The lights are on
If you play the Final Fantasy series long enough, you come to expect certain things with each installment. Airships. Summoned monsters. Chocobos. Different entries focus on these classic elements to varying degrees, but it's safe to say that Final Fantasy XIII (and later XIII-2) disappointed many fans by deviating from tradition. Thankfully, if you want a Final Fantasy more in line with your fond memories of the series, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn delivers.
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A Realm Reborn is a far cry from the catastrophic failure that Final Fantasy XIV was when it originally launched back in 2010. It isn't an expansion. It isn't a patch. It isn't a remake. The original version of Final Fantasy XIV was taken completely offline, and A Realm Reborn rose from the ashes as a new game. The world may be the same, but the structure is improved and the content is more compelling. It's an addictive, entertaining RPG that got its hooks in me immediately.
Don't let the fact that it's an MMO scare you off; it still feels like a genuine entry in the series. Leaning heavily on the fantasy vibe, the expansive world is peppered with all kinds of familiar nods to the franchise's history. Every player gets a chocobo mount. You can take up iconic classes like black mage and dragoon. Some of the bad guys look like Judges. You get a suit of magitek armor for completing the main campaign. It may not have the same caliber of narrative as the single-player iterations (though the tale is interesting by MMO standards), but fans will still feel right at home.
Of course, you can't just throw in some airships and call it Final Fantasy. The real highlight is the quality of the mechanics. The job system is fantastic, letting you bring skills from one class over to another in order to customize a character to fit your play style. You also have a wide variety of tasks in front of you at any given time: Story quests and class quests are the most structured activities, Guildleves are smaller tasks that you can repeat, FATEs are shared (and more challenging) area quests that anyone nearby can contribute to, and dungeon runs allow you to team up with other players and take down bosses.
A Realm Reborn just keeps drawing you forward. Leveling involves very little grinding, but if you get tired of running quests, you can try taking on a few FATEs or Guildleves. However you choose to progress, you always have a cool new reward just on the horizon. Building your character is fun, and putting your skills to the test in battle is even better. Every part of the machine just fits perfectly together.
Most of the games vying for our year-end Top 50 list have at least a couple other editors who have checked them out. That's not the case with Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. A few factors, like the huge time investment and the game's checkered past, have not made this MMO a high priority in the GI offices. However, it would be a shame if this lack of enthusiasm resulted in a snub, because this is the best Final Fantasy game since the PS2 era.
The Top 50 Challenge
When the opportunity to play Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn came up, Ben Hanson jumped at the chance. I'll be honest: I'm not sure he's the right guy for the job. He's played a bunch of Final Fantasy titles, but his experience with MMOs is more limited. On the other hand, maybe that perspective puts him a great place to judge how well the classic Final Fantasy callbacks translate into a modern experience. In any case, I'm curious to hear his impressions.
Ben was given time to play Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. Check back at 6:00 PM CT tomorrow to read what he has to say, and see whether it gets his vote to be included in our Top 50 Games of 2013.
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