Review by knucklez
"The Greatest Gaming Tragedy of this Generation"
Final Fantasy XIV is the highly anticipated sequel to the Square-Enix Final Fantasy MMO Franchise. Releasing in 2004 in the United States, Final Fantasy XI took a while to get off the ground, but having a unique high-quality Japanese-made MMORPG really found a solid market and player base. It offered a unique alternative to the heavily western-run mainstream MMO market, emphasizing on Player versus Environment design philosophy that focused on grouping with other players and making friends.
XIV sought to follow in the game's footsteps, heavily borrowing from the XI mythos, themes, and game design in order to make a whole new experience.
Where did the game go so wrong? Well, almost everything really!
The game is very pretty. Square-Enix, on a visual level, are masters of crafting ocular treats. The cities are detailed and the outdoor worlds are vast and impressive. Wonderfully handled depth of field effects as well as Anti Aliasing give off amazing draw-distance views that emulate something seen in Pixar films.
The characters are all detailed, and the animation is superb. Running quickly and turning on a dime makes the character look as if they are quickly skidding to a halt to change directions. Attack animations feel fluid. Armor looks layered and detailed on characters, a huge step up from the generic recolored objects like in other MMORPGs.
The Music in this game is done well. The music is typical Final Fantasy fanfare (Not a bad thing!), with some very unique pieces mixed in. Nobuo and the other artists who worked on the game's sound put a lot of effort and heart into all of the pieces. While some MMOs choose ambiance over dramatic scores, the Final Fantasy XIV Music team decided to create music impressive enough to excite players, yet catchy enough to stay enjoyable.
The Sound Effects are good as well. Run on sand, metal, or wood, and the footsteps of your character will all sound differently. What pains me is the huge distinction between cutscene and gameplay. In the introduction cutscene, you are shown a world full of excitement, voices, conversation. Monsters roar and bellow, characters scream and cheer. In the actual game, those impressive sound effects fall of the face of Eorza. Conversations consist of text at the bottom of the screen that floods into your chat box. It's not immersive of interesting. Did Square-Enix simply run out of budget to provide the experience it felt like they were goign to deliver from the introduction to the game? That is a question I can't answer, but I can say that the game is missing a lot of heart. Even other MMORPGs have occasional snippets of spoken dialogue here or there. The missing sounds just make the game feel even more vapid than it already is.
The story is entertaining rarely, and abysmal often. In the Magical World of Eorzea, the game starts out with the player choosing a race and one of three Origin cities: The desert gambler's fortune city Ul'dah, a quaint forest village Gridania, and the mesmerizing Limsa Lominsa. The game's three introductions thrust the player character into an exciting adventure, a seemingly common character is thrown into a world of danger, the first battle being against insurmountable odds.
After the introduction, the game falls apart story-wise. You are sent to a guild in order to start your adventure. They send you to another location outside of the staring city, and then you are practically on your own. After a certain amount of levels you can do another story mission, but they are far and few in between, and compose only a minor part of the full game.
There is no persistent Global Storyline for players to engage in, no social storyline events. It's just this world you roam around in to kill creatures and craft equipment.
All of the races are direct clones of the Final Fantasy XI MMO. There's no real uniqueness to them, they simply took the old character races, threw some new paint on them, and changed their names. Frankly it is embarrassing how little creativity went into this design process.
In the most important element of any MMO or any game for that matter, XIV falls flat on it's face. The most critical part of an MMORPG's gameplay is the combat. XIV removes autoattacking and limits player actions in combat entirely to abilities and skills. This means that if you want to attack, you press an attack skill. Sounds good right? Wrong. The gameplay is extremely slow paced. In order to use an ability, you must wait for the stamina bar to fill up. Run out of stamina, and you can't use the ability. Abilities are extremely unresponsive, and the lack of an autoattack means you will be entering them one at a time, waiting for them to go off, and then entering a new one. You can build up TP for a special attack, but the combat as a whole is just incredibly repetitious and boring, more-so than the average MMO Role-playing game.
Another enormous part of the gameplay is the crafting system. The game is incredibly gear dependent, and the primary way to get this equipment is to craft it. Unfortunately, this means you have to dedicate countless hours to crafting instead of combat. Most high-end players spend more time in the crafting system than on the field battling monsters. Crafting design borders on absurdism, recipes are not taught in game but are instead fueled by experimentation. Not a terrible system, except that even the recipes you discover and learn are never saved in the game. You have to physically record the recipe outside of the game if you want to remember it. Recipes can also fail as well. The Crafting system is one enormous artificial timesink in order to stall players from getting too far into the game too fast.
Character classes (jobs) are another interesting failed aspect of the game. The game supports multi-classing, meaning a single character can do anything as long as they train in it. This kills the opportunity for diversity among characters, everyone plays as everything. The game also limits your total characters to 1. Want an extra character to play on another server with different friends? Too damn bad, you are stuck unless you pay more money, even then you will be repeating the gameplay since every character is the same besides their cosmetic race. The game also has a fatigue system that slows you down from playing one class for too long, punishing your experience gains if you dedicate yourself to a favorite play style that you enjoy.
Game Engine and Design: 1/10
Tying in with gameplay, the game engine and it's design is done extremely poorly by Square-Enix. Some sources believe that a majority of the game's technical work was outsourced to a non-Japanese development company. Regardless, the result is complete and utter rubbish.
On a performance level the game is almost a comedy. Computers capable of playing the system-taxing Crysis at highest settings can barely run XIV smoothly on Medium. The game is very unoptimized, and performance issues can persist for even the best computers out there. Some players even report having performance increases from things like turning Shadows or Anti-Aliasing on instead of leaving them off. It's a nightmare to play this game from how choppy and unresponsive it is.
The menu's are also faulty, navigating the UI is an arduous task, each option taking several options to load and process. Simple actions such as selling materials to an in-game NPC Vendor takes incredible amounts of patience to navigate. The menus are designed with Console gamers in mind. Many gamers are forced to play with controllers instead of their keyboards and mice, simply because the game is tailored to fit those controls better.
The game is also incredibly laggy on the connection side of things. With servers hosted in Japan, Japanese players have a huge advantage over western gamers. Some servers often get "locked" due to high population, disconnecting players from their friends. The Queue system is suspect as well, you can join the line to get into the game and actually go back in line.
Overall: 1/10 (Not an Average)
Final Fantasy XIV is a complete and utter joke of a game. Without the Final Fantasy brand name and themes embedded into the game's world, XIV would have been a commercial disaster day one. Luckily for them they have an sensational base of fans, driven by nostalgia, to support the game at all costs. Hopefully, in the future, this will allow Square-Enix to salvage this train wreck.
The Potential is there, it really is. The graphics and music are wonderful, and there may be a good game under all the poor design choices, but ultimately the game is just flawed and broken. Broken gameplay, poor performance, and a terrible game design make this game feel more like a Free-to-Play Asian MMO than a Pay to Play MMORPG. Final Fantasy XIV is one of the most disappointing games ever made.
Reviewer's Score: 1/10 | Originally Posted: 10/06/10
Game Release: Final Fantasy XIV Online (US, 09/30/10)
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