Review: Final Fantasy XIV Beta Impressions

Editor’s note: Lane is at work and will have pictures later on today when he can access his screenshots should not make promises he cannot keep; his screenshots apparently did not take and he is too tired to do them again, so here are some pictures he stole from Google.

Why does Square do it?

Obviously, they are staffed by capable people. The most depressing thing about Square games is that they appear 75% finished, as if a massive push were made to build a really great game about 3/4s done, and then work stalls, and what limps to the finish line is an 80%-finished game passed off as “acceptable.”

Final Fantasy XIV Logo
Long post condensed to one sentence: the game is nowhere near ready.

I realize Square’s PC front has always been secondary to their console market, and that they may be largely unfamiliar with PC architecture and design optimization… and while that may have worked back in the late 90s for the computer versions of FFVII and FFVIII, it should hold no water now that we are almost to 2011.

The decision to beta test Final Fantasy XIV is a good one; Square has legions (untold legions) of loyalists that embody the video game fan. Blindly devoted, consumed by Square-Enix fanaticism, these hordes will descend with a bubbly, shiny faux-Japanese wrath on any that dare criticize the Great Master.

But it has to be some sort of demented, masochistic relationship. No one would bow to such an unforgiving, uncaring master without a serious jones for self-flagellation.

But I wonder: what is being done with the beta?

Long story short, I was one of that demented legion in attempting to secure a beta key. Unlike most people that just want their shinies early, I honestly wanted to test out the game and see if I could improve it. I have always liked Square-Enix, as a company, and find that despite their flaws as a game company, they can usually cook up one hell of an immersive world. As I said, Square always starts strong, with the basis of a world dripping with promise… and manages to squander that capital with pointessl minigames, grinds, overused cliches, graphical glitches, bad translations… you name it, it can happen.

As was problematic with both of Square’s other online MMO properties, Final Fantasy XI and Fantasy Earth Zero, the game interface is just not designed correctly for an online game.

Menus are bad.

Say it with me, Square. It is the only way to heal.

Menus are bad. Submenus doubly so.

Point-and-click is a terrible interface for consoles. It is even worse for computers. It may have worked for LucasArts in the 80s, but this is 2010. Point and click is bad. If I cannot operate a menu with the keyboard, there are problems. If I must rely on the mouse, the slowest, laggiest piece of shit human input device hooked up to the computer, things are bad.

But I get ahead of myself. What follows is the Epic Chronicle of the Beta: The Limsa Lominsa Years.

Sitting Down With Final Fantasy XIV

Sunday, August 15th, 2010. Around 1:00 post meridian, Central Standard Time. Scene: the living room of Lane’s house. All is quiet; Mrs. Lane is taking a nap in the bedroom. Spazcat the Wonder Kitten is tucked away on some elevated perch, surveying which of her stuffed animals shall meet its grisly fate next. The TV is dark, the fridge humming softly. Only the soft glow of a laptop screen lights the shaded interior of the house. Soft blues, whites and greys bounce cheerily from the screen, casting shadows and creating stark relief with the grimly intense face of one Lusipurr.com reviewer, Lane Haygood. He stares determinedly at the screen.

“Reveal your secrets to me, File Planet.”

But the repository of gaming frustration known as “the FP” is silent; the IGN-based network lets no trickle of information slip from its grasp. Its moderators are silent as to when the beta key giveaway will commence. But Lane knows something. He knows that he must be vigilant, for in a mere few seconds, the Final Fantasy XIV beta keys will be gone into the hungry digital, cheeto-stained maws of a thousand ghastly ghouls.

The Races of Final Fantasy XIV
The races of Final Fantasy XIV

He sees the message: “beta keys up in a few sec…” but he cannot pause to read. No, it is off to the site. Click. The next page. Information auto-filled. Click the checkbox… and… beta key, bam, right there on the screen! He cries in joy. The cat leaps from her hiding spot and bolts into the other room. His wife, startled, emerges bleary-eyed and wielding a bat. But Lane does not notice; he has succeeded in his mission. Now, he can provide his dear and constant readers with the news, opinions and shinies they crave.

This fanciful retelling of my attempt to secure a beta key was actually not embellished. I also know that it took approximately 10 seconds for them to run out of keys. We are fortunate, dear and constant readers, that my Internet connecon chose that moment not to lag.

Sort of.

After activating my beta account, I abandoned the Mac-y goodness of my laptop for my stolid PC workhorse. I ran the FFXIV benchmark application, just for S&G, to see how this thing would hold up. Two years ago, this computer was a gaming beast. It has a 3.0Ghz Core 2 Duo, a 1GB nVidia 9600GT GPU, 4 gigs of DDR2 RAM, and a speedy XFX motherboard to haul all that data around in. I never benchmarked the thing with Crysis, but I have yet to meet a game that cannot be played at 1680×1050 with the settings cranked up to “melt CPU fans.”

I got fair-to-middling scores on my FFXIV benchmark, just over 2000. Not terrible, but it left me thinking, “Square expects normal networks to hold up to this kind of abuse?” I mean, an 11GB install file was not the worst of my troubles for my bandwidth. That is still a lot of client-server communications!

To grease the skids for this, some actual hacking of my router was required. Whereas most commercially-available networking hardware will keep a few common ports open for back-and-forth communication, and most commercially-available firewalls provide easy configuration for programs, FFXIV and its associated updater client require quite a few ports to be open. Opening them is a simple matter, and once I did, I saw my client download speed jump from a shockingly terrible 3kbps to over 600kbps. I shudder to think what would have happened had I not turned on uPNP and forwarded the right points.

Once everything was installed, a process that took about as long as one would expect, I began to play.

The game opened up in windowed mode.

I hate playing games in windowed mode.

Windowed mode was created by perverts like SiliconNoob so that they can look at paizuri hentai while playing the latest Tales game. Lusipurr himself uses it to write Pokemon slashfic while recording the podcast. Those recording glitches? Those were just the times when he was too involved in hot Psyduck-on-Psyduck action to bother paying attention to Skype.

But, OK, I think, I will just change that setting to full scre…

Well, what if there were no option to change? I suppose that playing a game in a measly 1280×720 for a beta test is OK. My framerates will go up.

The game starts off as one would expect, with the classic Final Fantasy theme being played, goofy all-white screen with stylized logo, and then it is off to character creation.

Square boasted “lots of options!” for character creation, and I expected something with sliders and tweaking, much like one could do in Dragon Age or Mass Effect to create a truly unique-looking character.

Nope. It is presets. And not even a large amount of presets. About what one would expect from WoW, which is to say, a six-year-old game.

Gross.

Anyway, the standard complement of races is there: the human stand-ins (though I was pleased to see that Square is not shying away from allowing players to create non-white characters), the elf/dark elf stand-ins, the ugly-cute mini-persons, catgirls, and large, burly bear men. At least there are no bagaa. Yet.

As near as I could tell, the race was purely cosmetic, so I fired up a trust human, outfitted him with some dorky looks, and went on to choosing a class.

The Armory system will be discussed further in, but a brief overview of the class creation is necessary. There are four broad categories. Whereas one might be tempted to say, “tank, melee, ranged, healer,” one would be wrong. They are “physical, magical, gatherer, crafter.”

That is right, gatherers and crafters represent separate “jobs,” if one will, rather than simply sub-skills tacked on under a character class.

For a PVE MMO, this seems weird. I would buy it in a social MMO like Second Life, but if the goal of the game is to fight monsters, then being a class that can somehow aid in the fighting of monsters is important. I assume that a Blacksmith could whack a rat with his hammer, or a Carpenter perhaps use some sort of saw. After all, Cid fought with Wrenches, so…

But I could not bring myself to make a gatherer (fisher, miner or herb-picker) or a crafter (one of a long list, but think of the basics: armorcrafting, leatherworking, blacksmithing, tailoring, alchemy, cooking). Spending my initial leveling experience sitting in the middle of the street making arrows seems stupid. It is stupid. No one wants to level that way. Except gold farmers.

So I checked in to meatshields and pew-pewers.

For magic users, there are a whopping two choices: thaumaturge (mage) and conjurer (some sort of hippie). Apparently, both serve roughly the same function of being equal parts black and white mage. OK.

To be honest, this seems a little anemic for one of the iconic Final Fantasy classes. I know that the job bank contains Black, White, Red, and Blue mages. I know that each has there spheres of specialization. This largely cosmetic differentiation between casters is… lackluster? Trite? An insult?

So being a magician was right out, which is for the best, because I hate playing casters. Off to the wild world of melee!

Final Fantasy XIV Combat
The combat system is plagued by interface lag and poorly-thought out mechanics.

As a “Disciple of War” one can be a Gladiator (tank), Marauder (plate-wearing DPS), Pugilist (hand-to-hand fighter), Archer (please do not make me explain that one), or Lancer (weirdo mid-range fighter that has a goofy outfit).

Because the Marauder looked like some sort of cast-off from the gay porn spoof of Pirates of the Carribean, and the idiotic puffy sleeves on the Lancer turned me off, I took a look at the remaining classes. The Pugilists quick speed and flashy animations drew my eye, but I could not abandon my roots, and chose to make a Gladiator. Awesome. I get a sword! All is right with the world. After picking a name, a birthdate (really?) and a patron god, I was ready to adventure! It should be noted that these last options are not explained. How they tie into the game mechanics is a question I would like answered.

Into the Game

The game starts off with a rather detailed cinematic. Players are treated to a view around the hold of a ship. A United Colors of Limsa Lominsa ad on the high seas. There are people of every race and nation just sitting there… except for the player character. The PC is hallucinating, probably from some bad grog. Hearing voices, the PC gets up. At this point, players can talk to such engaging NPCs as the “Voluptuous Vixen,” who is neither voluptuous nor vixenly. Once players realize that nothing of interest will ever happen, they can exit by walking up to the big doors. A prompt appears, “Are you sure? Once you leave, you can never come back!”

Oh, as if things were so interesting down here! I can run around a whole six feet of space! What joy!

Fuck off, game, I am cheesing this place.

Stepping outside triggers another cutscene. This time, the Player Character has visual hallucinations of fire falling from the sky. She or he is engulfed by a wave of fire… only to find out that when tripping balls, one can mistake a wave of sea water for fire. Apparently there is a bad storm, and our landlubber PC just cannot hack it.

Thankfully, a helpful catgirl is there to tell you to get your ass back belowdecks where stupid people belong. Of course, the PC does not listen. She or he watches in dumbfounded horror as the ship is beset by floating jellyfish.

Inquiring minds might ask, “why floating jellyfish?” If we are on the open sea, it stands to reason that floating would not be a trait evolved by jellyfish, since jellyfish floating above the ocean would be stupid. But we are in the open sea, and now there are floating jellyfish.

Never you mind, says Square-Enix. Just realize that now is the time to fight. Whether this was meant to be a tutorial, I could not tell. There were not any actual helpful tips. But I figured out soon enough I had to kill me some floating jellyfish, so off I went.

Targeting is a nightmare. In most MMOs, targeting can be accomplished in one of two ways: clicking on the enemy (good) or using the tab key (less good). Tab targeting is sometimes unreliable, but in a well-made MMO it will at least select only things the player can attack. Pressing tab in FFXIV will first select the player. Thoughts of suicide are, sadly, not entirely foreign to the situation of playing the game, so perhaps this was intentional.

Clicking is more difficult. Better MMOs will provide an enemy nameplate, a context-sensitive area of the screen where clicking will produce an instant target. This is necessary because TIME AND SPACE and their magical properties intervene between MY COMPUTER, to which my mouse is attached, and the SERVER which actually tells my computer what the fuck is going on. If I click a floating jellyfish at Point A, by the time my command is actually relayed to the server, the jellyfish has floated to Point B. Result: no targeting!

A nameplate solves this: clicking on the nameplate says, “fuck wherever the sprite is supposed to be, target that bitch whereever he is and fire the fucking missiles.” But, no. There are no nameplates in FFXIV. One must bash the tab key to target.

