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.

Final Fantasy XIV is not for me — and that’s OK

Final Fantasy 3When your gut and past experience tells you one thing and your friends are all telling you another, it’s sometimes easy to get persuaded to get out of your comfort zone and give a new thing a try.  In this case it’s where so many people seem to be playing, raving about, and enjoying Final Fantasy XIV following its relaunch, to the point where I got persuaded to drop $30 for a copy the other day.

And that’s a $30 I really regret spending.  I has the buyer’s remorse, I do.  But since it was an impulsive purchase, I have only myself to blame.

So yeah, it wasn’t even on my radar because the initial launch was a laughable mess and the relaunch looked to be pretty niche.  But whether it’s people starved for a major release right now in the latter part of 2013 or a tsunami of word-of-mouth raves, it’s been doing quite well for itself.  And it was strange for me to see a really wide range of gamers and bloggers that I know being won over by it.  So what did I have to lose?

$30.  Don’t remind me.  I shall do that myself.

Anyway, I should’ve listened to my gut.  It’s not that FFXIV is a bad game in any way that I can discern.  Downloading it and setting it up was pretty smooth, and I didn’t even have to enter in credit card info.  Hearing the music was a nice high point — the Final Fantasy series always does well there.  But this game was not made for me at all.

For starters, I’ve just soured on the Final Fantasy experience: the aesthetic, the trappings, the overused rehash of elements that some may love as “tradition” and I’ve started to frown at as “unimaginative leftovers.”  I’ve really not been into Final Fantasy since, oh, 10, and even that wasn’t too fun for me.  Final Fantasy XI just turned me off within the first couple days of trying it out way back in 2003 or so, and even retro versions of FF games on mobile devices have lost their luster.

So there wasn’t a lot to like about my first half-hour or so in FFXIV.  I don’t like the look of the characters, chocobos make my eyes roll so dang much, and most of the races just irk me.  I felt really grumpy through the whole thing and that’s probably not fair at all to the game.  Sure, it looked pretty.  But so do a lot of MMOs these days.  It had quests.  It had me running.  It had me clicking through a lot of text bubbles that were dull as carp.  Hey, carp are not the most interesting fish, okay?

And how much combat did I clock in that first hour or so?  None.  It was like the world’s slowest tutorial-slash-hand-holding, and I’m going cross-eyed because what little story I’m seeing is dull and I want to see how the combat handles.  I’m asking myself what others were seeing in this game.

So short story short, I didn’t have the patience to stick it out.  It just wasn’t for me, and that’s OK; not all MMOs will be.  Maybe it’s just about the best game in the world past that opening hour and maybe I’m too antsy.  But considering that I don’t need another subscription right now for a game that — even if I ended up liking it — I won’t be paying for when WildStar hits anyway.  So we’ll part amiably and shan’t mention it again.

Just wish I had that $30 back.

Five MMOs on the endangered list

473I think that City of Heroes’ (and to a lesser extent, Glitch and perhaps Lucent Hearts) shutdown has caused some people to pause and wonder which MMO will be next on the chopping block.  Not to get maudlin or delight in “failure,” but let’s be honest: We all do think about it from time to time.  Whether a game’s shut down because of a lack of players and funding or because there’s a legal issue or a studio closing, it can and will happen.

So what MMOs do I think are most in danger of being sunsetted?  Five titles come to mind:

1. PlanetSide

Honestly, there’s just no reason for SOE to keep this game running.  It’s the only title in the studio’s library that hasn’t been converted to free-to-play, it has a F2P sequel that just launched, and it’s pretty long in the tooth.  Maybe SOE will keep the lights on for the sake of the dedicated few that stick around (and keep coughing up a subscription fee), but I don’t see that happening.

2. Warhammer Online

It pains me to say it, but I really don’t think WAR is long for this world.  Mythic is helming a leaking ship with no apparent hope for its future.  BioWare’s siphoned off several of its devs, DAoC is really old at this point and not going F2P, UO is even older, there aren’t any new titles in the works that we know about, and WAR feels like a game that they’d rather you not notice.

The fact that Mythic has outright said that it’s just not financially realistic to convert the game to F2P speaks volumes about its future.  Then you add on the fact that the studio also said that its MOBA version of the game will probably never leave beta status because of a terribly small playerbase, and I just don’t see WAR pulling out of this tailspin.  It was a great if flawed game in many ways, but there’s no hope left.

3. Guild Wars

NCsoft isn’t known for its bleeding heart, and if it sees that most of the Guild Wars fanbase has made the jump to GW2, their accountants are not going to look at the continued cost of operating GW1 fondly.  Hey, maybe those are very minimal costs and why not.  But GW1 can’t have much of a future making money for the company, and that leaves me with a bad feeling about it.

4. Final Fantasy XI

This one might be a bit of a stretch, but hear me out.  Not only is FF11 nearing senior citizen status in MMO years, but the studio is really desperate to make FF14 work.  Could it see FF11’s closing as a way to “encourage” the remaining players to make the switch?

Really, I have no idea what Square-Enix is thinking most of the time, and considering how volatile FF14’s history has been so far, I wouldn’t be surprised if the studio just tried to back out of the online space altogether.

5. Anarchy Online

Gah, it hurts me to even suggest this — especially considering I’ve just put it back on my computer.  But with Funcom’s recent staff layoffs and the rumors that it might be shopping around for a buyer, I have to wonder just how stable AO’s future is.  I mean, it’s not just old but there’s little left to draw new/returning players back in until or unless the team can pull off that graphics update.  And raise your hand if you think that’s honestly going to happen?

I don’t think all of these games are destined to be shut down in the next couple of months, I just think that these are the five titles I’m most concerned about right now.  Put them on the “endangered” list, so to speak.  What do you think?