you won't get any unfair advantage over the enemies or the other players.

The original Final Fantasy XIV was scheduled to be released on the PlayStation 3, but since the game was such a tremendous failure on the PC, Square Enix scrapped the plans and came up with the concept of a total remake around the same time. A Realm Reborn is one of the first MMO games on a console, and it is also the first to work cross-platform; in other words, PS3 players can play it with PC players and vice versa. The UI's are a little different, but very similar so that every player would have the same options available, which means that it might damn well look like one of the most confusing PS3 games ever. But, I can also tell you it looks much more complex than it actually is. If you had a mouse and keyboard by default, the game would be a piece of cake to learn. Using a controller, you need to toggle through each and every option on the screen with Select, in real time - MMO knows no pause, as I'm sure you're aware. This means the news feed and chat, mission objectives which you need to check every once in a while 'cause it's very easy to get lost, and the minimap, and every menu window that might be open. Instead of simply clicking on stuff, you have to keep pressing Select and go through a linear cycle of options. What's most frustrating is the tutorial system - you can't live without it, and it WILL - not might, WILL - even interrupt a boss fight with a huge tutorial window that pops up right in the middle of the screen, obscuring the battle. Since there's no chance for a pause, you once again need to keep pressing Select 'til you hit the window, confirm the tutorial out of the way so you could get on with the fight, and no, there ain't no time to read it. Maybe you can spot a few key words that'll help you figure out the tutorial's subject and instructions yourself after the battle is over. In my personal experience you'll learn better by actually doing shit than reading shit, anyway.

Well, as soon as you get into your first battle, you will see that the game mechanics have their bright sides if you're using a controller. However, the targeting system is shit throughout the line, 'cause for example, very often when you're on a quest, you need to examine something in the field, and during your investigation, you're attacked by an enemy. You're able to target the enemy once, and land in one hit, but then, your character just stops attacking and whenever you try to pull off a special move, the combat log says "Invalid target"?! Well, that's because your hard target is still on the spot you were examining before you got attacked. You need to remember to cancel that target, and then target the enemy again to move the hard target. Sounds really confusing and enigmatic, and even more painful than it actually is (just hellishly frustrating), but I'm sure you'll see what I mean if you're playing with a PS3 controller. If you haven't figured it out by now, you'll get the most out of this game with a mouse/keyboard set, regardless of the platform you're playing this game on, and despite the neatly organized and easily customizable Hotbar "speed dial" that makes playing with a controller a little easier and comfier. In a nutshell, the game sometimes feels like a PC emulator game played on a PlayStation 3. The tables have turned.

Chocobos? Well, of course there are chocobos.
Let's go back to the beginning again... registration to play Final Fantasy XI was a painful experience for me. So painful, that I ultimately stopped trying, about five euros vanished into thin air later - which was more than I paid for the actual copy of the game, by the way. I paid and paid and paid for just the creation of one single character; according to the external manager everything was in order for me to launch the game and create a character, and still the game launcher itself kept exclaiming "No payment found." I booted the manager, it also had changed its mind about payment, but my bank account revealed the truth. So fuck you. With Final Fantasy XIV, registration is very easy. If you have a 30-day free trial - which comes with every new copy of the game - you don't need to do more than come up with a Square Enix ID and password, confirm the registration by e-mail, and you're all set. Detailed instructions on what to do after the trial expires are easy to find from the boot menu. The 30-day free trial is very generous, 'cause if you're a serious gamer, those 30 days are just enough for you to finish the main scenario and get familiar with the ins and outs of the actual MMO scenario. If you put the trial to good use, you will most definitely know whether you want to keep paying for the game or not - that's why I waited 'til vacation time. Ten days with this game simply wouldn't be enough, and if I had ten days straight, plus perhaps a measly level cap like 20, to try this game out, I honestly don't know whether I'd put more money in it than I already have - 'cause I wouldn't know anything truly substantial about it. This is a full-blooded trial; you are treated equal to the whole community, you have full access to every single feature in the game for 30 days straight, starting with the registration date. There ain't no sign above your head that says "hey guys, I'm a free trial n00b". All contrary to my perception of the World of Warcraft trial back in the day.

Eorzea is a huge world, and you can explore it just as you wish from the very beginning - like I said, most enemies won't attack you before you attack them. Aggressive enemies, ones that do attack you on sight, are clearly marked with a red triangle next to their name and level. If you still don't feel at ease in the middle of the battlefield, and really want to make coffee or need to take a piss, sanctuary settlements are all over the map for you to settle in for an idle moment or two. You don't need to worry about other players pissing in your boots, either - the main game is a friendly one, PvP is a separate feature. In turn, you can form parties. Raids and special side missions called Guildhests even require parties to be formed, but if you like, you can leave it up to a server bot designed for this purpose to determine your party, you don't need to send any "plz" messages on the chat, just initiate a raid or Guildhest and do something else for a few minutes while the computer looks for other players on that same task. You always eventually hit pay dirt. If and when mission-specific requirements are met and the party is successfully formed, you are prompted to take on the tasks immediately, and returned to your original spot after you're done with 'em, tons of experience points, money, and other spoils richer. Neat. Of course, taking part in storyline events, FATEs and other events which feature a time limit and therefore take you away from the real-time scenario during the search, cancels your admittance to a social task.

