Over the past few weekends I’ve been fortunate enough to partake in the Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn beta on PS3. Although I’ve played and completed every offline game in the numbered Final Fantasy series since FFVII, I’m completely new to the overwhelmingly in-depth world of MMORPGs which FFXIV: ARR falls under. Because of this many elements of the game are foreign to me despite the familiar art style and music of Square Enix veterans Akihiko Yoshida and Nobuo Uematsu respectively.
The FFXIV: ARR beta kicks off with a fantastic CG introductory sequence showing the calamity which befell the world of Hydaelyn after the conclusion of FFXIV. You’re then tasked with customising a character who will join the thousands of other adventurers in the region of Eorzea where the game takes place. In the beta you can choose between five races which are further categorised into two clans apiece. The last decision you’ll make in this character customisation menu is which of the seven classes you’ll begin as. These classes include familiar ‘jobs’ such as Pugilist, Lancer and Conjurer, and will determine which of the three city-states you commence your adventure in.
Once you’ve been transported to Gridania, Limsa Lominsa or Ul’Dah you’ll be briefed on the basics of the game and can then tackle an introductory quest at that city-state’s adventurers guild. It’s worth noting that FFXIV: ARR’s tutorial system does a great job of explaining every new feature as it crops up in the game, and these tutorial panes can be closed fairly quickly if you already understand FFXIV: ARR’s countless gameplay mechanics.
I didn’t stumble across any voice acting in the beta so be prepared to read lots of dialogue as you accept story and secondary quests from each city-state’s colourful inhabitants. Certain quests can only be accepted once your character has reached a specific level so you’ll need to look for ways to level up which include slaying monsters, completing quests and taking part in FATEs which are timed events that everyone in the vicinity can join. Although the backstories and events surrounding quests are often interesting and amusing, unfortunately the ones I played didn’t amount to much more than delivering items to certain individuals or killing a specific number of monsters.
Of course questing is much more fun with friends and FFXIV: ARR boasts smooth cross-platform play between PC and PS3 as well as an intuitive party system which works perfectly even in this beta phase. I completed some quests with my wife who was playing on PC and was pleased to see that those which involved slaying a certain number of beasts could be completed in double-quick time since our kills were combined provided we had both accepted the quest.
Quests icons are a common sight on your map so a good strategy is to accept everyone you stumble across since you can have a number of active quests at once. It’s sometimes difficult to locate exactly where you must go to complete a particular quest but once you get used to the level layout and the name of each area then the process becomes far simpler.
I didn’t progress far enough in the beta to unlock chocobo mounts, airships, materia or other Final Fantasy staples, but I did get to use the moogle delivery service which allows you to send letters containing messages, gil and equipment or items to a friend. In the beta you also get to make use of crystals which allow you to instantly travel between locations that you’ve already visited – very handy for completing fetch or deliver quests!
The monsters in the game reside on the outskirts of the city-states and in dungeons. From what I saw, ones in the former area don’t try to attack you as you run past them so combat is very much an intentional pursuit. It takes a while to level up but when you do you’re generally rewarded with new offensive or defensive abilities which are linked to your class. When you lock on to an enemy and attack it then an active-time battle ensues whereby you and your opponents’ available actions take a few seconds to recharge after being performed. Engaging in combat felt like a chore with my low-level character but I’m sure it gets more exciting as enemies become stronger and your weapons and attacks become more powerful.
FFXIV: ARR’s visuals have a unique look to them and are quite impressive for a PS3 MMO featuring dozens of characters on-screen at any one time. The game’s art direction and character design are particularly strong and all three city-states featured in the beta are packed with detail and eye-catching architecture. Besides all the players milling about, there are also lots of NPCs which help to lend an area the desired atmosphere. For example, the main street in the sultanate of Ul-Dah has scantily clad dancers performing which helps to give it an exotic air.
I’ve merely scratched the surface of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn during the two beta weekends I’ve participated in, and it’s obvious that there’ll be an incredible amount of content to get to grips with and explore in the finished game. If you’re a Final Fantasy fan with a love of deep, complex and challenging experiences then this is the MMORPG for you, especially if you have friends or partners to enjoy it with. Square Enix has done PC and PS3 players a great service by making the game cross-platform and I suspect that this decision will result in packed servers for a long time to come.
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn was previewed on the PlayStation 3