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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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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.

Square Enix Can Make the Ultimate Dream

Yes, thanks to Disney, all this can be in one game.

Yes, thanks to Disney, all this can be in one game.

Square Enix and Disney have a long standing deal to make a series of games with the name Kingdom Hearts. Back when it was first announced, I remember cringing and wondering what kind of magical mushrooms SE ate to make such a deal. Disney and Final Fantasy in the same game? What? It sounded like some kind of joke at the time, but now it’s one of the hottest franchises in Japan, and a growing fan base world wide. There’s just been one problem, Kingdom Hearts 2 came out eight years ago, and there’s no sign of Kingdom Hearts 3.

KH3 will happen. SE has said as much, and the game’s mastermind, Tetsuya Nomura has also said so. A lot has changed with SE and Disney since then. Back when KH2 hit, it was simply Disney and SE, and SE had infact neglected any Enix side of their company for the game. Now, SE owns Eidos, the studio behind Deus Ex and Tomb Raider. Disney owns Marvel and now Lucas Films. Let me put it into perspective here, Ironman vs Darth Vader, Lara Croft vs Indiana Jones, Jack Sparrow vs Han Solo, Thor vs Dark Force Lightning, Luke Skywalker vs Cloud Strife, Tron bikes vs Air Speeders. All of that awesomeness can be put into one game. All of it, and more.

The world is still waiting for any Kingdom Hearts 3 announcements, but when it happens, Disney and SE could bring childhood bliss into reality like no one ever thought possible.

128 Days Later

ArmaDevs_32334_screenAfter 128 days in a Greek jail, two video game developers were released after posting bail and returned home to the Czech Republic.

The two Bohemia Interactive developers were originally arrested on suspicion of espionage after they were found photographing and recording footage of a Greek military base on the island of Lemnos. The island is the setting for their company’s upcoming title, Arma III, and they claim they were collecting reference material.

While it’s good to see two potentially innocent men released on bail, their trial still looms. This also should make everyone wonder why they thought they could freely record photographs and video of a military base without permission.

When this story originally broke, everyone was quick to jump on it. There was a hard line separating people arguing for tourists to be left alone and to spend time and money on real problems, and the people arguing that they feel safer knowing their government takes home defense so seriously. I think that everyone should realize that no time or money is wasted when people are arrested for activities such as this. Military bases watch their borders. The troops are already there to do their duty. No resources were pulled from somewhere else to arrest these two men.

If they are found to be innocent, their 128 days will be recorded as a tragic misunderstanding, but I don’t think they’re free of guilt, even if things end this way. They should have been smarter, and used official channels to get their source materials.

I know how much people hate the idea of big brother watching over their shoulder at all times. Personally, I think it’s better to know your government isn’t allowing foreigners to do whatever they please around military installations.

 

NRA Shows Us All How to Make Asses of Ourselves

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The NRA has been a source of conflict for a long time in America, but recent events have shown just how foolish the organization can be. It’s stance on gun control hasn’t budged for over a decade. They think things are fine, and continue to wave that second amendment like it’s some kind of God Given shield.

In the modern world, the NRA doesn’t just stick to guns, however. Violent video games have been the center of attention in a lot of political battlefields. They’re blamed for certain behaviors in teenagers, including aggression, depression, and most importantly, violence itself.  Regulations to control the sale of games have been brought up, citing the danger to young minds, even violent game taxes, but thus far, nothing has yet to pass. In all of this, the NRA has been silent, showing no support for action.

Shortly after the Sandy Hook shooting, the NRA quickly blamed it on violent video games. They were quick to name specific examples involving schools, claim armed guards in schools will help, and anything that took the attention off of gun control. This earned them slaps in the face already. Leland Yee, the California senator that fought for regulations on violent video game sales to children in 2011 didn’t hesitate to point out the NRA was nowhere in sight when he proposed his bill. You know you’re making an ass of yourself when both sides of the debate attack you.

The NRA has come full circle now. Exactly one month after the Sandy Hook shootings, after pointing the finger at a shooting game, the NRA released a shooting game for the iOS. That’s right, they went there. They want to curb gun violence and foster gun education with a shooting game.

This begs the question, have you ever witnessed such stupidity before? Have you ever seen someone light themselves on fire twice, just because they didn’t learn the first time? I sure haven’t.

TGS Proves Sony Still Doesn’t Get It

Sony held their press conference at TGS yesterday. With Microsoft not attending, and Nintendo having done all of their Wii U announcements last week at their own event, it was Sony’s chance to bring the boom with all attention on them. Out of all the announcements of new Vita colors, slimmed PS3s, and lack of games, one thing was made clear: Sony Still Doesn’t Get It. Sony refuses to get it. Sony will probably never get it.

