Press Start: Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn
posted on 09.24.13 at 05:55 PM EST by (@admeady)
Leveling up after a Phoenix Down.

Taken within the context of Final Fantasy XIV’s original, ill-fated release, Naoki Yoshida’s A Realm Reborn is a spectacular turnaround. Square’s once clunky, unwieldy online role-playing game is now, relatively speaking, the bastion of accessibility, ease and convenience.

And for the sake of ease and convenience here, this brief review, which will detail our thoughts on the game in general, will end with a Discussionist. Feel free to ask questions about anything game-related: from mechanics to materia, from dungeons to loot drops.

Questions and their respective answers will be added to the bottom of the review.

Adam

In its own parlance, then, Final Fantasy XIV has ‘leveled up’ – it’s now a stronger, more diverse, and more useable piece of software. But it’s also software that you might’ve used before – fetch quests, grinding, dungeons and crafting lie at the heart of its skillset. Indeed, Reborn is mostly by the numbers: kill, collect, craft.

And that aforementioned accessibility comes at a price: the vast majority of Reborn’s core grind is incredibly easy. I say this, of course, as a long-time Final Fantasy XI player – a game in which attracting even a single additional enemy mid-fight would guarantee almost instant death for almost everybody involved.

So, if you happen to hold a nostalgia for the way those numbers are packaged, as I do, A Realm Reborn might just be the grind for you. In a genre that now draws so heavily from a particular blueprint, it’s difficult to describe Reborn without describing so many of its counterparts – meaning you’re more likely to be drawn to the game’s world than you are to its mechanics.

You might find the idea of riding Chocobos, killing Ifrit or making materia in world inhabited by swaths of land to explore and players to party with far more appealing than the game itself – which, although well-executed, does little to distinguish itself from its contemporaries.

And it would seem that Yoshida knows this, too. Reborn is undoubtedly a love letter to Final Fantasy staples: materia, summons, Biggs, Wedge, Chocobos, Magitek – these are what define Eorzea. It’s a smart decision, and one that helps the game set itself apart from other games in the genre.

These are far more than mere references, too. Materia can be attached to slotted gear to boost its stats, Chocobos and Magitek armor are mounts, and summon fights – known as Primals – are instances designed especially to test a parties co-ordination and skill. A stark contrast to Realm’s quest-to-quest grind, it’s these fights where the game truly shines.

Using context as a differentiator, then, is prominent in A Realm Reborn. Fates – world events where players gather to kill large numbers of enemies spontaneously – dungeons, quests and instanced events are merely a repackaging of the same theme: endless killing.

Fortunately, Reborn’s combat is incredibly fun. Role-playing staples of tanking, healing and damage dealing very much define the game’s mechanics. Threat management – known as enmity, hate or aggro – area-of-effect attacks and pulling are constant considerations of a successful part, and that’s just at a surface level.

These mechanics don’t merely inspire or inform Reborn’s approach to co-operative combat – they dictate it. Indeed, these aren’t roles decided by the community at large, they’re almost mandated by the game itself. The Duty Finder, a dungeon matchmaking system, will only start an instance once it’s found a tank, a healer and two damage dealers.

A Realm Reborn is seemingly designed to be a ‘horizontal’ game – it’s not about spending hundreds of hours to grind one job to an inflated level cap. This is evidenced by class-swapping, which can be done by simply equipping a class-specific weapon after unlocking that class at the corresponding city. With a click of a button, then, a level 50 Paladin can become a level 1 Conjurer.

Thankfully, this doesn’t entail much effort. Each class has its own abilities hot bar, meaning you’re not forced to change or re-arrange your abilities every time you switch. Gear, too, can be saved as sets. Should I decide to change to a Black Mage, I simply click the assigned gear set icon. Jobs can’t be changed in dungeons or whilst in combat, though.

If you happen to be particularly committed to a particular class, though, A Realm Reborn’s journey to Mount Level Cap is certainly a brisk one. It took me the course of a week to reach level 50 with my Paladin, with others telling me that they had “been level 50 for days”.

Adam’s verdict

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn ultimately feels like a foundation, a solid framework for greater things to come. Its beautiful environments, Final Fantasy-infused world and solid mechanics create an experience that’s fun to play – it just might not create an experience that you want to stick around for in the long run. At least, not yet.

Matt

Aside from possessing all of the bearings of an expected Final Fantasy game, A Realm Reborn is a new, fine-tuned product that is practically inviting you to play it. As Adam noted, the game is a lot easier and forgiving than its genre predecessor, Final Fantasy XI, but don’t count the difficulty (or lack thereof) as a negative just yet.

A Realm Reborn is designed to take players who are completely new to the MMO format and turn them around into experienced adventurers who will be able to constructively work with others in party settings. If you’re an experienced player of the genre hailing from games like World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2, TERA, or even Final Fantasy XI, the first twenty levels might feel a tad too tired. If you enjoy it enough to continue thereafter, the game will open its gates to a variety of extremely fulfilling content.

Starting at level 15, players will be able to unlock Sastasha, the first real dungeon. Sastasha is a great entry level, full-length experience with only a few mechanics designed to ease newbies into thinking about how intermediate and expert dungeons may function later on. From that point forward, the dungeons become more challenging and the game starts to reward your character with more complex and intricate skills to use. The difficulty might seem casual at first, but by the time you’re attempting dungeons such as The Sunken Temple (level 35) you would have long forgotten about how easy this game once pretended to be.

Dungeons do a fantastic job of challenging players to work together as a group. The game ensures each player has a job to do and effort between everyone must be equal to succeed. DPS classes will constantly be forced to change their attack targets to time-sensitive objects and enemies. Tanks always have to be mindful of their position as well as where the boss is facing in relation to the group. Healers can become very stressed for mana during high damage fights and must manage their MP consumption wisely.

For your efforts, the dungeon bosses will always reward the players with gear, and thanks to the intuitive Need/Greed/Pass system, you don’t ever have to worry about someone stealing your equipment if you’re the only member of the party who can use it. The dungeon will also reward you with additional treasure chests potentially containing loot if you explore the roads less traveled, instead of rushing straight to the end.

To shift gears completely, A Realm Reborn’s crafting system is a whole new beast compared to that of its competitors. As opposed to simply gathering materials and clicking a few buttons to make items, gathering and crafting have been turned into mini-games in which efficiency and skill is required. If you excel at it, you can craft high quality items that offer bonuses and fetch more gil on the market. As an Armorer, I spend countless hours per day slamming my hammer down forging cuirasses, helmets and shields. The surprise: I actually enjoy it. As someone who has never cared for crafting and gathering in any MMO, Final Fantasy XIV has me spending an equivalent amount of time between slaying monsters, and making items in which to slay monsters with.

Matt’s verdict

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn delivers some of the most satisfying content not usually found in MMO’s at launch. Despite the easy entry levels, the game promises to please as we look toward its bright and hopeful new future.

Question and answer

With all this said, however, we’ve barely scratched the surface. For all its references to previous games and its uses of tried-and-tested mechanics, there’s still much to be said about A Realm Reborn. Let’s discuss it then, shall we?

If there’s anything you’d like to know, ask your questions below – we’ll do our best to answer them. And if you happen to be playing Reborn, what are you thoughts? Will you be playing beyond the free introductory period?

Ask questions or share your thoughts below, folks.

For more information on subscription fee costs and system requirements, visit the official Final Fantasy XIV website: North America, Europe.