After quitting Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn around 2013 due to, well, ARR being a thing and them throwing away the entirety of the original game – which I felt had issues yet was unique and got replaced with what felt, at the time, like a WoW clone – I’ve finally come back. I needed something to get me off of VRChat, relationships and friendships on there were hurting me too much too often and my neck and back were starting to suffer from having what is basically a very hot brick on my face for 8-15 hours a day.
An MMO seemed like a good idea to get addicted to so I could fight my addiction to VRC, and the only MMO I could think to bother with, for whatever reason – though the new free trial stuff got me interested at first, was Final Fantasy XIV even with all my negativity for it.
Sadly, I couldn’t use the trial anyway. It covers the entirety of the Realm Reborn content AND the first entire expansion, as well as every job that involves and leveling all of them up to the level 60 cap with no time limit or anything. A great deal…but I’d lose my entire account if I used it, which I do have to mention because it kind of sucks ass that even after this long I’m not eligible for that just because I made the mistake of buying the game all that time ago. It still irritates me; if you haven’t played in years and haven’t gone past the restrictions of the trial then why can’t you play free too? Obviously, I could make a new account, but I was able to have the name Mikoto Misaka and on one of the original servers too (Behemoth), I wasn’t willing to give that up! So I paid and I also got to start where I left off which LUCKILY was pretty early in the story so I only had to deal with remembering shit for a little and didn’t miss out on anything by forgetting things from nearly a decade ago.
And…I’ve loved it, it’s fucking great! It’s easily the very best MMO I’ve ever played but beyond that it is 100% a true full on Final Fantasy game and truly one of the better ones.
Yes, I really said it is one of the best Final Fantasy games – and I’m saying that while I’m still so fucking early in the story. It has an incredible story with more depth and twists to it than almost any of the other Final Fantasy games (and way more time to spend on developing that) and a great cast that rivals most of them, it’s just that getting to when that all starts going takes getting through the entirety of A Realm Reborn to the post ARR stuff and then into the expansions which can take a little bit of time.
On top of that, it does some amazing stuff with what happened in real life to it. When they cancelled the original XIV MMO (to replace it with A Realm Reborn) they had Bahamut literally just genocide the entire fucking planet and a main story character use all his power and the power of the Gods basically to transfer everyone to another fucking plane of existence within the same world post-destruction.
It’s complicated, but it was a way for them to end the game WITHIN the game instead of just “okay, game’s cancelled, buy the new one LOL”. Little did anyone expect that would become the entire crux of the story, lore, the politics and struggles, the cultures in the world, the religions, the need to deal with refugees which strongly impacts said politics, hell – even the design of the world itself which has been changed massively 5 years after the calamity of Bahamut which feels really cool to see these places now compared to then, and your own character from then on in the expansion’s entire reason for being alive. This is the only time I know of where any sort of fiction truly fully decimated it’s entire EVERYTHING and then made that devastation something the rest of the story – the vast majority of the story, truly, given the original game is like a tenth of the story in total at this point – ENTIRELY relies on to exist yet it wasn’t made as a prequel or as a prologue originally, it WAS the game. I think it’s really cool. Square has tried it before with Kefka and all that, but that really just isn’t the same and was much smaller of a scale in the actual game itself. More importantly, that was somewhat planned. THIS came about because the original game was a complete failed product; this entire story exists because of capitalism and last minute decision making and somehow it really makes it feel like it was all on purpose from the get-go with how fucking good it is.
A Realm Reborn covers mostly dealing with recovery and rebuilding after the calamity and setting up a lot of major story pieces and cast members for the rest of the lifespan of the game. It’s the prelude to what has become one of my favorite FF games ever, and while ARR has some great moments, it’s not until the post-ARR (but pre-Heavensward) content that the story really becomes just outstanding. I mean at some point this is basically 4 different games worth of content but all slammed into one with a continuous story through all of them. For ARR you’re mostly meeting characters, establishing your relevance TO those characters, learning the basics of the continent’s politics, and fighting Primals (basically Gods that are summoned via massive amounts of crystals – or if you want, they’re literally just FF summons; you know Titan, Ifrit, etc) because they’re being summoned by beast tribes in fear the humans are gonna genocide them away…all while also fighting off the Garlean Empire which are the magitek wielding dudes with sci-fi tech who want your continent and people as their own. By the end of ARR you’ve defeated a bunch of primals and stopped the Empire’s current advance into the region (for now) and then learn of the true main overarching antagonists just a little which are kind of silly given how much they’re basically just the Kingdom Hearts guys.
Once you get to the real meat of the story – or, really, the START of the real story – which begins in the post-Realm Reborn content (but prior to Heavensward), the story never slows down after this and just keeps fucking going and getting crazier through all 3 current expansions with a billion factions, a billion betrayals, a billion twists, and every story and character intertwining themselves together constantly.
It’s fucking great, there’s so many fantastic moments, the cutscenes are legit JRPG cutscenes with some running over a full 90 minutes with full voice acting for many of them, and it constantly sets things up and PAYS OFF on those things really goddamn well every time while then using that pay off to build up to more later and to add more cool and crazy shit. Really deep political intrigue, many betrayals, massive wars, fighting Gods using the power of Gods, Jewish merchants undermining the entire continent by riling up the impoverished and the refugees and pretending to be their allies while they use them as pawns (yes, really, I’m not even making that up, this game is redpilled as fuck) and even the pseudo-UN being controlled in the shadows by them for their own nefarious purposes, violent revenge, characters who break the tropes of fiction like one I won’t specify who – learning this person in front of him has likely murdered someone dear to him – just cuts the fucker in half immediately without hesitation (and IS A GOOD GUY and not even treated as doing the wrong thing when he does this). It’s also pretty fucked up at times, like watching a loli character you’ve befriended from the start get poisoned and thrashing about at their throat while they die in front of you, or being forced to go pick up the dead bodies of your comrades after your group headquarters is assaulted at one point.
Which is another thing; it really doesn’t hold back on death too often, they keep it down to enough that when people do die it actually feels like it matters but also common enough that you know death (or other consequences…like, say, losing an arm) is a real possibility for anyone in the story at any time. Even the antagonists end up being betrayed or forced or tricked into things way more destructive than they ever intended because of the true antagonists fucking with them and using them. Nobody is safe, not even the bad guys!
It’s also pretty funny and silly at times too though, like every FF game it absolutely has it’s moments of levity. Especially for a few specific long running sidequests or things like running around on a fat fucking Chocobo and making it actually move by dangling a Gyshal Green on a stick in front of it’s face like a carrot for a horse. Loads of the side quests (all sidequests have story to them, even the most insignificant stuff) are also plenty of fun to follow along with!
And, of course, it’s an MMO – so you get plenty of silly shit from players too.
The thing is it all hits perfectly and you really get invested in the world, the characters, the politics, all of it as deeply as you would a full on single player release – if not more given how much more time you spend with an MMO and how EVERYTHING in this game has story. Even cutting fucking trees down as a botanist comes with story quests every 5 levels, developing a little side story about some side characters and adding more to the world building. Nothing in this is for nothing, they use every opportunity to build the people, the world, and your personal investment in it all. So when those story beats happen – and they are happening constantly – they fucking matter.
They’re sad, they’re happy, they’re silly as fuck sometimes, they’re cool as shit most of the time, they’re tense as fuck, they’re exciting as fuck, they WORK because just how well built up this world is for the player in ways the player will experience and interact with every step of the way and how much time it all has to grow and simmer. Some of the moments even just in ARR and Heavensward so far – which I have yet to complete, I’m only maybe a quarter of the way through HS – are some of the best the franchise has to offer, and I hear the next 2 expansions become even more crazy with the plot. This is a genuine story based JRPG Final fucking Fantasy game to the core.
