As I See It: Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

A review from the perspective of a Final Fantasy XI player.

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After roughly twenty days, I’ve experienced the greater portion of FFXIV’s content, and gotten an idea of how it will come together as an mmo with its community. As the result of years of feedback, tweaking, and re-tweaking, FFXIV tries to strike a balance between its roots from Final Fantasy XI and with the ever changing mmo landscape. This is how I view the game, strictly as a long time player of its predecessor.

To start, this game’s world and its visuals are very much the successor to FFXI. The races are all derived from that game’s choices, and the wildlife are all based on Final Fantasy lore. This will give any fan of the series, and of Final Fantasy XI, a sense of familiarity while still being fresh with its unique world. Sadly, this is where its similarities to FFXI largely end, for better, or for worse.

Talk to any person that played FFXI for longer than its free month and they will tell two things. First, that it was brutally hard, and second it had a very strong community. While the first was true of most mmos of FFXI’s time, its community was something to behold. Players from around the world all working together to advance forward, because without teamwork, players were met with utter defeat. There was constant communication in all of the game’s cities, and many of its dungeons. Players would look for people to level with, quest with, or take on the game’s biggest challenges. FFXI, in a way, forced gamers to become part of their server’s community in order to succeed.  It wasn’t uncommon to become close with your in-game friends, and really get to know them outside of the game. To this day, I remain in contact with a few of them through facebook still, despite all of leaving the game behind over five years ago.

FFXIV completely flips this script by following the precedent set by World of Warcraft, and almost all mmos since. No longer must players fear the wildlife. No longer must they grind mindlessly for hours just to level. No, FFXIV allows its players to reach its level cap simply by completing its storyline quests and some of its sidequests. Even the largest of normal class beast can be defeated by any combat class, given their levels are the same. By contrast, in FFXI, a player would be decimated by a monster the same level as them beyond level 25, unless they were one of a select few jobs that could slowly kill the enemy. This difference has lead to a very different leveling experience, and a less connected community. Journeying with others simply does not happen, unless you go out of your way to form a party, and it will take convincing to have people join you.

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I walk this lonely road…

Further fragmenting the community is the method by which the game allows players to advance through the dungeon raids of its story and endgame. These instances are some of the only group based content the game has to offer right now. In FFXI, people would shout to form a group for content such as this, and XIV still does have that going on, but its from desperation, rather than necessity.  That’s because FFXIV features a duty finder that automatically groups people seeking for the same dungeon by role, in order they queued for the instance. This function groups people across all servers to speed up the process.

At its core, this is a good feature, as it greatly speeds up the process of forming groups for harder content. The downside is team work can be sloppy, since its usually random people, and there’s no reason to ever remember the people you play with. In FFXI, having a good group for something meant making friends, so you could take on future challenges together, and have less risk of sloppy groups. In FFXIV, it’s a dice roll every time you decide to take on a raid or boss instance. It’s not until the endgame when you’ll really learn who’s good on your given server, and make groups the old fashioned way.

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That person on the right tanked my first Ifrit victory. I can’t even tell you the first letter of their name.

As for the content itself, these raids are a mixture of old FFXI fare, and the more traditional style content of other mmos. The dungeon raids are very much modeled after WoW raids, giving hour long bursts of battles that closer resemble FFXI’s experience grinding parties, except you’re not pulling to camps, and instead moving forward to bosses and going for loot, rather than experience to level. The boss fights, and the boss instances are akin to FFXI’s boss battles, better known as High Notorious Monsters, or HNMs. While hard, however, they still do not quite reach the challenge of FFXI’s content just yet.

Having said all of that, FFXIV still has a lot of the charm that FFXI had. It’s world is rich with lore, and while it can be a lonely journey at times, there’s still plenty of group content, and given the drive, opportunity to get to know people from all over the world. It’s story is more fleshed out, and thanks to its quest system, players will experience it much better than FFXI ever offered. FFXIV’s community is still young, and is just starting to find its way. However, with its modern features and generous difficulty curve, it will probably never come close to reaching the socially active community that FFXI had. In many ways, it will appeal to the FFXI community. Players looking to recapture that magic of nostalgia, however, won’t find much of it here.

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You’ll talk to these NPCs more than you’ll talk to other real people, unless you really go out of your way.

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Star Trek: Into Darkness INDEED

This past tuesday, Paramount released Star Trek: Into Darkness to home formats, including DVD, Blu-Ray, and various digital markets. Not surprisingly, retailers, both physical and digital, received exclusive content, packaging, and bonus sets to try to snare consumers. This is certainly nothing new, but Paramount’s handling of this, one of their biggest releases of 2013, has given its name some much added weight, and irony.

