Final Fantasy XIV wasn’t supposed to be part of my ongoing effort to try out free MMORPGs. It had been on my mind, because it’s nearly inescapable when reading about such games these days. It’s held in high regard as a cream-of-the-crop title, one of the best and most populated MMOs around. Heck, even in scrolling through my own blog feed here on WordPress, the title is a constant feature. It was hard for me to not be at least a little bit curious about it. And yet, it’s popularity was the one big thing that kept it off my immediate to-try list. All the other games I had tried – TERA, DC Universe Online, Skyforge, and Phantasy Star Online 2: New Genesis – had nowhere near the population counts of FFXIV, which made them seem a lot less intimidating. And yet, no small part of me kept thinking that I should at least give FFXIV a try, because hey, its free trial had returned, and free is free!
Unlike with previous MMO trials, I did not go into FFXIV uninformed. I spent hours immersed in its wikis and forums, blog posts, and Reddit pages, until I had figured out the most important thing: who I wanted to be in FFXIV’s grand-scale world! I chose to go with a Roegadyn, because they were unique among the other familiar fantasy races. Broken into two clans, the Sea Wolves and the Hellsguard, I went with the latter if for no other reason than I thought they had the interestingly “normal” naming convention of combining an adjective with a noun. After plenty of fiddling around with the game’s fiddly character creator, there she was.
Yep, Early Squirrel. I still can’t believe that’s the name I picked, but that’s it. On screen, between her large frame and seeing that name with the ubiquitous “sprout” icon signaling my evergreen status, I can’t help but laugh a little. But seriously, Early is fantastic, and I love her a little more each time I see her. Which…well, in all honesty, hasn’t been more than a handful of hours. But, she’s a delightful level 16 archer with a long journey ahead.
In all that I had read about FFXIV, one fact that seemed universal was that the beginning of the game was a little slow. And maybe a bit grindy. I therefore steeled myself for some potentially slow and grindy gameplay, which has so far proven true. Though, that’s not nearly as annoying as wayfinding. I’ve about eight hours of gameplay under my belt, and I’m sure I’ve spent at least half that time just trying to navigate. The in-game map looks like it should make sense, and I’m pretty good with maps, but I’ve run around in so many circles that poor Early’s head must be spinning! It helps that side quests are plentiful, so when I do lose my way, at least I can find something worth doing. There is a fast travel system, but one has to find suitable fast travel points for them to work, and it’s all I can do to just focus on one thing at a time.
How about that word, focus, because that describes the games combat, which is…unusual. I don’t know why I glazed over that in learning what I could about the game, but once I had started, it occurred to me that this might have been what people meant when they said the beginning of the game was slow. Instead of an action combat system, the game uses tab targeting. So Early essentially fights one enemy at a time, though she does have a skill or two that can affect groups. Adding to the weirdness is that her primary skills at the moment all have the same cooldown timer, which means that using one negates them all for a few seconds. I should be using other skills in those moments, but my poor reflexes with the controls, which I’ve yet to memorize, do me no favors.
While I can’t yet shake my reservations about FFXIV’s oblique maps and stiff combat, I have found plenty in it to admire. The environments, for one, are stunning! I’ve only visited a tiny portion of Gridania, my starting region that’s broken up into several smaller chunks, and what little I’ve seen so far is pretty amazing. The forests are lively with lots of places to go, people to see, and enemies to fight. There are some neat stories, too, to go along with all the scenery. I’ve barely scratched the surface of the game’s main story, but it has my attention. (And it would have more of it if I wasn’t so good at getting lost!) But I can’t argue with a world that offers lots of exploration, if not totally unbridled in the case of FFXIV, as I have hit a couple spots where the enemies are clearly out of my league. There’s plenty hidden in FFXIV’s back corners if one goes off the beaten track.
And speaking of “tracks,” the game’s soundtrack (see what I did there?) might just be its best feature. I’ve only played a handful of FF games, but the one thing I adore from them is their incredible soundtrack. They are at once compelling, relaxing, uplifting, and familiar. This is the magic of Nobuo Uematsu. As fans well know, his compositions generally are brilliant, and they are doubly so within the world of Final Fantasy. Playing this game brings me back to my early days with the original FFVII, the first FF game I ever played. I love the feeling of nostalgia that’s imbued in the background songs of FFXIV. It sounds silly, but I could easily do nothing else in the game except run around talking to random NPCs with Uemastsu’s songs playing in the background. The music alone makes me very, very happy.
As my attention has turned and will turn to other games (Stray, Saints Row), Early’s adventures are going on the back burner, for now. I like FFXIV, but the connection with it is isn’t yet strong enough for it to go into regular rotation. Once my Fallout 76 sub runs out, and I’m looking to spend some quality time with a quality MMORPG, I’ll head back into the thick of Gridania and see how things go. I do believe that once I’m out of the game’s beginning throes, have more abilities at hand, and have more experience under my belt, I just might fall for FFXIV.
All images, including lede, were taken by author during PS5 gameplay of Final Fantasy XIV [free trial] (© Square Enix).