Podzilla 1985

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Final Fantasy XIV - Frustration Reborn

I want to like Final Fantasy XIV. I really, really do. I swear on my replica gunblade and wall of FF merchandise that I want to like this new attempt to save a supposedly hated game. I want to, I just can't. I don't blame FFXIV's myriad of problems and mediocre gameplay on any one person.

I honestly believe SquareEnix has finally just stopped giving a shit.

You can look at the past few Final Fantasy games and quite easily say that they've "lost the magic." Final Fantasy X was decent, X-2 was serviceable, XII was interesting, XIII was pretty, and XIII-2 was pointless. Now they're coming out with yet another entry into the tired FFXIII world, which not only completely goes against the origins of the once beloved series, but also stretches out a story that few people actually cared about in the first place.

Logic dictates that when you're losing popularity you start changing some things to win it back. Look at Microsoft! When they were vilified for the XBox One's policies they did a complete 180 to please the fans and save face. But SquareEnix decided the best way to win back the fans was to keep pushing their own vision, as skewed and disliked as it may be. 

Hey! Did you want that FFVII remake finally? You know, the one that has been rumored since the PS2 era that would sell about a billion copies and rake in tons of money for the company? Well too fucking bad! Instead, let's enjoy some more time with Lightning, a FF character so bland that she makes Cloud look like the Macho Man Randy Savage. 

I have not been in love with a Final Fantasy game since Final Fantasy IX on PS1. That was, to me, the pinnacle of the series in terms of graphics, story, and characters you actually cared about. I actually got that from a good friend when I was younger as a gift, and I played it four days straight until I beat it. I couldn't get enough of Zidane, Garnet, Vivi and their lot, although SE has sure tried to make me hate it with that Dissidia fanservice bullshit.

Since that amazing entry into what was my favorite gaming series, I have only cared about one Final Fantasy game since then. Much like FFTactics, another stellar title, it was a huge departure from the FF we knew and loved, but it was a welcome addition and a damn legendary adventure. 

That's right, I'm talking about Final Fantasy XI.

Oh God, I can remember reading about XI every day while I salivated in anticipation for what would be the most awesome experience in the history of existence. I played Ultima Online at that point, and you all know my love for it, but I was obsessed with FFXI. An online Final Fantasy where I could adventure with my mates and have my own chocobo? 

MY OWN CHOCOBO!?!

When the day finally came I bought it and never looked back. I also bought the collectors guide, which I read any chance I could. The game was so in depth and massive that you needed a guide just to figure out where to go. It did not hold your hand through the gameplay, so you could only rely on your guide and helpful players to get you from point A to point B. Some of my best memories of the game were trying to figure out what the hell to do for my class quests, and being helped through by a group of old friends that were far better than me. When I finally got my Samurai class I felt like a damn hero.

It was an experience like no other and one that will never be replicated. But you knew that SquareEnix sure as hell would try. 

So we got the much maligned little bastard that would be called Final Fantasy XIV.

I actually played in the beta for XIV and loved it. It reminded me a lot of XI, but prettier and seemingly more casual friendly. I played the beta for hours upon hours and I think we all agreed that the game was pretty awesome.

Then something happened, and to this day I'm still not entirely sure how. When FFXIV was released, everyone seemed to turn on it. I myself just couldn't bring myself to play it anymore, even though I liked it so much that I bought the collectors edition of the game. It still sits on my shelf as a constant reminder of how a good thing can go wrong so quickly. It wasn't that bad of a game, really, and in my opinion it certainly didn't deserve the beating it took. 

After a couple of months the game was deemed so awful that they didn't even charge to play it, and eventually they completely shut it down so they could rework it into a game truly fitting of the astonishing Final Fantasy legacy.

Unfortunately, I think they were aiming for the post PS1 era legacy of mediocrity and not the inventive days of yonder.

When FFXIV : A Realm Reborn was released last week, I decided to take advantage of my free trial to see if I could grow to love this new vision as much as I loved XI. After all, they openly admitted it was a flop and poured untold money and resources into it because they didn't want to give up on it. That's admirable, but after the experience I've had with this "new" version of XIV, I think they should have just let it die and laid it to rest next to Tabula Rasa and City of Heroes.

I finally got into the pre-launch one day early, as opposed to handful of days I should have gotten as a Legacy member. Once I was finally in the game seemed to work like a charm, and I was creating and playing without any problems at all. The game itself is still rather bland, but I'll get to that in a second. My problem free experience would only last about two days, and after that it became a nightmare. I couldn't play with my buddy Josh because they actually placed restrictions on the amount of characters that could be created on certain servers to control populations, since so many people were having trouble logging in.

And why, you ask, are so many people having problems getting in? Well, unlike most games, FFXIV does not kick idle players. You could literally go to sleep and your game on and the server would never boot you, or so I've been told. if enough people log on and refuse to leave out of fear of never logging in again, it prevents others from even creating a character on said server. 

That's baffling. I for the life of me can't understand how these MMORPG companies are always so surprised by the response to their games, and never seem to have enough servers or server capacity to handle all of the players pouring in. This isn't like when Ultima Online launched and MMO's were a new experience, we've had close to twenty years to learn from our mistakes. I don't understand how SquareEnix, the mega rich corporation that they are, were unprepared for the relaunch of an MMO that they were specifically campaigning to win back everyone's faith with. 

As soon as you try to log in to the game you're already slapped in the face by the same company trying to win you back!

I finally got a character made on the Siren server after reloading the server list for nearly an hour. I get into the game to discover a very pretty world with a very uninteresting storyline and quests so cliched you'd think they just read a handbook for dummies on how to put an MMO together.

For the uninitiated, here's how questing goes in FFXIV - PC walks up to NPC, NPC talks about not trusting players, tells player to go kill 6 of something and come back. PC kills 6 of something, comes back, NPC thanks him and tells him to report to a buddy somewhere else, who then tells the PC he doesn't trust him and to go kill 6 of something and come back.

I shit you not, that has been the majority of my questing. I have not come across a single quest that did not involve killing X number of things, or interacting with an object and bringing it back. If the story behind these quests were better maybe I'd be more forgiving, but they are so pointless that you just can't bring yourself to care.

The graphics are nice, but the world and the characters seem so uninspired. It all has a very FFXI feel to it, but in the sense that they're forcing it to get that nostalgic reaction from you. It doesn't seem natural, and I definitely don't feel immersed. The only real saving grace so far has been the community. Though I can never seem to find someone to talk to, the chat feels mature and more patient than any MMO player base that I've seen in a long time. 

Despite the negatives, I find myself at my computer wanting to jump into the world and take part in more of these basic fetch quests. Why? I don't know. Maybe I want to give it a chance to open up more before I pass a full judgment. Maybe my old fanboy dedication to Final Fantasy and the great memories of XI drive me to make more of an effort. 

Either way, It doesn't matter. Instead of playing and trying to find my happy place I'm blogging about it instead, because there is yet another server error that prevents the NA shards from even showing up. My "Start' button is grayed out and I can't find anything anywhere to explain why I'm not logged in killing yet more mushroom men.

FFXIV has potential, but that potential is quickly fading into a sea of error codes and mediocre gameplay. I want to like it, I hope it gets better, and I'll keep trying to find my place in this new world. At least, I will until my free trial is up. 

The way things have been going so far, I'll be riding my chocobo into that EQNext colored sunset instead.


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