This is nothing against the slimmed PS3. That’s a good thing. Sony is cutting down their manufacturing costs to increase profits per unit. Not having a price drop, however, in the wake of the Wii U launch? That is foolish, and shows they have that same damned arrogance from back when their stock was worth 112 dollars a share.For those who’ve been under a rock the past year, their stock is now at 13 dollars, and that’s after a considerable RISE. No, the issue comes with their holiday bundle push. They’ll be offering up “Special bundles” with Uncharted 3 or Assassin’s Creed 3. Good, great. A bundle with one of Sony’s top exclusives, and another with one of the most anticipated games of the holiday season. The issue? They both come bland blank black systems (The B3 bomber).

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This, above all else, really shows Sony is just too damn inept to survive in today’s world. They have time and time again served up special bundles with the same bland black systems. The 360, on the other hand, has served up many bundles with special limited edition consoles with unique looks. To illustrate, MS is going to release this consoles around the same time as Sony’s offerings:

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Do you see the difference? Do you see who’s trying harder to make system sales rather than being full of it and thinking they can be lazy? Heck, even Nintendo offered a special edition Wii for it’s 25th anniversary for Mario. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Who want’s something like that in their living room? Well, for those who aren’t gamers, let me be straight with you, gamers don’t really think about living room aesthetics. They just want stuff that looks cool on their own. There are also collectors that will gobble up any special edition they can. These kinds of things are effective marketing tools, and marketing is something Sony has failed at for over a decade.

An example of how powerful a prettied up console can be as a sales driver. Microsoft offered a special edition Panzer Dragoon Orta console in japan only. Only 999 units were offered through pre-orders through a Sega Direct. These 999 units sold out in a day, in a country that treated the XBox like it was cancer.

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It really is baffling that Sony has been so slow or timid to offer limited edition consoles, at least in the US. Japan has gotten numerous special edition consoles, and all have been desired by fans in the US and EU. Sony just seems to expect people to buy their stuff with no need of bonuses or smart marketing. Hopefully, with the PS4, they’ll finally realize everything tipped in their favor can lead to a system sale.

Once More Unto the Breach

ImageA lot has changed over the past decade. I’ve gone through two phases of life, and the same can be said for online gaming. What once was a small niche among select FPS, strategy, and a very small group of MMOs has now become one of the biggest ways to game for any genre. Now you can play along or challenge other people around the world on just about every game being made today. This process has been one of trial and error, finding what works, and what doesn’t.

MMOs grew during this process from their toddler stage to what can now be seen as a mid-life crisis. In the wake of World of Warcraft’s unprecedented success, the MMO landscape shifted. Wanting a piece of that 11 Million subscriber pie, a lot of MMOs gradually shifted to WoW’s bread-and-butter model. Leveling through quests, auto-matching groups, and raids, raids, raids. That model has endured for well over seven years now. This is a model I’ve experienced in several MMOs, but I never did play WoW.

My days of playing MMOs started in 2003 with Final Fantasy XI. While I had some experience playing Everquest whenever I visited my cousin, FFXI was the first MMO of my own. It was a game that captivated me for four years. Since quitting, I’ve tried many other MMOs in hopes finding another title with the same pull. This brought me to Guild Wars, Atlantica, Vindictus, SWTOR, and Tera, among others that didn’t last long enough to really mention. All of these games were fun in their own way, but none came close to FFXI for me. So now, nearly five years after quitting, I find myself rejoining the world of Vana’diel.

Things are quite different now from five years ago. The level cap is 99 instead of 75. There’s probably twice as many areas now than there were when I left. Most striking, however, is the shift away from group play. In order to address complaints that solo play was nearly impossible, Square-Enix has implemented a few changes over the years. First, the experience table has been greatly increased. What once was worth 12 xp is now worth 80. The result is someone playing solo on easy targets can earn xp faster than a traditional party did the last time I had played. Additionally, field books were added to all of the pre Treasure of Aht Urgan areas as a means of fighting over crowding popular grinding spots. These books give training quests tasking players to kill six to eight mobs of certain types. Completing these tasks gives the players experience points. Indoor areas will also give buffs, as well as increased rewards each time a task is repeated.

This has drastically changed the game. In a week’s time, I got my first job to level 50, unlocked my first advanced job, did two level cap quests, and got that new job to 56. My first time through this game, doing all of this probably took me half a year. This was done almost entirely solo, as the new xp tables and field books have rendered most traditional grind parties obsolete. It’s not until the 30s, when kill times start becoming longer that parties come back into play, but even those have changed. Instead of having six people fighting hard monsters for maximum experience per kill parties involve having as many people possible killing easy targets for fast kill times to do what is called “book burning”. The result is getting 2400xp in four minutes in Garlaige Citadel. That used to take an hour. All told, I went from 37 to 56 in about four hours.

Indeed, a lot has changed. The new frantic pacing has me jarred, yet newly motivated. While it’s true to nostalgia isn’t quite there, the same enjoyment still manages to creep in through the cracks.