The writing is so well done too, both in terms of like the fiction and characters, but even down to the actual word choices and way people speak, it’s fantastic and adds so much to the game overall.
Character-wise, there are so many and yet you remember them all and have a personal bond with them all. My favorites are Raubahn (who is essentially Maximus from Gladiator) for absolute sure, I like Cid a lot, Haurchefont is fantastic – both cool AND fun/charming. Yda used to be my favorite female story character but once they introduced Yugiri I just couldn’t help but come to love every moment she showed up in – especially if it involved combat and her and her FUCKING NINJAS just smoke bombing their way into the battlefield suddenly mid-fight and joining in as npc fighters.
For a long time she’s completely covered up and I can’t help but think that caused a lot of my interest in her as I really find shit like that EXTREMELY cute (thanks you, based Corona-chan!), she also has a great voice. I didn’t expect to like her as much once I saw how she actually looks when she stops wearing the mask and changes outfits, but somehow she still is my favorite and I somehow still find her to be pretty good looking even though she totally is not my type and also has like dragon things like her skin and, uh, ears(????)…though her voice once you get to Heavensward (almost all the voice cast changed at this point) is sadly far less nice to hear.
The negative of being an MMO though is that these NPCs aren’t people you really have in parties, because parties are made up of you and other players. However, FFXIV is primarily a solo game with some forced dungeons/bosses where you must be in a party to do them – especially after ARR when many things that WOULD be dungeons are replaced with smaller dungeon-like zones that NPCs help out in as combatants or the same for some boss fights, and they are pretty good AI-wise – also WAY later on in the 4th expansion you CAN use them as party members apparently for certain dungeons and bosses though that’s far away from where I’m at currently. Even during player-party dungeons and bosses you’ll often have cutscenes with the NPCs and such anyway. So it doesn’t damage the characters or your bond to them as much as you’d really expect, plus even when they aren’t in a party with you there are plenty of story parts where they’ll come fight alongside you. Even with all that put to the side, plenty of NPC characters in JRPGs aren’t in your party anyway and they’re still people you feel a strong bond to or are memorable or whatever, so it’s not surprising that it doesn’t have that huge of a negative impact.
Another element where this shines is, odd for me of all people to say this with my history of hating them in most games, the boss fights. Not only do the fights make you play more intelligently with actual strategy and teamwork with your partymates, they are also just interweaved into the story so intelligently and every element even down to the music and feel is so unique, and they all either have story within them or have bosses saying story relevant stuff while you battle. The biggest problem is the wait times sometimes, due to being forced party situations sometimes you can wait awhile, but usually for me for STORY FORCED stuff it’s taken about 3 to 20 minutes max, though for optional stuff…it can take some hours to trying multiple days for hours, which sucks, but I haven’t had that issue with story content aside once. If you have friends you can make that time nothing if you just party up then start the thing, but someone like me who doesn’t want to communicate with anyone it lets you queue up with a billion others just like you, as long as you’re patient.
Let’s go back to the cool shit about the bosses. They’re relevant to the story and are placed at good moments for the story. They sometimes play a much bigger role than just being “a boss fight” (well they all do but I mean more than the rest). They’re actually really fun and force you to play the game differently in a positive way.
But even the music, like in Shiva’s boss battle which is probably the best example, are relevant and add so much. Amazing and emotional orchestral music and dramatic chanting, typical of a JRPG boss, though still beautiful music…then just fucking upbeat Jrock for the entire second half of the fight after a cool silence and heel click while everyone is frozen in place by Diamond Dust. What’s really further important though is that the music – both halves – are so relevant to this character and it really changes it all and how it is to hear it and what that change in the entire tone of things really means. It’s cool, it’s different, but it also has a REASON for being done rather than just “I dunno, let’s make it this way so it’s not like other video games :^)”. Everything about XIV is like that; nothing feels like it’s done just “because”, everything feels purposeful.
Another much smaller issue I have is that a few things require 8 billion pointless loads and confirmations, and a few story parts require you to walk 3 feet (but through like 3 load screens) and then walk right back after reading a couple lines of someone talking, through all those load screens again, and often times when this happens it makes you do it several times in a row and can be pretty goddamn annoying.
Regardless of it’s issues, I really surprisingly love this game and I’m so fucking glad I came back to it after all this time. The world, the characters, the story, THE LITERALLY CALLING A GODDAMN METEOR DOWN TO BLOW THE FUCK OUT OF EVERYTHING FUCK YEEAAAAAHHHH
Seriously, the first time I actually did the tier 3 limit break for the black mage has to be one of my most memorable moments in gaming now, I can’t get over it, it’s really something that will stick with me. It felt so fucking cool – the party wailing away on the boss, people being killed, healed, revived, tanks being battered, healers having to keep me alive, and I’m just standing there with my arms out like a crazed madman calling down a fucking meteor from space and then it blows the FUCK out of the boss and we win. I knew the black mage did this as a limit break because I heard about it, but I never SAW it and I also never DID it. It felt really goddamn good, I became addicted, I started doing boss runs just so I could hopefully use the limit break before anyone else just to do it again because IT’S FUCKING COOL AND IT FEELS GOOD.
This is what more games needs, shit like THAT. You should feel fucking amazing when you do something fucking crazy in a game, it shouldn’t just be whatever I did a thing or oh I guess that was cool or strictly stuck to story moments. This made me, as a player, feel like I earned the praise the story placed on me, that I was literally a God-killer, because I was pulling meteors from space to slam into these fuckers and looking like a badass crazy goddamn madman while doing it. It made me feel like a fucking anime character, an anime VILLAIN even. I love it. I really fucking love it. It’s like being fucking Sephiroth every boss encounter but actually succeeding and the world treating you like the hero he once was before it all went bad.
Any game that can leave such a strong lasting impression from what is essentially a 10 second “do it if you feel like it” thing during any boss or end-of-dungeon battle is something special. It’s not the boss fight that stuck with me, it’s not the story attached to it as great as it is. It was just that feeling it gives you and how damn cool you feel doing it. You can do cool ass moves in lots of games, a certain CUTTING THE GODDAMN MOON IN HALF AND TURNING INTO FUCKING ANIME LINEART knight from Atelier comes to mind…but it’s just different. Maybe, and I really don’t know but maybe it’s because it’s “you” more directly doing it – this is me, this is my character, this is me in the game this isn’t Sterkenburg being an insane badass this is ME being an insane badass, which goes against all my usual feelings about games that let you make your protagonist but I dunno – or maybe it’s something to do with other players being there seeing you do this shit – I really don’t know, something about this is just different. I mean look at me, I can’t shut up about a fucking combat skill in an MMO. It’s just once I did that I really felt like this is a moment that will matter to me in terms of my gaming history, this first time I did it will stay with me as one of the best moments I’ve had with a video game, and also really cemented my feelings for this game as a whole – and it wasn’t even something scripted, it was just something I thought “oh, right, I can DO that can’t I?” and I did, and fuck I’m glad I did.
And the music. Oh the music in this game, it’s so fucking good. It’s some of the best in the franchise – not overall as a full soundtrack, but some of the tracks really are the best of the best and some of the music DIRECTION for sure is; like the Shiva boss theme I described earlier and how every boss has a similar thing to theirs. Or, you know, the FUCKING FINAL FANTASY REMIXES OF THE NIER MUSIC FOR THE NIER RAIDS. THE FINAL FANTASY FUCKING PRELUDE AND BATTLE MUSIC MIXED WITH FUCKING NIER, DUDE, WITH KEIICHI OKABE AT THE HELM. THIS IS SOME OF THE BEST MUSIC TO COME OUT OF A VIDEO GAME EVER.
There are loads of other things about this game I love too. The gameplay is fun and in ways I’d never expect. Hell, I main a black mage. A fucking MAGE. ME. All I ever play in any game that lets me choose is someone with a billion HP and a gigantic weapon and I just smash everything to shit. Here, I shoot fireballs and then bomb the fuck out of things with a meteor. Why? Because the thaumaturge (what you start as to get to black mage) and black mage class is designed in such a fun-to-play way and this really great idea of basically giving black mages INFINITE FUCKING MP as well as making it the STRONGEST DPS CLASS IN THE GAME. Plus, as a black mage, all you’re expected to do is STAND THERE AND EXPLODE EVERYTHING, you barely ever move, you ignore all the stage and boss gimmicks, you just go fucking HAM like a tank would anyway and everyone makes sure you don’t die – you’re the fucking hero.
You’re also doing a lot and yet it’s simple, but it’s a FUN simple and a FUN amount of plate spinning. It’s hard to explain, but it’s just fun and everything you do feels great. The other classes are certainly fun from what I’ve played of them, but black mage feels the most well made and exciting for me to play as with a great mix of building actual skill to be good at it. It’s by far, up to this point at least, my favorite class. Though I am excited to start working on the one that just shoots the fuck out of things, the samurai, the dark knight which just looks cool and edgy as fuck, the ninja, and of course the fucking gunblade class. But, for now, I’m sticking MOSTLY to black mage. It just feels like it’s the “real” version of my character.
I also have a lot of fun (somehow) playing the gathering classes, for some reason botany is my favorite with fishing as my least favorite and mining right around the middle but leaning towards botany. Somehow it’s fun to gather stuff with a podcast or Jeopardy playing in the background, rather, it’s relaxing but not mind-numbing. Plus you have your side story around it to keep progressing and money to make by selling what you gather! Crafting…is something I just haven’t gotten deep into yet, I do enjoy it but I feel like I’m gonna need a looooot of money before I bother with getting too deep into making things with stuff I have to buy from other users or spend the time getting myself (which will be easier if I level up the gathering classes anyway).
No matter what I’m doing though, I always have my Chocobo and one of my little minion pets with me (usually a puppy but lately a flying turtle). I think this is a big reason I enjoy this game too; I’m never on my own, I always at least have Gekota – of course I named my Chocobo partner Gekota – at my side. Your chocobo companion hangs out and also helps a LOT in fighting while solo, you can even specialize the skills it has, like because I’m a black mage most of the time most of my skill points for Gekota are in tanking/aggro-gaining abilities as well as some healing. Though for flying/running around I typically like to use the magitek armor or the magitek hand.
There’s really no downtime and no point where you feel like there’s nothing to do. There are so many classes you can work on with their own stories and playstyles to learn and skills to gain be they combat, collecting, or crafting jobs, so many side quests that seem near endless at times, so many simple minigames like everything from Triple Triad to the many games at the Golden Saucer, and so much main story. There’s so much to do and all of it is rewarding and fun.
Most importantly above absolutely everything else, I just can’t get over how much Final Fantasy this game is. It just oozes in every possible way final fucking fantasy, it has every trope, every reference imaginable, every staple, all of the FEELING in every way, it’s practically fanservice for EVERYTHING in the franchise – even more than the literal fanservice games like World of FF, I mean you’re literally the Warrior of Light and a giant crystal made up of all the memories of EVERY FF is your god basically – but saying that would be a discredit with how amazing this game is on its own merit; it’s something totally new and not even comparable with the rest of the franchise while being everything the franchise ALWAYS WAS to the maximum level it possibly could ever be. It’s just goddamn great and I can’t believe I’m praising it this much but it truly is fucking fantastic and in so many ways the ideal form of what Final Fantasy has always been. It is the absolute spirit, the SOUL, of Final Fantasy in EVERY way more than ANY of the Final Fantasy games has ever been. I love it. I’m so fucking glad I came back to it – and with how the story has been so far, it might even end up one of my top favorite JRPGs by the end of it. You never know how it’ll go though, especially with an MMO, so we’ll just have to wait and see if it keeps being this good and fun and doesn’t become a repetitive grindfest or something.