An untimely case of death on a regular field trip - or a FATE - now, that's an interesting one, and actually, the first time I said to myself: hey, I might appreciate playing with other people. Depends on the game, too, I guess. On my first day of playing, I was on some really easy, generic errand when I was suddenly pulled into a FATE that I really was not prepared for at that moment, and I died for the first time during the whole game. A couple of tutorials about dying popped up, and as I was reading those, a girl avatar showed up next to my dead body. She just stood there. Then, the game prompted me to return to my home point, which was currently miles away. Somehow, my instinct told me to just lie still, and this girl resurrected me without asking for anything in return before continuing her journey. Which means, I got a second chance without any annoying penalties for my sudden and unexpected KO. I checked out the girl's info in the user search and it turned out she was something like level 48, which means she has been playing for quite some while. The n00b offers his sincere thanks. These people are a lot nicer than the ones I met playing World of Warcraft. It shows in the free company chat, too, and to think that I was recruited to a free company just by (semi-accidentally) trying out a salute emote on a random dude I met on a desert. The chat shows exactly how weird some gamers are, but the ones I've conversed with are a nice bunch nevertheless.

Your starting class determines your starting city-state from three different options: Ul'dah, Gridania and Limsa Lominsa. After about 20-30 storyline quests unique to these city-states, you gain access to an airship - of course you do - which you can then use to travel between the three different city-states; the rest of the 150+ storyline quests are the same for everyone.

There are tons of methods to take on this madness. First of all, you have five races to choose from, and each of those five races is divided into two different clans. The difference in the latter is not that great, it somewhat affects your physical features and traits. There's a total of 19 classes, divided into four different disciplines. Disciples of War are obviously best suited for physical altercations. Disciples of Magic - that's self-explanatory, and probably what most fantasy geeks will start as. Disciples of the Hand work towards becoming master craftsmen in eight different categories, and finally, Disciples of the Land are a jolly bunch of guys who choose hard, old-fashioned work over adventuring or nerdy tinkering: farming, fishing and mining. Each class most essentially levels up by simply practicing their profession, not necessarily taking part in rigorous combat at all. Each class also has specific restrictions when it comes to equipment. If you decide to become a Fisherman and remain one, you're stuck with a fishing rod for a weapon. That's just how it is. I'm sorry.

Just yesterday, I was chatting - really hard with a controller, by the way - with a fellow free company member who wanted to get to a certain level as a Gladiator so he could fill his "lifelong dream" of becoming a Fisherman. That's exactly how it works; even if you start as something as exotic as a Botanist just for the fun of it and regret it later, you don't have to be one forever. After you've cleared a certain quest of a certain level in your starting class, you can go out looking for someone to teach you something new, and from that point on, you can become as much of anything you like. Let's take me, for example. I started out as a Gladiator (Warrior), as I nearly always do. I'm simply into physical contact over magic, 100%, and I also love to fight. But, Skyrim taught me the joys of smithing shit, so I wanted to become a Blacksmith. As it turned out, one didn't simply become a Blacksmith 'cause I started from the wrong geographical spot. I didn't feel like speeding through the game to get to the outer reaches of the world just yet just to become a Blacksmith, so I decided to check out the local jobs at my hub. "Goldsmith" sounded good enough. Actually pretty damn cool. Much cooler than it is, but that's not the point right now.

So, my level goes back to 1... my Goldsmith level. My Gladiator's still at level 15. From this point on, I can switch between the two classes any time I wish, and equip them both with different gear. My Goldsmith's a peaceful fellow - for now - so I equip him with ridiculously coloured street clothes, and save the gear set, as well as my Gladiator's heavy armour set. Now, with one press of a button, I can switch between the level 15 angel of death and the level 1 happy little necklace tinkerer any time I wish. If I get tired with my patrol duties, I can relax by whipping up some fancy jewelry for a few hours, to get money for both of my classes and experience points for my lil' Midas. Although goldsmithing might not have been my thing after all, this is a very cool system you can utilize any way you see fit. And, crafting items itself is way more extravagant than in, say, Skyrim; in that game, you just needed proper experience to whip up items in an automatic jiffy. In this game, you actually have to interact with the materials to come up with decent product, and pay attention to the materials' artificial quality. THAT'S pretty cool. But, of course it can also be really frustrating at times, especially on those lonely nights you can't come up with anything else to do than play the game, and you're drunk out of your socks. ...What?

