We got the chance to preview the upcoming MMO from Square Enix and Square Enix PDD3, Final Fantasy XIV. The game is due out for Windows PCs on September 30th and for the PlayStation 3 console in March of 2011.
Read our full preview of this new game, After the Break!
A Short History Lesson:
I’ll admit it, I have been console gaming since the Atari 2600 first came on the market. I was one of the first kids in my TOWN to get the game system and friends and friends of friends came from all around to try the cartridge-based game system. Over the years I have collected game systems: consoles, pc and handheld, and the games that came along with them. Among the games two of my favorites were Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy so I can say I literally have watched the FF franchise grow for over two decades and have played it on multiple systems. Also during this time I have played and built online Multi-User Dungeons, the precursor to the MMORPG (MMORPGs were orginally called graphical MUDs until ‘MMORPG’ was coined in 1997), so the idea of taking one of my favorite games and putting it into one of my favorite gaming styles seemed like a great match. It has worked for other franchises right? It worked for for the Ultima franchise, one of the founding fathers of the MMORPG, it worked for Dungeons & Dragons with a couple of titles, and we all know what a massive success World Of Warcraft is. All these started as offline RPGs that eventually evolved into online play to take the player from a solo role playing experience into the world of role playing with the world. So back in 2002-2004 Final Fantasy XI went online first in Japan then in the U.S. on various platforms. And just like the other mentioned games they put out expansion packs to try to keep the game fresh and keep the player base solid to this day. Eventually though the time comes to revamp from the bottom up to re-infuse a player base. NeverWinter Nights failed at this but all indications point WoW is already beginning to see results and they haven’t even implimented the full changes yet. So now the Final Fantasy series starts a new chapter Online with Final Fantasy XIV.
Strong characters with interesting attributes and histories has always been a defining part of Final Fantasy. Over the years the graphics have improved with the technology and the defining features both physical and personality of the characters have evolved with it. Final Fantasy lets you not only choose the eye and hair color of your character you also choose their suns and moons, their lineage and many more aspects that are designed to help sculpt your role play and give you a very rich character base to build off of. From the very beginning the game is trying to encourage strong roleplay rather than hack and slash.
The game sets the atmosphere with its now famously rich use of cutscenes. You are on a ship at sea in a massive storm and you are fighting, both figuratively and literally, to keep the ship from going down. There is a brief moment of action and then back into the cinematics for some more amazing cut-scenes. Then you arrive at your port, walk on to the dock and start your gaming experience in earnest. The only problem is there is no indicator of what you are supposed to do. You are just standing on a dock with a few NPCs standing around and a door in front of you. It looks great but you are now beginning one of the rougher parts of the game, getting started.
Trying to keep the roleplay aspect alive and the suspension of disbelief going, the game gives very few visual guides as to what you are supposed to do next. It gets a little better after a bit of play but for a game that is trying to appeal to the FF console player and fresh MMORPG players, getting the person started comfortably with the game would seem a high priority. The reality of it is you find yourself talking to every NPC you see, and in some rooms that is quite a few, and reading the manual or guides to try to figure out how things work. You know that certain people, like the ones behind the counter with a large number of players standing in a group around them, are important and someone you will have to deal with but you aren’t given an indication of who you should be talking to first or who can tell you what you need to do next. Some MMORPGs may arguably take this too far in the other direction, but as a player I have never complained about being pointed to where I have to go next too much or being told what I need to do. Exploring and talking to different NPCs is definitely a part of any MMORPG, especially Final Fantasy, but getting lost or taking on quests or NPC helpers without realizing the use or consequences are a whole different story.
I will give this hint to help start you off if you are new to the Final Fantasy Online franchise, at the first couple desks talk to all the NPCs behind them before you make any decisions and choose all of the possible questions but accept nothing until you talk to all of them. In traditional FF style they want you to explore the world and speak to the different people, some with good information, some with none. MMORPG players from other games may find this a bit frustrating since most MMORPGs point you where you need to go in one fashion or another. This game does not. It leaves you to your own means, whether it be joining a guild, figuring out what and where to buy things or finding your way out of town. The town I started in was multi-level with no clear indicators on how to get out of town to the first questing area. So you may run down a long section of hallways only to find you are at a dead end and needing to go back to the last hub and pick a different direction. These may be eventually things that get added to the maps and NPCs but I have my doubts.
