Final Fantasy XIV has its sights laser-tuned for a very specific audience: people who played (and enjoyed) Final Fantasy XI. From our three-hour hands-on, what we gathered from the experience is that the latest online offering of Final Fantasy is preaching to the converted. Those who loved FFXI will probably love FFXIV, since it aims to improve upon, expand, and doll-up the earlier formula. For those wary of staple trappings of traditional MMORPGs – we doubt you’ll be convinced to dip a toe in, as FFXIV sticks to making its fans happy without showing much interest in luring in the uninitiated.
Above: These two are friendly enough
With seemingly no tutorial to speak of, you’re expected to know how to play right from the beginning. We got to create a new character and try out the starting city of Gridania. We chose a Miqo’te for our race, which is one of the cat-eared people one would never find in a western-developed RPG. We also chose to be a Disciple of Magic because we always find magic more interesting than physical attacks. The game began as we found our cute cat-girl wandering through sun-dappled woods before stumbling upon two unconscious NPCs. Next, we tried clicking on the sleeping characters (we played the PC version) only to encounter the ubiquitous “…” dialogue found in so many JRPGs. We thought there was nothing to be found, so attempted to wander off. Actually, we needed to click on the NPCs two more times before they woke up.
Our introductions ended abruptly as a pack of wolf-like things that don’t really look like wolves, but are labeled as such in game, attacked us. Or rather, they appeared ready to attack us in the cutscene, but then wandered about lazily, totally uninterested in us. We decided that these apparently vegetarian wolves needed a good deathening, and so we attacked without mercy. Here FFXIV shows its old-school MMORPG roots: you hit the number keys to enact several abilities and wait for their cooldowns before you can use them again.
After taking out the emaciated wolves (they really need some red meat in their diets), a treant emerged and gave chase in a cutscene. In the middle of the chase, time froze, and we were saved by a troupe of moogles dancing and tooting their familiar kooky melodies. They brought along friends: citizens of Gridania, who took us safely back to their home, which acts as the starting hub. Gridania reminds us of Rivendell, home of the elves in The Lord of the Rings. It’s a series of graceful wooden buildings nestled amongst tall trees, with one central structure looking out over a lake alongside a massive water wheel.
We wandered the village for a while before taking off into the dangerous wilderness. Well, maybe not so dangerous – the shady, verdant forest had a tranquil beauty to it, and the enemies, consisting of marmots, bee-swarms, and toadstools weren’t exactly intimidating. So yes, you start off fighting rodents, at least if you choose Gridania as your starting area. We got a small ways into this area before starting a new character in the as-yet-unrevealed starting area of Ul’dah.
A completely different style encapsulates Ul’dah – it’s a huge, walled city built in concentric rings, perched atop dusty badlands. Here the game started with a cutscene showing a giddy parade with showering confetti and chocobo-pulled wagons. The main float in the parade contained a huge, ugly creature chained, like King Kong, onto a platform. And like King King, the beast of course escaped. As far as initial battles go, he’s much scarier than the wolves of Gridania, although he’s a pushover once you go after him.
After taking him down, we wandered the city streets. They weren’t teeming with citizens, but they did have a lovely, almost mid-east feel, with bazaars full of merchants selling all kinds of delectable fruits (with such vibrant colors we wanted to pluck them from the screen and have a taste). We met and spoke with a few interesting NPCs, but enough of that - we wanted action. We scampered out from the city walls and into the badlands. Not far into the dusty wilderness, we encountered the corpse of another player, which was odd considering this was the starting area.
Undeterred, we forged ahead and encountered our first wandering monster. A kind of crab-thing barely reaching waist height, its ugly eyestalks made it rather goofy looking. We whipped out our main spells… and proceeded to do pitiful damage. Seconds after initiating the attack, we realized we were going to die if we didn’t run. So run we did. We barely made it out of there. After resting to heal, we returned and barely scraped out the victory. Again odd, considering how easy it was to plow through creatures in the Gridania area. A bit farther out we encountered another crab creature… and it one-shotted us. We’re talking, “Hi, little guy wanna fight?” POW, dead. We recognize that we’re a newbie at Final Fantasy online, but that seemed a bit overpowered for a starting area creature.
After getting trounced repeatedly outside Ul’dah, our hands-on whisked us to a high-level area with high-level characters to give us an idea of the later game. We grouped up with some dozen other players and initiated a quest. We were warned that we’d have to work together to survive, as these monsters wouldn’t go down easily without some coordination. Fair enough, since that’s how one makes high-level content in an MMO rewarding – get the players to work together smartly.
Unfortunately for us, we weren’t versed in the intricacies of high-level character abilities. We made it through the first few monsters with only a few casualties (those ravenous billy goats were also unruly), but then we encountered an ahriman. An old staple in the Final Fantasy series, these floating devils that are not much more than fleshy support systems for one giant eye have typically been not super dangerous. Well this particular one, which still was only about the size of a beach ball, managed to one-shot each person in our party, one after another, until we were wiped out. Final Fantasy XIV seems to enjoy one-shotting you whenever you get too comfortable.
We’re betting that seasoned FF online players wouldn’t get slaughtered so horribly, possibly through the use of proper protection spells, but we’re not sure how newbies will fare if they choose Ul’dah as their starting area. If the community is supportive, then we can see it not being too much of an issue, but for the solo player just jumping in to try things out, FFXIV will be a daunting experience. Perhaps that’s because it doesn’t want to be World of Warcraft. It doesn’t want to be the easily digestible, all-inclusive MMO. It wants a particular kind of player – one who’s not intimidated by our recounted experience of befuddled deaths. Surely veterans of FFXI will read this experience and think “Pffft, what a newb!” and have their curiosity piqued even further. After all, the world of Eorzea is pretty on the surface, but deadly underneath, and that’s exactly how FFXI fans want it.
Aug 16, 2010