Final Fantasy XIV: One game to bring them all and in the darkness bind them?

RPG Site spoke with Naoki Yoshida at the Japan Expo in Paris. Yoshida made a big announcement about the addition of Lightning into Final Fantasy XIV. Lightning, for those who don’t know, is the main character of Final Fantasy XIII. She is also the push out the door for the Final Fantasy XIII-2 story, even though she isn’t actually a playable character in the natural story line.

When asked about details on how she will be incorporated and why she will be added, Yoshida sidestepped giving any exact details of Lightning’s role in Final Fantasy XIV. The excuse Yoshida gives is that since most of the fans haven’t played XIV yet, they won’t understand what he is talking about. Yoshida did say he would probably make a long forum post about it once he got back to Japan, so for now we’ll just have to wait.
Why even bother including her at all?

Yoshida goes on to talk about how Square Enix wanted to bring its teams together. Any good company would want its employees to work together, and what better way to do that then to intermingle the games the employees are working on? I mean it sounds good on paper right? Is this what fans want though? I’m not sure, but I think it sounds interesting personally.

Future links to the past of Final Fantasy?

So far Final Fantasy XIV has seen a few nods towards previous games; the limit break system gets its base design and some of the attacks from Final Fantasy VII. Yoshida has made off handed comments about how you could see characters like Sephiroth and Cloud appear in the game, but at the same time maybe not.

   “As a company and as a group, we wanted to make sure that the FF projects have a strong relationship between the dev teams of the numbered titles. We’re not necessarily planning to bring back all the characters.”

So whether we will see some more iconic figures from the past resurface in Final Fantasy XIV is yet to be seen but the possibility is there.

Final Fantasy XIV two betas ending this week.

As of the 17th of July, Final Fantasy XIV’s The Lodestone beta version is scheduled to be shut down. It will be wiped and reinstated at some unknown point in the future. If you have anything you wish to save on the site, I recommend you go in and and save it to a document as soon as possible. Upon the launch of the beta, Square Enix had shared the plans to wipe the beta version once the testing was done. As it stands it probably won’t be re-opened until phase four of the actual game’s beta.

In conjunction with The Lodestone being unavailable, Final Fantasy XIV A Realm Reborn’s beta phase 3 is ending today at 5am eastern time. Expect the game to be unplayable for at least two weeks, but up to a month. All Legacy characters will revert to the pre-phase 3 save data that Square Enix had, other characters will be wiped. Any progress made once phase four begins should be carried over into the live version. Legacy character server transfer requests will be processed before phase four begins as well.

All of this is leading up to the full launch on August 27th. While fans will be annoyed at their inability to play the game during the downtime, they can rest assured that Square Enix will be putting their best efforts into finishing all the necessary adjustments in time for launch. So if you are reading this before 5am est, please enjoy what’s left of the Final Fantasy XIV phase three beta and be patient with Square Enix while they improve the quality of the game for us to enjoy.

For more updates on this and more gaming news, reviews, guides, and culture please check my team out on Facebook. We will link all our GameSkinny articles there. You can also follow theFinal Fantasy XIV Twitter for updates on the beta specifically.

Final Fantasy Go There

Final Fantasy Go There
by GabrielKross 6 days ago

Square Enix has unveiled their crossover campaign website in Japan. The website is called Final Fantasy Go There. Due to the way the site is setup I cannot translate the information on the site so I hope there will be an english version soon. The following is the most current information I have to date on the crossover campaign.
Final Fantasy XIV

Recently, Naoki Yoshida talked about Lightning’s appearance in Final Fantasy XIV. He told fans about Square Enix’s the desire to get the Final Fantasy teams working closer together. When he discussed these things at the Japan Expo in Paris they showed images of gear created for introduction in Final Fantasy XIV that would belong in the Final Fantasy XIII world. Yes, there will be several Lightning and Snow lookalikes running around. The way in which Lightning will be integrated into the Final Fantasy XIV world according to Yoshida, will be natural to the game.
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

Earlier this week, a new costume for Lightning was revealed for Lightning Returns. This costume consists of turning Lightning into a Mi’Qote and gives her the race specific starting gear look. I think this is just another attempt to continue to build Lightning’s popularity. Lightning Returns is starting to feel a bit like Final Fantasy X-2 in my opinion. Dress Spheres anyone?
Final Fantasy X|X-2

Speaking of Final Fantasy X|X-2, Final Fantasy Go There also includes that logo on their front page. There is nothing revealed yet in connection with X or X-2 but the fact that it is included on the site is pretty big. I hope to see big things come out of this, but only time will tell.

LightningSexyCostume

The Lightning Returns/Final Fantasy XIV Crossover is Perfectly Fine, Please Stop Overreacting

The Lightning Returns/Final Fantasy XIV Crossover is Perfectly Fine, Please Stop Overreacting

At E3, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Producer Yoshinori Kitase announced that the game would feature a special costume reproducing the racial starting gear of a miqo’te from Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. A month later, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn Producer and Director Naoki Yoshida retaliated, by letting us know from the stage of Japan Expo in Paris that Lightning herself would appear in the game with an extensive questline, while players would receive Lightning and Snow’s costumes and weapons from Final Fantasy XIII.

The last chapter of this saga happened yesterday, when we broke the news on the fact that Lightning will perform a rather sexy victory pose while wearing the miqo’te costume. At every single stage of this tale of collaborations and crossovers, heads exploded in the name of immersion, character integrity and simple hate for Lightning herself.

The reactions (or better yet, overreactions) to this whole crossover affair are mainly irrational, so it’s time to take a nice step back and think about it (if the explanation offered by Naoki Yoshida himself wasn’t enough for you).

So, what’s so wrong with part of the internet going up in flames like it was personally slighted by those evil Square Enix developers? Nothing, really, but let’s get one big misconception out of the way first:

FinalFantasyXIVLightningCrossover (1)“Everyone hates Lightning!”

As a matter of fact no, not everyone hates Lightning. For instance, I don’t hate Lightning (I’m not head over heels in love with her either, but still), and I’m definitely not the only one. This is the main argument I see every time Square Enix announces something related to her. Those that hate the character for some mysterious reason just assume that their sentiments are shared on a global scale, only to be immediately proven wrong by a number of comments that state the contrary.

”Ok, not everyone hates her, but I’m sure the majority hates Lightning!”

This is another popular misconception that basically applies to every argument on the internet. People seem to love to mistaken their own opinion as a statistic, either just out of some personal delusion or weakly backed up by what their hear from their friends/family/acquaintances or in the local forum or chatroom they use to hang out. Guess what? It turns out to be radically false.

While in the west Lightning is a quite polarizing topic of discussion, the west isn’t the only market that matters. As a matter of fact, the most relevant market for Final Fantasy titles is still Japan, and in Japan Lightning is quite loved by the gaming community.  In a poll held by Famitsu in 2010 she ranked 34th between the most loved video game characters ever, bating quite a few other Final Fantasy protagonists and other prominent characters from other series.

Since then her popularity has grown, and in another poll held by Square Enix that ranked all the female Final Fantasy protagonists at the beginning of this year, Lightning managed to win by a hair, beating even the almost universally adored Aerith.

If you go to a Japanese discussion environment and talk about Lightning, reactions are a lot more positive than in the west. So, if you find yourself asking the question: “Why does Square Enix continue to make games starring Lightning?”, the answer is pretty simple. She’s very popular and has a sizable fanbase at least in Japan. Maybe your friends don’t like her, but you and your friends aren’t a statistic.

“Ok then, she isn’t universally hated….but she’s out of place in Final Fantasy XIV!”

No she isn’t. As a matter of fact, between the Final Fantasy protagonists she’s the one that has the best chance of finding herself in a different world, considering that traveling through time and dimensions is part of her backstory in Final Fantasy XIII-2.

FinalFantasyXIVLightningCrossover (4)

“That might make sense for Lightning’s backstory, but what about Final Fantasy XIV? It doesn’t make sense with the lore of the game!”

Yes it does. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is the numbered Final Fantasy where finding characters from other worlds makes the most sense. At the beginning of the game all the old characters from every veteran of the original FFXIV return from a nice five year-long trip through space and time, on which they were sent by the archon Louisoix to save them from the rage of Bahamut. If they can go on that kind of trip, so can Lightning.

“But Lightning’s clothes! They’re totally out of place in Eorzea. They’ll ruin my immersion…”

Final Fantasy XIV‘s world is not your typical pure high fantasy world. Like many other Final Fantasy worlds it has a technological component, and the Garlean Empire is industrialized and advanced. There’s an enormous variety of fashions and styles in Eorzea, and Lightning’s clothes (or Snow’s) aren’t more outrageous than the schoolgirl outfit that serves as the scholar job’s artifact armor for instance, or the bikini sets. As a matter of fact they don’t really look particularly hi-tech or modern compared to most outfits already present in the game.

“But… a Gunblade!

Final Fantasy XIV had gunblades from the very start. They’re a widespread weapon between officers in the Garlean Empire.

Final_Fantasy_XIV_TSSF_Episode06_02

“I hate Lightning and I don’t want to see her in Final Fantasy XIV“

Then don’t. The questline will be optional. You can simply skip it. On the other hand, those that like her or aren’t blinded by hate can play it and have fun with it–everyone wins. As a matter of fact the Final Fantasy XIV team has demonstrated to be very good with storytelling, so I’d say they deserve to be given a chance. They might create a story featuring Lightning that could improve her standing even between those that normally don’t like her.