Once targeted, the player then enters “Active Mode.” In “Passive Mode,” players cannot attack, but they can talk, or walk around slow as fuck. Seriously, walk-speed in MMOs is annoying. But to activate “not limp along” mode, one must sacrifice the benefits of HP/MP regeneration and not walking around with a hard-on for violence. Once in Active Mode, though, an action bar appears! Well, that was a neat UI trick. I think I like it.

I have but one attack. No auto-attacks on top of which to layer my specials. All attacks must be chosen. OK, not a bad system.

I press “1” signifying my desire to use “Heavy Blow.”

Bunkum.

I press 1 more insistently. I click the #1 spot on my Hotbar. My Stamina Gauge, which I assume (since I have not been told) is my special attack resource, is full. I can see the projected Stamina cost of my Heavy Blow attack. I have enough. Nothing.

I leap forward and slash the Jellyfish, doing respectable damage. “OK, something worked.” I frantically repeat my process. Wait. Wait. Jellyfish attacks, doing massive, painful damage. But thankfully, my catgirl friend heals me. Some big lout with an axe stands there and watches.

“A little help?” I ask. My cries fall on deaf ears.

Another slash! More health drained. I think I am getting the hang of this! When pressed, an attack is queued, and then when my next attack period is up, I will perform that attack. What is the attack period? How is initiative negotiated? Not a clue, but this is annoying. Turn-based combat is fun in single-player games; in an MMO it is stupid. I also should be able to queue up several attacks at once. For instance, later in the game I would learn a standard fire damage + slashing damage attack with my sword. It sure would be swell to use that as an opener, apply a damage-over-time effect from the fire, and follow up with my main attack. Pressing 2-1 should queue that right up.

But no.

Pressing 2 will sometimes queue up the fire slash, but only after it activates will I then be free to indiscriminately press 1 until my normal attack happens.

When pressed, the buttons seem to “elevate” off the hotbar for a bit, turn bright, and then fade back down, sometimes with a cooldown indicated. Again, I like this system. I ought to be able to see my queued actions, maybe make substitutions later in the queue if I need to. It could be an engaging system of combat, where I keep a constant barrage of a rotation ready to go. Very strategic and less frenetic than most MMOs. A nice change of pace.

Except that I do not think that is what is happening.

I think it was meant to be a hotbar just like every other MMO in existence. Except… the interface and server lag is so horrible it only looks like a turn-based fight. It really is real-time, it is just that “real-time” is a slave to the horrors of bad networking and buggy, unoptimized code running rampant. I made a post on the official fansite asking, “Am I just stupid?”

The consensus was, “no, that is how it works for now.”

I might buy that system in an alpha, but we are a month away from release, and the basic combat mechanics still are not handled right? Ooh. This looks bad.

Anyway, after dispatching the jellies, we are treated to (guess! guess!) another cut-scene, this time with Leviathan (seriously, call it a sea serpent all you want, I know fucking Leviathan when I see him) leaping over the ship. Catgirl thinks this is cool. I think she’d be hot if it were not for those damn ears.

Quick cut. It is daytime, the sailors look haggard, but there is land in sight! Rejoice!

Limsa Lominsa And The Curse of the Deadly Menus

We land, and disembark into the land of Pirate Talk Cliches. Seriously. Landlubbers ahoy. Scallywags. Salty dogs. Slick legging.

OK, I made the last one up, but it has to have crossed someone else’s mind.

Whatever, I’ll forgive it. I will even forgive the lack of voice acting in the NPC dialogues, but not even a cursory, “can I help you?” or “For the Horde!” when I click off is disturbing.

It is also difficult to follow NPC text. The chat window sits a bit obtrusively in the bottom left corner. It can be resized, but not moved… and the NPC chat window, which opens at the bottom of the screen, is partially covered by the actual chat window. All NPC text is also repeated in the chat window, making it a little hard to read.

Also, one cannot use the mouse to advance NPC chat. At all. Have to press Enter, which is just as buggy and lag-filled as hotbar-based combat.

Anyway, once inside, the owner of the inn will give players their first quest: go to Camp Bearded Clam Rock and do a levequest.

As to “how the fuck do I get to Camp Beared Rock,” they say, “look at the map!”

OK, I think, maps are cool. I press “M,” the universal key for a map. A map appears! Great success!

About ten seconds later, things appear on the map. I see some guilds, chocobo stables, whatnot… fairly self-explanatory. But no “Camp Bearded rock.” I try to pan and scan, no good. Until I figure out that the IJKL keys control map scanning. Whatever, I can live with that, I suppose.

Then I find out that this map is only part of LL; the “Upper Decks,” specifically. Apparently the gate to Camp Bearded Rock is on the Lower Decks. How do I get there?

Menus! Delicious, non-anti-aliased text-filled menus! Click on “see other maps” produces a list of places I cannot go, but luckily, under the first sub-menu I clicked I found “Limsa Lominsa Lower Decks.” Excellent! Now how do I get there?

I wandered around the whole city for an hour looking for a staircase. What did I have to do instead? Walk ten feet from where I started to a lift. But then… how do I use the lift?

No buttons. Cannot walk into it. Clicking on it produces nothing. But I see others using it, so there must be a way.

That is when I notice that a small bubble has appeared at the top of my screen. I click it, and… MORE MENUS!

This time, it opens up the main game menu (with such esoteric titles as “attributes and gear” and “actions and talents”), with a special context-sensitive button that says, “Use lift.”

I press it, and… MORE MENUS! I get to choose between “Cancel” and “1. Chocobo Stables.”

Gee, game, I wonder where I want to go.

A brief jaunt out of the city later, and I am at CBR. Once there, I know I have to click the big shiny crystal, which opens up another bubble-context-menu, with several new choices. Apparently I can initiate a levequest (what I am supposed to do), read an entirely unhelpful tutorial, or do some other shit. I did not really pay attention. I initiated my levequest, and…

“Kill 3 rats.”

Fuck. Off.

But I did not quit, oh no. I soldiered on, for the sake of my readers.

I found my rats (my minimap pointed me right at ’em), and proceeded to beat my head against the keyboard until three rats were indeed dead. At which point, the fabric of space and time itself rent asunder, and I was able to teleport back to the Bearded Rock. I received 100 gil for my troubles, and then teleported back to the guy that gave me the quest. “Coolio,” he says. “Now go give some fish to the cooks.”

Off to the cooks I start to run, before I realize, “I do not know where the fuck I am going.” And the map is unhelpful. It has names like, “The Hyaline,” which is a shop that sells… clothes? I think? I am not sure. I have managed to find the weapon store and the potion store, but there is precious little explanation of what and where they are.

I did find the cooks’ guild, though, and after another cutscene, I was reintroduced to my catgirl friend. Apparently, she thinks it is a big deal that we saw Leviathan. No one believes that we did. She acts all mysterious and leaves, and I am sent off of the Musketeers’s Guild.

And that… seemed boring, so I went back to the inn, and picked up a few more levequests. I did not want to chase catgirls. I wanted to gain some experience, learn some new skills, maybe buy some better gear… but no, all I got were more “kill 5 giga-sheep and hump a dodo” quests. Fuck that.

No lie... giga-sheep.
A Kiwi's worst nightmare.

I finished the quests, some of which made me run around the whole fucking zone to round up giga-sheep, and got my money… but I could not find anywhere to spend it. Also, it is 2010. It is very annoying to not be able to jump or jump down the sides of a hill. I should never be prevented from moving up a hill by the lack of the ability to jump. It unnecessarily adds to the amount of time I need to move around.

As I leveled, I occasionally gained new skills. In most sensible games, putting them on the hotbar uses a complicated “click + drag” method. This was apparently too easy for Square, who decided that instead we must choose and equip a limited number of skills at all times, and create a laggy, menu and submenu laden interface for doing so. The system is non-intuitive and, quite frankly, too slow to be pleasant.

Most of the menus in the game fall in this fashion: no explanation given, not bound to sensible keys, and entirely driven by context-sensitive mouse placement that will often change the screen without the need for input from a player. I suppose that on a console, using a controller, the system might be passable, but on a keyboard and mouse, it is a nightmare.

Graphically, the game is “adequate.” I would not say that its graphics are any better or worse than current pay-for-play MMOs. Certainly it is not as cartoony as WoW or as dorkily “gritty” as WAR, but the graphics are serviceable DX10 textures. Animations are fluid, if there is a bit of judder and artifacting. Framerates on my computer hovered in the mid-30s, which is more or less acceptable. But it did not wow me with flash. The graphics compare to Age of Conan, which suffered from the problem of being too intensive for a network game. Sorry; those are the breaks when it comes to MMOs.

I dicked around with the video settings, but I saw neither an appreciable difference in frame rates nor a reduction in server and interface lag.

I even tried out several severs, including the high-population “Shadowlands” (nearly unplayable due to lag) to the decidedly more friendly “Exdeath.” Still, even on low-load servers, the lag, specifically in the menus and in combat, is terrible, far, far worse than it should be in a game about to be released.

Arms and Armory

The job-switching system of Final Fantasy has been a mainstay of the series since the early days. “Job” is largely defined not by making a selection but by what the player has equipped. Of course, different jobs must still be leveled independently (though a basic “physical level” remains the same across all jobs). Thus, the idiot that starts a Fisherman may go and buy a sword, and ipso-facto, Gladiator! This presents… interesting… choices for leveling, but I still wonder why gathering and production skills are referred to as “jobs in their own right, and not simply subclasses of skills that can be learned, a la Runes of Magic.

Leve Me Alone!

The “guildleve” and “levequest” system, touted as innovative, is… really just an updated version of the Turbine/Dungeons and Dragons Online system. Get quest, go to quest start, queue up the appropriate difficulty (from solo to legion!) and get started. Imagine if with every quest in WoW the questgiver asked: do you want to solo this for green rewards, or go get a full raid for a chance at some rares or epics? Sounds like a neat system, and it is… but so far, the leves that I have been given have all been kill/collect quests. I do not feel like a single one of them has advanced the story line.

And what about factions? I see lots of stuff in there for building my reputation with this faction or my patron god, but no explanation for what that is, why it is beneficial, or what I can do with it. The ever-present carrot of MMO gameplay, phat lewts, are also in short supply. I could not even purchase a new weapon at the weapon shop! What fun is it to go and kill ten rats if I am not getting a sweet new shield at the end of the quest?

At least level advancement comes quick and often, but it seems like there is a minimum of player choice involved. New skills are simply acquired and equipped. There is no need to visit a trainer or select a skill upgrade. There is hardly any notification at all. Also, the experience bar and other related information is often hidden in… did somebody say menus? I heard menus! Menus! Lots and lots of menus!

UI and Controls

As longtime readers know, I am an absolute fanatic when it comes to a snazzy user interface. The best things about Lua-based games are the ability to create interface mods to replace the invariably shitty default UI with a usable one.

FFXIV does not use Lua.

Still, the UI elements are at least all movable, except for chat windows.

The game handles like a big rig with out-of-alignment tires on a slippery mountain rode while a rabid weasel attacks the genitals of the driver. The WASD layout is clunky, the lack of jumping makes movement awkward, the hotkeys are arcane, and the action bar responsiveness is just somewhere above Shawn after a three-day Pokemon binge. I cannot think of a worse playing experience on the computer. This is even worse than Fantasy Earth Zero, because at least in FE0, one can jump.

WHAT DO NOW?

By now, dear reader, you have either decided that I am a heretic and deserve the cleansing fire of the pyre, or are heartbroken that once again Square has summoned Gor the Ravenous from the Nether Pits to devour you again, and again, and again with their callous indifference. If you are the former, your Square Defense Force captain has called, and apparently some Namco hoodlums were seen as burning a moogle in effigy somewhere and you all have to go and rescue it.

If you are in the latter, let me say this: unless it really, really matters to you that you be a very early adopter of the game, skip it… for now. The problems with the game, though structural, are fixable as well. Lag could be reduced (drastically, with some code optimzation). Graphical assets could be scaled down. Combat can be fixed, and unintuitive game elements can be explained. If I know Square, the winning story is there, it merely lurks under layer and layer of unnecessary obfuscation.

At this point, I like the world and its promise enough to say, “Wait for the PS3 version.” Likely, the controls will be better suited for the PS3, the game’s response time better, and the overall experience better. And if not, by then, hopefully Square will have patched the game significantly.

The most heartening thing I could hear between now and September 24th is, “we are pushing back the release.” The game is not ready yet; it is very much a beta, and while I will be doing my part to document these flaws on the beta fora, I am not sure if Square really has it out to make this a true beta test, and is instead using it as more of a hype-generating machine. Which is sad, because Square is beyond having to play these sorts of games with us. We want to be loyal to you, Square, but you cannot keep abusing your fans this way.

56 comments

  1. Wow. This may be the longest post ever written on a blog by anyone, anywhere, at any time.

    I’ll be reading it today (and tomorrow, and the day after) and will comment once I’ve finished this TREATISE.

  2. Yeah, it’s a little rushed. I’ll clean it up some as I have time.

    Blame Canada.

  3. In any case I enjoy FFXIV for several reasons, Square has obviously put a lot of love into this game and the hard work is paying off. As a little side note FFXIV started out as “Project Rapture” which Square claimed was NOT going to be another MMO in the line of Final Fantasy but yet another game that they were going to make original, the fact they actually kept it hidden for about 5 years before E3 last year was pretty amazing.

    The first thing I love about the beta is the graphics, it is hard to open up the game even on low settings and not be astonished by the amazing graphics they have employed within the game. The landscapes are beautiful and the character customization is leaps and bounds better than FFXI. Also the animations for various skills are very impressive too, even the mining and crafting in general it is obvious that they put a lot of work into the game. The only problem i have with the graphics is that if you have a lower end computer the possibility of playing the game is rather low. I have a couple friends with decent laptops (Dual Core and 8 Series nvidia cards) and they can hardly load up the game because of how poorly optimized it is for lower end computers, even medium range computers for that matter. Hopefully the Optimization will get better before the game is released, perhaps after the open beta starts next month.

    Another reason I love the game is the improved fighting system from FFXI, I have never really experienced a fighting system like FFXIV in an mmo because typically it is the game thing over and over again in an MMO. I know that Mortal online and Darkfall have a very open system where you have to choose every swing, however if you suffer from a low internet connection or even experience some lag that can be an issue. With the FFXIV system you basically choose every attack that you are going to do, all your abilities are set to a hot bar and you just press the number key coordinated with that action. This is different from wow though because there is no auto attack, when you choose a move you only do that move, if you do not choose another action the enemy murders you pretty hard, in my option that is a good relief because as a physical class the possibility of just running in, engaging, and going to make a sandwich is no longer going to happen.

    I also love the improved crafting, though it does feel a bit slow but not in the sense that the mechanics are slow, but because of the server issues they have now, but i’ll talk about that in a bit. The newly improved crafting is AWESOME, no longer do you have to just sit there while your person fails or completes an item like in most MMOs, you actually have a say in what is going to happen! When you start out your craft, such as Blacksmithing, you choose to do either of three synthesis actions 1. Standard: this is just progressing in a normal fashion which can improve your quality by a certain amount and make the progress bar go up as well but the durability go down. 2. Rapid: This synthesis technique improves your progress by a lot, but the quality doesn’t go up well at all. 3. Bold: When you choose this it makes your progress go up a little bit, but your quality go up by a lot. The problem is that at low levels these fail a lot so you end up having a lot of failed items. I should also note that The progress bar is how far along your item is, if it reaches 100% then you completed the item, the quality number is how well made your item is, if that is really high you have a larger change of making +1 items, and the Durability number is how long you have to go before you fail the synthesis, if that reaches 0 you are a failure.

    The quests are fairly fun as well, known as guildleves I believe. There are the basic quests such as “Kill x of S” but what I would like to talk about is that crafting quests. The crafting quests are awesome because when you choose to do them, you have to go find the person who is going to receive the items you craft, after you talk to him, he gives you the materials to make the items. This of course means you do not have to go mining for 3 hours to find the right materials, because he already gave them to you, which is plain awesome.

  4. Reetin, what other MMOs have you played? I ask because (at least on my system; I’ll know how it looks on a higher-end PC soon) the grahpics are pretty much par for the course with any modern (textures updated since 2008) MMO. Some of the animations are better, but in true Japanese fashion, there is a lot of judder and jagged lines when the field is in motion (I notice this more on Japanese games than non-Japanese games, and I can’t figure out why).

    The environments are also not noticeably better than any other DirectX 10-capable game, at least to my non-conniseur’s eyes. They look much sharper than anything except Aion or AoC, but that’s because MMOs are shit,graphically.

    That said, I like the crafting change, as it provides some flexibility, and crafting leves are a nice way to level when your DoW/DoM leves are on cooldown. It seems, and this is just my beta impression, that the leve system is designed to force a broad, jack-of-all-trades leveling system on solo players, whereas group players can be more flexible.

    But there is still no OOC chat implemented, nor any system for finding pick-up groups. All in all, it is just not the “next-gen” MMO experience a 2010 game ought to be. It lags behind even badly-designed games like Warhammer in this regard, to say nothing of well-designed games like WoW.

  5. Sounds like a typical Enixsoft game; an interesting game concept is as a piece of grit ’round which a pearl of mediocrity is formed. I can almost guarantee you that they won’t even consider changing the interface based on player criticisms, because that would mean admitting they were wrong, no to them beta testing is for ironing out bugs.

    Given the games hungry system requirements, coupled with its average visuals, I do have to wonder how it will be dialled back for the PS3 version.

  6. Well I was comparing the graphics to FFXI and how improved they were. Also I have played many MMOs, dabbled in wow for a few levels but it got really boring really fast, Mortal Online for a bit, Darkfall, Aion, STO, the list goes on. I am pretty positive they are going to improve the pick up groups option and the chat problems that persist right now, I at least hope they do.

  7. Good stuff Lane.

    Gonna hold off on it and check back a year or two after its release.

  8. Definitely holding off on my purchase of FFXIV now thanks to this article. Will give it a look again when the PS3 version rolls out, to see what significant improvements/advances have been made at that time.

