FFXIV: Weighing the pros and cons

final1I don’t think I’ve ever been as conflicted about an MMO as I am with Final Fantasy XIV. As I said in my initial post, it seems as though for every great aspect I identify, there’s another that’s off-putting or annoying. After a week of playing it, taking advice from friends and guildies, and trying to keep an open mind, I find myself formulating one of those pros-and-cons lists to help me decide whether or not to proceed in the game.


  • Final Fantasy XIV is undeniably gorgeous. Screenshot bait is everywhere and I have a folder full of great pictures of the landscape and various critters. I wouldn’t call it the prettiest MMO I’ve ever seen, but top five? Sure.
  • There’s a robust list of emotes that’s easy to access and use. Small thing, but some MMOs slack off in this area.
  • The community that I’ve encountered is absolutely terrific. Not only do people in general chat actually talk like civil people, but the free company I joined (the unofficial “blogger guild” on Cactuar) has made my gaming experience quite pleasant. It’s been great to see and talk to many online friends, and everyone’s been patient with my barrage of questions.
  • I like the idea of a character being able to switch classes and acquire cross-class skills. I didn’t take advantage of it, but I like that it’s there.
  • I never felt lost. The game’s quite linear in how it directs you around, and for the most part I was able to track the story and slowly gear up. A few quests had fun rewards, such as pets and emotes.
  • As I said last week, I got a serious case of adventurer feels just walking around the pretty zones. It’s kind of like smelling something that reminds you of your childhood and wanting to chase that memory as much as possible.
  • Everyone I’ve talked to keeps encouraging me to stick out the story, raving about how it progresses and especially the Heavensward expansion.


  • Does the combat get any better? Twenty levels, and I’m slogging through some of the slowest, dullest fights of my MMO career. The global cooldown here is killing me.
  • Looking over lists of classes, jobs, and skills, I’m not seeing a lot that personally excites me. That’s a serious blow to my interest, because looking forward to fun abilities and character development is a major motivational factor to my play.
  • The nodding. The nodding. The nodding. I know I’ve lambasted SWTOR for repeated gestures, but this is just eyerollingly repetitive.
  • And while I’m on about gestures, I am not connecting with my character or NPCs in the story. All I can think of is how SWTOR and TSW delivers story so much better, and in that comparison FFXIV falters.
  • The Final Fantasy setting and tropes are much more of a liability than a reason to fanboy gush. That’s a personal thing, and I know what I got into when I stepped into a FF game, but it’s only served to reinforce how little I like the franchise these days.
  • The humor is weird and silly and juvenile. I mean, I like silly humor, but I suppose the line is when it stops being relatable and is just… bizarre. The hairstylist quest? The quests where the game forces my character to do ridiculous dances? I kept backing away from the computer, shaking my head and muttering, “No… no…”
  • The sub-only option makes this a hard game to only casually play.

I actually wouldn’t have a problem keeping this on my hard drive indefinitely if it was F2P or B2P. As it is, while I definitely appreciate some parts of the game and enjoy the company, I’m not hooked yet. Will it happen with another 10 or 20 hours? I have no idea. When I signed up, I paid for a month and then immediately canceled my subscription, giving FFXIV 30 days to convince me. There are still a few weeks left, so I’m not making a decision yet.

FFXIV: The new MMO feels

There’s something interesting that’s been going on with me since trying out Final Fantasy XIV these past few days, and I think I finally put my finger on it.

I’ve been getting this warm, peppy feeling while going through the low-level zones and quests but couldn’t quite account for it. The game’s not THAT great, at least not yet, and as I’ve previously established, the Final Fantasy trappings alone are not the pull that they are for others. So what was it?

And then it clicked, because I realize that I haven’t had this particular feeling in a long time. It reminded me a LOT of my first week or so in World of Warcraft back in 2004, when the game felt fresh and mysterious and really atmospheric to me.

And FFXIV, for all its good and bad so far, is doing a bang-up job evoking that same feeling of being a neophyte in a strange world. Maybe it’s because I’m forced to take it at a slower pace and soak up the details in a way that I didn’t in other MMOs (where you zip through beginning zones). Maybe I’m just over-glorifying the new car smell here. But I like it and I’m going to soak in it for a while.

FFXIV: Pantsless — and clueless — in Eorzea

ff1Don’t laugh (too hard), but I had a dream that told me to play Final Fantasy XIV.

Oh, it was probably my subconscious working out what I’d been pondering lately, but I did actually wake up the other morning fresh from a dream in which I dipped into FFXIV to hang out with some online friends. Maybe it’s part of this summer wanderlust that I’m experiencing with trying a smattering of other MMOs, and most definitely it’s part of the current hype (and blog posts) that everyone’s doing about this game and its expansion, but I found myself shrugging, reinstalling, and squirming through a rather atrocious account interface to sub up for a month.

Two years ago, I played A Realm Reborn for about an hour before pushing myself away from the desk and declaring that I was done. Earlier this year I pronounced my interest in the Final Fantasy franchise RIP, part of this ongoing love/hate thing I’ve had for it. And even last week when I was thinking about trying it again, I acknowledged that it was my disillusionment with FF tropes and style that worked hard against a possible Syp incursion.

But to paraphrase Doc Brown, sometimes you say, what the heck and do it anyway.

So why? Why was I staring at a way-too-long intro cutscene and contemplating sharing screen time with moogles and chocobos and Limsa Lominsa other words that belong in a Dr. Suess book? Other than how dreams and whims can work on a person, I logged in because I really did want to hang out with the Cactuar blogging crew (including Belghast, Grace, and Syl), and partially because I’ve been missing dungeon runs and healing as of late. Some MMOs are better for this than others, and WildStar’s instance setup isn’t for me, nor is The Secret World. Kind of miss the old RIFT/WoW runs, to be honest, and everyone seems to go on and on about FFXIV’s dungeons.

ff2Oh! So I think I figured out an answer to my own question from last week (or at least part of the answer) about why it’s sometimes hard digging into a new game and figuring it all out. With FFXIV, I had an entire morning to play last Saturday with little else to do, so my first session was something like three or four straight hours. And let me tell you, having a sizable play session as your first into a game seems to make a world of difference in really getting to know it. Maybe part of my problem with other titles was trying to get to know them initially with only small bite-sized sessions.

I rolled up an Arcanist and entered into the game, feeling a little bit of deja vu from my 2013 trial. At least Square-Enix gives you a small discount on a monthly sub if you’re only playing a single character per server, which was certainly nice. Two game subs now plus podcast hosting and other monthly bills, it all adds up. FFXIV is really going to have to work hard to woo me in past a month, but I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt until the 30 days is up.

There’s no doubt that FFXIV is a pretty, screenshot-addicting bit of eye candy. Music is beautiful too, although it loops the same tracks too much for the amount of time that I’ve spent in these intro zones for my taste.

What’s interesting (both good and bad) is how the game starts you out after the cutscene. I think it was an hour-and-a-half, if not two hours, into the game before I even got into my first fight with a mob. I can’t remember the last time a game waited that long for a fight (maybe TSW, and even that had a bit of a weapon tutorial). Instead of instantly sending me off to fight 10 rats, the game forced me to get to know the starting city and FFXIV’s quirky systems one chunk at a time.

ff3While occasionally frustrating to slow down and take all of that in, the end result was impressive: I knew this city inside-out after a while, had my game and map bearings, and felt a little more immersed in things. Of course, I was doing all of this immersion without proper pants, because why give you the security of a pair of trousers when the game can just throw you into a shirt, panties, and thigh-high boots so that you feel threatened by drafts?

The guild was very welcoming and instructive, especially for folks who are already at level 60 and deep into the new expansion. One thing that was conveyed to me repeatedly is that FFXIV does things a little differently than the norm — not always, but often — and that you kind of had to roll with it. So for every one thing I enjoyed, there was another that annoyed or at least befuddled me.

Good? Charmingly detailed mobs, including mouse-sheep and these giant toothy rock-guys. Bad? No cosmetic system (glamours) until you’re level 50. Good? A handy teleport system to zip across zones. Bad? A map that was often hard to read and not always clear where quests were in relation to you. Good? Some genuinely funny bits of quest dialogue. Bad? Lalafells. Those little guys and gals creep me out (sorry Bel!). Good? Breathtaking sunsets and starry skies. Bad? Very slow combat that’s taking some getting used to.

ff5From what I’m told and what I read in some beginner guide research, this game is a little more on rails than usual, which is a mixed blessing. At least I don’t feel totally lost; just follow the breadcrumbs and watch the game slowly open up. I’m so hideously behind the expansion crowd that I feel no pressure to rush, but instead probably my greatest enjoyment is soaking up the environmental details and dredging up good Final Fantasy associations (and ignoring the weird New Agey crystal fixation that the series has).

If I stick around, my plan is to gradually develop a Scholar and try my hand at healing in groups. To the game’s credit, there does seem to be a very robust set of grouping features, including incentives to include newbies on runs and try out random dungeons together. But that seems like it’s a ways off for this level 12. Right now, I’ll run around in my ridiculously puffy shirt, beating up sheep, and trying to figure out what’s hooked this game for so many — and whether that’s for me.

Battle Bards Episode 47: Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

FFXIV_A_Realm_Reborn_OSTWhen Steff’s away, the Bards will play… Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, that is! The current beloved MMO of bloggers and gamers alike, FFXIV’s rebooted soundtrack has made us take notice. With the help of guest host Scott (Ramblings of a MMO Gamer Guy), we tackle the highlights of this impressive score while trying to ignore the smell of chocobo poo.

