When I was around eleven years old, I caught my very first glimpse of Final Fantasy. It was video titled: Cloud & Tifa - Listen to your Heart, and the footage was from the film Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. This one here:
Now, at the time I had no idea that that particular footage wasn’t from a game. At the time I thought Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children was a new game for the Xbox 360 and PS3. When I found out I was wrong, I was a bit disappointed, especially after I saw that the actual Final Fantasy VII game by that point was over 10 years old. And my interest dipped off. But then I saw a trailer for Final Fantasy Versus XIII and my interest was rekindled because I thought it looked so cool. Then in 2010 I finally worked up the nerve to actually try this legendary franchise with Final Fantasy XIII. Since it was my first Final Fantasy game, my perception of it wasn’t clouded by preconceived notions of what a Final Fantasy game should be. It was beautiful, I could follow the story, I somewhat liked the characters, and the combat wasn’t too frustrating. And that was my first experience with a Final Fantasy game. Following that I branched out a bit. I played Dissidia, Theatrhythm, XIII-2, VII, a little bit of VI, and Type-0. And now, I’ve fallen for Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn.
Four months ago, my friend got a PS4 and with it he got Final Fantasy XIV. He begged me to play it with him despite the fact that he knew I had a bit of a dislike of MMO’s. I have not been able to play an MMO consistently and enjoy it since the original Ragnarok Online. I found them to be way too grindy with boring combat and players who were too focused on getting loot, competing in PvP, being assholes, etc. So needless to say my perception of MMO’s was quite colored. But after the game went on sale about a week later, and he told me that a free month came with the purchase, I relented and paid the price. However, the moment I stepped into the world of the game, everything changed.
The game was absolutely beautiful. Granted, not on the level that XV is, but for an MMO the graphics were really good. And aside from that it actually had a competent story from the beginning. Grinding? Not really there. You get enough XP from the main story quests that you shoot up in levels pretty damn quickly and the dungeons are also quite generous with XP. I could actually enjoy the game rather than spend hours in a forest killing random creatures for experience. And because of all of this, my attitude on MMO’s completely changed, and I binged this game for a month and a half straight, shooting from level 1 to 54 of 60. And the main thing that kept me going was the amazing story, a story that wouldn’t exist if the original Final Fantasy XIV hadn’t bombed, forcing the developers to completely obliterate it in a blaze of glory and build it from scratch.
In terms of the story, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is not a reboot or a remake, it is an honest to god sequel to Final Fantasy XIV 1.0 set 5 years later. So the story is literally everything that happens in the aftermath of the Calamity, the event that transpired at the end of the XIV 1.0's storyline, which was also symbolic of the world being destroyed and reborn anew. This sequel follows the exploits of a lone adventurer, having traveled from lands unknown, who gets swept up by the winds of change that had begun to blow.
There is this sense of magic that surrounds the story, something about it that just keeps my attention and wanting to bounce from story quest to story quest. Throughout the story, my lowly male Miqo’te archer grew from an inexperienced adventurer to the legendary Warrior of Light and Bard known as the Godsbow. The way that XIV’s story is setup makes it very personal, especially when you combine the main quest with your class storyline. For instance, by default you are an adventurer and your class is whatever you chose it to be, in my case I chose to be an archer. If you simply follow the main quest, you will remain an adventurer, but you will also become a renowned warrior and champion. But you aren’t living up to your full potential. By enlisting at your classes local guild hall, you can pursue your class’s storyline. Following it up to level 30 will unlock your advanced job class, which in my case was Bard, and that comes with its own storyline that runs up to level 50, and with the Heavensward expansion, a new Bard storyline becomes available at level 50 and runs up to level 60. And at the end of this, you gain the title of Godsbow, having become the strongest bowman in Eorzea. It adds a sense of uniqueness to your character.
And of course, I can’t have a Final Fantasy XIV article without praising Heavensward, the games first expansion, and a big part of why I’m even writing this. This expansion has just gotten so many things right, and despite the fact that its main questline is far shorter than A Realm Reborn, it matches it blow for blow if not surpassing it outright.
In the main quest of A Realm Reborn you visit the northern region of Coerthas, a land blanketed in thick snow. The moment you enter, the soundtrack tacks a turn. It goes from piano to organ. Its this completely different feeling, like there’s so much hidden beneath the snow and ice. But the game doesn’t dig too deep into the politics of Ishgard. No, that is where Heavensward comes in. It brings you back to Coerthas, expanding on it with the Sea of Clouds, the Coerthas Western Highlands(One of the most peaceful places I’ve ever come across in a game), and the city-state of Ishgard itself which is magnificent to behold. There are more locations added of course, but I’m not quite as enamored with those as I am with Ishgard and Coerthas. The expansion finally fills you in on the rich history buried beneath the snow, a 10,000 year old conflict known as the Dragonsong War, fought between the Ishgardians and the Dravanians(Dragons and their Ishgardian allies.). Upon entering Ishgard itself, I just felt... awed by its architectural beauty, entranced by the soundtracks that play in the city, and drawn to the story of the city itself. I’ve often simply found a quiet place in the city, sat my character down, and listened to the music for hours on end. I felt so at peace.
There’s also a big difference between the soundtrack of A Realm Reborn and Heavensward. Its this huge shift that completely changes the atmosphere. A Realm Reborn had a lot of songs that were very happy or hopefuly, and obvious a few that were sad and many that were fit all out war. It was extremely varried. But Heavensward? The soundtrack took a turn into feelsville. Every track has this sort of emotional weight to it. Its history taken the form of music. Just listen to this piece:
And yet, I also feel that XIV, despite all the praise I’ve heaped upon it, has but one shortcoming: Its presentation. Don’t get me wrong, there are a few great cutscenes, but when you compare it to its recent siblings, XIII and XV, it lacks cinematic flair, the animations aren’t the greatest and obviously looped a lot of the time, and a lot of emotional moments lose some of their impact because the facial expressions of the characters don’t quite look right. And it all comes down to the fact that XIV is an MMO. It could look like Black Desert Online, but because A Realm Reborn was born from the ashes of the original XIV, the budget probably wasn’t quite as high, and to be frank part of the originals downfall was that too much focus went into the visuals rather than the gameplay itself. I just wish that A Realm Reborn and Heavensward could be given a second lease on life as revamped single-player Final Fantasy RPG’s. Sure, there is a lot that would have to be torn out due ot not being an MMO anymore, but I’m sure you can see it too. A Final Fantasy XIV that looks like XV, that has been given the proper attention to detail that it deserves. I know it will never happen, but every time I play the game I try to envision what a cutscene would like running on the Luminous Engine. It’s quite the sight to behold when it works.
One Last Gripe:
My god the voice acting in this game. It isn’t terrible persay, in fact its quite passable. Its just, it feels like whoever was in charge just did not care. I say this because a lot of the dialogue sounds like someone was just reading it off the script with the occasional phone-in. Sam Riegal was really great as Alphinaud, but sadly that brings me to the second portion of this gripe: THEY RECAST PRACTICALLY EVERYONE FOR HEAVENSWARD. I had no problem with the choice of voice actors, simply its delivery. But the moment I entered Heavensward, suddenly every character I had known felt alien to me. They sounded so different, and they even went from speaking modern American English to ye olde English at the drop of a hat. Like, since when was everyone from the middle ages? I’d show you the differences, but I can’t find a video that highlights them, I’d have to post two videos and I don’t feel like doing that. The new voices are growing on me, but I mean, come on, Sam Riegal was great.