There's a story too. Just not a very interesting
When you get over the massive and dare I say, largely needless and only artificial, complexity of just about every element of the game, and spend a few days with it to unlock its advanced features and familiarize yourself with them one step at a time, I think you're in for such a smooth and comfy time-killer that you wouldn't have a stinking clue of Earth time if a clock wasn't conveniently pinned to the HUD. "Escape reality, live the fantasy", indeed. It's a game literally littered with things to do - not all of them are fun pastimes, and if you're the most antisocial person in the world, meaning that you can't only talk to other people, you can't even work with them (once again, you don't have to actually socialize to form temporary parties), you might completely ignore a few features. I essentially bought and started to play this game because I'm a Final Fantasy collector, and moreover, still a fan after all the disappointments - as a fan, I'm definitely not satisfied, but I'm positively surprised as such a long-time MMO-hater... and yeah, when it comes down to it, and you stop thinking about the lousy core quality of the story and characters too much, this game LOOKS much closer to Final Fantasy than the whole XIII saga. The underlying themes, the world, the gameplay mechanics, the music. Especially the music; Masayoshi Soken pulls off some mighty good Uematsu impressions here. No electronica or cock-pussy snap-crackle-pop here - this is authentic Final Fantasy scoring, right here, some of the best we've had since the maestro left the building. Not to take anything away from the group who worked on Final Fantasy XII, but once again, we're talking about the efforts of one guy. That counts.

Have I got a whole bulk of terrible news for Trophy whores who bought this game just to plat it in 30 days. First of all, the registration code works for used copies, but the free trial that comes with it is a one-time deal. The retail copy of the game goes for half the price of a standard PS3 game as it is. In other words, I can't imagine the game having a whole lot of trade-in value. Then, the actual Trophy list is a bitch. It requires at the very least several months of work even from someone who doesn't have a life to abandon with the game, true MMO dedication. You need to work up every single class in the game, reach a high level with each and every one of them; clear 100 (that's one hundred) raids and Guildhests, 1,000 (that's one THOUSAND) of every other type of side mission and guild-specific task, and finally, slay 10,000 (that's TEN THOUSAND) enemies to reach the coveted Platinum Trophy, on top of everything else. 2013 - the end of an era. The age of whoring was officially over.

Since the game is nearly impossible to review thoroughly, just as any game of its type, this was indeed more of an analysis than a review. Still, I guess I have to come up with a rating. Which is also nearly impossible to nail down. Let's look at this way: A Realm Reborn might not be a good Final Fantasy game. However, it is of better quality than Final Fantasy XIII and its first sequel in terms of... well, just about everything; thus, indeed a rebirth in many ways. Even though it's not a proper Final Fantasy experience in itself, it includes many delicious easter eggs for a long-time fan, and returned my hope for at least some level of redemption when the next true main series entry comes out - and by true, I mean Final Fantasy XV, not Lightning Returns, just to be clear. Hell, enough with this yes/no shit - it's an entertaining game as far as you are willing to take it.

That was the end of the review part, here's the end to my analysis. What's my current view of MMO? At least now there's one MMO which I might consider paying a monthly fee for - that, in itself, is a lot said when it's me who says it. I'm not nearly over the phase of consideration yet, since while I've enjoyed my time with this game and I'm more than ready to recommend it to people who are into these types of games, I must say that in a lot of ways, A Realm Reborn solidifies my suspicions of MMO's not being and never becoming my thing, considering my age and the state my life is in. A phone call from your girlfriend (who you haven't seen in days), which you can't answer because you're in the middle of a raid and can't let your team down just to let the most important person in your life to know you're still kicking, is all it takes to reveal the truth.

+ Easy registration and further accessibility, relatively generous trial period
+ Great music that mirrors the work of the maestro himself at its best
+ All the classes are available to one single character, that's one single character fee - enough said
+ An enormous world with tons of things to do...
+ ...If you're up to it, you can keep on redoing those tons of things with the surprisingly enormous community...
+ ...And don't forget that there's new stuff pouring in all the time, in real time
+ Bright sides to the game mechanics for any tool of your choice...

- ...But severe problems eventually rear head with a controller, since...
- ...The PS3 version generally looks and feels like a PC game in the wrong environment; the chat log, the world map, the thousand other different windows and their sub-windows, the targeting system and all advanced options you might think of are impossible to manage properly in real time without a mouse and keyboard. You know what you're doing, but it's still hard to do it. This game makes the console version of Dragon Age: Origins feel easy to manage. Ten(s) fold. Luckily you can plug in a mouse and keyboard, and access exclusive features such as taking screenshots. I have misplaced my USB keyboard, which is why these few screenshots suck; not all of them are even from the PS3 retail.
- A crappy storyline with equally crappy characters; the game has very little to live up to the usual expectations towards a main series installment in the Final Fantasy franchise, but that's utterly expected. They should've called this game something else to begin with.
- MMO is simply not for everyone, and even while the game might make believe you can play it your own way and at your very own pace - ALL the way - in time you will have to face this subgenre's usual problems. Even MMO fans are aware of them, so you be the judge of your own personal problems with it; they're most likely discovered here as well.

< 8.0 >

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