    I understand Beta software is Beta software, but changing the shortcomings of their designs is not something SE has been known to do with any degree of alacrity. FFXI is a perfect example of that.

  9. See, this wouldn’t be a problem if Square said that the March release date for the PS3 were the game’s release date. I would say, “hey, this game is in pretty good shape for that!”

    But as for a PC release in a month? Not even close, unless Square’s internal builds are significantly more advanced than the ones released to players.

  10. Regardless of the health of the build, I’d warrant that the interface and menus remain the same.

  11. Hrm, this may be a poor choice for my first MMO. I don’t mind tons of menus, but even a menu apologist like me can’t defend the laggy and unintuitive menus you describe. Still, I’m a masochist, so we’ll see.

  12. @Ethos: Well if you wait 6mnts-1yr the many of the technical issues should be ironed out, and there will be more content besides. Also, you should have a fair idea about whether it will be a viable long-term MMO, or whether it might fold in the short term. So it’s not like you have to resolve to never play it ever, just take a wait and see approach.

    One thing I am certain of however, Luis will cry if ALL of you don’t IMMEDIATELY sign up to the PS3 version of TEH FINAL FANTASY XIV!

  13. Bah-ha ha, yes he will. Well if I finally have my wireless keyboard by then, sure.

    And yeah, I’ll use my free subscription time with FFXIV, I think, then wait it out until Lane’s predictions are wrong and they’re further along than it appear.

    But given Lane’s insight and experience with MMOs, and given FFXIII, I’m inclined to side with Lane.

  14. As am I, I doubt that any project so behind at this point will triumph in the face of entrenched Western dominance, if FFXIV persists, then I predict it will do so on the backs of Japanese MMO gamers.

  15. The soundtrack is classic Final Fantasy. I mean, it even plays the victory music after you win a fight… which could get annoying if one were to be grinding mobs.

  16. I “acquired” the 74 song soundtrack. A lot more action tracks in this one; good stuff so far.

  17. Am listening to the FF XIV OST currently, it sounds like some of Uematsu’s better work, a great shame it wasn’t used in a normal JRPG. Tracks range from pleasant to outstanding.

  18. Lane, have you played FFXI? A few FFXI players who’ve played FFXIV had many of the same complaints, especially the menu lag and having to hammer on the same buttons repeatedly to get any action from them.

    I half-jokingly said I was going to base my decision to jump over to FFXIV based on the presence of a jump button. Slight drop offs measured in less than six inches or so (in-game) you have to walk around in FFXI, and that’s pretty annoying. I’m not planning to play FFXIV now, or start up any other MMOs because they’re just too time-consuming and there’s lots of other games to play.

    If you’ve got or can get a controller to play with I suspect the game will play a lot better. Targetting in FFXI is a lot harder without one.

  19. It does not play the victory music until after you beat a guildleve, not after you beat an enemy.

  20. I’ve never had any trouble playing FFXI with a keyboard. Using tab and shift-tab to cycle through targets worked just as fine as pressing right and left on the D-pad.

    I am surprised that FFXIV seems to require so much use of the mouse, though. In FFXI, mouse use was not just frowned upon, it was outright DISCOURAGED. It would get you (and often your party) killed. Now, it seems they are embracing the mouse, though they haven’t learned how to implement it just yet.

    Menus. Using menus in FFXI also got you and your party killed. The only way to play the game seriously was to macro everything. As a 75BLM/WHM, I used every single one of my macros and used them all to great effect. I could *not* have done Dynamis otherwise, nor any of the other even more complex/difficult (CoP, I’m looking at you) stuff I did in any other way. And yet here we see they are using menus to the exclusion of all else. What a strange decision!

    The lag is unforgiveable. One of the major differences between playing WoW and FFXI is the noticeable lack of interface lag in the former as compared to the latter–not that FFXI has unbearable lag, but it is there, and you can certainly feel it if you play other MMOs (or indeed just about any computer game these days). And yet, once again, those errors are repeated and amplified.

    I fear that what is being done is a repeat of the past. All of FFXI’s most terrible bugbears are here; and now, many of them are inescapable. And if the biggest problem of all is present as well — reluctance to take BIG STEPS to address BIG ISSUES — then FFXIV is doomed to the fan-service obloquy which met FFXI after the initial excitement wore off. Blizzard is not afraid of retooling EVERYTHING to fix something that requires the retooling of everything. Yet SE seems unwilling to change anything at all. It is this inflexibility which will break FFXIV more than all the problems themselves.

    SE should be looking at the decisions made by successful development teams, like those for WoW, and say to themselves, “how are they successful? How are they continually successful? Why are they successful? What are they doing right? How can we improve upon that?”

    Instead, they are falling back into the old habit of “this is our system and we’re sticking with it no matter how broken it is.” And, unbelieveably, that system has been broken since 2003. It still is.

  21. But FFXI/XIV hit niches. Korean MMOs (hai, Nexon and NCSoft!) tend to be graphically-impressive boring grindfests, which suits the Korean gaming mindset. American MMOs are for fat, lazy idiots that need their hands held and want quick fun, not huge community.

    Ten years ago, MMOs were a niche genre that only the hardest of the hardcore Internet uses played, the extension of the multi-user text games of the past. People played them almost entirely for the emergent gameplay, and the “fun” parts were tuned for hardcore players. Notions like “camping boss spawns” and lengthy quests just to spawn a boss (Everquest features that migrated into FFXI) don’t work with modern MMOs because they require far too much out of the player. It’d end up like vanilla WoW was, where all of the really awesome endgame content was seen by very few players. Those players loved it, but it just wasn’t a valid retention model for the 19.5 million other subscribers.

    But I can’t figure out the Japanese style of MMO playing. FFXI is the only one I can think of off the top of my head (I guess including Florencia or whatever), but it’s not terribly “grindy” like Korean games. It has EQ-levels of difficulty, but seemingly no regard for the players (think of how many times Square has said, “you didn’t kill this boss the right way, it doesn’t count” for Absolute Virtue). There’s a huge focus on grouping, but unless that group exists outside the game initially, it can be hard to put it together.

