Despite being a dedicated gamer who has followed game news stories for many years now, I have never once gotten into an MMO. I put a great deal of blame, if that is even the right word, on the shoulders of console gaming as compared to PC gaming through the 90s and into the early 2000s. Without a gaming PC or any desire to obtain one, I was without the primary means to experience an MMO. With that lack of means came no small sense of intimidation. From the outside, the MMO world looked like a hardcore realm that demanded a great deal of time to learn and play as well as sometimes requiring strict coordination with people all around the world. Though some of these things are true to varying degrees, the ultimate excuse truly remained the lack of availability as PC gaming had yet to feel the resurgence it did in 2008. As such I remained very much an offline local-multiplayer man for a great while until about a year or two after the PS3 launched when the realm of online gaming was opened up to me.
This is where Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn really nailed it: it appealed to console gamers. In the past other MMOs have attempted the same, like Square-Enix’s own Final Fantasy XI, but the time was not exactly right. XI launched on the PS2, which is hardly remembered for its online capabilities, and was later ported over to the Xbox 360 where it was met with no great uptake of new players. XIV:ARR, by comparison, launched at the end of August 2013. With a long and well received public beta period and, of course, the much more online oriented world of console gaming, XIV:ARR had lined itself up perfectly to strike gold. Not only would this MMO release on the PS3 but it would also tie together the PC community which in turn means more opportunities for people to play together which is the lifeblood of any MMO. In its appeal to console gamers, the makers of XIV:ARR strove to be as inclusive as possible and the response, as is easily gauged when attempting to hunt down a copy of the game for PC, has been overwhelming.
No small part of this inclusiveness is found in how the game was designed. In particular, the console user interface speaks volumes to how much the developers tried to make the game as easy to get into as possible. I play my copy on my PC and yet I still prefer the console UI layout. I find it relaxing and, more impressively, flexible enough to allow me to do a range of things all on the fly thanks to the wonderful hotbar setup. It would take someone further along in this game than I to vouch for the console controls closer to endgame content, but I can attest that at no time did I ever feel limited or handicapped by a lack of buttons or customizability on my wired Xbox 360 controller. However, I do feel the best experience of XIV:ARR is to be had on the PC and I say so only because of a marginal increase in flexibility and performance that this build has over the console version. Though doubtless some of those advantages disappear when a keyboard is connected to the PS3. Aside from a fantastic console style UI, there exist a great many other options and preference settings to help tailor the experience down to the littlest detail. Had I been further along in the game when writing this I would assume I would also speak about the seemingly dizzying possibilities the built-in macro system can offer, but alas I have had no cause to spend time with it yet.
To speak of this game’s current accomplishments is perhaps to overlook the biggest factor in its success: the relaunch of the game. It is perhaps not uncommon knowledge, but A Realm Reborn is the name of the relaunch of this MMO, where the original was titled simply Final Fantasy XIV. That original version launched to the exact opposite critical response that ARR is enjoying today. The worlds were called empty, the design and structure of the game and menus were labeled confusing and clunky. Even the overall graphical sheen that ARR exudes in every screenshot and video was missing from the original build of the game. It launched in 2010 only on the PC and proceeded to struggle from there on out. Eventually the problem became too big to ignore and Square-Enix, a company perhaps not best known for its quick responsiveness, decided to take drastic steps in righting the course of this doomed game. For a time it was made free to play while the relaunch was being worked on and a great deal of openness was expressed about the lacking quality of the game. But in such time as most of the original staff were fired to make room for a more experienced crew to remake the game, A Realm Reborn was produced and brought into its early beta phases. From there the game only continued to show up on more people’s radar as positive response and attendance of the betas grew and grew. By the time the game was ready for its public launch in late August, demand and public attention had ballooned beyond Square-Enix’s predictions causing server instability for the first week, sweeping character creation restrictions on most servers, long queue times and the removal of the downloadable PC version from all storefronts for nearly a month after launch making the physical copy of the game a great pain to procure after a time. To say the game was in high demand would be a laughable understatement. As of this writing the game has greatly stabilized, login queues are rare and short when they do occur, servers are only briefly closed to new characters, and the game is once again available for download. Which only serves to remind me that I have a level five Marauder who needs to level up so I can give some of his skills to my Lancer.
Reader, if you come here then you probably enjoy a good playing on those videoed games. If that is true then I implore you to try Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, even if you do not like MMOs very much. Right now it is $30 USD and the first month is free. Give it a good old try and tell me about it in the comments. If, however, you do not like games or MMOs or me or freedom, then give Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn a good old try and let me know in the comments.