Bigger and Better
It is probably a testament to my lack of self-preservation that I thought reviewing a game of this scale, and this size, was a good idea.
Final Fantasy 14 has, for many years, been a “white whale” of mine in the gaming sphere; its “Main Scenario” quests always seeming insurmountable to me, the idea of completing the first main campaign never feeling like anything less than an impossible challenge.
Regularly, I have made it halfway through the main story, only to drop it and move away from the game for a while, losing my understanding of the story as I did so.
I would then return several months later, only to realise I had no idea where I was, lose my determination to carry on anyway, and just restart my character from scratch… And then I would lose interest and move away from the game for a few months.
Imagine doing this process four times over the course of five years.
Sisyphus would be proud.
However, I am proud to say that I have finally, after all these years, completed the Realm Reborn Main Scenario Quest… Now there’s only three expansions left for me to tackle so, you know, I’ll be done with the game in a few years.
That aside, I am also incredibly happy to say that yes, this game is very good, so good in fact I feel like my actual review would not be able to do it service.
The game is an intricate web of classes, combat, story, world building and character, that are knitted together so expertly, that I feel like trying to tell you how good it actually is would still sell it short.
A Realm Reborn is able to weave a fairly trite tale set within a remarkable world, a world that lives and breathes with a life of its own, populated with well-crafted content and sights that stick with you long after the credits for the main quest begin to roll.
I should actually qualify this review first with letting you in on a secret:
I was there when the original Final Fantasy 14 Online released.
And yes, I did have the opportunity to play it.
This was back when I lived with my parents, and my brother and I shared a gaming PC and I, being the Final Fantasy nut that I am, decided to grab the original game way back in 2010.
Nabbed a copy, started it up, and proceeded to crash on the menu screen which was excellent foreshadowing of my entire twelve hour experience with that game.
The game was held together with sticky tape and bubblegum, and not the good kind of bubblegum, something cheap and nasty like Hubba-Bubba, with the game sometimes refusing to even allow me to login, and giving me error codes whenever I changed my armour set.
The game was only consistent in its inconsistency, rife with crashing, clipping issues, textures refusing to load, frequent bugs, and the UI was more sickening and confusing than my search history.
Much like the English government, nothing worked the way it should.
So if this were a simple comparison between the original release and the main story of A Realm Reborn, this would be the shortest review I’ve ever done.
A Realm Reborn wipes the floor with the original FF14 game in basically every way.
A Realm Reborn is a behemoth of a video game, demanding a tonne of time and attention from its players and this, at first, was overwhelming to me.
Between the sheer amount of stuff in A Realm Reborn and the fact that I continuously dipped in and out of the game, coming back to it this year, after an eight month break felt like having my head dunked into icy water.
Despite picking Dragoon because it is one of the more brain-dead classes, I still found the experience of learning the mechanics to be a headache because of my inability to adjust my play-style and learn from mistakes.
Learning the ins and outs of my class, then attaining the upgraded version of my class, levelling it up with its own quest chain and having to remember zonal spacing, situational awareness, boss mechanics, cool down times… My lack of MMO skill definitely led to my team mates being frustrated on numerous occasions.
This isn’t to say I wasn’t enjoying myself.
Being mediocre at video games is an art-form that I have mastered after all.
Enjoyment in A Realm Reborn is far easier to come by than you could imagine.
The combat for one thing is way better than I remember it being, especially given that my melee-focused role allowed for some rather flashy moves (the jump attack animation will never fail to make me feel like I’m showing off in front of all my cool new friends), and even though the bosses range from damage-sponge to damage-sponge with extra mechanics, the combat encounters are still well refined and definitely impress considering that the game is an MMO.
There have been several boss battles that utilise the spectacle and scale of the arena and encounter to full effect, creating a balletic light show of particles and attacks, all of which never fail to lead me into a sort of trance, wilfully hammering away at my attack rotation as the health bar on Bahamut gradually decreases to zero in a flurry of slices and sweeps.
What the developers have managed to do with the setting is nothing short of miraculous, with a gorgeous land to explore, filled to the brim with content and character.
Eorzea is a world primed for exploration, with no two cities looking the same and the game’s art direction creating artistic cohesion between everything from armour, weapons, characters and architecture.
Eorzea feels like a living, breathing body, its caverns, pathways and rivers acting as veins all snaking to and from the vital organs that are the major areas of the land.
Coerthus, Thanalan, La Noscea, and Gridania all differ from one another so as to prevent visual malaise in the player base; the rolling green forests of Gridania are a contrast to the golden beaches of La Noscea or the snow-capped mountaintops of Coerthus, and these differences in visual splendour are also accented by differences in culture and architecture.
And within each of the areas to explore, are people with their questlines that feed into the main story and even in some cases the DLC narrative threads too… It’s a lot, and the world design is to be commended for its grandiosity and attention to detail in equal measure.
One cannot talk about the fantastic art and environment design without also mentioning the lighting team; the moonlit streets of New Gridania being a particular highlight that I see often upon my return to the city, while the firework display in Limsa Lominsa was something I’ll cherish in memory forever.
I also was amazed at the quality of some of the more ambient lighting, shadows being cast by spells as they are flung towards an enemy, flying mounts having accurate shadow representation on the ground as they fly.
It’s not photorealistic, and wouldn’t unseat games like Final Fantasy 7 Remake, but damn if I wasn’t impressed by how bloody pretty the game can be at points when you consider how much the game has to render in real time.
So the world is great to explore, and the game still looks great despite its age, yet something that hasn’t aged quite as well is the core narrative at the heart of A Realm Reborn.
