Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

May 6, 2014

My relationship with Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is a complicated one. At first, I couldn’t help but feel that it wasn’t bringing anything new to a genre that had been revolutionised by Guild Wars 2, and that it was going to get crushed, as all MMOs tend to do, under the heel of the next World of Warcraft expansion. I decided that it was best to wait for it to go free-to-play before jumping on board.

Then it went on sale on Steam for the introductory price of $15 and I decided that I couldn’t pass that up either. Essentially this was paying for a month of game time and getting the game for free. I could live with this. I found myself having a decent amount of fun with it, too. The game has improved somewhat since the beta I played a year ago, but, well, it still didn’t feel like something I would want to play enough to justify an ongoing subscription.

Now, I have the PS4 version in hand, and, while playing it, I came to a rather disconcerting realisation. I am actually having fun with Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. There’s something in this game that’s exactly tickling the reward centre of my brain and I keep coming back to it, day after day. Would it be enough to justify a $15-a-month subscription? I don’t know. Not yet, at least.

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So what is it about the game that’s kept my interest? It’s hard to say, really. It’s not like FFXIV:ARR is doing anything particularly revolutionary to the genre. It’s still full of the same “collect twenty bear arses” quests that have sustained MMOs for well over a decade at this point. It still has all the annoying busywork crafting and grinding that I hate in all MMOs. And the combat is still painfully slow and uninteresting to engage in.

Perhaps it’s the story quests that keep my interest up. These quests provide great rewards, lead you through each part of the game and teach you new things. They involve a fairly traditional Final Fantasy story, but nonetheless one that’s enjoyable to play through. This kind of story quest helps solve the problem a lot of MMOs have where you never quite feel like you’re having an impact on the world around you. Here, the game goes out of its way to put you at the heart of the events taking place.

There’s also some refreshingly cool world design going on here. Final Fantasy has a strong tradition of imaginative locations and settings, and Eorzea is no different. Taking place after a major calamity (essentially working the original FFXIV’s failure into its backstory), the zones all feel like they’re part of a living world, and there always seems to be something to see or do in them. The three major cities are all thriving and alive as well, both with players an NPCs. I haven’t seen MMO cities this populated since the glory days of Shattrath in World of Warcraft.

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Alive and vibrant are good ways to describe Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. Now just over half a year into its life, its managed to overcome the incredible negativity that surrounded the original release, and, despite retaining a somewhat outdated subscription model, seems to be picking up players at a furious rate. At launch, I was fully expecting the game to abandon subscriptions and go free-to-play, but it’s clear now that it doesn’t need to do that. The good news is that lots of players are taking out subscriptions beyond the free 30 day trials, meaning that, for many, there’s enough here to justify a monthly price tag.

There are imperfections, however. I’ve already mentioned that, for the most part, quests aren’t particularly exciting, and the game’s convoluted “levequest” system is yet another example of why daily quests are the least interesting aspect of any MMO’s content. The instanced dungeons are also not all that great, essentially being loot corridors that can be easily steamrolled by a competent party. Perhaps the biggest failing, however, is the rather bizarre choice to have unvoiced cutscenes. Some cutscenes are voiced (and Japanese audio is available, if that’s your thing), but the majority are not, leaving characters to voicelessly move their mouths at each other. It’s an odd dip in the otherwise high production values of the game.

Visually, the game is nice, but with a few rough edges that give away just how old it really is. The real standout is the game’s lighting, with very heavy use of dynamic lighting everywhere, and one of the most detailed day/night cycles and weather systems I’ve ever seen in any video game. It’s actually kind of amazing just how well this works to create atmosphere, too. I’ve seen beautiful beachside sunsets, misty morning dawns and dull, rainy afternoons that really helped convey the liveliness of the game.


The downside to the visuals is the low polygon counts on some models, some rough textures here and there and a troublesome aliasing effect in the middle distance, especially noticeable in grassy areas. Framerates, too, can be a bit of a mixed bag. The PS4 handles the game quite well, and there’s no drop in visual fidelity between it and the PC version, however the PS4 will drop frames more often in crowded areas such as the trade districts of each town.

The PS4 version supports mouse and keyboard control, and this works exactly like the PC version. This is great news as the controller interface is incredibly clunky and tends to be more of a hindrance than a help. If you have the opportunity to play on a PS4 with keyboard and mouse, then there’s no reason not to.

In the end, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn comes down to that subscription fee. Yes, it’s a reasonably well-made MMO with a beautiful, vibrant world, a fantastic story quest system, lots of places to explore and quest in and an active playerbase. On the other hand, there’s a lot of games that have all these things which don’t also require a monthly subscription fee— you can pay roughly the same at retail for a copy of Guild Wars 2, for example, but you’ll never need to keep paying to play the game after that. There’s even some pretty good free-to-play MMOs that offer a lot of the same things— Neverwinter, for example.

Getting value out of any subscription-based MMO is all about how much you’re willing to put into it. Just being a Final Fantasy game will be enough for some, and I can see a lot of players being engaged and captivated by the game itself. For me, personally, however, the subscription fee is too high a barrier to entry when I have so many other games I could be playing instead. Perhaps the itch will bite me in the future and I’ll buy a month here and there, but once this trial ends, it’ll be a long holiday from Eorzea for me.


Vibrant, detailed world
Everything you love about Final Fantasy in MMO form
Great music


The subscription fee will be hard to justify when so many competing games don't have it

Overall Score: