Final Fantasy 14 Game Review
by Matthew Hibben
Developer: Square Enix
Release Date: Oct 2010, March 2011 (PS3)
Platforms: PC, PS3
Square Enix (SE) once again tackles the massive multiplayer online (MMO) market with their 14th installment of Final Fantasy. This is SE's second MMO, following up Final Fantasy 11's 8 years in the MMO marketplace. SE has stated that it has learned a lot from developing 11 and those lessons are applied in 14. Throughout this article we will look at not only FF14's features but also how it has (or hasn't) been improved as compared to 11.
The first experience out of the box is one of lengthy patching (downloading new content or fixes). Patches come with the territory of MMO's as the Dev's are constantly working to fix bugs and implement new content. What one will notice however is the painfully slow server the patches need to be downloaded from. I myself experienced download speeds as slow as 5kbs, suffice to say the initial patching will take some time. In addition to patching, new players must also create an SE account, and I will note that new users are being given between 30, 60, or even 90 days free play time. Once the user account is set up and the game is ready to roll the experience is very breathtaking. The graphics are hands down one of FF14's strongest features.
The lighting, modeling of both terrain and characters, and sense of perspective are standard setting. As I set into exploring Eorzea (the world FF14 takes place in) I quickly forgot about the painstaking process to actually begin playing.
FF14 much like FF11 is a cryptic experience based around job systems (the classes players can become), synthesis (crafting items for use and financial gain), and grinding ( solo or party based experience gains based on killing endless enemies). The cryptic nature grows on you fast as each discovery gives insight into how the game is experienced. The game at its core is about discovery and immersion. Things at first seem utterly confusing and counter intuitive, but that changes fast as things are discovered and add to the enjoyment. For those familiar with FF11 this should not be a foreign concept.
In FF14 a single character can have a multitude of jobs. The job system of Final Fantasy dates back to the early 90's where in Super Nintendo releases, a single player could master job after job, mixing and matching skills and attributes. This has been a mainstay in many of the FF titles, and one of the most enjoyable aspects of the game.
A player can start a character (often called toons), and decide to change their class based on new tastes or party requirements. What this offers new players is a way to explore job classes without the traditional, well this class isn't what I thought it would be time to start over.
In FF14 changing jobs and acquiring new jobs is as simple as changing your weapon. Once a weapon is equipped, experience gains for that class translate into increased ranks with abilities learned based on gaining new ranks of your current job. What is very enjoyable is the mixing and matching of job abilities. In FF14 a player can combine most job skills (with some exceptions) into almost any combination. The added bonus of an open ended job system is allowing players the freedom to play fresh classes if they find their current class stale.
Another important element of FF14 is the crafting and gathering jobs. These work the same as primary jobs where as the weapon or in this case tool is equipped the player takes on that role. Leveling craft based jobs works as one might think, by producing items for use or sale. Item production in FF14 is called synthesis and works very similarly to how it did in FF11. Players combine materials and synthesize items. The main change in FF14 is how the UI for creating items works. A small mini game is now played where the player must visually identify the conditions of the synthesis and progress through it accordingly.
This mini game is to prevent botters (a user that runs multiple accounts for the purpose of gaining in game income) by making the synthesis process favor heavily a live player making decisions. The behavior of the mini game is not clear at first and once again plays into FF14's cryptic approach of self discovery. In a nut shell the player must either choose to wait or proceed with a synthesis based on the color of a sphere in the UI.
Gathering Jobs work similar to crafting jobs in that you must play a small mini game in order to carry out the action. Mining for example is a simple game of hot or cold. The user must strike a target and based on the results of how close or how far from the mark adjust their next strike accordingly. At first these systems seemed confusing as I didn't understand the rules and had to discover them over time, but the attempt on SE's part to thwart botting is commendable.
Leveling up was something SE promised would be improved for FF14. In FF11 the leveling system was coined "Forced Grouping", where players were forced early on into group play in order to gain levels. In FF14 there are two mechanics that make solo play more accessible. First off, the enemies are much easier now at even levels (in FF11 even level enemies were almost impossible to solo). secondly, there are now semi daily quests called "Leves" that allow players additional rewards and experience points.
FF14 still favors group play, which is a core value to the FF series, by giving a bonus to experience gained in groups. Players can also share their Leves at meeting stones called Aetherytes.
Combat has been updated as well, moving away from the slow and tedious menu selections of past incarnations to a system similar to other popular MMO's with visual icons that denote spells or abilities. Targeting at the moment in FF14 is still a little clunky, but a large content patch in late November will be addressing that and other issues.
Travel has also been revamped for FF14, with players being able to teleport from area to area and even city to city with great ease. Teleports similar to those in FF11 allow players to move from location to location (players can teleport to locations once they have accessed the crystal of that location) using a new system of what is called Anima as cost. Anima is a resource that a player can spend to use the teleport network and the player's Anima regenerates every few hours. In addition to Anima based teleporting is the fact that each City is much easier to access via a free ship ride and close physical proximity.
In conclusion FF14 is a great addition to the MMO marketplace. It is rough around the edges at the moment but is also a very early vanilla (early version of a MMO). With many large content patches slotted for November and December I have every confidence the game play will only get better. The combat and play system isn't for everyone, with many aspects of play taking a great deal of research and figuring out to learn. Therein lies what I have enjoyed most so far with FF14, the discovery and challenge.
The Technomicon Media video review of FF14: