Taking the Fantasy Online Again!
Over the years, the Final Fantasy series has become a lot of things to its many fans around the world. This series, which has been in existence for almost 25 years, has taken on an iconic status in both Japan and the West that few other series can even begin to live up to. This series’ popularity is generally attributed to its strong sense of identity as a “classic” JRPG-style game. However, this classic formula has been undergoing quite a bit of revision since Final Fantasy XI, and the next entry in the series, Final Fantasy XIV, is looking to be the culmination of the reimagining of the Final Fantasy series.
Like XI, XIV will be a massively multiplayer online (MMO) game that will incorporate successful elements from XI, as well as add new elements to help XIV feel like a fully fleshed-out title. Although XI was modestly successful, complaints were lodged about its simplistic progression system and limited quest variety. However, we recently got some hands-on time with XIV, and it seems that the folks at Square Enix have taken several measures to combat these issues.
I was able to start up the game in the character creation system (which I was told is definitely unfinished) and checked out some of the currently available races and classes. The character customization system is deep, and the five races I saw (the human-like Hyur, the elf-like Elezen, the mage-like Lalafell, and Roegadyn warriors, and the cat-like Miqo’te) all feature unique jobs that tie into their intrinsic abilities. Although you can develop your character any way you want, certain jobs will only be available for specific races at the beginning.
Once I was able to make a few customizations, I was able to launch head-on into the game. Unfortunately, there were some network problems during the demo so I didn’t see anyone walking around the environment. However, I was told that this isn’t a big deal, as the group-based focus from Final Fantasy XI is gone. Although this makes sense from my stance as a longtime fan of Final Fantasy (I pine for the single-player RPG experience), I was concerned about this move from an MMO gamer’s point of view. Because the MMO experience is all about playing together, it sounded weird to me. However, the Square Enix representative I spoke to reassured me that if you indeed like the group gaming experience, you can use group-based strategies in the game as much as you want. The idea behind removing the group requirement is that they are trying to make the game a little more like the single-player experience of older Final Fantasy games in a bid to lure in those who didn’t want to play Final Fantasy XI because of the group requirement.
The quests in Final Fantasy XIV are easy to find, and can be entered by walking up to special areas of light on the map. Getting around the world is easy, but players of Final Fantasy XI should be warned that the battle system has been modified a lot. Combat works a lot like a mix between Final Fantasy XIII’s paradigm shift and the function palate system in White Knight Chronicles. You will have a certain amount of attack points and you can load attacks (up to your power limit) into a combat queue that will carry out your selections using a real-time meter system.
The one thing that did not seem drastically altered from Final Fantasy XI is the game’s visual style. The world of Eorzea has an ethereal look, not unlike the worlds of Final Fantasy XI and even the world of Pulse from Final Fantasy XIII. However, it should be noted that I was only able to check out a grassland area and a deep cave during our time, so I’m sure there will be plenty more to learn about Eorzea as more is revealed about the game.
Although the move to MMO-style games in the Final Fantasy games has been controversial with longtime fans of the series, it looks like Final Fantasy XIV will improve the perception of the Final Fantasy MMO. With a more flexible approach that doesn’t penalize players for going solo as well as a new battle system and an upgraded job/class system, Final Fantasy XIV will definitely be worth checking out when it releases.