Impressions:Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

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I, much like countless others, watched over Final Fantasy XIV with a careful eye when it was first announced. By all accounts, the release of Final Fantasy XIV, was less than stellar. The MMORPG was panned by critics and users alike and subscribers seemed to dwindle by the day. Square Enix, in the interest of saving face and delivering on the promises of an exceptional Final Fantasy based online experience, closed down the servers and went to work re-tuning the game from the ground up. Their efforts have certainly not been in vain, my time spent playing Final Fantasy XIV: A Real Reborn, has served to sway my stance on the game from one of disdain to that of an optimistic gamer eagerly awaiting the game’s August 27th release.

Square Enix deserves serious praise for learning from their mistakes in crafting A Realm Reborn. From the moment I first logged in, all the horror stories of the game’s initial launch I had heard were thrown by the wayside. Creating a character was a wonderful, albeit time-consuming process. The level of detail that is found within character creation is definitely something to write home about. While those who lean more towards the impatient side may rush through the lengthy creation process, spending a few extra minutes fine-tuning every little detail of your avatar goes a long way in creating a character that feel exactly like it should – an extension of the player living within the world of Final Fantasy. For as much enjoyment I got out of creating my character, by the time I finished, I was ready to explore the newly reborn realm in all of its shiny splendor.

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Unfortunately for me – and everyone else raring to go, A Realm Reborn‘s first moments post-character creation have players sitting through an unskippable cutscene. This cutscene serves as the player’s first introduction to the game’s expansive world, and while it looks great, I feel as though excluding the option to skip through to the game proper might only frustrate veteran players. Those with a love for lore and a desire to really immerse themselves in the world will appreciate not only this introduction, but also the carefully crafted and implemented nuggets of lore scattered throughout the realm.

Finding yourself swept up within A Realm Reborn is something that players should expect as soon as they get into the meat of the MMORPG. A Realm Reborn is visually stunning, featuring a fully realized fantasy world that looks both awe-inspiring and completely natural at the same time. Square Enix delivered on creating a game that graphically looks exactly like a Final Fantasy entry should. If I had a nickel for every time I stopped while playing A Realm Reborn to take in the surrounding – sprawling cities, lush forests, and towering mountains – I would surely have enough money to pay for my entire subscription fee.

Questing in A Realm Reborn takes the elements that have made MMORPGs so popular and melds them with a Final Fantasy twist. Those who have any familiarity with MMO questing will feel right at home, as navigating game locations and quest hubs is easily managed from the game’s outset. Yellow exclamation points are par for the course when it comes to identifying quest givers, all of whom have varied and unique dialogue, which alleviates from the monotony that questing often brings.

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Completing quests, gaining experience and subsequently leveling up carries weight in A Realm Reborn. Gaining levels unlocks new skills for your character, allowing players to tackle harder challenges and even deadlier enemies. Every few levels, players will be able to further specialize their class, which is one of the games most significant features and where the game really shows off its Final Fantasy heritage. Series staples are all present within A Realm Reborn – Paladins, Summoners, Dragoons, Bards and more are all accounted for as playable Jobs that are unlocked from a character’s initial Discipline.

One of the hallmarks of the A Realm Reborn experience is the Job system and the player’s ability to switch between various Jobs with the drop of a hat. Simply switching your equipped weapon allows your character to change classes fluidly, thanks largely in part to the game’s remarkable gear management system. Bag space is never monopolized by various class-related equipment, as A Realm Reborn features separate equipment based inventories. While this may seem like a little touch, as players progress and have more Jobs to manage, they will undoubtedly be thankful for this feature.

For all it does right, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is still not perfect. However, many of the problems I had during my time with the game are more than likely attributed to the fact that the game is still in its beta testing stage. Player animations are exceptionally smooth – especially considering the game’s graphical prowess and the large number of players on the screen at once – but enemy monster animated often feel clunky. This is not the end of the world, but being wrapped up in a quest and fighting an enemy with jerky and awkward animations is a disservice to an otherwise stellar experience, as it can take the player right out of the moment.

Enemy animation issues aside, the other glaring issue I encountered in my time with A Realm Reborn was the somewhat uncomfortable silence that loomed over dialogue with NPC characters. While the writing for most characters was above expectations, seeing the fully animated faces essentially miming words led for more than a couple ‘uncanny valley’ type moments. Surely, this is a kink that will be worked out before the game’s release – having fully voiced NPCs is no small task and their silence now can be contributed to Square Enix working to hammer out the finishing touches on voice work.

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With the exception of a few small gripes, my time with Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn was a blast. As one of the Final Fantasy faithful since I first started playing video games, seeing A Realm Reborn nearing its completion and working so well has brought more than one smile to my face. MMO fans as well as Final Fantasy enthusiasts will be able to find much, much more to love with this game than they could ever have imagined. Check your bias and fears at the door when considering A Realm Reborn, as it truly is an online experience that is not one to be missed. Set for release one August 27th for the PC and Playstation 3 (the PS4 version is planned for a 2014 release), anyone with a desire to explore, loot and level through a beautiful world in a game that blends innovation with genre-approved staples should known that Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn might just be the game they are looking for.

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