In an Era of Brand Uncertainty, Final Fantasy XIV is Quietly Kicking Ass

Even if you're not into MMOs, A Realm Reborn stands a good chance of changing your mind.

Analysis by Bob Mackey, .

As I come closer to end of my second full year as a Final Fantasy XIV subscriber, a thought crossed my mind—a certain opinion I never imagined I'd call my own back when I signed up in 2013.

Could this be the best Final Fantasy game of the past decade?

But the more I think about it, the less controversial this rhetorical question seems. I've been following Final Fantasy through its ups and downs since its first US release in 1990, and the past ten years have seen me more checked out than ever before when it comes to the brand that once determined my console of choice. Even after sinking 120 hours into it years ago, I've finally come to terms with the fact that I didn't really like Final Fantasy XII all that much—though I really, really wanted to. And while I've certainly enjoyed Square-Enix's attempts to reinvent Final Fantasy XIII with XIII-2 and Lightning Returns, neither of these games possess the sheer confidence I love to see from the series.

But with Final Fantasy XIV, things are different. Much of its brilliance can be chalked up to the fact that Square-Enix essentially had the chance to rework it from scratch—a rare luxury in this industry. Unfortunately, A Realm Reborn hasn't fully escaped the taint of the original, disastrous 2010 release—whenever I read justifiable hand-wringing about the state of Final Fantasy following the mismanagement of the Fabula Nova Crystalis project, I rarely see anyone bring up Final Fantasy XIV's return to form. It could be that MMOs aren't the flavor of the moment in 2015; Hearthstone, MOBAs, and Minecraft now dominate conversations that used to be about how things like World of Warcraft couldn't stop making ludicrous amounts of money. (A fact that's still pretty much true.)

What's most impressive about Final Fantasy XIV's stranglehold on me is how it's essentially destroyed my anti-MMO snobbery. Granted, this stance is informed by personal experience: A family member basically got me into RPGs on the NES and SNES, but ever since Everquest released, that's been the only game he's played for, oh, the past 16 years. As someone who loves playing lots of different games, I filed away MMORPGs in the "not for me" category, based completely on an earlier, clunky form of the genre that had no problem consuming your life. While it's easy to lose yourself in the overwhelming amount of content Final Fantasy XIV has to offer, I wasn't surprised to hear director Naoki Yoshida FFXIV also wants to engage with people who have more to do in their lives than play FFXIV. An in-game menu called the Duty Finder instantly directs you to the nearest relevant targets, quests, and attractions, making it a lot easier to achieve some progress if you don't have much time to play. If I have, say, an hour free and I want to do some worthwhile FFXIV-ing, I use the Duty Finder to toss me into a queue for an instanced dungeon—within minutes, I usually find myself right where I want to be.

And what's strange is I'm not necessarily playing FFXIV for its social component. I generally treat it as a single player game with some multiplayer action here and there—that $14.99 a month is to keep my online interactions (mostly) free of buttholes. This is a completely viable way to go about things, mind you; while the dungeons and boss fights require the assistance of other people, FFXIV does such a great job of training players for their specific roles that constant communication isn't a necessity. That's a godsend for people like me, who mostly use FFXIV as a low-key game to play in order to relax and burn through a few podcasts—not to get into arguments with strangers online. And, for the most part, I've found its community extremely helpful and generous; the few times I screwed something up in my attempts to wrap my head around a new role were generally met with gentle suggestions instead of stern reprimands.

It's a testament to Naoki Yoshida's leadership and vision that a former MMO naysayer like me has been faithfully checking in on FFXIV every weekend or so, and with no plans to end my subscription anytime soon. And I've committed even further by recently picking up the expansion Heavensward, even if my slow-as-hell MMO engagement style means I won't be touching any of its content until early 2016. If, like me, you've also lost some faith in Final Fantasy over the past decade, consider giving XIV a try—it's where all the best stuff is happening.