If you get past the initial struggle or know most of this already from playing FFXI Online, it does get a bit better. When you take on quests and are in the questing area you can get indicators where to go to kill your next creature and when you get to the creature an indicator on your mini map and on above the creatures head let you know this is one of the beasts you are looking for. This is good because in the initial days of the game’s beginning you will be fighting other players for the kills so you need to beeline for them. As with any game’s starting area there is a finite number of creatures that spawn for a quest so everyone is after them. Also some people are trying to farm experience or materials for crafting or selling and the creatures are a good source for both so they may not be on the quest but they want that kill. One of the slightly unusual pains of the starting quests is creature spawn locations. In most starting areas the creatures are in a grouped location and in later quests you may have to hunt around a zone. This helps get the first few quests under a player’s belt before they can move on to a new area and free the area up for the next player. The spawn locations on the beginning quests are all over the map, you may be fighting something on one side of the starting camp then your indicator tells you new ones have spawned on the other side and as you truck across the area someone else kills them and then you have to wait for new spawns and race in that direction. All this will be less of an issue after the game has been out a while, but expect such headaches as you get started. It also doesn’t help that each race doesn’t get it’s own starting zone.
Trades And Abilities:
There are a wide variety of trades and abilities to choose from, most are based off of your race, class and the history you chose for yourself. It makes sense that if you chose your history to have been a fisher that you wouldn’t be as inclined to take a bodyguarding duty as a gladiator might. The variety is a nice mix but once again there is a bit of a learning curve on how to do the trades. Quests help and can point you in the right direction but gearing up requires going to the marketplace and looking at every item to make sure you get everything you need for your trade. Some trades require items equipped in both hands to source materials such as mining so if you go running out with only a pickaxe the game will tell you that you need something in your other hand but not what. If you go over all the items in the trade shop and read their descriptions you will know what you need to get the job done. Again it comes down to Final Fantasy wanting you to ask all the questions, look at all the items before making your choices. Similar to other games as you level you learn new abilities you have to slot them before you use them so make sure you check your abilities each time you level and assign them a slot. Players may not be used to having to do that and might just assume that when they get a new ability it will be there. The abilities are listed under the category they are associated with so that the miner ability of throwing a bone chip won’t be confused with your gladiator abilities for example. Abilities are nicely tailored to the classes and their names and actions match well.
Hopefully this will develop more over time. Gold spammers were running crazy even in the beta testing phase so I never saw a question answered or anyone role playing their character at all. Players did their quests, killed their kills and kept to themselves. Some joined guilds but even the players from the same guilds didn’t seem to interact much if at all. So the whole purpose of putting Final Fantasy into MMORPG format at this point is being missed, because instead of enriching the game’s storyline by having other players bring their ideas and enhancements to the game, it is just a whole bunch of people playing solo in the same world, which at that point you might as well be playing offline because all the benefits of MMORPG are lost and all the headaches are kept. The richness of the story will continue through advanced questing (killing wharf rats doesn’t really enrich your storyline) but it will be plagued by gold spammers and kill stealers. This could all change when the community actually becomes a community but right now it is every player for themselves. It has potiential, it has the right mix of solid MMORPG base to work off of and an existing Final Fantasy fan base, but it needs to develop if it is to become anything more than a hack and slash game.
Controls are pretty good and make sense, for the most part moving is standard keyboard style. There were some issues with mouse use and keyboard function with FFXI (and early versions of this game) but those seemed to have been worked out. Targeting with the mouse involves one click to pick the target and a second to choose to attack. Then is is just a matter of choosing what attack to use. Some creatures will break your target lock, for example a mole that goes under ground and comes back up, but it is just a matter of going through the above to start attacking all over again. Just like FFXI it is also game pad compatible which makes it even more user friendly for hopefully new console converts and colsole converts brought over by the previous game.
The graphics and beautiful and are a far step above any of the other Final Fantasy games. This game’s graphics actually advanced greatly between the Alpha and Beta stages so much that videos were released to show the difference. Sometimes customization of outfits are done at the expense of detail but the game is very rich and clothing customization will only get better (custom undies??). The graphics are so good that players who hadn’t felt a need to upgrade their systems while playing FFXI are in some cases needing to not just budget for the game but also for some new hardware. There are multiple threads on Final Fantasy forums about how to build a cheap new computer. The music score is excellent and I would not be surprised if the soundtrack alone proves popular. One endearing factor is that the sound effects that have always characterized these games are still there and just as enjoyable.
How do you calculate the cost of this? The game’s playtime might be measureable in years like FFXI or any of the other MMORPGs that have stood the test of time and whimsy. You start with an intitial cost of $49.99 to $74.99 for the game, $12.99 a month subscription for one character with one bank character, additional costs for more of either. And what if you need to build/buy a new computer?
It comes down to this: the game has potential, great potential. It has a chance to pull in fresh blood for the franchise from other MMORPGs and console gamers. What the game becomes is also up in the air, it could be the future of RPG in MMORPG or it can become a hack and slash. Everything is there for this to be a long life franchise piece, or it could plummet into obscurity like games I didn’t even mention. There are plenty of MMORPGs out there nowadays with WoW dominating the market so the question is, will freshen up the franchise by starting a new online chapter save or doom it?