“What about the miquo’te costume and that horribly sexualized victory pose? They sure don’t fit Lightning at all!”

Sure they don’t, pretty much like half the costumes in Lightning Returns. The pose makes sense with the costume, as it’s the racial /pose emote done by female miqo’te characters in Final Fantasy XIV. Ultimately, if you don’t like it, you can simply…avoid wearing the costume!

No one at Square Enix is shoving that costume or that pose down your throat. If you like it, you can have Lightning wear it. If you prefer the usual stoic lightning there are plenty costumes that’ll fit your taste. Options are a good thing, not a bad thing.

The gist of the issue is really pretty simple. If you hate Lightning, you can completely ignore her presence in Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. If you love her but you don’t like to see her wearing a skimpy costume or striking an alluring pose, you’re fully empowered with the option to avoid that kind of content in Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII. It’s fully optional.

FinalFantasyXIVLightningCrossover (5)

This crossover, like all fanservice, is obviously targeted to those that love both games. That’s how crossovers work. Fanservice is nothing new to the Final Fantasy series, and especially to Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, that is specifically designed to be a place where fans of the whole series (including Final Fantasy XIII) can feel at home by being exposed to a whole truckload of cameos and easter eggs.

Whether you like it or not, Square Enix made it optional. If you’re so offended by Lightning’s presence in a game in which her appearance actually makes perfect sense, or by her wearing a skimpy outfit and striking a “nyan nyan” pose with cat ears and a tail, you can completely ignore those elements and they won’t affect you one bit.

The power of options is a marvelous thing. Maybe more people should embrace it instead of getting offended by something that no one holds them at a gunpoint to enjoy.

Want to to Play the Open Beta of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn? You Better Hurry up

Want to to Play the Open Beta of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn? You Better Hurry up

In August Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn will go in open beta, but as it turns out there are a few caveats to have a chance to play from the first day.

Of course those that took part to the previous phases of testing will be able to participate in the open beta automatically, the same goes for those that registered or will register a beta code before July the 30th at 9:59 PM PDT.

Those that don’t have a beta code will have to register before Monday, July the 22nd. After that date the beta registration site will be closed and won’t reopen until the beginning of the open beta. It’s unclear if everyone that registered before that date (without a beta code) will automatically be invited to the test from day one.

In any case, whether you have a beta code or not, you better hurry up if you want to play from day one of the open beta, or you might miss your chance. You can register here (Europeans go here) and if you have a beta code you can use it here (here if you’re in Europe).

 

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn PS3 Beta Impressions

When Final Fantasy XIV released, it met very underwhelmed audiences. Subscriber base quickly plummeted, and years of development time suddenly seemed like they were going to go waste. Square Enix‘s plan was to talk to the community, find out what the problems were, and fix them in the form of a huge game update.

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is that long awaited update, and it brings to the table so very much, it could probably be called a new game entirely.

ffxiv ps3 beta

After a long wait to download,  finally I was able to launch Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn and of course, as expected of most RPGs, I was presented with the Character Creation screen. The options here are extensive, everything from iris size, to the length of your tail (if you have one) and size of your breasts (if you have those) is here. I went with my weird cat-woman type of person, naming her Felicia Breens. During character creation, you can select different backdrops and make your character do an odd pose, if you’re so inclined. Straight away the graphics looks quite lovely, although of course it can’t quite match the splendor available on a powerful PC.

Stepping into the game, I find myself riding the back of a wagon with a merchant. It only takes a minute for some guards to stop the wagon and attempt to arrest my new merchant friend for carrying “illegal herbs”. That’s when I can’t help but notice a slight framerate drop occasionally, but this is a beta, so I’m going to try and put framerate issues and minor bugs to the back of my mind; judgment can be reserved for launch.

Travelling with my merchant friend Brendt to Ul’dah, I discover that the town is apparently run by Sultana in name, but the Syndicate is actually running things behind the scenes. I don’t know why people would think a raisin holds any power anyway. Typical of playing a JRPG for the first time, the game throws terms and names that a player can barely recollect or pronounce at that point, let alone understand… Nonetheless, I’m intrigued.

After arriving in Ul’dah, I’m immediately urged into joining the Quicksand guild; they insist I can’t go anywhere until I join. From a distance, the city looked bleak and unattractive, but up close it’s actually quite beautiful. Momodi, the owner of Quicksand tells me that everything in Ul’dah is for sale if you have the gil. I tried, but there was no option to buy the chair Momodi was sitting on. I felt lied to.

The first hour of the game required grappling with using a console game controller with an MMO’s UI, whilst running about Ul’dah doing random fetch quests. Take this here, deliver this there, go get me some of that… The NPCs in FFXIV unfortunately have similar problems to the NPCs in almost every other MMO. Finally the quests take me back outside the walls of Ul’dah, where plenty of low-level mobs are waiting for me.

