Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn Column: Moving Forward and Looking Back

I feel that I have more reason to take umbrage with Final Fantasy XIV than most, as I have discussed. This was an MMORPG that I decreed as so desirable that I would purchase a new PC, opted for the more expensive, special edition, and settle in for extended revelry on my 20th birthday.

Now without sounding like a petulant child, the fact that I was indeed celebrating the date of my second decade of life was important to me. I had found that preceding birthdays were mostly met with relentless optimism and joy – and this all changed as I struck the fateful “2” and “0”.

Because, for all of my new PC gadgetry, Raptor mouse capabilities, and Razer keyboard tomfoolery, none of the collective shiny objects could make Square Enix’s MMO sequel any good. It was almost as if the developers had shipped only a graphical concept by mistake, leaving a piece of software bereft of entertainment as a result.

Eventually I would write a small impression piece about the game, to which on that special, special day, I received a personal message “Complaining about grinding makes me think your some WoW (redacted) who wants his max level handed to him on a (redacted) silver platter. If your such a pansy (redacted) lazy (redacted) -tard then go back to playing WoW or whatever (redacted) kiddy games you’re used to. Next time you write a (redacted) article you better be a bit more objective you stupid (redacted).”

Imagine if you will, a demented clown smashing up your birthday cake whilst trying desperately to tongue kiss your mother as a blimp slowly floats by bearing the moniker “welcome to maturity”. This was how I felt on my very special day.

So it was with a certain amount of trepidation and caution that I have approached Final Fantasy XIV in the ensuing years. It wasn’t just how bad the MMO was, but the unrelenting attitude of a certain amount of players. The type of people with such unyielding enthusiasm and loyalty that you would imagine  they spent their offline hours exploring wardrobes convinced that the portal to Narnia was “just in the next one”.

The sheer bloody-mindedness of fans continued and to some extent has damaged Final Fantasy XIV’s reputation. Periodically I would return to the game to test new patches and updates, praying for an iota of worthwhile gameplay, but would always come up short. Writing duties would be met, and always, always comments would await me like a punch in the gut: how dare I call the obviously rubbish game, that the developers themselves have declared as rubbish, rubbish?

So with Realm Reborn in the pipeline and off in the distant future, I felt a certain degree of fatigue with the fourteenth instalment of the game. Beaten down by expectation and the fact that I had the dubious pleasure of pointing out exactly how things were going for the MMO patch by patch. When the beta invite came I was almost ready to throw down my gunblade and retire to Midgar but I decided to fight one last battle.

And I’m so glad that I did. While Final Fantasy XIV A Realm Reborn isn’t perfect, Square Enix have managed to take the bare ingredients of the initial game, and reform them into something pleasant, enjoyable, and dare I say exciting.

While my experiences of Final Fantasy XI are limited, this latest MMO seems to straddle the line between reverence to the source and accessibility. No longer are there mechanics and nuisances somewhere lost in translation, instead Realm Reborn seems plainly obvious whilst managing the same kind of swagger as World of Warcraft.

Which isn’t to say that it copies Blizzard. On the contrary, while many might feel that Square Enix have tried to jam the Final Fantasy peg into the Azeroth mold, I think that the developers have gone deeper, somewhere further back. When I wander through Ul’Dah I invoke EverQuest, Anarchy Online, and Dark Age of Camelot.

If possible, Final Fantasy XIV seems more nostalgic and not your average cut-and-paste clone in that it, seemingly, gives players the element of choice. Multiple classes, multiple races, multiple starting cities, multiple zone exits and entrances, and so on. Each environment seems to be fuelled with a level of nostalgia and built with a sense of “this is here, because it just is”. Square Enix have managed to instil a sense of texture into their MMO which is rarer and rarer – buildings, scenery, design flourishes are placed there because they further the sense that this is a place: and this place exists.

Of course, as pointed out by our fine writer, Robert Lashley, there are issues alongside the positives, and it doesn’t completely reinvent the wheel, but Final Fantasy XIV does manage to conjure a better sense of occasion and adventure. Over numerous hours I have already poured into the game, I feel like I have progressed, and in ways unlike my fellows players: we don’t have the same quest reward swords, or the same tunics, and while I know these skills, they know others.

I must say that I am impressed with Square and their latest MMO, which is  a confusing feeling to harbour after so many years of disappointment. I find myself itching to play more and more, crying off other commitments to uncover the next vista or simply complete my hunting log.

Whether or not the end game, PvP, or attached baubles are worthwhile seems elementary at this point. I know that I have found something enchanting within the adventure, and my mind hasn’t simply turned to the checklist of activities. I believe in the world, and I am having fun. For however long it lasts, I know that Square Enix have at least salvaged their reputation: even in beta Final Fantasy XIV is truly reborn.