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Comments 28

  • Avatar for trainface #1 trainface 2 years ago
    FFXIV is a lot of fun. I would love for Yoshida to be be given one of the single-player numbered entries in the series to see what he would do with it.
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  • Avatar for hester2 #2 hester2 2 years ago
    Agreed completely. My only complaint is that it can be tough for newcomers to experience the late story as intended since the later dungeons are cutscene-heavy, and most of their party members will want to skip them. All told, though, that's a pretty minor complaint.
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #3 cldmstrsn 2 years ago
    Its funny and maybe its just me but I have never lost my "faith" in Final Fantasy. I have enjoyed every single entry, some more than others but for the most part it still decides what console I want and I still get insanely excited when a new entry is shown. FF XIV is definitely the only MMO I play these days because its just so much fun to play. I bought the new expansion and I couldn't stop playing and I burnt myself out after I played a couple of alexander Raids but I got to see it and play it and it was a lot of fun and I guarantee you I will re-up on the next content patch.
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  • Avatar for touchofkiel #4 touchofkiel 2 years ago
    It is an awesome game - and more importantly, it's an awesome Final Fantasy game. But as someone who's played since 2013... it has its problems. It's the best "theme park" MMO around, but it's also one of the most shallow. There is no wiggle room in regards to your rotation, there are no skill trees, nothing resembling "builds,"... in short, there is precisely ONE way to play your job. Utterly inflexible. This is mitigated by the fact that you can change jobs at will, but it still really bothers me. I noticed this especially after trying out Elder Scrolls Online - not a great game by any means, but the options you have for building your character's skills, and how to play it, are awesome and nearly wide open.

    One thing's for sure - it's not the combat (and the lazy, unimaginative boss mechanics) that will keep you re-subbing. It's the gorgeous world, great attention to detail, breezy quests, non-pandering fan service, and of course a good guild that will keep you renewing your subscription.

    On another note - and I might be in the minority - but you might be disappointed in Heavensward. I found most of it particularly tedious (mostly because the new zones are just too big). I worry about the game's longevity if this is what major expansions will always look like - lame vertical progression, more weekly gear treadmills, and the major gap in difficulty between raiding and, well, everything not-raiding. Or maybe I'm just bitter because they ruined my favorite job (bard) - definitely not in the minority on that one.
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  • Avatar for benjaminlu86 #5 benjaminlu86 2 years ago
    In 2013, FFXIV:ARR and Naoki Yoshida dared to be traditional in a sea of mediocre MMOs that relied on gimmicks, most of which ultimately went free to play. A solid foundation centered on a compelling story; traditional MMO combat based on the holy trinity and the global cooldown; frequent, regular content updates to justify the monthly subscription. These are what made ARR great and refreshing in 2013. However, in 2015, I feel like the game is treading water.

    I've subbed since 2012, back in 1.0 and still am. When I look at the announced upcoming content in the game (patch 3.1 and 3.2), it feels extremely formulaic. 3.1 adds 2 new dungeons and a new large-scale raid. 3.2 adds 2 new dungeons and a new 8-man raid along with item level increase. These mirror what 2.1 and 2.2 did for ARR. Repeat for 3.3, 3.4, etc. Even the Heavensward expansion itself (whose story and battles were fantastic) is almost an exact copy of ARR in structure. Main story quests which gradually level you up to cap, broken up by dungeons every ~3 hours. Job quests at regular intervals. Primal trials at regular intervals. It's predictable to the point of clockwork.

    What FFXIV lacks is dynamic content that breaks out of this rigid cycle based on multiple repetitions of the same fight over and over. Large-scale PvP was a good step but they have not yet been able to have more than one PvP map as "current" content, and it's still stymied by the Grand Company restriction system which prevents friends from playing with or against each other at will. There is hope on the horizon, depending on how Airship Exploration shakes out specifically so I'll reserve final judgment on that. It really needs to be something that will change on a day-to-day basis. On the other hand, it's already announced to be 24-man in size, finally giving meaning to Free Companies which were formerly just glorified silos for multiple 8-man statics.

    All of this is extremely inside baseball. To a completely new player, I cannot recommend this game enough. It will take months to get through all of the wonderful content this game has to offer and take that as a good thing. This game is perfect for someone who intends to spend 5-15 hours a week on it. It is definitely lacking for someone who is looking to sink any more time than that since the highest tier raid is clockwork and so is the content rollout structure. You will run out of content and get bored.
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  • Avatar for bobservo #6 bobservo 2 years ago
    @benjaminlu86 Thanks for this. FFXIV is perfect for an MMO newbie like me who only plays a few hours a week, so your perspective is definitely interesting.
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #7 SatelliteOfLove 2 years ago
    Yoshida is some kind of sorcerer to pull this off.
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  • Avatar for SigurdVolsung #8 SigurdVolsung 2 years ago
    @cldmstrsn I agree with you. I've enjoyed every Final Fantasy game. And I actually love a lot of the "weird ones" more than the popular ones. For example, VII is one of my least favorite, and XII, X-2, and XIII-2 are 3 of my favorites. My favorite all time will probably be VI though. But every Final Fantasy is a special game and a special event for me. I can't wait for XV, but I'll still be playing XIV for a long time to come. All my classes are 52-57 other than DRK which has been my 60 main since about 2 weeks after Heavensward released.
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #9 cldmstrsn 2 years ago
    @SigurdVolsung For the longest time VII was my favorite and I loved VIII and IX and really liked X but it didn't top VII for me. Then on October 31st 2006 I was just blown away by FF XII. At first it wasn't my favorite but on my second play through it occurred to me that this was my new favorite FF and it hasn't changed since. I also enjoy the weird ones. Also in regards to how much I love FF VI. I pretty much always have the Figaro Castle theme rolling through my head.
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  • Avatar for Vaporeon #10 Vaporeon 2 years ago
    Great piece, Bob. I recall you reviewing FFXIV Reborn. I was a fellow MMO naysayer until I recently watched the anime, Sword Art Online. I just started Tera a few weeks back and I'm hooked! Though I wonder, would you try any other MMOs? Or do you think most MMO players are typically loyal to the first world that really syncs with them?

    I'd love to try FFXIV, Guild Wars 2, and ESO... though since they're such deep and varied experiences, I wonder if my approach should be one at a time, so I'm not overwhelmed. Any suggestions? Thanks!
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  • Avatar for monketo #11 monketo 2 years ago
    Very nice piece. I tried really hard to like XIV, and I agree with you on the positive aspects of the game's design. However the world itself felt very shallow to me, and many of the characters in the story were just awfully written, and the voice acting didn't help matters. And I'm just not into crafting things, which from my understanding you need to do a lot of to get the really nice gear.

    It is, however, the most "Final Fantasy" Final Fantasy game I've played since X (I never had the chance to touch XII unfortunately, but I've played everything else). So I agree with your statement, it's probably the best FF game in the past decade. Which is kind of a shame for people looking for the same single-player experience they remember from the franchise's biggest hits.Edited October 2015 by monketo
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  • Avatar for prymusferal #12 prymusferal 2 years ago
    @cldmstrsn Get out of my head, man! Seriously, though, I had pretty much the exact same experience with FFXII. It took a second run for me to realize that not only had XII become my favorite FF by far, but it had more or less ruined the console RPG genre for me. Not until Xenoblade Chronicles (which I feel shares a lot of FFXII's design concepts) did I really enjoy a console-style RPG again. FFXII was just that good to me.