The battle system of a PC MMO has translated surprisingly well onto the console, with battle commands being issued with the face buttons and directional pad. There are different sets of commands that can be changed with R1, each set having all eight face buttons used for two different actions, meaning you have 16 actions available to you at any one time. To anyone new to MMO titles, this may be overwhelming, but it can be organized quickly and easily into a set you use in towns, a set you use in battles, etc.

Here we see 8 commands set, 4 accessible VIA the face buttons when pressing the R2, and another 4 set to the directional pad when holding L2. Using both D-Pad and face buttons means 16 actions, including attacks, items and even emoticons can be set at once.

Here we see 8 commands set, 4 accessible VIA the face buttons when pressing the R2, and another 4 set to the directional pad when holding L2. Using both D-Pad and face buttons means 16 actions, including attacks, items and even emoticons can be set at once.

When it comes to audio, the game performs as well as any Final Fantasy game. We can find some classic remixes, including everyone’s favorite victory fanfare, and some brand new tunes that make FFXIV’s soundtrack just as good, if not better, than many RPGs. And of course, menu and battle sound effects are all more than acceptable; one area where some may be disappointed is the lack of any voice acting, but to fully voice act an entire MMO is a tall order, so it is understandable.

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is clearly a game built first and foremost for PC. Playing with a PS3 controller is difficult, and definitely a learning experience, but having said that, FFXIV is still a fun game, difficult controls or no. Clearly a PC version would be preferable to the PS3 whenever possible, but if you’re a big Final Fantasy fan, or you just really want to try the game and don’t have a compatible PC, then this is definitely the best solution.

All in all, it was an enjoyable experience. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn doesn’t have any major innovations to bring to the genre, but nonetheless it clearly shows an improvement over the first release, and I believe that fans of the franchise should be rather pleased at the offering. But you can tell us yourselves just below – did you try A Realm Reborn PS3 Beta? If you did, was it enough to convince you to invest in it?

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn Gets New Screenshots Teasing the Open Beta

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn Gets New Screenshots Teasing the Open Beta

To tease us about the upcoming open beta of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn Square Enix just published three new development screenshots of the game.

We can see elements that will come with the open beta, like the fight against the primal Garuda, and we also get a glimpse of an old classic Final Fantasy monster, the Demon Wall.

You can check out the screenshots above and below, while you wait for my own hands-on preview of the beta that will be published quite soon.

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Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn – The Seedling of Rebirth Grows and Bears Fruit

Preview: Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn – The Seedling of Rebirth Grows and Bears Fruit

Once upon a time there was a game developer: it had a long and solid history, so long and so solid that it had grown complacent, feeling that its fans would swallow whatever was put on the table. That developer created a MMORPG and not only released it way before it was ready, but also refused to understand that the market had evolved to new standards of quality.

Things had indeed changed radically, and the developer found itself at a crossroads, as the MMORPG failed so disastrously that it put the whole long history of its franchise in jeopardy. The trust of the customers was lost, and the brand seemed to be destined to a long downward spiral towards oblivion.

Almost anyone else would have abandoned that MMORPG, firing most of the staff and leaving it to wither and die in maintenance mode as a low quality free to play game, but the developer did the unthinkable: not only didn’t it fire its team, but it strengthened it, pouring even more resources in that game to create it anew, doing justice to its brand and to its customers.

That developer was Square Enix, and that MMORPG was Final Fantasy XIV. Now, almost three years after that fateful launch that got very near to killing  the Final Fantasy franchise, Final Fantasy XIV is no more, and we’re just a month away from the release of it’s successor: Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn.

Final Fantasy XIV ARR Beta 3 (93)

In my early preview of the first two phases of the game’s beta, I called it “a seedling of rebirth”. That’s exactly what it was back then, small and promising, but still lacking the content to really judge its worth. Did that little seed grow into a tree and bear fruit? Read on and let’s discover the answer together.

A Realm Reborn is set five years after the fall of the lesser moon Dalamud and the events that marked the end of Final Fantasy XIV. The adventurers (the players) that were sent to safety through time and space by the archon Louisoix are finally returning to Eorzea, while new blood is also appearing to bolster the ranks of those that are now called “the warriors of light”.

Unfortunately the threat of the Garlean Empire has just been dormant, but it’s about to extend its shadow upon Eorzea again, while a new and even more dangerous evil seems to have set its eyes on the land. Old heroes gather, and are joined by new ones, and that’s indeed the outset of an epic story.

Storytelling is one of the elements that changed most radically from the first game. Now the player characters aren’t colorless bystanders overshadowed by NPCs any more, but have become the true heroes of the story, creating a better emotional connection with the players behind them.

Final Fantasy XIV ARR Beta 3 (209)

The story itself is better integrated with the game and better narrated, and that’s no small perk. While this is a MMORPG, it’s also a Final Fantasy game, and a Final Fantasy game with sub-par storytelling loses a large part of its meaning.

While I can’t say too much to avoid spoilers, be ready to be surprised (something that is quite rare in MMOs), and if you’re a returning player with a sensitive heart, you may even shed a tear or two as certain events unfold. The team definitely did a good job in stirring the emotions of the veteran players with the events that led to the closure of the old servers, and they did an even better job of banking on those feelings with the new game. When a certain event happens (and those that played the beta with their old character will know what I’m talking about) tears will most likely flow.

Of course the game has a lot to offer to new players as well, and the first impact will obviously be with character creation and customization.

Gone are the days of the limited options of the original game and the early beta. The game offers a wide variety of elements to personalize at your leisure, going from a large array of hairstyles, including those long and feminine ones that are so scarce in most MMORPGs, to the shape and length of tails and ears.

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Those that enjoy the full slider customization you find in games like Aion or Phantasy Star Online 2 may still feel a little restricted, but the provided options are plenty to design unique characters without creating an army of proportion-defying aberrations that would walk around Eorzea and demolish everyone’s immersion. I would go ahead and say that the team stroke a near-perfect balance between preserving the game’s aesthetics and letting us make our characters truly our own.

What I do find unnecessarily restrictive comes right at the end of character creation: your starting city is linked to the class you choose. Want to be a gladiator from Limsa Lomisa? Too bad. You can’t, and that’s a bit of a problem considering that this changes the outset of your main storyline and the characters you’ll interact with at the beginning of the story. While I understand the reason behind this choice, I can definitely think of a few more elegant ways to implement it without restricting the choice of starting city-state.

Moving past this hiccup in presentation, we’re hit by the full glory of A Realm Reborn’s visuals. I won’t mince words here: this is by a long shot the most beautiful looking MMORPG in the market, and its visual flair runs circles around even the titles that are coming in the foreseeable future.

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The new engine, that has been built with elements of Square Enix’s cutting edge Luminous Engine, bring to life a world that is rich, colorful and absolutely stunning to behold in its density and beauty. There’s no place that looks bland or boring, and basically everywhere there are small details to be found and enjoyed.

The same can be said about equipment, that carries the strong creative flair of Final Fantasy games thanks to the imaginative work of Akihiko Yoshida and his team. From the richly detailed starting gear to the strongly characterized artifact armor, it’s really hard not to find something that will tickle your fashion sense in Eorzea, and every design carries a level of love for detail that puts to shame basically everything else in the genre.

If you’re like me and enjoy taking screenshots of your games, you better prepare a new hard drive for this one, because it’ll probably provide you with several gigabytes worth of vistas. Don’t believe me? Just check out the gallery below: it comes with 723 of my own screenshots, and those are just a fraction of the thousands the game compelled me to take.

The visual fidelity and density of the world comes with a bit of a price to pay. Gone are the almost seamless lands of the old Eorzea, replaced by quite a few loading screens. Luckily the transition is very fast, but you’ll find yourself zoning quite a bit. This doesn’t bother me excessively, but I’m sure some will find it unpleasant.

Yet, I can’t say this is a change for the worse. Considering how beautiful and detailed everything looks, I’m very willing to see black for a couple seconds in order to enjoy the richest world I’ve seen in a MMORPG to date. And no, this isn’t hyperbole. It’s very hard to see anything that gets even close to compare in the genre, and everything is further enhanced by a very effective and lively lighting engine that brings all those great models to life.

Effects and animations have also been improved massively from the original game, both in visual impact and variety. Some may find them a bit over the top, but this is a Final Fantasy  game, and if you approach a MMORPG belonging to this franchise expecting realistic motions and no pyrotechnics, I would say you’re playing the wrong game.

The most impressive element of this all is the performance of the engine. The game rarely drops under 55-60 fps on my good but not exceptional GTX 660 at maximum detail. Everything flies smooth and nice on the screen, and the full plethora of options that can be changed in game (and not in a crappy launch menu like in the original FFXIV) tells me that despite the console versions this is a true blue PC game, developed to juice every rig to the best of its possibilities.

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Speaking about consoles, the PS3 version isn’t as shiny. Resolution is visibly lower and aliasing is a bit disturbing if you’re used to the beauty on PC. There are also frame rate drops here and there, but I have to say that considering how old and tired the hardware is, it’s a good port that will satisfy console gamers while they wait for the PS4 version coming next year. On the other hand if you’re on PC, and looking at how beautiful the game looks with its DirectX 9 client, it’s hard not to be excited about the DirectX 11 one that will be released with the PS4 port.

Of course all the beauty of the world can’t really rescue bad gameplay, and gameplay was the weakest link in the original Final Fantasy XIV. Luckily that weakness hasn’t carried over to A Realm Reborn. 

One of the first things that you realize when playing the game is the sheer amount of things to do. The days of lacking content are just a memory of a distant past.

I briefly touched on the storyline before, and that’s the backbone of the game’s quest content, topped by lovely cutscenes and great storytelling. Of course there are also plenty independent side quests, whole questlines dedicated to every class and separate storylines for the Grand Companies, creating an extremely robust set for us to enjoy.

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The writing of every quest is top notch to say the least, as you would expect from a Final Fantasy game, but there are a couple elements that will probably prove polarizing. First of all, there aren’t many boundaries broken with the actual mechanics of the quests. Fetch missions and kill tasks abound, even if the superb writing and the lovely cutscenes (when available) do help a lot in keeping things fresh, provided that you’re willing to read the text at all, of course.

The second and most relevant element is the fact that the main storyline is dotted by missions that will require you to group, no question asked. The level sync of dungeons will force you to find companions even if you’re way overleveled and this may definitely ruffle some feathers between the most solo-oriented players.

Personally, I don’t find anything wrong with it. As a matter of fact, I feel it’s positive that in a MMORPG there are some (limited) instances in which working together with other players is required to progress. Too many developers try too hard to cater to solo players, turning their MMORPGs into Massively Single Player Online RPGs, and it’s nice to see someone going against that trend, but I do know that this opinion isn’t shared by everyone.

Some solace comes from the very elegant implementation of the Duty Finder (the game’s own version of a group finder), that will put you in a group automatically if you so require, and in my case always managed to do so quickly and effortlessly, thanks to the fact that it fishes players from all servers with what seems a very efficient matchmaking algorithm. If you really don’t like to go through the process of forming a party on your own, this will help you immensely.

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More content is provided by the return of the repeatable Guild Leves, the new Guildhest and by F.A.T.E. events.

F.A.T.E. stands for Full Active Time Event and it’s a solid staple of the game’s content. It includes a very large amount of dynamic public missions that pop around the map for players to engage into without the need of joining a party.  Think Warhammer Online‘s public quests of RIFT‘s rifts (ouch, wild alliteration here…). They’re definitely a lot of fun, especially the more story-driven ones, and there is a metric ton of them, meaning that it’s really impossible to run out of content to enjoy.

Guildhests are also quite interesting, as they are group-oriented mini battles/dungeons that will pitch you against a group of monsters or a boss (often coming with minions). They play the two-fold role of additional battle and leveling content and educational tool to get players used to more complex party content.

Of course the game comes with a very large set of group-based instanced dungeons, and they’re probably the most enjoyable part of the battle content. Not only do they look spectacular, but they’re very well-paced with an increasing level of challenge that goes from the tank and spank of the first instance to progressively more difficult bosses and encounters to ease players into the mechanics instead of just slapping their face with harsh multi-stage battles right from the beginning.

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Speaking about battles, the combat system has been revolutionized from the previous game, and now it’s very fluid and faster. It includes a soft global cooldown that gives it a deliberate, tactical pace that will probably displease the most twitchy players, but I found it very well-balanced and enjoyable.

The variety of skills at the disposal of each class and job is very wide, and there are many situational and positional active abilities that require timing and good situational awareness, creating a battle system that I won’t hesitate to define very solid, with a further spectacular element provided by nostalgia-inspired Limit Breaks.

Add to that the additional tactical mechanics like Astral Fire, Umbral Ice and the Transpose skill to switch between them, and even the normally quite plain role of the attack caster gets an interesting twist. If you keep casting fire spells you will receive the Astral Fire status, that will increase your damage but stop your mana regeneration and increase your spell mana cost, once you’ve run out of mana, you can switch to Umbral Ice with Transpose increasing your mana regeneration by a lot alongside your ice damage. Details like this show that development team put a lot of thought in creating a battle system that deviates from the usual fire-and-forget routines.

Tanking is also quite challenging and satisfying, especially due to the frequent appearance of minions and adds that will keep the tank busy and his control abilities in check. Advanced boss mechanics that can be encountered past the first basic dungeons also play a role. For instance in the Copperbell Mines you’ll find an “Ichorous Ire” that will keep you on your toes. I won’t spoil the fight, but believe me, you’re going to have fun.

Final Fantasy XIV ARR Beta 3 (443)

What will make or break the combat system for you will probably depend on how fast you like it. If you’re the twitchy kind of player that loves to fire all his abilities in rapid succession, you’ll probably find it too slow, but if you like tactical, reasoned combat that makes every skill count without being too slow, then you’ll very possibly love A Realm Reborn‘s approach to battle.

The most meaty defining element of the game remains the Armoury System, that lets you change class at will between the eight that will be available in the game (only seven were in the beta, with the newly introduced arcanist to be added at a later stage). Forget having to create an alt to experiment with a different class, as you’ll just have to switch your weapon to change from a tank to a healer or a damage dealer.

Add to that the fact that every class can evolve into an advanced job (arcanist will branch in two different jobs, summoner and scholar) with a more specialized role, and the ability to mix and match by using certain class abilities even when you’re playing another class or job, and you get an extremely flexible system with a lot of customization potential and charm in spades, that will also keep you busy for quite a long time while you level up all the classes you’re interested in.

There are also several crafting and gathering classes at the heart of a definitely deep and full featured crafting system that can easily be defined a game in its own right, not only because of its inherent depth, but also thanks to the peculiar tactical minigame you’ll have to execute when creating new items. It’s been streamlined from the one present in the original game, and it’s very engaging and enjoyable, at least if you’re the kind of player that doesn’t mind deliberately paced puzzle-like gameplay that doesn’t have anything to do with action.

Final Fantasy XIV ARR Beta 3 (683)

If you’re worried about where you’ll store all the equipment needed to dress up all those classes and jobs, worry no more, as the game comes with a very elegant feature named the Armoury Chest. It basically includes separate inventory tabs for every element of your equipment. All your weapons will be stored together, separated from all your chest pieces, your hats and so forth. Not only this provides a lovely solution to inventory clutter, but it also makes changing classes easy and fast, and even more so because you can save different equipment sets and switch between them on the fly.

The UI itself is streamlined and well designed, having almost every element comfortably available at your fingers. Only the map can use a little more work, especially in the department of quest markers for objectives that are placed beyond the borders of an area, but the development team already explained that the problem is going to be fixed with the open beta.

The controller UI deserves a final note, as it’s probably the most elegant and simply revolutionary implementation of a gamepad-friendly hotbar. The “Cross Hotbar” is made of abilities arranged in four crosses representing the D-pad and the four face buttons of the controller. You can switch between the left pair and the right pair by holding the left and right triggers, and quickly activate any ability by pressing the corresponding button.

Final Fantasy XIV ARR Beta 3 (451)

Gone are the times in which you’d have to scroll between abilities on the hotbar with the D-pad before activating them. Now a single trigger/button combination activates every skill on the fly, proving just as fast as a keyboard. It’s so well implemented that I moved to the controller altogether, and I’ve always been a keyboard and mouse kind of player.

I was already quite confident in the quality of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn with its early beta, but phase three has been an eye opener. The visible care and love gone into the game is uplifting, and the level of polish is already very advanced, not to mention the fact that the sheer amount of content offered is definitely rich, with a lot more to come with open beta and release. In my previous preview I defined the game “a seedling of rebirth”, and now I can confidently say that the seed has grown and is bearing fruit.

Of course we’ll have to see if those fruits hanging in front of our noses are as mature and juicy as they look, but only the game’s release and the months beyond that will answer that question. At the moment, though, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn fits the definition of a labor of love quite perfectly, and it looks fantastic to boot. If you thought that the original Final Fantasy XIV wasn’t a true Final Fantasy, A Realm Reborn is exactly that, and then some.

Editor’s Note: If you didn’t play the first Final Fantasy XIV and plan on playing A Realm Reborn, you may want to check out the eight episodes of our The Story So Far column, that will get you up to speed with the story and help you enjoy the plot of the new game better, considering that it’s a direct sequel.

I Have Staggered Monsters In Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy

I Have Staggered Monsters In <em>Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII</em>

My first hands-on session with Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy  and its interesting new combat system was, fittingly, lightning quick.

Just a few minutes at the end of a long night of seeing the stacked upcoming line-up of Square Enix’s (and pals Deep Silver’s) next games: the Deus Ex iPad game, the new Thief, the new Saint’s Row, a game called Murdered.

The clock was ticking, Square’s showcase, held in a hotel in Santa Monica a few weeks back, was nearly over. It was almost midnight. I was nearly a pumpkin. In the game the world is going to end in 13 days. In my favorite game ever, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, the world will end in 72 hours. Time limits were top of mind. Lightning Returns, Square’s next big role-playing game, was just sitting there.

You know, I was expecting more of an action-RPG. When the game was announced in August, the detail that stuck out to me was that, as we wrote at the time, “Character control will be more dynamic. She’ll be able to hang off ledges, pull herself up, jump, duck behind corners. You’ll be able to move her around in battle, a first, they said, for the series.” I was hoping that one of the things I dislike about many popular role-playing games—how the playable characters tend to feel like game-board tokens and don’t feel like they’re physically part of their world—would be remedied in this new game.

Not quite.