In the USA, Star Trek fans have no less than seven different packages of the movie to choose from. You have your 2D, 3D, combo packs available at every store, and from there, things get ugly. Target, Bestbuy, and Walmart all have their own special versions of the movie to offer, each with their own bonuses. Now, having exclusive extras is done with practically every major release these days, but STID (It sounds like a fancy disease!) takes things one step further. This isn’t a case of everyone getting the same set of bonuses with one retailer snagging a special bonus featurette. Instead, they just cut the bonuses right down the middle between Target and BestBuy. Sure, everyone is still getting some 30 minutes of features, but the vast majority of what are usually home release norms have been excluded to be part of these retailer exclusives. On top of that, many of the exclusives require using online services to access them, with some being nowhere in sight on this side of the hemisphere. For example, all signs point to Australia being the only territory to get deleted scenes and Germany as the only country to get the IMAX version of the film.  What about Walmart? They get a Hotwheels model of the Vengeance. I have not seen this model in person, so I cannot comment on its quality, but its Hotwheels, so don’t hold your breath.

This isn’t the first case of such a wallet sucking spread of features. It makes me remember some of the other blatant cash grab lashings of the consumers major home releases have pulled off in the past. Remember Avatar? That movie’s first home release really took advantage of people waiting with bated breath, as it was only the movie. People that couldn’t wait shelled out 30 dollars, and got the barest of discs. It wasn’t until months later a new 2 disc set was released with bonus features, and it was even longer still before a 3D release came out.

Another example is the Harry Potter Ultimate edition releases. These blu-ray and DVD releases came in large book style cases. Year 1 through 7. Rather than have each year’s set include special features for that movie, however, they instead had each one include all of the features of a certain type for all eight movies (or however many had been released at that point). This baffling choice was only made worse when WB abandoned the idea of extended cuts of the films after the 3rd year of these releases, making movies 4-8 the same old deal you saw in the theaters.

So, Star Trek: Into Darkness has take a new spin on a very old trick, one that could stand to further alienate an already divided fan base. This treatment of the fans, and yes, something this is only hurting the fans, as basic consumers aren’t going to care, really is taking the series Into Darkness. Retail Darkness.

A World Undone. A Realm Reborn

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Final Fantasy XIV has relaunched, finally revealing its reborn realm to the world.

Back in 2010, Square-Enix (SE) launched its much hyped MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV (FFXIV). Fans of the series, as well as SE’s last MMORPG offering eagerly awaited to explore this game’s depths. Much to their dismay, however, the game was nearly devoid of any content, had a server-side heavy UI that required sub-menus within sub-menus to do the most basic of tasks, and in general just wasn’t fun.

FFXIV’s poor reception spread over the internet like wildfire, resulting in drastic actions taken. The main staff was changed, including the main director, and a relaunch named “A Realm Reborn” was quickly planned. In August 27, 2013, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (FFXIV:ARR) was launched to the masses, and it’s now time once again to adventure into Eorzea.

While I had played FFXIV through its harsh first two years, I wanted to experience the relaunch through fresh eyes, so I made new character. Valkairi Soryu was born on Ragnarok, the legacy server most of my friends and Linkshell (LS) mates decided to migrate to. This will be the first in a series of posts regarding this reborn MMORPG, and my adventures within.

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Valkairi Soryu arrives in Gridania

Upon creating a character, the game decides where you start based on the chosen class. This also determines your main story line, as you will be moving through that city’s events. The purpose for the game choosing your start location is so your chosen class also has access to its guild right away. In the original game, players could choose where they started, but if they chose the wrong city, a nigh impossible trek across five maps to the next city was needed to access a class’s guild to advance further at times.

At the start, the game gave me immediate direction through a series of quests. The first few introduced me to the various UI features and how to get around the game, including a very handy new Aetheryte travel system within cities that allows me to move from crystal to crystal after attuning to them. Players of the original game will remember this same system, except that game only allowed travel to large crystals that were in the open world, and one in each city for the cost of QT points. Small crystals have been added through each city in FFXIV:AAR, and travel is free through their network. The same large crystals still exist, but QT point travel to them has been replaced with gil fees.

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Attuning to Aetherytes in cities allows travel through their network.

Once I got my bearings, it was time to venture forth. Of all the regions of Eorzea, Gridania, and its surrounding forest was criticized the most, and thus has the most drastic changes. Gone are the thin maze like halls, replaced by wide open terrain. Travel through the open world is also much easier, thanks to the ability to jump over obstacles and a sprint feature. Journeys around a cliff or rock formation that would have taken five minutes in FFXIV can be done in one minute in FFXIV:AAR thanks to well placed jumps. Just don’t be too daring, as the game does kill you for jumping from great heights.

While the game has many new systems in place to help its players along, the core combat is what I was most interested in. After all, if a game isn’t fun, it won’t have legs to carry it for years. FFXIV suffered through many different combat systems, some better than others. FFXIV:AAR settles on a traditional timer system, combined with its altered TP system. Actions cost TP, which refills through auto-attacking, or use of skills. Most of these actions run on a universal 3 second timer, while others have longer timers of their own. This results in a much faster paced combat system than the original’s stamina system, but also one that is less unique from other MMORPGs.

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To make things more interesting, moves have added effects, combos, and bonuses for attacking from certain positions. Most of these won’t come into play when playing alone, but when taking on tougher challenges in a party, it will greatly increase damage output. These systems were all introduced in the final phase of FFXIV’s existence. At the time, they were too complicated for their own good, making the combos impractical to do in most situations.This new system is more basic, and lenient, allowing for combos to be easier to pull off effectively.

Through my first few hours, FFXIVARR was already a lot of fun. Combat was faster, and there were no long waits to refill stamina. Health regened outside of combat quickly, and even slowly within combat. Along with a lot of open world content available to players of all levels, and a robust quest system to guide players along, FFXIVARR looks to be a successful relaunch of a promising game.

2013 NCAA Men’s Basketball Champions Tribute

It took a while, but here’s my tribute video for the Louisville Cardinals’ 2013 NCAA Men’s basketball championship. It was one of the most exciting basketball games I’ve had the pleasure of watching, rivaling even the 5 overtime marathon against Notre Dame. The second half delivered hard fought baskets, stifling defense, and relentless offensive attacks.

This was truly a worthy championship game full of champion performances. Peyton Siva delivered a performance akin to Derrick Rose’s championship game, ending his storied college career with his very best. Chane Behanan was a beast inside, standing as a man among boys. Luke Hancock was as close to perfect as a player could hope to ever be on the biggest stage of college basketball. The Cardinals showed the advantage of veteran experience and team chemistry that only comes with playing more than a year together, which has largely become a rarity for a lot of top programs.

Congratulations to the Louisville Cardinals from a proud Alumni!

Go Cards!

Today, the Cards face number 9 seed Wichita in the Final Four in Atlanta. This video is in tribute to their amazing season. Go Cards! Do it for Ware!

The Game That Went Into Tomorrow

Notre Dame tops Louisville in biggest thriller of the Men's Basketball season.

Notre Dame tops Louisville in biggest thriller of the Men’s Basketball season.

It took five overtimes for something to finally give between Louisville and Notre Dame. When everything was said and done, the date was the 10th, and not the 9th it began on. As is with all games in all sports that go into tomorrow, this match-up will be remembered for its intensity, heart, and thrilling finishes.

In perhaps the most thrilling game in men’s basketball this year, Notre Dame and Louisville took it to five overtimes before ND finally came out on top. 101-104.  For Notre Dame, it was a big win to move up in the rankings. For Louisville, it was a hard lesson in closing out games, which is something they’ve struggled with all year.

With 40 seconds to go, and a lead of 7, victory was nearly assured. However poor defense, and suddenly cold hands allowed ND to come back and force the first improbable OT. What transpired since was a back and forth game fought tooth and nail, with neither leading by more than three down the stretch. Each overtime ended with nail biting plays. Every basket was answered in kind. This was the kind of game we hope to see every night. It’s just too bad we left without the win.

Media Bias in Sports

ESPN ran this photo and its story on the NBA front page for over 24 hours.

ESPN ran this photo and its story on the NBA front page for over 24 hours.

Media bias is nothing new. We’ve seen it every day of our lives. and have generally come to either accept it, or ignore it. Like any business, the media is out for traffic, revenue generating traffic. They seek this out by writing stories about the most popular subjects within their spheres, but when does it enter the range of absurd? I think ESPN has shown us by running its story about Pau Gasol’s injury for over 24 hours.

Two nights ago, the Lakers won a nail biter after Gasol went down with an injury that required an MRI. Since then, the image of him on the ground in pain has been on their front page until finally, this morning, when they decided to run a fluff piece on the Heat.

To run this story on its NBA front page for so long is ridiculous. This isn’t exactly something new. In fact, this is probably Gasol’s third injury this season alone, as it’s become evident that age is catching up with him. It’s also even less of a shock to the Lakers, who’ve been suffering injury woes since the season began with three of its stars being out for extended periods of time. There really was nothing that warranted this story to take center stage while 13 NBA games were played last night. What, you wanted to see what was going on during actual play? Too bad, here’s Gasol’s face of pain.

No matter the reason, bias, traffic seeking, or just plain laziness, ESPN should really be ashamed for doing something so insulting to the very idea of news delivery.