Square Enix - Tested on the PlayStation 4 in 2021
"You really have to play Final Fantasy XIV", is one sentence I heard so often during the last few years. After some forays into the genre of MMOs, I was never really hooked, as some of the games were more or like just digital meetups with friends for me. So I was hesitant about Final Fantasy XIV at first. I didn't like many of the newer Final Fantasies, and I didn't have the greatest of experiences in Massive Multiplayer Online RPGs.
In the end, it was the free trial of this game that let me try things out. I mean, what can go wrong if I could basically play a fully fledged game for free? Oh my, things turned out quite differently than I had anticipated.
This game is the direct successor to Square Enix' first MMORPG, "Final Fantasy XI" - although "successor" is a bit of a stretch, as the older game is still very much alive. Final Fantasy XI and XIV are known to have more intense storylines and better single player experiences than other RPGs. And indeed, this game is very much playable on your own.
The game plays on the lands of Eorzea, a place plagued with various threats and issues. The center of the story are three city states which each have their own issues. All together face the problem that some wild beings within their borders try to summon dangerous god-beasts that threaten to destroy the world. Additonally, a powerful empire tries to take over the lands while bandits and other thugs roam the countryside.
So every city-state has their own little army that is able to fend of the threats better or worse as well as some private mercenaries or adventurers that help out. And this is where the players step in with their individually created character who just happens to have a intense meeting with a powerful deity just as they enter the scene.
The story is laid out pretty good, and after a while and playing story mission after story mission, players will see lots of places in Eorzea and experience many of their inhabitants fates. There are quests that drive the story, while others are solely for collecting or item quests, yet many are accompanied with a extensive story. Most of the story is being told via textboxes, though.
But since this is an MMO, even with its heavy emphasis on playing story missions, there are some areas, mostly dungeons, that have to be played with other players. In that case, players can register in playing said event, and then a matchmaking process is going on in the background (with a rough estimation of how long it will take to have the players party ready), and then the dungeon and bosses are fight with this party of up to 24 players.
All in all, there is so much to play and experience in that game. The story is intense and pretty lenghty with lots of memorable moments, lots of side quests, building up trust in certain organisations, playing special missions with friends or other players, crafting stuff, playing against other players in certain areas. Well, of course it has to offer a lot, because the game costs a lot with a subscription fee every month. There is, however, a free trial version that allows players to experience the full base story up to level 60, which is can be up to 100 hours into the game. And then we haven't started talking about leisure in the Gold Saucer, a amusement park not unlike its similarly named variant in Final Fantasy VII.
The music has been composed by Masayoshi Soken, a long time employee of Square Enix, who had worked on several titles before, with some ties to Kenji Ito of the Mana series. The music bears some resemblence to the compositions of Nobuo Uematsu, and remixes of tunes made by Mr Uematsu have been done with much appreciation of the original music.
Final Fantasy XIV was initially conceived in 2010, but met lots of criticism upon its initial release. The game was completely overhauled and re-released, with new features being added ever so often. Even for the end of 2021, a new expansion was planned to be released. There is a very active community surrounding that game. During the main quest events, the ingame community is very understanding and friendly towards new players. In later dungons of later expansions, players are more focused on getting good gear and loot, and can be very harsh. But in general, the atmosphere within Final Fantasy XIV is a very welcoming one.
Given the initial age of the game, some visual aspects or assets may look outdated, but the scenery can be very beautiful. The framerate on the original PlayStation 4 console (which was the basis for my test of A Realm Reborn) mostly runs at 30 FPS (unlocked), peaking at 60 sometimes in closed areals. In heavily populated cities or at some certain hotspots where lots of people gather, the framerate can drop into the low 10s.
There are lots of different lands to visit, each with their distinct flora and fauna. Most areas can be traversed by foot, so if players desire, they can walk from one huge city to another one. It will take some time, though, but sometimes it's fun to just explore the scenery. We have a pretty extensive screenshot gallery available, where you can take a look into Faye Shin's adventures. Faye is my character in almost every game with an character that can be individually created.
Heavensward was the first extension released in 2015 after the games' first initial release in 2010 and a reboot some years after. I wasn't sure at first of how to cover this DLC, whether it should be treated as its own game or just an addon like in our Xenoblade Chronicles 2 review.
Basically, Heavensward is more of the same. The game mechanics remain the same, but the story, which revolves around the city-state of Ishgard. The theocracy has isolated itself from the other Eorzian nations around the time of the last great calamity. Its people waged a war for a thousand years at the time the addon started, and it was the job of the players and their entourage to help the city in this war.
Especially as the dragons are gaining support from other humanoid people who join the squad of the heretics led by an elezen called Iceheart, whom with the players had a brief skirmish at the end of "A Realm Reborn".
The game is again split into two sections; the first is Heavensward's main story, the second a transition to the next DLC, "Stormblood". It covers a siginificant amount of new areas to traverse and also helps bringing some loose ends from "A Realm Reborn" to its conclusion.
The free trial version of Final Fantasy XIV extends up to the end of Heavensward.
The second expansion released in 2017 was "Stormblood". The story towards the end of Heavensward slowly evolves into this new story about the former countries of Ala Mhigo and Doma trying to get free from the Garlean empire, which occupied both countries a few decades ago. Both countries are supervised by prince Zeos, an especially cruel noble from the empire.
Again, like in Heavensward, the basic gameplay is mostly the same. The story is vastly improved in terms of presentation, with more voiced scenes playing. The story itself is also presented in a more complex way with two countries that lie far away from each other in need of freedom. Also, the visual presentation is somewhat improved, as Stormblood was the first expansion of Final Fantasy XIV that wasn't released on the old Play Station 3 game console.
Dungeons and bosses introduce a few new gameplay mechanics such as "Track & Field" style button mashing tasks at certain events. Also, at certain moments of the game, players need to control other characters than their individually created hero of light. The general gameplay hasn't changed since the initial release of "A Realm Reborn", though.
After the main story of that extension ended, Square released some additional story quests with new patches, and just as before, the game slowly transists into the next extension, "Shadowbringers"
This is the first extension that is not available in the free trial anymore, so this time players can expect that anyone in story driven dungeons is able to chat and communicate with each other.
Released in 2019, this expansion adds something new to the gameplay. Regular dungeons can now be played with a party of NPCs and does not necessarily require other real players anymore to finish the dungeon. This system is called "Trust" and ususally aides players with NPCs of appropriate levels. In there, gameplay is just as in dungeons with real players, but if the player character dies, the whole party will be reset to the last check point - which is difficult if players chose a class which is a bit low on defense.
Raids, meaining bosses with a party of eight characters, still have to be played with real other players, here the players cannot be exchanged with NPCs.
Other than that, the game itself is more of the same as seen in Final Fantasy XIV. There is an intense story that plays in an entirely different world plagued by light (which still resembles the original world especially from "A Realm Reborn" a lot). However, gameplay is not affected by the fact that the world is a different one this time, players can still move around in this world freely.
One interesting aspect is that the composer of this game, Masayoshi Soken, had to go to the hospital during the development of "Shadowbringers". This didn't stop him from composing, though. That's a sign of a very dedicated affinity towards his profession!
As of the time this review was written, Shadowbringers was the last extension released. During summer of 2021, lots of old players as well as players from World of Warcraft rejoined the game which led to some severe login queues, but the team behind Final Fantasy XIV fixed that in a matter of few days.