I Have Staggered Monsters In Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

Lightning moves better than previous Final Fantasy characters, but she doesn’t exactly animate with the smoothness of a hero from an Uncharted or Assassin’s Creed or even, as I was hoping, a Zelda or Fable lead. She’s still a bit stiff.

The combat, however, was indeed more interesting than I expected. Lightning fights alone, but, in a possible nod to Final Fantasy X-2, she can change her clothes on the fly and, in doing so, change her power sets. You jump into a battle, have free rein to run around and attack enemies and can switch from outfit to outfit.

Each outfit, or “schema,” has a quartet of attack and block moves assigned to it. Each can be used as long as you have the requisite amount of your move meter filled. This drains with use and gradually comes back. It’s the active-time-battle system introduced in Final Fantasy IV dressed up differently, in a matter of speaking. Good players will drain one scheme’s moves, switch to another outfit, use its moves and keep swapping.

Naturally, she’ll strike a different sexy warrior-woman pose depending on what schema she’s wearing when she defeats her enemies.

I Have Staggered Monsters In Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

You can also stop time, freezing enemies. That helps. It’s called Overclock mode and is mapped to a trigger button. I’m not sure what you have to do to earn it. Again, we’ll play more and figure out more.

I Have Staggered Monsters In Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

You can also stagger enemies by discovering and exploiting specific weaknesses. This has been a recurring element in the FF  games. Hitting an enemy with attacks against which they’re vulnerable will produce a stagger wave meter. More attacks will turn this meter red and eventually knock the enemy down, at which point the player can inflict maximum damage.

Hooray for new wrinkles to RPG combat, right? There are many things people like about Final Fantasy games, of course: the story, the music, the art style… a lot of that changes from game to game. Combat usually changes, too. How well this system holds up in battle after battle remains to be seen, but it’s nice to at least see the Final Fantasy XIII series of games continue to try to add complexity to the genre’s combat. Long gone are the days of just tapping the X button. Instead, we have yet another new, more ornate system—in-combat movement! clothes/ability-switching!—that hopefully gives way to more player-driven strategy and an altogether more fulfilling game through which to battle.

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy will be out for Xbox 360 and PS3 on February 11, 2014. It’ll be out in Japan in November. We’ll be playing the game more at E3 and will have a more thorough description of how Lightning Returns works then.

Final Fantasy XIII Makes Major Changes to the Series’ Formula, Ends Trilogy

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Makes Major Changes to the Series’ Formula, Ends Trilogy

Final Fantasy XIII heroine Lightning will be back in a new game, Square-Enix announced today. Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII. This one is going to be a very different Final Fantasy.

Series director Motomu Toriyama began a presentation in Tokyo by showing an image of a rose, saying roses have many meanings. He then said that this game is the conclusion of Lightning’s saga. (No, we’re not sure what that means either!)

Toriyama said Lightning will make her comeback, returning as a stronger character than she was in the first two games, FF XIII and FF XIII-2. Lightning is going to face her final battle, so he asked the character designer to convey the power in her eyes. It’s the end of her trilogy of games.

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Makes Major Changes to the Series’ Formula, Ends Trilogy

From the start, Toriyama described features little seen in Japan’s renowned role-playing game series. The game will offer players a lot of ways to customize their version of Lightning. Her outfits will be about more than just aesthetics. They affect her abilities.

Character control will be more dynamic. She’ll be able to hang off ledges, pull herself up, jump, duck behind corners. You’ll be able to move her around in battle, a first, they said, for the series.

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Makes Major Changes to the Series’ Formula, Ends Trilogy

During the presentation, we got a look at what might be the first screenshot of the new game. (If not, then it’s a concept piece.)

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Makes Major Changes to the Series’ Formula, Ends Trilogy

We also saw some concept art that begins to illustrate how different this game is from the standard FF game. The world of Lightning Returns runs in real-time. When the game begins, the world, called Nobus (Novus?) Partus, is 13 days away from the end. She has 13 days and 13 nights to save humanity. The game runs on a doomsday clock, shades of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask.

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Makes Major Changes to the Series’ Formula, Ends Trilogy

The whole game runs on a time-of-day system, with a monorail that moves through it on schedule, like everything else in the world—you can get stuck in one region waiting for the monorail to take you to another island.

The game world touches on three themes: gothic, mechanical and fantasy.

The game will be out for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in 2013.

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Makes Major Changes to the Series’ Formula, Ends Trilogy

But wait, there’s more!

Concept art galore…

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Makes Major Changes to the Series’ Formula, Ends Trilogy

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Makes Major Changes to the Series’ Formula, Ends Trilogy

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Makes Major Changes to the Series’ Formula, Ends Trilogy

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Makes Major Changes to the Series’ Formula, Ends Trilogy

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Makes Major Changes to the Series’ Formula, Ends Trilogy