Episode 47 show notes

  • Intro (featuring “Prelude — Rebirth” and “A World Apart”)
  • “Guildleve Theme/Tenacity”
  • “Ramuh Theme/Thunder Rolls”
  • “Defender of the Realm”
  • “La Noscea Field Theme/On Westerly Winds”
  • “Gridania Night Theme/Dance of the Fireflies”
  • “Ultima”
  • “Thanalan Field Theme/To The Sun”
  • What did we like the best?
  • Mail From Zulika Mi-Nam
  • Outro (featuring “A Victory Fanfare Reborn”)

Listen to episode 47 now!

Final Fantasy R.I.P.

ffThe other day we were recording a couple of new episodes of Battle Bards when Syl asked me why I wasn’t playing Final Fantasy XIV.  In addition to the “I’m playing a zillion other games and have NO TIME” excuse, I delivered the truth: “It’s nothing against the game itself, but I’m just not into Final Fantasy any more.”

And while I’ve known that for a while, it made me a little sad to put that out there like that.

Final Fantasy was a big — but not huge — part of my gaming history.  The original Final Fantasy was something I lusted over on the NES but never got to play (I did devour the manual), while VI through IX were major experiences on the PlayStation for me.  But it was around the time of Final Fantasy X when I started to feel as though the series had run its course in my affections.  I was less charmed with the repeating tropes than others seemed to be, and I began to see the stories as being almost vapid exercises with one-dimensional characters.  Plus, there was that dumb waterball game.  Could’ve done without that.

I also think that Final Fantasy featured so strong in my life in the late 90s because I didn’t have the best access to a lot of the latest CRPGs out there — my computer was woefully inadequate until I bought a new one after college.  So console RPGs won by default, but began to seriously lose their luster when I upgraded my computer hardware and discovered MMOs.

Final Fantasy XI was a huge turn-off when I tried it back in the day, from its sneering contempt for computer/US players to its insane difficulty and hatred toward soloers.  What I had liked about Final Fantasy was quickly vanishing and being replaced by a game that gleefully killed me with a sheep.

So that was really the last time that I engaged with FF, other than a very brief, aborted attempt to play Final Fantasy XIV.  I kind of went over the same reasons back then that I did with Syl during our chat, but it boils down to the dissonance between acknowledging that a game is popular, has a solid feature set, and would otherwise be a good fit — and acknowledging that it’s a turn-off because of its genre, aesthetics, and approach.

Sometimes a game can do its very best to deliver and fail for an individual anyway, because it’s both not the fault of the dev or the gamer.  It’s just that it’s not a good match, personality-wise.  And that’s okay.  It happens.  I’ve read and heard dozens of MMO players say the same thing about why they can’t get into a certain title despite it seeming perfect on paper.  Sometimes there’s that intangible mystery category that trumps everything else.

So for me, Final Fantasy is well and dead, but I am certainly glad it’s alive and kicking for those who enjoy it.

Housing for all, all for housing

run-down-house1This Final Fantasy XIV guild housing thing is just a forehead-slapping mess.  The logic, if I’m following it correctly, is that the developers were worried that rich players would snap up all of the open world housing plots for guilds, so they jacked up the prices so much that pretty much nobody could afford one.  And then they said not to worry, that 80% of guilds should be able to afford the smallest-sized plot within three months of this highly anticipated patch feature.

There’s a few stupid gremlins at work here, not the least of which is the feeling that the developers are really out of touch with the purpose of housing.  It shouldn’t be a prohibitively expensive feature that requires gobs of grinding and time to achieve or a massive goldsink; it should be as accessible as possible for everyone so that people have a place in the game to call their own.  It’s in a studio’s best interests to help players develop “roots” in a game, whether that be terrific social tools, housing, or empowering players to be part of the creation content process.

You *want* to give your guilds a place to congregate, socialize, and decorate.  I’m always amazed more games don’t have such places (shifty eyes at Guild Wars 2 and doey eyes at Guild Wars 1).  Ever since I was a kid, the concept of a clubhouse for me and my friends had enormous appeal, and that hasn’t really changed.

Another thing that this FFXIV situation has taught me is that open world housing is hardly ever worth the bother.  I know it’s becoming more en vogue once again with these sandbox up-and-comers, but I’ve never understood the appeal of large swaths of land that are converted into suburban tracts with 3/4ths abandoned dwellings.  Instanced housing is just fine by me, and that way you never run out or have to worry about wealthy players creating a monopoly on plots.

In any case, what should be a day for FFXIV players to celebrate — a major update release day — has become soured by last-minute developments in pricing and the realization that most everyone won’t be enjoying the biggest feature of this patch.  That’s just not how housing should be.