I never played the original version of Final Fantasy XIV that launched back in 2010, but I am well aware of the heavy criticism that Square Enix’s second MMORPG in the iconic series received when it first launched. In fact, it got so bad that the developer infamously shut the game down and rebuilt it from the ground up. Thankfully, this decision seems to have been the right one in the long run, as this revamp, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, has seen a good amount of success since its launch last year on the PS3 and PC.
Now, Square Enix has brought the title to a newer and stronger home console in the form of a PlayStation 4 port. While I will admit that I don’t have prior experience with either of the other two versions, this port is basically still the exact same game, especially since cross-platform play between players for all three platforms is thankfully included. Because of this, I will review the game as a whole, along with a few extra functions that take advantage of some of the new features that Sony’s latest home console offers.
A Realm Reborn, in terms of chronology, is technically a sequel to the original version of Final Fantasy XIV. Five years after a destructive war and infamous cataclysm rocked the land of Eorzea, players take control of an up-and-coming adventurer headed to one of three major locations, those being the desert city Ul’dah, the coastal location Limsa Lominsa, or the forest nation Gridania. While the player’s adventures start out simple, they gradually discover the plans of an evil empire to unleash another cataclysm on the world, and must traverse between the three lands on numerous journeys to set things right.
Unlike your typical single-player Final Fantasy, your playable protagonist is fully customizable in appearance, gender, and even species. Selectable races range from the humanoid Hyur to the diminuitive-but-capable Lalafell. When players first start the game, they also can choose their gender, along with numerous factors like facial features, body type and hair. For the most part, character creation options are purely cosmetic and don’t affect your stats or personal story in any major way, but it’s still a nice touch and definitely appreciated.
What will impact the initial leg of your journey is your starting class. These range from the melee-focused Gladiator and Marauder to the magic-heavy Conjurer and Arcanist. What class you choose determines which of the three main cities you’ll start out in, as well as your first batch of main story quests. Though all three converge eventually, it would be a good idea for newcomers to do a little research on both what class suits them best and which city sounds the most appealing as a starting point.
The controls function in a manner similar to several other MMOs, but are tweaked a bit due to the use of a controller, with the DualShock 4’s analog sticks providing movement and camera control, and the L2 & R2 buttons triggering two separate sets of commands that can then be individually assigned to and activated with the D-pad and four main face buttons. Which actions you start out with and get vary depending on your class of choice, ranging from traditional weapon attacks to elemental magic projectiles.
Some very useful additional features have been implemented for controls, including the ability to hook up a USB keyboard and mouse and play the game like you would on the PC, as well as the option to use the DualShock 4’s touch pad like a mouse, complete with a hand cursor appearing onscreen and activating menu options with a tap or click of the pad.
The addition of the keyboard in particular is very welcome, as an unfortunate feature of this multiplayer-centric game is a complete lack of voice chat support. My guess is that this was a compromise that was made during the process of making all three versions of the game compatible with one another, but it is still worth noting, since it could have made pulling off teamwork-oriented feats much easier.
Graphically, this version of A Realm Reborn is admirable. While character and environment models still show their previous-generation roots, the overall resolution is very high, and aside from occasional, barely intrusive hiccups, the framerate is silky smooth. Sure, the character models aren’t extremely expressive, but they aren’t badly designed either, and the environments show off solid art direction.
As for the actual gameplay, A Realm Reborn feels more like a game made to fine-tune and polish the traditional MMORPG experience, rather than one made to completely redefine it. You still have a boatload of both main story objectives and side-quests, a lot of which revolve around the tired objectives of “Slay X number of a certain creature,” or “Collect X number of a certain item.” My least favorite type of side-quest also had to be the ones that force you to use the game’s character emote system in what are essentially forced tutorials. Thankfully, these seem to be more prevalent in the early parts of the game.
Much of A Realm Reborn can actually be played solo, but the definite exception comes in the form of the duty system, unlocked a fair way into the main campaign. With this mechanic, players can queue up a team of four to take on unique dungeons and trials, with the game automatically making teams of defensive tank players, healers, and all-around fighters for an ideal play experience.
It’s here that skills are truly put to the test and some of the main battle mechanics shine brightest, since many of the fights that you can play solo are often rather repetitive and easy. In duties, it’s much more vital for players to time attacks, buffs, debuffs, and healing at the right moment. Obviously, this is also where a keyboard will come in most handy, so you can coordinate plans with your comrades.
Outside of straight combat, one of the most brilliant and welcome features this game offers is the way its class system works. Though you’re stuck with your initial class for a good while, as you gain access to later quests and other environments, you can locate headquarters for other classes in the three main cities, sign up to join them, and receive both a new series of subquests as well as whatever primary weapon each class uses. Equipping that weapon will instantly change your character to that particular class, which can then be assigned a unique set of equipment that can be switched to at any time.
In other words, you can experience every class with just one character, so long as you’re willing to put in the massive amount of time necessary to master them all. The icing on this cake is the inclusion of the familiar job system, which allows you to unlock even more abilities once you reach a specific level in two specific jobs. Throwing away the standard idea of sticking to one class greatly improves the game’s replay value, especially for those who don’t find the idea of dividing their time between multiple characters appealing.
It’s also worth noting that the game supports Remote Play through the PS Vita, and the experience has been optimized to work very well on Sony’s current handheld. Hotbar access is changed to L1 and R1 to avoid the frustration of using the rear touch pad’s virtual buttons, and you can use the front screen’s touch mechanic to replicate the DualShock 4’s touch pad for menu selections. The fact that it’s not a twitch-heavy game makes any possible lag you might encounter more forgivable, too.
As many things as there are to praise with A Realm Reborn, it’s not without some notable flaws. For one, map navigation is a bit of a pain. It can be tricky to find the precise location of the next step of a quest, and even trickier to figure out how to get there, even with the multiple quick travel mechanics the game provides. Hopefully a future patch will include a more streamlined and easier-to-follow layout.
Also, those who enjoyed the memorable plots of past single-player Final Fantasy games will probably be disappointed with the story here, which is much more simple and straightforward. It doesn’t help that your character is mute, either, as it leads to a lack of personality. Also, maybe I’ve just been spoiled by Star Wars: The Old Republic, but this game could have used a lot more voice acting, as opposed to the merely sporadic spoken dialog that it does offer. I can understand not having the time or money to record voice work for the hundreds of side goals, but it’s possible to go through hours of the main story and not hear any voice work at all.
Despite these drawbacks, I’ve greatly enjoyed my time with Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, and am happy to note that Square Enix will apparently continue to support the game with new content for the foreseeable future, if the Easter-themed sidequests and unlockables that were available for the past week are any indication. Though it lacks the rich stories and characters that have been such a trademark feature of past Final Fantasy games, it makes up for it with a huge amount of content, plenty of character customization options, engaging multiplayer, and an overall polished experience.
I’ve never been the biggest fan of MMOs, but I’ve definitely been converted. Despite already having sunk plenty of time into this game, I think my adventures in Eorzea are far from over, and I expect the same for anyone who is willing to give this one a try.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which was provided to us.
Offering a polished, content-heavy MMO experience, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn will please anybody who enjoys the genre, and maybe even charm those who typically don't.