I’m not an MMO fan. Aside from a brief stint of MapleStory while I was in middle school, the genre never really got its hooks into me. However, seeing Final Fantasy XIV’s E3 2009 reveal trailer left me awestruck. I decided that Final Fantasy XIV had to be the MMO for me.
Promises of dynamic genre-defying combat and a freeing, equipment-based job system had me salivating. When I learned that I’d have the chance to playtest it, I was incredibly excited.
Final Fantasy XIV is frustrating from the get-go. After it’s done installing and patching, you’re given a login screen asking for your Square Enix ID and password. Even if you’re already a “Square Enix Member,” you have to open up your browser, navigate around the labyrinthine “Account Management System” (which is hard to find in and of itself), input your credit card, and register for FFXIV.
That doesn’t sound too bad, but you also have to purchase character slots. That’s right, on top of paying a monthly fee for the game, you have to pay extra for playable characters. You can buy up to eight, but you have to pay for them monthly. If you were to pay for all eight character slots, at the moment, the game could cost you approximately $33.99 a month. That’s $408 a year.
Naturally, there are cheaper, more long-term plans, but it’s more than a little ludicrous.
Once you wrangle all of that into place, and get logged in, you’re treated to a lovely minimalist title screen with classic Final Fantasy music in the background. Naturally, you’ll be inclined to click on “Intro Movie.” It’s seven-and-a-half minutes of adventure-filled CG glory.
After watching that, you’ll probably think, “How could something that had that much love put into the intro alone turn out badly?” I thought the same thing… until I started the actual game.
Character creation is simple enough, and actually rather fun. There are a ton of options for adjusting your character’s hair, eyes, and scars. Although height (which should be relegated to a slider) is locked into a few different settings, there’s still enough to make your character look unique.
However, the solid character creation falters when it comes to choosing a character voice. Perhaps it’s due to the awkward, forced laugh your character makes whenever you proceed to another menu in character creation, but it seems like none of the (few) options for your character’s voice are good ones. By comparison, either gender of a race in the PSP game Phantasy Star Portable 2 has about twenty different voices and a pitch slider. I figured that this would be the end of my voice-acting woes, but I was terribly, terribly wrong.
If you haven’t yet, watch that intro above. That voice-acting was par the course for a modern RPG, right? Sure, the tiny person was a bit annoying, but overall it was pretty good. Once again, we see the intro outdoing the game itself.
Final Fantasy XIV voice-acting is the most frustrating kind of mediocre. Not bad enough to make fun of, but still bad enough to annoy the heck out of the player. Some lines feel totally flat or confused, whereas others are spoken with enough unnecessary exuberance that I start to miss the restraint Final Fantasy XIII’s Vanille.
The worst offenders are the diminutive Lalafells, who, in Square’s attempt to make them sound less childish, have squeakier voices than a frustrated teenager’s. It’s a real disappointment, because Square Enix has proved that it can do good voice acting multiple times this year alone (Nier, Final Fantasy XIII).
Now, an MMO is a big undertaking, full of macros, rules, stat-building, and player interaction. One would assume that in today’s current climate of simplified gaming, this would be streamlined a little bit for an MMO launching in 2010. Not so in Final Fantasy XIV! In fact, the game is even more complex than your standard MMO.
In addition to your combat, you’ve also exciting (not really) activities like farming, fishing, and mining! Now generally, this would be a good thing, rewarding players who want more than just battles. However, if you want to learn how to do these things, you’re going to have to dig through some menus to find the tutorials for these.
Final Fantasy XIV just doesn’t want to help the people playing it. There’s hardly any assistance, even in the beginning of the game. But when you finally get a hold of the basic mechanics, the game goes from perplexing to disappointing.
While I like the idea of changing your character’s class by changing their equipment, Square Enix incorporated the “fatigue system” to ensure that players would make full use of it. Under the fatigue system, you’re only allowed to level up at a regular rate in a certain class for about eight hours a week. Keep playing after that, and you’ll gain experience at a slower rate until you don’t gain any at all. Sure, it’s implemented to get players leveling up in multiple classes, but sometimes you just don’t want to trade in your spear for an axe or a shovel. In an attempt to get players to diversify, they’ve limited the ability of players to play the way they want to.
Overall, the game just feels unpolished. The world is gigantic but incredibly sparse and actually has areas that are copied and pasted from a basic template. The load times are agonizing, often forcing the player to look at a black screen for minutes at a time. Battles are dull, providing nothing that a free MMO could not. The quests have nothing to do with the overall story (which occasionally threatens to be interesting), and you can only take a limited number of them a day. One would figure that after all of the alpha and beta testing that Square Enix did, some of these problems would have been resolved.
Final Fantasy XIV is utterly disappointing. Square Enix is a company that I generally associate with polish and quality, but FFXIV is a far cry from their better efforts. The worst part is that the game has some really interesting ideas, a strong art direction with visuals to match (although, I wish you luck running it), and fantastic music by Nobuo Uematsu.
Due to a general feeling of disappointment from their players, Square Enix is offering an additional 30 days of free gameplay for those who’ve purchased the game. I’ll let you know if the extra time improves things at all, but at the moment, you’re better off watching the intro and listening to the soundtrack than playing the game.