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Not A Realm Reborn, But A Great Showing

I'm beginning to think my issues with motivation might be related to browsing the Internet, at all, and not just forums.  So I stopped browsing, and what do you suppose happened?  Did I finally get immersed in independent game development?   No, I ended up playing Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn for two and a half solid days.   I suppose I might as well jot down what I learned about the game in that time.
This is definitely an MMORPG in the classic style, and consequently FFXIV:RR has the same overall problem that classic style MMORPGs have always had: you kill monsters, in order to gain levels and gear, in order to kill more monsters.  Eventually, you run out of levels and epic gear, and then you're stuck twiddling your thumbs until the developers add more content.  Does this sound like a gainful long-term pursuit to you?  It really isn't, it's an unabashed Skinner's box, and there's no gold at the end of the treadmill... but if you just want to keep yourself occupied, then consider your wish granted.

If a redeeming value can be found in a classic MMORPG, it is in these aspects:
  • It's a social activity - It's not so much what you're doing, so much as you're doing it with others.  Of course, if you're a craven introvert like me (or you just plain hate MMORPG communities) this will hold little appeal to you unless you have someone who you're willing to play the game with (and vice versa).  Good luck all ending up on the same server as your friends, considering Square-Enix has put such a tight immigration policy on their servers that it makes the iron curtain look like a revolving door.
  • It's not the destination, it's the journey - Though levels and gear are typically what we're striving for when we play this type of game, they're not supposed to matter: what's supposed to matter is if you're having fun.  You know, "fun," the whole point of gaming?   Fortunately, FFXIV:RR has some pretty decent gameplay, hitting all the right bases of a compelling MMORPG, proving that you don't need to be an action game (like TERA tried to be) in order to give the brain some decent simulation.   Of course, if you're just here for the gameplay, you might as well play anything else other than an MMORPG, because all that extra overhead bloat involved in persistent state environments usually just gets in the way.
  • There's a story to be told - While the gameplay mechanics of an RPG are important to our enjoyment, they are only a ruleset in which we are allowed to interact with a story.  This was core of the tabletop toleplaying games that kicked off the whole RPG craze.  Computer RPGs that forget this tend to be bland, number-focused games that leave their players wondering why they bother.  Final Fantasy XIV:RR has not forgotten this, adding several story-supporting features:
    • The NPCs that repeat one-liners upon interacting with them.  This is a Final Fantasy tradition, but you'd be surprised how rare talking NPCs are in MMORPGs.
    • The NPCs that send you off on quests, such as those found in quest hubs.  I am speaking specifically of mere side quests, but this is still a step above an NPC that repeats a one-liner because the dialogue introduced has a greater gravity to it.
    • In each profession's guild quest line, parseled out at the rate of one snippet per 5 levels, and usually well-supported by cutscenes and instanced combat scenarios.
    • In the main "story" quest line, unlocked at about the rate of one snippet per level of your highest combat-related profession, give or take, and supported by the highest quality cut scenes in the game.  This quest line begins at your home city and eventually takes you all over the game world.
    As it turns out, FFXIV:RR actually deserves some props here: it provides more story-side support than probably 99% of MMORPGs out there... even if it is level gated content.  Honestly, I probably spend more time doing FATEs than getting involved in the story, but even dynamic events in zones have narrative value.
In the end, even taking into consideration the massive time investment involved in an MMORPG, it's unusually hard for me to claim FFXIV:RR is really any more a waste of time than any other game.  I may well end up playing this game, after all.  That's quite the accomplishment: well done, Square-Enix.
They also did an exceptionally good job of capturing a "Final Fantasy" vibe,
and will probably be considered a must-play for true fans of the series.
However, even if not any more a waste of time than any other game, I could argue that FFXIV:RR a remarkable waste of money, considering they're planning on charging a monthly subscription for it.  This is a practice I knew should have gone out of style years ago, completely abolished when MMORPGs stopped being such a unique novelty among games.  In forging ahead with this plan anyway, the developers are basically banking on people's love of Final Fantasy being the edge they need to do this.

I guess I can't blame the developers for trying to secure a passive income: nice work if you can get it.  However, too many existing MMORPGs already in operation have proven there's pretty much zero justification to monthly subscription fees, regardless of what you, me, or anyone else has to say about it.  This idea that they need subscription fees to host the game is now officially demonstrably wrong.

