Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is one of my favorite redemption arcs of the last 10 years. It’s been a long road for Square Enix but one that seems to be paying off. 2021 is set up to be Final Fantasy XIV’s blockbuster year, and it deserves every ounce of praise.
Previous MMO experience shaped my view of what I wanted from an MMORPG. I expected to remove myself from the story and focus on dungeons and raids. I learned that I shouldn’t be focusing on the endgame and that the journey is where the fun is. For an MMORPG this is a huge feat since the expectation is always to rush to the endgame. Final Fantasy XIV is all about the story, and its focus on that is both a blessing and a curse. There is a distinct lack of freedom in Final Fantasy XIV that’s not as surface level in all MMOs. Forced to go through the main story, I found myself playing alone more than I expected. On several occasions I sat down to play for the evening, only to tell friends that I couldn’t play with them. I needed to focus on the main story because if I didn’t I’d fall further behind. Lacking the freedom to level how I wanted really took me out of the experience. Yet, I was still having fun, and that’s the main goal of any video game. Part of the joy of playing an MMO is the freedom to level how you want.
A Realm Reborn houses 180+ quests that must be done before moving onto Heavensward. The story in Final Fantasy XIV is worth every minute put into it. The same cannot be said for the quests I was required to do during the story. Quests follow a similar structure all the way through. I was required to talk to a character or kill 3 to 5 enemies. Rarely was this monotony broken up by dungeons or trials. Yet, when those sections came up, it somehow all felt worth it.
Trials and raids are part of the end game in Final Fantasy XIV but also part of the legacy experience. I was able to break up the monotony of the main story quest by taking on trials and raids at the appropriate levels. Each of these raids held a unique challenge and felt satisfying to clear, even if it was with random players. The music in each of these sections is an absolute standout. If you have the time, please look these fights up on YouTube for the music alone. While not as challenging (even on Extreme) as other games in the genre, I still felt engaged and rewarded. I could definitely sink dozens if not hundreds of hours into farming each of these for unique mounts.
Additionally, there is fun to be at the Gold Saucer, the Final Fantasy version of a big-time casino. An incredible amount of well thought out mini-games are present here. Players could spend all their time in the Gold Saucer and still have a rewarding experience. Each mini-game was endearing, some requiring clever platforming or mastering dodge mechanics while others were entirely random, like the weekly Cactpot Lottery. The rewards within the Gold Saucer are plentiful, rewarding, competitive and casually grinding.
What helps the Gold Saucer really pop is Final Fantasy XIV’s art style. Watching YouTube videos or Twitch streams really don’t do this game any justice. Its unique art style paired with a familiar Final Fantasy look help it stand out amongst a sea of WoW clones. Every expansion creates a unique tone and adds to the overarching story, from the snowy mountaintops of Heavensward to the beautiful oceanic views of Stormblood. Each of these expansions brings something new to the table. Square Enix does an excellent job of building on what they’ve created. It seems like more often than not developers treat an expansion like a new game, but what we get here is a perfect marriage of new and legacy content.
Shadowbringers is the latest instalment in the series. It takes players to a parallel dimension on the brink of destruction. Standing out with its dreamlike forests of pixies paired alongside desolate wastelands, Shadowbringers feels like the start of your final act. Final Fantasy XIV does something unique by ending its story with Endwalker. Immediately after jumping into Shadowbringers, you can tell there’s something special here. Production quality has drastically improved with Shadowbringers, lending itself to one of the best single-player RPG stories in recent memory. Unfortunately, it seems the quest design has not improved since 2014, hampering Shadowbringers with many of the same issues that plagued earlier expansions.
Final Fantasy XIV is at its best when you’re playing with friends or interacting with the incredible community. This makes gating off content with main story quests so much worse. I am trying not to be negative about the barrier to entry. However, forcing players to experience content is not the way to approach it. I love Final Fantasy XIV’s story but the quests themselves are horribly designed. Once the story finally kicks off, we’re already 15 hours into the game. Losing players at the start of a race is not a badge of honor. An MMO needs to be experienced in any way a player chooses. If I want to level through dungeons and dungeons alone, I should be able to do that. The story itself is good enough to warrant going back through, so I don’t understand why it’s forced. The story offered here is by far the best in the series. However, if you’re not interested in the story, you’ll find yourself mindlessly clicking dialogue boxes for 150+ hours.
I had an incredible time going through Final Fantasy XIV’s story, but as I approached the end, I felt lost. Somewhere along the way, the game lost my attention. I was starting to realize I had 40 to 60 more hours of solo play before I could play with friends. These artificial gates are set too high for casual players. It’s no secret that Final Fantasy XIV is, at its heart, a casual experience. But when that casual experience is locked behind a door that takes 150+ hours to open, that’s when problems arise. I am not advocating for paid skips (which are in the game) or shorter leveling. I am advocating for choice in leveling and the option to level how you want[MOU1] . Final Fantasy XIV shines when you’re raiding with friends or jamming out to a bard playing “Enter Sandman” in a main town. The community and player interaction carry the experience as an MMO should. Those looking for a welcoming and helpful community should look no further than Final Fantasy XIV. With Endwalker just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to start your journey into the unknown. Remember though, it will be a solitary one for the first 50+ hours.