    I have so much admiration for the FF games divisible by three. XII, IX, and VI are far and away my favorites. (I know Bob has talked a lot about his love for IX, but I feel it holds up better than VII or VIII, despite being panned at the time for being too "backward thinking.") VI will forever be special to me. For me, though, it's not Figaro Castle's theme rolling through my head; it's Kefka's theme and laugh.
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  • Avatar for SigurdVolsung #13 SigurdVolsung 2 years ago
    @cldmstrsn@prymusferal That is an interesting point about the rule of three there. I have to admit that it works out for me as well other than liking IV and V a lot more than III, I do definitely consider VI, IX, and XII my three favorites. Hopefully that means good things for XV. I'm a total sap, so the Celes opera song is the song that is usually in my head. But every now and then... that Kefka laugh shows up. One of the greatest characters in video game history.

    Oh, and as I have stated many times on here. I so need a FF XII International Version HD update on my PS4. I will spend $100 for that easily without breaking a sweat. That game is so deep that you can play it for hundreds of hours without feeling any grindiness, in my opinion.Edited October 2015 by SigurdVolsung
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #14 cldmstrsn 2 years ago
    @SigurdVolsung@prymusferal So great to see other people who really enjoy XII as much as I do! It is so criminally underrated (which is a little bit why I like it) I just wish people could see what I see when I play that game. I am really hoping they announce an HD remaster soon. I have been getting the itch to play it again but I want to hold out! Imagining that game with a jobs systems makes me sweat with excitement, almost like a real time FF Tactics!
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  • Avatar for bobservo #15 bobservo 2 years ago
    @monketo Actually, I've found that dungeons can yield some pretty rare/great equipment, and even the standard stuff you buy in stores is just fine. The only thing I miss out on by not crafting is adding Materia to weapons, but you can have other players do this for you.
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  • Avatar for prymusferal #16 prymusferal 2 years ago
    @SigurdVolsung@cldmstrsn Yep, I'll admit I prefer IV to III, but in general, my threes rule holds true. I would be so thrilled with a Zodiac Job System HD rerelease on PS4. I just feel that, much like EarthBound, Final Fantasy XII had so many great ideas that ended up being little more than an evolutionary dead end in the grand scheme of the console RPG.
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  • Avatar for docexe #17 docexe 2 years ago
    I have been curious about this game for a long time, but given the price of the subscription and that I don’t really have much time available for an MMO, I’m always uncertain about taking the plunge.
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  • Avatar for pretzelkins #18 pretzelkins 2 years ago
    Deleted October 2015 by pretzelkins
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  • Avatar for Rifleavenger #19 Rifleavenger 2 years ago
    @monketo To the contrary, crafted gear is nearly worthless at endgame. Raid and tome gear (gear bought by spending currency you get from running various content) are significantly more powerful than the best crafted gear. Said crafted gear is obscenely expensive and/or time consuming to get the materials for. I've never had to rely on crafting gear or buying crafted gear, and I'm at endgame.

    I don't know if you got to the 2.4-2.5 patch story, or the expansion, since the story gets better at that point. However, if you were thoroughly disgusted by the story you have played, then it likely wouldn't be improvement enough. The expansion main story really feels like a classic FF game though, as much of it involves journeying into the new areas with an actual party of NPCs.
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #20 cldmstrsn 2 years ago
    @prymusferal Honestly the only FF that I will probably never replay is II. I liked it but damn is it hard to level and the difficulty spikes are insane but at least I can say I have beaten every mainline FF and I'm proud of it. I really liked III but ya you just cant compare it to IV especially the psp one which has my favorite sprites of the old school series. I wish they would have done a similar upgrade to V instead of those weird smooth graphics.Edited October 2015 by cldmstrsn
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  • Avatar for SigurdVolsung #21 SigurdVolsung 2 years ago
    @cldmstrsn The GBA version of Final Fantasy V is the definitive version thus far. If you can find a way to play it, do so.
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  • Avatar for SOUP32 #22 SOUP32 2 years ago
    I completely agree with Bob when it comes to this game. I'd avoided every MMO out there, but after starting FFXIV in May of this year, I keep coming back to it. It's just a great Final Fantasy title, full stop.
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #23 cldmstrsn 2 years ago
    Deleted October 2015 by cldmstrsn
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #24 cldmstrsn 2 years ago
    @SigurdVolsung you mean this? October 2015 by cldmstrsn
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #25 cldmstrsn 2 years ago
    @SigurdVolsung I think if you copy and paste into your browser a picture will come up haha. If not I will delete that. its just a picture of my FF collection in which I have a perfectly boxed FF V advance and I agree it is my favorite version.Edited October 2015 by cldmstrsn
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  • Avatar for kidgorilla #26 kidgorilla 2 years ago
    I started playing this early in the summer and just gave it up because my wife had a baby. I joined a FC really early and while they're great people, I did 95% of everything solo and loved it. Glad you're into it, Bob, but make sure you do some homework on the Hard and EX boss fights. Go in blind and you'll get those stern reprimands you were talking about
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  • Avatar for prymusferal #27 prymusferal 2 years ago
    @cldmstrsn Strangely enough, I will never go back to VII or VIII. I just feel they haven't aged well. IV and VI (or rather II and III SNES, since those are my preferred versions because I'm weird) are great, and I enjoy both X and XII. Tactics is one of my favorites too. Heck, even the original, being a weird Japanese AD&D rip-off, is interesting despite being pretty challenging. (I'll never forget getting the random WarMech encounter my first time through and getting a TPK... fun times.) But VII and VIII? Nope, no way.

    I absolutely dislike X-2, the whole XIII saga, and anything spun off of VII.
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #28 cldmstrsn 2 years ago
    @prymusferal this is where we take different paths... I thought we could be friends!! haha just kidding. Ya I really enjoy X-2 and I consistently replay VII and VIII as they are some of my favorite rpg's in general but I totally can see it. In regards to Tactics that is the game that solidified my love for RPG's. I played it after VII which lets be honest really did blow everything away and changed the industry back in the day but Tactics story was dark and the soundtrack by sakimoto is just so damn good and it was so different from VII that it opened my eyes to so much more and even is some of the reason I love X-2, that battle system man! so much fun.

    P.S. Dude Crisis Core is actually a great game! If you haven't played that at the very least give it a try its definitely a lot of fun.Edited 4 times. Last edited October 2015 by cldmstrsn
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  • Avatar for prymusferal #29 prymusferal 2 years ago
    @cldmstrsn It's okay, we can still be friends. No friends are ever in 100% agreement on everything! Haha. :)

    Besides, I really like FFVII and VIII, I just don't see myself going back to them anytime soon. (For the record, VII is perhaps the only FF I've ever 100%-ed. Oh dear, that Ruby Weapon...) I'm taking a "wait and see" approach to the remake.

    I actually had forgotten about Crisis Core, because I never owned a PSP. I remember hearing really good things... I think on some old episode of Retronauts when they discussed FFVII around 2008.

    Ah yes, FF Tactics... oh, how I loved making a team of ninja calculators and unleashing (to borrow a phrase I liked from the comments on another article here) mathematical voodoo on my opponents. I still love that game immensely, and only XCOM has scratched that itch for me in recent years.
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  • Avatar for gbeans #30 gbeans 2 years ago
    I've been pleasantly surprised by the number of new FFXIV players our guild has picked up since 3.0. I'm also pleased by how genuinely kind I've seen random players be to the new players just in dungeons and such. Via Duty Finger or pre-made, I've gone on several story-related runs where no one was pushy about cutscenes. If anything, they were upset when new folks were skipping them. I realize not every player is that way, but generally the community has been great and the social aspects keep bringing me back to it.

    I've thought about going back to FFXI to try to finish the story (I stopped mid-SoA). I grew annoyed with there being an endless row of walls that needed to be broken before I could go to where I needed to go. Was that ever fixed? 'Cause I got tired of 20-30 minutes BST soloing sessions just to move to the next part of the zone :/
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