You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Final Fantasy XIV is doing its best to make a really positive second impression on the gaming community as a whole, but it’s still not going to get as much popularity as it might have had without the original launch. The game has an uphill battle to fight, and it needs to really wow people.
This is something I’ve discussed before. If you haven’t read it before, go ahead and do so; I think it’s a pretty good piece. Right now, the game needs to show something off that is really unique, something to make people sit up and say, “Oh, now that is neat.”
Obviously the game isn’t testable yet for many of us. But we have seen the first several alpha test videos. And my reaction thus far has been… well, I haven’t actually been sitting in front of my screen with my head in my hands while cursing, but I’ve considered it as a possible course of action.
Jumping does not blow my mind
A moment of history here: The first video game I remember playing, ever, was Super Mario Bros. I was told that pressing the “A” button made Mario jump. (All right, I was playing at a friend’s house and the actual explanation was probably closer to “PRESS THAT ONE AND THE GUY JUMPS!” The spirit was there.) Since that first outing, I have jumped approximately nine billion times in games. I even jump occasionally in real life, generally to elude dogs.
Watching the Final Fantasy XIV alpha explorations, you’d think that jumping in video games had been discovered by specialists at Cambridge a week ago. It’s not just that jumping is featured in the videos; it’s that each individual jump is revered in a fashion usually reserved for religious leaders. I remember in particular one of the Gridania videos that featured a quick jaunt to Greatloam Growery, followed by the character walking up to the (previously uncrossable) fence and jumping over it.
That’s all well and good except that it took more or less forever. She stood there and waited for a good long while, then finally jumped over the fence and just stood. Congratulations, I can see a part of the game that I’m already familiar with from a slightly different angle. That’s super.
I get that jumping is being added to the game, and that’s great, but this isn’t impressing me, and I’ve long stood by that same fence and wished I could jump half an inch off of the ground to clear it. This should not be a central point on display.
Same old song and dance
Let’s get one thing out of the way: The combat that we see in the first video looks as if it’s a massive improvement. I can’t say how it plays without actually trying the game out, but I can say it looks a lot more fun at a glance. Actions go off more quickly, the pace has been quickened, and it looks far closer to the experience you get from most other MMOs.
Yet therein lies the problem, Ralph. It looks far closer to the experience you get from most other MMOs. I’m watching the fundamentals of the questing system, of combat, and I find myself noticing just how many times I’ve done this stuff. I’ve gotten quests before, clicked spots on the map before; I’ve had a fairly standard set of battle mechanics provided before…
It’s not that there’s nothing to be seen in here that I like. I’m glad to see that the quest dialogue remains in place, since I’ve always liked the way that questgivers plead for your help in the online offerings. At the same time, this is a structure that’s so well-worn it’s more or less part of the landscape now. It’s nothing unique. It makes me happy, but someone who hasn’t played the game or isn’t already interested won’t look at this and think that it’s the coolest thing ever.
The part that truly baffles me is how the team is proudly declaring that the battle system is being adjusted… specifically, damage algorithims and the claiming system. I’m not going to say that the system on display here looks bad because it doesn’t, but I think a better option would be to show us some crazy unique elements from the higher levels on the assumption that those exist. Claiming monsters? Not so much.
Yes, the good parts
Leaving aside the fact that the game needs a wow factor these videos aren’t quite providing, I’ll be the first to say that the revised zones look excellent thus far. I was oddly happy to see the Final Fantasy XII zone line in there. It really shouldn’t be there, but a game with some of the energy of an Ivalice title wins major points for me. (Although the mechanics of Final Fantasy XII don’t need to be brought into the game. Really.)
At first I was a little put off by some of the stuff in the revised Shroud, as it felt like a departure from the more grounded environments of the game-that-was, but after another viewing, I’m much more relaxed about it. The game’s setting is still fairly low-key and retains the atmosphere it had before, but there’s a bit more oddity in the geography now, a bit more wonder. That’s not a bad thing. We’re a far cry from, say, Final Fantasy XIII’s insane landscapes.
Oh, an giving an area on the map to go for quests? A map that looks much more functional than the ones found by default in most games? Yes.