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I sit here with one of my favorite computer games of all time in my left hand and possibly one of the least favorite computer games of all time in my right. Final Fantasy VII still remains of my favorite games and I've completed a fair few times in the past. I followed the series as they churned out new releases on the PS1 & PS2 but stopped caring after Final Fantasy X where I thought the games became a little saturated and predictable. Then a couple of years ago I thought I would revisit my youth and delve into the online world of Final Fantasy. A realm in which I regret visiting in all honesty.
Final Fantasy XIV was a disaster. It had poor graphics quality (which even though wasn't great to look at) still demanded a high powered PC to play at 60 FPS. The storyline wasn't exciting at all. The EU player base was small. The questing was a chore rather than something to immerse yourself in with the storyline. Square-Enix sent at least two apologies to its customers, recognizing the poor quality of the game, asking for patience, and announcing free trial extensions and reshuffles in the development team and the Square-Enix CEO even admitted in a September 2011 press conference that "the Final Fantasy brand has been greatly damaged" as a result of the game's shortcomings. Well things went under a massive change recently with the rebranding of FFXIV Online to Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn and I got a chance to see whether these changes could revive a game that was somewhat already dead and buried.
The first thing that changed was Square-Enix CEO Yoichi Wada announced a massive restructure in staff in order to design and create the new content in the new game, a move which I think has paid off. Firstly the graphics are far more vivid, grass actually looks real with excellent physics that move like it would in real life. The lighting in places is glowing with life and the characters and content look much more updated. It is a real improvement that still keeps the charm of Final Fantasy series but brings it up to line with current MMOs such as Rift & Defiance for example. The graphics remind me of a current day “Aion” and are vastly improved since the original.
The game flows very well and there were some small cases of frame loss and some small bits of lag here and there but this was to be expected from the beta, especially as the servers have been completely renewed. One thing that did grind on me a tad was the archaic method of questing. Games like Star Wars: The Old Republic implemented the voice acting quest style which I kinda liked. You would speak to a quest giver who would tell you a story and you would accomplish whatever task they offer however in Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn there is no voice acting though the NPC will keep moving their mouth and you would click next to listen to the next paragraph of text on the screen. This is a bit annoying in all honestly, either do one or the other. Go the whole hog and have excellent voice acting like in The Old Republic or do what World of Warcraft does and keep the quest text simple in just one box and choose whether to accept or decline. I feel this would make the game flow much better.
One thing that really struck me was how good the soundtrack was to the game. The songs you hear from Final Fantasy VII are memorable and I still hear them in my head from time to time. The music here isn't going to be like that but it still reeks of adventure and fantasy and works brilliantly with the scenery and the game play. Good music doesn't have to be thought about in MMOs, it should just sit there in the background complimenting the game and this is done perfectly here. You won’t remember the exact tunes, but you will notice them when they’re turned off.
The combat feels more fluid and trouble free compared to the first offering. During combat you have free reign to move around and group killing is a rich experience that’s fun and enjoyable to compete in. Finding a group was quite rare due to the limited beta I had just enough time to jump into a party and the experience was fruitful. There's nothing ground breaking here but the formula is solid and tested and I feel group combat will become an integral part of this game. Like it would be with any MMO.
Overall the differences are noticeable. I hope the price tag isn't too expensive for a title that flopped the first time round. Maybe they will be offering one month free to previous subscribers but who knows?. I will certainly be having a crack at the game when it is released so check out Entertainment Fuse around this release and we shall have a full review up on the site. From the looks of things this game could negate the negative effect of the first game. We will just have to wait and see.
You can catch the trailer for A Realm Reborn below: