Article first published as Playstation 4 Review: ‘Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn’ on Blogcritics.
For those that might be confused, "Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn" is actually the second "Final Fantasy XIV." The first "Final Fantasy XIV," a sequel to the popular massively multiplayer role playing game "Final Fantasy XI," was actually release in the fall of 2010. While the majority of premium MMORPGs have been eclipsed by the shadow of the wildly popular "World of Warcraft" game for PCs, Square Enix’s more Asian flavored take on fantasy has a significant number of fans. The online "Final Fantasy" series’ console tie-in has also allowed it to reach an otherwise ignored but significant console demographic.
"Final Fantasy XI" was available for the Playstation 2, Xbox 360 and PCs, but the original "Final Fantasy XIV" never made it past a Windows PC release. The game was so widely panned, that within a year of the game’s release Square Enix announced it would relaunch the game as "Final Fantasy XIV 2.0." "Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn" is a slightly more elegant phrasing of "2.0." Considering "A Realm Reborn" is a reboot of sorts, describing the game unfortunately requires an additional serving of relativism.
Considering bandwidth issues and the sheer scale of MMORPGs, their graphical fidelity is often lacking. While "Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn" isn’t going to challenge many of its Playstation 4 competitors in the visuals department, it is step above most other MMOs. It also worth noting that at this time, "A Realm Reborn" has a distinct player versus environment bias. The game also does a great job of capturing the essence of the "Final Fantasy" universe, with mainstays like Cactuars, Chocobo rides and the typical "Final Fantasy" fashion sense. Except for the obvious fan service, it remains to be seen if the effort can woo enough console gamers over to make the game successful.
The basic controls, in "A Realm Reborn" are simple enough. They are the stuff of standard third person games with the left analog stick used for movement and the right stick for adjusting the camera. For those that would rather use the Playstation 4 like a PC, keyboard and mouse support is available. As a matter of fact the controls are really best suited for a PC configuration. The controller option is inelegant at best. While it is somewhat serviceable for those motivated enough, things like viewing full map are tedious. The game actually often requires those with controllers to use the touchpad as you would with a laptop to navigate the menus.
Part of the goal with "Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn" was to create a robust single player experience, but for those accustomed to the "Final Fantasy’s" single player offering, the effort will likely fall short. As is the case with many MMOs, the voice acting is sparse and the narrative in general is much thinner. Add that to fact that many of the quests tend to be tedious, and the sum of the experience is really only for the hardcore fan. Be warned, to hold your own in "A Realm Reborn" will also require lots of mindless PVE grinding, which will likely turn off more recent "Final Fantasy" converts as well as MMO veterans.
Part of the criticism of the original "Final Fantasy XIV" was that it seemed to have been made in a vacuum, with no acknowledgement of the alternative choice online gamers had available. This translated into a near squandering of the cache Square Enix has earned with "Final Fantasy" fans. This time around, the game is being released near the same time as Bethesda’s "Elder Scrolls Online." While "ESO" is not yet available for consoles, at least in the narrative category, it seems to have "A Realm Reborn" beat. That’s not to say that the most ardent "Final Fantasy" fans won’t find something to love here.
"Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn" is the best online "Final Fantasy" game yet and offers a slick looking 1080p HD experience. Here we go again with relativism though. The game, despite its inclusion of much of the well-loved "Final Fantasy" content will likely be too unwieldy to win over many new converts. Add that to a pricey monthly subscription rate separate from a Playstation Plus subscription which places another obstacle to mass adoption. To be fair, a Playstation Plus subscription is not required on the Playstation 4 version. In the end, "A Realm Reborn," isn’t going to make many new MMO fans by either requiring player to use a keyboard and mouse or use the controller in such an unintuitive way, particularly as the PS4’s software library fills out a little better.