That isn’t to say its bad per se, more so that it definitely feels the most dated part of the game, especially when you consider the plaudits that its later expansions have received for their narratives and character exploration.
The way people were banging on about the story in A Realm Reborn made it sound as if the main story quests put it on a level playing field with the rest of the Final Fantasy series, with one friend of mine saying that the main story quest was probably the best Final Fantasy story they’ve played.
Instead, I found myself playing a fairly typical fantasy narrative, with little in the way of subversion or real character interest.
I feel like that this disappointing narrative is not because the story itself is bad, but instead the way in which it is told causes the pacing and character moments to suffer greatly.
Too many times was I warned of the importance of the quest I had to undertake, only to be told that I could only access it by completing a separate quest chain with completely unrelated characters.
This leads to unnecessary bloat, in a campaign that could really do with fewer quests already, and it all creates a situation where an overwhelming amount of information is being poured into the players’ eyes all at once, while the game is also making you do quests for everything else under the sun in order to hit the main-scenario level cap… It’s just a lot all told through text, with no voice acting and a lax musical score in so many instances and the blocks of text are normally just purely exposition.
It means that so much information is lost to the player if they don’t take notes; several times recurring characters would appear in the story (in very important moments, such as the reveal of the final villain), and I was confused because I had no idea who they were.
The information spread throughout the game is deep and immeasurable, leading to confusion if you step away from the game for any period of time, or heaven forfend that you play more than one game, like most people will.
Given the time constraints on the development team, it’s easy to understand why the game did it this way, but rewatching all the cutscenes for the sake of this blog was an absolute chore, so often were the cutscenes literally just people repeating each other and nodding profusely.
However, it is obvious that the team decided to focus on where the previous iteration of Final Fantasy 14 had let the fan base down, specifically in the actual “gameplay” part of the game. So while the story feels a little trite and one-note, the team behind the game seemingly focused on the gameplay loop and world design as a point of urgency.
Frankly, this has worked wonders in the long run, because my cynical heart was won over by the sheer amount of stuff to do whenever I found myself tiring of the main plot.
It allows players to find their feet and progress the main scenario quests at their own pace, which means that it is an MMO that is friendly to all types of players.
A Realm Reborn is able to allow fans of min-maxing to go about grinding out duties, and also is welcoming to those who want to dive into the lore of the land of Eorzea.
On one day I might be in more of a combat heavy mood, and so spend most of my hours online just hammering away at the Duties (basically instanced dungeons), levelling up my character and gaining sweet loot in the progress.
Other times I might be in a more relaxed mood, only hopping on for an hour or two and deciding to focus on some cooking quests, giving me time to find an idyllic spot to churn out hundreds of gallons of soup so quickly and cheaply, it’d make Gordon Ramsay spit in my face and call me a twat.
The game made me want to take things at my own place. I would find myself becoming bored of the grind, and so A Realm Reborn would pull out a little chair for me.
“Come here, sit a while, take a rest, watch the world go by,” the gae seemed to say. “Watch some fireworks, or the waves roll in on the shore. Yes, we both know that you’re wasting your life in a fictional MMO, but you really want to go outside? We both know that ain’t happening.”
This tactic proved quite absorbing, allowing me to tailor my in-game tasks to how I felt on a particular day, which is always a good thing when it comes to an RPG of any kind; offering options is what RPGs, and specifically MMO’s, are built for.
Well, there is one other specific thing that MMO’s are built for: A sense of community.
And boy howdy, does A Realm Reborn have one hell of a community.
As someone who is a regular player of first-person-shooter games (Rainbow Six Siege and Battlefield 4 are my personal go-to games, and have been playing both since their respective online alpha-testing stages) I wasn’t completely prepared for the community that exists in A Realm Reborn.
I’m used to abuse being sent my way if I so much as dare try to succeed in a game, even sometimes being yelled at by teammates for getting more points than them.
Meanwhile in A Realm Reborn, almost every person I have met has been willing to help me out as much as possible, giving me pointers in dungeons, tagging along for quests, complimenting my outfits, or giving me tricks and tips for my outfit ideas moving forward.
It’s been a very wholesome time, specifically, I think, because of the nature of the game being about helping one another as opposed to competing.
Sure, like in any game you get a couple of asshats who rear their heads every so often, but they are outnumbered by the sheer amount of good beans present in the community who are willing to guide and teach newbies such as myself.
Anyone willing to carry me is automatically a saint in my book.
I have spent so many hours carrying my friends in Titanfall 2 and Rainbow Six Siege, and therefore, I know how tiring it can be to consistently show noobs how it’s done.
To put it buntly, A Realm Reborn is a damned fine video game.
With the many years since its original release allowing the development team to refine the core of the game, make it more accessible and more engaging, all the while smacking more content on top of it.
It’s a game that allows you to get lost in its many intricacies, with a world that might not be the most immersive within the RPG space but is definitely one of the most engaging and varied.
It’s been a long time since I have become so attached to a world and its lore, its setting and its locales, and with every hour I play the more I find myself loving the game, especially now that I have hit Heavensward and have found the experience to improve exponentially.
A Realm Reborn is an experience that, if you allow it to, will envelope you and lead you into its winding web of narratives and game play loop.
There are things that I have missed out, inevitably, from this review, simply because the rabbit hole that is Eorzea runs deep and is constantly winding.
The game is a benchmark MMO game, and should be used as an example by other developers to look to when they seek to improve their own games.
Through hard work, a lot of risk, and technical know-how, the developers of A Realm Reborn have made something quite special here.
I have a place in Eorzea, I feel like I have a spot waiting for me whenever I return to the world.
And I don’t think I want to give that spot up any time soon.