Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is a remake of the failed PC release of the same name, only this time, Square Enix has ported the title to the PlayStation 3. It’s a completely cross-platform game, where PC and PS3 players all reside on the same servers with the exact same content. Purchasing the game includes a 30 day subscription, but like many other MMOs, it's a pay-to-play game beyond that.
Being a Final Fantasy release, there is a reasonable expectation for an exciting story full of beautiful cutscenes and well developed characters. Unfortunately, the plot presentation feels rushed here, and was clearly a low priority during development. The first major issue is the lack of voice acting, as the majority of the experience is relayed solely through text and in-game character gestures. While the campaign does contain a few cutscenes, they are largely bland and uneventful.
The main storyline does have some voice acting, but the English performances are some of the worst that the franchise has ever seen – the fake accents in particular sound bizarrely forced and emotionless. Paired with the bland animations, you'll find it difficult not to push the 'skip cutscene' button on the occasions where there is a cinematic to watch.
If you can get past the poor presentation, though, there is the basis of a tender story here. Despite a slow build up, the plot does escalate nicely, and the characters are surprisingly relatable. Later missions will leave you in suspense as you await the next big narrative twist, and the ending will definitely leave you speechless. As such, it's a shame that the implementation was so poorly executed.
Fortunately, the gameplay fares a little better. This is one of the first MMOs to be designed with a controller in mind, and the setup works well. A cross hotbar allows you to reach your actions by holding the L2 or R2 triggers in conjunction with any of the corresponding face buttons on the DualShock 3. This, in essence, allows you to access 16 actions at any time, but you can toggle between different palettes using the R1 button, ultimately enabling access to a whopping 256 skill slots.
While it may feel like a bit of a finger-twister at first, once you get used to it, the cross hotbar control system works brilliantly. It's even arguably better than using a traditional mouse and keyboard setup, since everything is at your fingertips at all times, and while you can still use the aforementioned computer accessories with the game on the PS3, the keyboard cannot be used for selecting skills. A mouse is still recommended for selecting quest windows, moving items around, and interacting with the map, but all of these actions can be done with the controller with a bit of practice.
The combat functions similar to most other MMORPGs, with skill rotation attached to cool downs. There are tanking, healing, and damage dealing classes, with each of the types offering fairly unique gameplay approaches. For example, the Thaumaturge class deals magical damage by juggling a set of elemental buffs, while Monks issue physical damage through a string of powerful combos.
Once you reach a certain point in the campaign, you can undertake a special quest to unlock a job pertaining to your class. In order to meet these requirements, you must first increase two roles. For example, in order to unlock the Paladin, you must beef up the Gladiator job and Conjurer class. Your reward is a couple of bonus abilities and the option to wear specialty armour, which makes the hard work worthwhile. Currently there are nine jobs in the game, with more expected to be added within the first year of service.
There are absolutely no negatives attached to levelling multiple classes, and you can reach the maximum level in each and every class if you choose. Other than simply unlocking jobs, the game rewards you for levelling other classes by allowing the use of cross-class abilities. This means that if you unlock a particular skill for one class, you can use that skill on another class. This allows for a bit of playstyle customisation, and gives you a real incentive to try out the other classes. Ultimately, if you decide that you want to play as the Archer class but also enjoy the ability to heal yourself, you could level up the Conjurer job and share its heals, shields, and raise skills with the Archer class.
There are also a multitude of crafting and gathering classes to occupy your time when you need a change of pace. These offer yet another unique experience, as unlike comparative games, these classes still use skills and even have combos. While optional for the most part, crafting and gathering are some of the better sources of income later in the game, so it's a good idea to at least give them a try.
Unsurprisingly, there is no shortage of game content either. While out and about in the enormous world of Eorzea, cleverly dubbed Full Action Time Events – or FATEs – appear. These offer various tasks, from simply slaying a boss to escorting NPC characters across dangerous environments. These offer huge experience bonuses and even minion rewards from time to time. Outside of these sequences, you'll also have the option to do standard quests or simply explore the map to earn experience.
Dungeon instances are a huge part of levelling up and completing the story, too. The majority of these consist of slaying the almighty Primals of Final Fantasy. These battles are some of the most challenging and rewarding that you’ll find in any MMO, and were designed specifically to require a moderate level of skill, concentration, teamwork, and knowledge, without being too difficult for casual players.
For newcomers, there are Guildhests. These are training missions, which teach you the basics of playing in a party, and provide new players with a safe way to learn their class roles without the stress of higher level dungeons. As you level up, these Guildhests get more and more challenging, and generally only take a few minutes to complete.
If you're a fan of previous Final Fantasy games, you'll find plenty of nods to the franchise everywhere. From Cloud's famous Buster Sword to Limit Breaks and the soundtrack, this is a bit of an enthusiast's dream. The title's full of self-referential humour just about everywhere that you look, which will no doubt delight veterans.
As a result, the world is beautifully crafted and offers some impressive visuals and lush environments. Often times, you’ll catch yourself running around taking screenshots of all of the beautiful scenery and enemies. The varying weather effects, beautiful lighting, and differing regions of the world truly bring Eorzea to life. Meanwhile, a fitting and alluring soundtrack complements the experience perfectly.
Sadly, while the graphics are still beautiful, the PS3's dated hardware causes some major issues. Often in crowded areas, the enemies and NPCs will take a few minutes to load on screen. Elsewhere, a quest may appear on the map, but the corresponding character will be nowhere to be seen, giving you no choice but to stand around and wait until the asset loads, or look elsewhere. This becomes particularly aggravating when dealing with multi-floor buildings, as running up and down the stairs only to find that the required person isn't home really takes its toll.
Similar issues occur on the battlefield. You and your trusty Chocobo will regularly find yourself running across what appears to be an empty field when, out of nowhere, invisible enemies will start to target and attack you. After a few seconds, the enemies will load and become visible, but this naturally makes sneaking around Eorzea difficult at times. The only solution is to slow down.
Worse still, in crowded areas, we encountered instances where the enemies simply failed to load at all. This is most prominent during FATE battles. You’ll see other players and their pets attacking thin air, but you’ll be unable to target enemies even if they are currently hitting you. This renders some sequences completely unplayable, which is a real problem considering how important FATEs are at levelling secondary classes.
The title's framerate is also an issue in many situations. While the game runs at around 25 to 30 frames-per-second for the most part, there are occasions where it will drop to near unplayable levels. In the aforementioned FATEs, for example, it’s not uncommon for the framerate to drop well below ten frames-per-second, making these events unfairly difficult. This can become problematic at points during required story instances as well.
Another issue is the lack of content once you reach the game's level cap. Unless you want to repeatedly run a couple of instances in search of the best gear, there’s not much else to do. You’ll unlock a Hard Mode version of the Primal bosses that you fought in the story, but that is about it. To be fair, these encounters are much more difficult and still amazingly fun, but they don’t offer a huge amount of replayability.
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is an excellent game, but it's a bit too much for the ageing PS3 to handle at times. While it's impressive that Square Enix managed to get the title to run on the ancient hardware at all, it's difficult to justify the monthly fee if you plan to play solely on Sony's console. Future expansions and patches will no doubt address some of the technical issues – as well as expand upon the available content – but you'll need plenty of patience to play the title in its current state. If you're desperate to start your adventure in Eorzea, you'll be able to upgrade to the PlayStation 4 version free-of-charge – just don't expect your experience on the current generation console to be smooth sailing at this stage.