    At this point, I’d welcome World of Final Fantasycraft. Or even something like what Cryptic (ugh) is doing with Neverwinter: an online cooperative RPG, but not an MMO.

  22. Part of the reason for the lag in FFXIV is the fact that EVERYTHING is being sent back to the servers, typically with an MMO you have certain things that work with your hardware, such as menus, and only certain things are sent back to the servers. The reason so many things are being sent back to the servers is that it is beta, they mentioned in an interview that they will be changing this by release.

  23. Oyashiro (over @ Cat Fancy): “I just heard about the Fatigue System… You only get 8 hours total a week that you can gain experience? I don’t really feel that FFXIV will last very long.”

    How does that work?

  24. Wow! What a major dissapointment nearly on all aspects of this game! My great expectations all shattered like broken glass! Thanks Square, I just knew you were bound fail me as like in times past! Well, it seems like we are expected to love the game because it is called “Final Fantasy” but Square should just change the name of the series to “Fineless Fantasy”. At least this way, our hearts will no longer be broken and expect nothing great every again. Well, two thumbs down but square will poke their heads upside down and and say it’s two thumbs up. Oh well, heart breaks will heal over time. I surely won’t be buying it now or even later more than likely. Back to equisite gaming I go! Thanks for the well written review! Cheers!

  25. Indeed, Fineless Fantasy is the perfect name for the series!

    You might however find that it gets better over time.

  26. I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to write this.

    As you’ve stated before, the graphics themselves are equal to most modern MMORPGs. However, I think it’s how they’ve utilized the graphics with the developers art style. Although it’s obvious it is a JAPANESE game, with a JAPANESE art style, there is some hint of originality to it all. For whatever reason, I find myself drawn to the potato-limbed “Falafel” creatures.

    I’ve been a slave to eastern MMOs for far too long. The stories aren’t immersive and the fetch quests make me want to scratch out my eyeballs. I can’t get myself to suit up in the toony Disney-esque creatures WoW has to offer either.

    I was worried FF14 would essentially be playing with a “doll”. Pushing myself through a game because of the aesthetics of it all. But even the lack of customization options makes my stomach turn. Woe is me.

    You’ve given me a lot to think about.

  27. I have to agree with most of the points mentioned. I normally play a Korean grindy game, and switching to this felt rather… hobbled. Consider you can’t even report any bugs to Square, it seems like if this game goes out as is, it’s just going to be giant flop because it’s so damn irritating/boring to play.

    The UI has got to be fixed:
    1. Mouse lag, WTH.
    2. Why the hell do I have to hit home-enter to bring up a menu with everything on it. Where is the “go up to object and press X/click” tradition of every other FF console game. I only ever see one or two options in the menu that I want- Synth (crafting) or Use-the-darned-save-point. If it only has one option, why present the giant slow menu? Even character interaction… ugh.
    3. It’s pretty, it’s currently the prettiest MMO that I’ve had the chance to play/willing-to-give-it-a-chance.
    4. I have a rather overkill system, it only uses 2 cores at most, and about 700MB of RAM. For that, it uses MUCH less resources than equally pretty games (Vindictus) and is much more seamless. There’s more prettiness to turn on in the config program. You can make a top of the line machine CRAWL with some settings.

  28. wow i was just googleing about 98% of the things u wrote in your article “cause i needed some sort of relief from the 10 levels of hell i just went through” to try to see if there was an explination or way to fix any of it but i ended up laughing my ass off at everything u wrote down cause it took the words right out of my mouth.. i mean wtf no jump!!! what were they thinking.. ive played wow for the past 5 years and console rpgs since i can remember so it usually isnt hard for me to figure the basics out but after 10 levels i still need about 80% of this game explained to me… but anyways thanks for the awsome review lol it put me in a better mood

  29. I beta tested it too. The game is amazing! This is just another smear attempt. Notice the games that were noted in the review? Mass Effect 2 was the biggest garbage let down, streamlined, piece of crap. I’d rather play the original, even with all the DLC. Dragon Age was a great game, but I can’t help but notice that both games are made by EA. So here we have EA and Blizzard (American devs) teaming up to smear international developers. Especially one like Square which has been pushing boundaries in gaming for years. The game is amazing, the graphics are awesome, the game play rocks. The class system is the best I ever seen. The character customization is far and beyond anything I’ve ever seen in an MMO. AH, and the FATIGUE SYSTEM that everyone is trying to bash…is great!!! I played all day long on my break from school and never got bored. For the fatigue system to bother you, you must do nothing with your life and never leave your computer. Go to school and/or get a job losers! All you WoW kids that didn’t even know what a MMORPG was prior to playing WoW: try something new. This is what an MMORPG is really supposed to be like, not some watered down, cartoony, hit the level cap in 1 month BS.

  30. “So here we have EA and Blizzard (American devs) teaming up to smear international developers. Especially one like Square which has been pushing boundaries in gaming for years.”

    Quoted for sheer lunacy! What a delightful notion!

  31. Good and accurate review. I played the beta and thought it was the worst piece of crap I’ve ever tried. Elevator music, that horrible combat system and hundreds of NPCs to talk to and most of what they had to say didn’t interest me in the least.
    I’ll wait for GW2 instead.

  32. Not only this is fully accurate, but the lagging in menu and the UI nightmare above are mostly still in. This is eanrly as if some code was left in it to send back info to the server for every menu clicks.

    Stay away from FF14 at least for … 6 month maybe 12 months at least.

  33. Alright,

    I read this, and I laughed. For all the wrong reasons. I feel that the reviewer is totally biased, and bashes features he isn’t even interested in using.

    Like the crafting system. You can level, without ever entering combat. This makes sense to me, since that leveling only applies to your crafting class. It does not apply to any other class. Although you can make use of abilities that you’ve unlocked. I honestly like combat sometimes. But most the time I don’t. I don’t feel good about grinding enemies and killing all the wildlife in an entire region. Sorry WoW players, killing shit shouldn’t be the only way to level.

    Another reason for my belief on this issue, is because the “go kill shit” attitude pisses me off. Especially in WoW, (which I’ve played for 2 years now). I don’t like fighting. In WoW, I’m almost always a healer. I just don’t see the point in killing PvE monsters over and over for “quests” (quests=grinding in WoW) all by your lonesome. Which is how it usually is in WoW. I don’t want to fight. I think it would be great if I could level as a crafter. This game gives me exactly that opportunity.

    Also, for the WoW people here who despise what this game stands for. Grind fest? Seriously? That’s exactly what WoW is, so why don’t you love Korean games? WoW is just a different type of grind fest. It’s grinding out quests (which are almsot all “Go kill shit and pick this item off their dead corpse”, OR “Go find this item, and kill tons of shit to find it, then bring it back. Then do the exact same thing two quests from now). That’s grinding. Just a different type.

    Also, WoW is all about grinding at end-game. Think about WotlK, it took me 5 months to get from lvl 200 gear to lvl 264 gear. That’s roughly, 3800 gearscore to a 5700 gearscore rating. But it was all pure grinding. Killing raid bosses to get drops (which half the time I couldn’t even get a good roll on), or grinding emblems to get some other piece of gear. Grind-grind-grind-grind. That’s what WoW is all about. It’s just that hardcore WoW people seem to be fooled by the ole’ bait and switch. Suddenly they don’t think it’s grinding!

    Then guess what? The next X-pack comes out and you have to grind back to max level, and then spend twice as long grinding gear constantly. Great idea reviewer guy! That’s obviously loads better than this game’s leveling and gearing system. NOT!

    Seriously. Considering the reviewers biases…and lack of objectivity, I feel that this is a totally inaccurate review.

  34. A reviewer can’t be biased. I’m supposed to take a side and advocate for it. My considered opinion after the closed beta was that FFXIV was a buggy nightmare that clung to decade-old MMO mechanics.

    You don’t like WoW, where leveling means performing story oriented and varied tasks. Wondeful. But a grind is a repetitive task with no different outcome. Kill quests are a minority of WoW quests.

    I have seen nothing in the release patches that gives me much hope for FFXIV, and I wanted to like the game. It’s a niche MMO for weeaboos that want to oooh and aaah over decent graphics and talk about how superior their game is to others. I like WoW, obvs, but I’m not enthralled. I’m beta testing 3-4 more games and still play AoC and WAR. WoW is still the best around because they make fun and engaging systems, let lots of people see the content, especially at endgame, and make game mechanics transparent enough that players can figure out how to play well. It is a smartly made game.

    FFXIV is not. It is a boring, laggy excuse to create a social space.

  35. Lane, you are biased in presenting the opinion of Lane! I feel that by identifying yourself as Lane, you are in effect misleading the readers who expect you to have an objectively Lane opinion. An authentic Lane would surely never arrive at the opinion that the only mechanics that FFXIV derives from FFXI, are the ones facing obsolescence!

    I think you owe everyone here an apology for misrepresenting your opinion! Now take a sip from your mouldy Chinese tumbler of shame, climb upon your horsebird and NEVER RETURN!!!

  36. Good post. Kind of exepcted this, SE have been churning out bollocks for a few years now. I enjoyed the combat mechanics in FFXIII, but the rest of it was just passable to downright awful. I think I’ll stick to EVE online for now- at least that’s built to make the endless menus useful!

  37. I would point to the major critical reviewers (like IGN, Gamespot, and Game Trailers) and their significantly similar reviews to my own impressions. That, Square Defense Force troopers, is the sound of vindication.

  38. LOL, pretty funny. For days now the Squarebots on the Cat Fancy boards have been trying to impugn Sankaku’s journalistic integrity because they did not like what they were hearing,and now the reviews are in and FFXIV has a meta-aggregate of 53! 53!!!

  39. The worst part? FFXI seems to be going strong. Sure, it’s a niche game, but every MMO not named “World of Warcraft” is a niche-type game these days. EVE, Warhammer, Aion, the F2P horde… they each fill a niche.

    Square should have just upgraded the graphical assets of their existing MMO.

  40. Definitely. I don’t see why they would need to launch a new MMO unless they had a bold new vision which could not be realised within the pre-existing FFXI scaffold. FFXIV clearly is not that game.

  41. My explanation is that no one is at the helm. The company is sort of directionless of late.

  42. Someone’s at the helm alright, Yoichi Wada, and therein lies the problem. He commissions games like he were ordering widgets, I doubt he really has much appreciation for their substance.

    For Yoichi Wada, the title of SE CEO is all about finding new ways to leverage the Final Fantasy brand-name for cheap products, he is completely indifferent to value adding to it, since this has little immediate monetary impact.

  43. But but but Agito and Versus XIII are totally worthwhile products that tell an integral part of…

    You know what, fuck it, I can’t finish that. Square needs to end the Final Fantasy series with an ultimate bang: HD remake of FFVII, and some sort of monster crossover game that lets you have a party of all the best characters from the “standout” games (IV, VI, VII, IX, XII) and take on some ultra-mega-badass monster and close it with the cutscene to end all cutscenes, and just say, “OK, we’re closing up shop on this. Enjoy Kingdom Hearts and Parasite Eve, PEACE!”

  44. Or let a non-Square dev team come up with the next game. Imagine a BioWare or Epic Final Fantasy.

  45. I’d be happier if Mistwalker were commissioned to design the next Final Fantasy (on the proviso of there being minimal corporate interference, and none of Wada’s precious fucking focus groups!).

  46. “Or let a non-Square dev team come up with the next game.”

    Wait … didn’t that just happen? Or has SE just managed to relocate their entire operations over to China?

  47. I just started playing the single player SE-game NIER and I thought to myself: this is kindof what I expected from FFXIV. An engaging story, lots of quests that progress the story and show you new areas, cool environments, an immersive world, gathering & fishing and even planting/farming! Engaging bossfights and a good mix of fantasy and scifi.

    The graphics are not wonderful in Nier, but you can tell that it was made parallell to FFXIV – it even has the same shining gathering nodes! Except… it rocks.

    NIER is, to me, the lost FF game. It’s like a single player cross between the good parts of XIII and XIV. IMHO, it’s way more worthy of the Final Fantasy heritage than XIII or XIV.

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