Posted by Andrew Day on Jul 29, 2013

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn Preview

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Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn has been going through quite an intensive beta process the last few weeks. Every weekend its servers were opened for a few lucky (ok, more like more than a million) lucky players to try out the game, make sure there weren’t any bugs and to ensure that the game was balanced correctly for its official launch August 27th.

We here at Capsule Computers got to sit down and join in on the fun. Making our way through the world of Eorzea, five stalwart adventurers all have their own story to tell. We had a range of different personalities and experience levels,  from MMO Experts, to people who had played the original Final Fantasy XIV, through to long time Final Fantasy fans, and even people who don’t usually go near the MMO genre. Between us we have a huge range of experiences, thoughts and opinions on the game, so welcome everyone to the Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn Preview.

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Andrew Day (Played on PS3)

I’m going to start off by saying that I am by no means an avid MMO player. The most I have done before this point was to spend a few hours on DC Universe Online (and even that was just because I love a good superhero story). I can say however that Final Fantasy XIV:ARR is a game that I would be willing to delve into and give up a significant amount of time for. Everything from its visuals, to the lore behind it and even the combat system was just enjoyable. The game had a few flaws, but all in all was an experience made me feel like my time spent on it was all too brief, and left me longing for the full release before I could play again.

The first thing that jumped out at me when I booted up the game was the initial menu system looked like it was ported straight over from the PC version of the game. There was even an arrow cursor that I could move around with the right thumb-stick. It left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth when I first started, but the game’s menu’s aren’t meant to be navigated that way, and you can still scroll and move through the options, settings and everything else like you could in any other PS3 title.

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I know it is pretty nit-picky to complain about the menus looking like they were ported over from the PC, but when it is the first thing you see, it definitely impacts on your initial thoughts on the game. Luckily, getting past these opening menus reveals a game that is unbelievable in scope, customisation, lore and gameplay. The opening cinematic that you are greeted with is absolutely stunning. You know that indescribable aura that Final Fantasy games have? That one where even though things may look completely different to anything else that has come before it you can still tell at first glance that you are playing a Final Fantasy title? FFXIV:ARR has that in spades, and it looks absolutely beautiful.

The lighting, the backgrounds, the character models and even particle effects all burst out of the screen and are filled with the magic and wonder that you would want out of a Final Fantasy game. Considering the sheer size of the game world, and the amount of stuff that is packed into it, the visual detail on the backdrops is even more remarkable. It is no Crysis 3, but you will likely be standing in the same spots for minutes on end, just staring at the vast horizon with your mouth ajar.

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Taking a step-back, before you even get to see these impressive landscapes you first have to design your character. I don’t play a lot of MMOs, but I do know that the genre doesn’t often have deep character customisation and instead relies heavily on your gear to individualise yourself from the other million players in the world. Final Fantasy XIV does away with that notion and gives players a truly mindblowing amount of creative freedom when it comes to their character’s appearance. The amount of detail you can go into (from having mismatched eyes, to scars of varying colours on your face) is on such a level that only Dragon’s Dogma and the WWE Games come close to matching the level of freedom. The lack of character customisation in a genre that is built around people being individual is one of the features that usually turns me away from the genre, and the fact that FFXIV:ARR does away with this is a huge bonus not only for it, but for the future of MMOs.

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I know what you are thinking; “character customisation is great and all, but tell me about the actual game!” Ok, Ok, geez you are impatient. Anyway, after you have made your character to your liking, you do the standard video game stuff: pick your race, your class, your birthday (what?) and which diety you follow (again, what?). The classes are all mainstays of the Final Fantasy franchise, but are renamed and retooled for the MMO audience (for example, Black Mage is renamed to the Thaumaturge).I myself picked an archer, and set out to explore the land of Eorzea.

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Getting into the game is where you get to see the breathtaking visuals first-hand. The problem is that you do so while engaged in a long section of dialogue set in the back of a carriage. There is no voice acting in this game, and instead ops for the traditional “loads of text on the screen at once” method. It is easy to see why this method has become so outdated in gaming today, as it makes this opening segment feel much longer than it needs to be, and by the time you reach the end, the excitement you had after creating your character can very quickly have waned. On the plus side, the dialogue does set up a sense of forboding and letting you subtly know that in the future something serious is about to go down.

Ok so now we are into the game. The first thing you are introduced to is what feels like a hundred different pop up menus. These menus tell you exactly what you need to do to control your character and how to move around etc… basically they serve as your on-screen tutorial. They do the job well enough, but the text can be a little small, and I am sure if you have a smaller tv than I did while playing, they would become quite difficult to read. Regardless their information is concise and straight to the point, trying to take up as little time as possible so you can fully experience everything that ARR has to offer.

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After flicking through box after box of info, you are finally ready to play the game’s tutorial. It just gives you a rundown on where to go, what to do and general video game tutorial stuff. I’m not sure if it is because of the game having a lack of direction, or me just being hopeless (though I am leaning towards the latter), but I found myself absolutely lost within minutes. I had a chat to some random villagers and eventually through sheer luck managed to learn how to read the map and head back to where I was supposed to be.

The game controls rather smoothly, and the camera is responsive to your actions as you move along. Even though the game is in beta, there was a noticeable lack of jankiness or lag as I was playing, which is always a welcome addition in a game that relies fully on its online connectivity. The simplicity of controls even spread out to combat, where simply holding down the L2/R2 buttons on the controller would bring up your hotkey buttons. Being able to fit so many different control options into such a convenient and elegant system was an impressive feat, and made me really feel like I could pick up and play the game, despite knowing nothing about MMORPGs.

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The game is jam packed with cotent and allows you to play exactly how you want to. Everything from its own currency system, to the unique way of combat and how you progress your character. There is just so much to talk about on all of these fronts, but since I don’t know much about MMORPGs, I can’t give this game the credit of talking about the depth, the combat or how it differs or stands out from the rest of the competition (although, I can say that there is a lot to talk about on all of those fronts), so instead I will hand over to people far more qualified than I am to tackle these issues.

Joe Morgan (Played on PC)

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn shows that time spent re-designing a game can be well worth it. The MMO mechanics and quest structure in place are both great and they work quite well.

What A Realm Reborn still lacks, though, is parity with many of its western contemporaries. As you would expect for a Final Fantasy game, the storytelling is top notch. Each little quest has had thought and care put into how it is presented to the players. This is a wonderful touch. Where it falls short, though, is that it holds onto presenting everything with text on a screen. Even the other entries in the Final Fantasy franchise have abandoned this method for one that favors voice acting (if only a short “Good day, sir.”).

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Many of the cutscenes are also completely unskippable. This only seems to be the case when some sort of player choice or feedback is required, but it can cause situations to drag on when you’d rather be out cutting down foes.

All of that said, A Realm Reborn is easily one of the best looking games I’ve seen in recent memory. Everything is sharp and vibrant. The UI feels like it can become a bit busy (particularly when you’re using an Xbox controller), but it’s perfectly functional without being a burden. Playing the game with a controller also feels like the way the game was meant to be experienced. Mouse and Keyboard holdouts will still have a fine time with the game, but it feels streamlined for the controller. That also bodes well for the upcoming console builds of the game.

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Joshua Moris (PC Player)

When I enter a universe for the first time, I want to feel as I am an integral being within the game. One such immediate aspect lies within a title’s character creation. Being able to mold my character to the exact specifications I want is what I like to call immersion. If a developer can do that, then they can truly invite anyone to the playing front. And SQUARE ENIX does just that!

During one of the several beta weekends, I opened up  Final Fantasy XIV: ARR and immediately found spectators behind me. Bombarded in both directions with a cinematic in front and onlookers behind, I knew that the title was at least visually appealing. My family started making comments once I hit the character creation screen like: “That little guy is so cute!” or “Make him have big ears!”. Needless to say, I lost control of my mouse to PC gaming novices. Yet that action confirms that anyone can be intrigued to play this title.

Furthermore, character creation expands from physical attributes to job selection. Want to see your character in “job related” attire? A simple click on the customization screen will alter your appearance. Other aspects such as a birth date and character beliefs fall into place to continue the definition of your character. Want to intrigue non-gamers and gamers alike? Start taking notes…

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Luke Halliday (PS3 Player)

Not only did we get to try out Final Fantasy IV on the PC but we also got to take the PlayStation 3 version for a spin to some interesting results. Final Fantasy IV on the PlayStation 3 is interesting for a number of reasons. First of all the control scheme of the PC version has been mostly remapped to a PlayStation 3 controller. It works well enough but there is always the sense that they game was simply ported from the PC, it wears the PC version in all facets, while at the same time being a beast of its own.

While there are still cursors popping up and a few frustrating menus to deal with, once you get past that and get into the combat portions, the PlayStation 3 version truly shines. The more action orientated parts of the game are highly engaging and work very well on the PlayStation 3, however when it comes to dialogue and menu surfing, it can be really frustrating. The biggest issue of course comes from the difficulty that comes with actually reading the text. It is small and the font is hardly clear to see. On top of that the controls can be a little bit of a head scratcher when trying to navigate through these things.

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What really stands out from the PlayStation 3 version is definitely the combat, it is well defined and highly addictive making the grinding aspects so prevalent in MMORPGs actually enjoyable instead of a chore. It is safe to say however that Final Fantasy IV makes a pleasant transition to the PlayStation 3 from the PC, albeit still wearing the PC versions suit and tie. It is obviously ported but it works well enough that it doesn’t matter in the slightest.

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Conclusion

So there you have it. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn in a nutshell (a really, really big nutshell). That is four different opinions of the game, all saying the same thing: It is great, definitely check it out next month when it goes live. I know I promised five different points of view, but we have separated out the last section as its own article; Legacy Characters (AKA: Characters from the first installment of Final Fantasy XIV) are treated a little differently, and as such our own resident Final Fantasy XIV expert has done up his own piece for you to check out.

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn launches everywhere August 27th on PS3 and PC (with a release on PS4 due sometime next year). When the game goes live we will have a full review going up, so be sure to stay tuned to Capsule Computers for all the Final Fantasy news as it becomes available.

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