Final Fantasy XIV Online Review
Final Fantasy XIV Online box art
System: PC, PS3 Review Rating Legend
Dev: Square Enix 1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 - 4.4 = Great
Pub: Square Enix 2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
Release: Sept. 30, 2010 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: MMO 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
ESRB Rating: Teen 3.5 - 3.9 = Good
Exploring Eorzea
by Robert VerBruggen

Whenever you load Final Fantasy XIV, the game warns you about the perils of MMO addiction. Enjoy the game, a popup cautions, but don’t get so engrossed that you forget your real-world responsibilities.

Final Fantasy XIV Online screenshot

That’s a little presumptuous. FFXIV has the potential to become a phenomenally successful game, but it will need a lot of improvement before people start ignoring their families over it.

Put simply, for a game that’s supposed to be more accessible than other MMOs, FFXIV is pretty tough to get the hang of. Even setting it up is a pain; you have to fill out numerous forms and enter numerous codes, and then “Add a Service Account” to create a character. Those with codes for bonus items have to create another “Service Account” for the items, and must enter their codes before creating a character. (As we learned the hard way, the bonus items are given only to new characters.) Then there are updates to download, which took us several hours, though hopefully the servers are less clogged by now. Also, once your free 30-day pass expires, playing costs $9.99 plus $3 per character each month. To pay, you can either have your credit card charged by a company in England, or purchase some of Square Enix’s inconvenient “Crysta” currency.

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Things don’t get much smoother during the game itself. The lack of direction is astounding. There are tutorials, but they’re not particularly informative, and they may not be available when you need them. It will take some time (and a few trips to Google) before you learn to handle even the most basic tasks, such as starting a quest, crafting an item, and equipping a weapon. Sometimes you’ll have to look at an online guide to figure out where you’re supposed to go next, and even when a location is marked on your map, the mark shows up only when you access the map through your journal, rather than through the normal map function. Also, the menu system is frustrating to navigate, the keyboard controls are clunky, and it’s remarkably difficult to trade with other players (this game absolutely needs a search function so you can find the items you want). This is all made slightly more bearable by the well-done and soothing music, though the hard rock tune that blasts during the fight scenes is cheesy and synthetic.

Final Fantasy XIV Online screenshot

So why do we think that FFXIV might someday create victims of MMO addiction? Because the developers, while they botched some of the basics, have created a remarkably deep and innovative experience here. If they can ease the transition for new and skeptical players -- and that’s a big if -- they could give the World of Warcraft juggernaut a serious competitor.

The graphics, for example, are a marvel; they’re almost certainly the best ever seen in an MMO. From the wide-open spaces of Eorzea to the marketplaces to the water, everything is rendered with the perfect mix of realism and art. The cutscenes look especially good, though we experienced some screen tearing in them. There’s a fair amount of lag as of now, but hopefully the developers can iron out the kinks as time goes by.

Final Fantasy XIV Online screenshot

FFXIV also provides a huge world full of diverse characters. There are five different races (with two sub-races each) and three starter cities to choose from, and each city features a different storyline. The character-creation system is simple, but also broad enough that you can make your avatar look however you’d like. (Well, almost however you’d like: emo hair is not optional.)

This game introduces a new character-leveling system that works quite well. While you choose a character class at the beginning of the game, changing classes is as simple as buying a different weapon or tool and equipping it to your character’s main hand. Each character has a “physical level” that stays the same when he changes classes, but also a separate level (or “rank”) for each class. This way, a single character can conjure spells, craft items, and slaughter creatures, and the more time he spends on each skill, the better he gets at it. You also receive skill points you can distribute with each level. The new system makes each player somewhat self-sufficient, though of course different players have to specialize in different things and help each other if they really want to get ahead.

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