As a player, the only real reason to support a subscription is simple elitism: maybe you figure you'd be better off without the people who are not willing to pay extra?  For example, immature brats or obnoxious gold farmers.  I can almost get on board with that idea... but it's not completely true, is it?  These less-desirable folk still find their way in, even if it involves stealing accounts or begging parents.

So why tolerate a subscription fee in FFXIV:RR when few other MMORPG makes me do it?  They would need to have a really nice feature set that sets them head and shoulders above the competition.  Whether FFXIV:RR does this for you or not depends on what you want in a game.

For me, the armoury system is perhaps the greatest selling point.   If you've been reading me long, you'll know that I am as craven as an alt-o-holic as a person can be; I just can't stick to one character class knowing that there might be fun gameplay I'm missing in other character classes.  This game is pretty cool in that it pretty much lets you alt to your heart's content while still progressing on the same character...
This Japanese advert basically is touting how you can change
your class in Final Fantasy XIV.  Final Fantasy XI
and Runes Of Magic utilize cross-job systems, too.

... in fact, it's even beneficial to you to play alternate classes in this game, for several reasons:
  • Because of the job system, which requires you meet a level prerequisite in several professions in order to unlock a more specialized mode called a "job."  For example, to become a White Mage (a specialized healer) you will need 30 levels as a Conjuror (a non-specialized base profession that has more healer focus than the others), and 15 levels as an Arcanist (another non-specialized based profession with some healing).
  • Because of cross-class skills, which are skills from one profession you can equip while playing another.  When playing as a combat profession, you get one cross-class skill every 5 levels. When playing as the more specialized job professions, you get one cross-class skill every 10 levels.  Not all skills can be cross-class utilized by all professions, but there's enough applicable ones to make it worth doing.  (Now, if only traits - which are passive bonuses - could be equipped cross-class, that would add a whole other reason for wanting those slots.)
  • Because of the skill point bonus, which is rewarded at 1 point for every 5 levels earned in a profession.  Consequently, a player who focuses on getting to level 50 with only one class would have 10 bonus skill points to put into any attribute they want.  A player who generalizes and gets 25 levels in 5 different classes would have 25 bonus skill points to put into any attribute they want.  A particularly savvy player may endeavor to dump as many of these points as possible into a single statistic, ending up more powerful as a particular type of character than someone who has generalized their bonus points or not played as many alts.
With my current character, Delacroix Everseeker, I have over 20 levels in Thaumaturgy, 15 levels as a Conjurer (my original profession), and about 5 levels in each of another 5 combat classes.  I can tell that it would be beneficial for me to specialize more because there's an experience bonus to leveling classes based on your highest level class.  Also, certain legs of the main quest line unlock useful abilities (such as riding chocobo).  So I am basically experimenting, trying to figure out what I would like to make my main class on the climb to the top.

So many choices.
So little time.
To these ends, I am thinking I might just go for a Scholar, which would require another 10 levels in Arcanist.   Healers and tanks are in shorter supply than damaging professions right now (owed largely to about three-fourths of the professions being damaging focused), and the Scholar qualifies as a healer, although a White Mage is probably better at healing overall?

What about a second role?  Were I to get 15 levels as a Thaumaturge, it would allow me to unlock the Summoner job.  The Summoner is a damage-focused role... I might need a good guild to run with if I were to play that, considering there's no shortage of damage doers in public.

With my 15 levels in Conjurer, I could also pick up 30 levels in Gladiator and get the Paladin job, which would allow me to tank, the third major role in the game.  (There is also "support" but it's less concrete in Final Fantasy XIV:RR than the other three roles.)

If there's a consequence to having a character who is capable of three (or more) roles in a group, it's a lack of bonus stat specialization.  Were I to dump all my bonus points in "mind" or "intelligence," I might get some benefit out of them as a Scholar, White Mage, and Summoner, but my Paladin would suffer from the lack of "vitality" investment.  On the other hand, I'm honestly not sure the bonus points really have much overall impact versus the stats you get from gear and your main (currently equipped) profession/job, which means I could potentially go all-rounder on a single character.

Overall, I like Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn.  It's a game with decent gameplay, story support far above the usual MMORPG trappings, and enough depth to the character progression system to give me quite a lot of think about.  It's not quite a sandbox, it's not quite a theme park, but it features an on-and-off-the-rails mixture that makes it more compelling that being just one or the other.

Yet, if I'm going to play FFXIV: Realm Reborn, I think I'm going to have to exercise control over the amount of free time I invest in it.  I bet that, were I to get really immersed in game development again, FFXIV:RR and all other games would seem less exciting in comparison.

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