Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn kept Dave Cook occupied during his week off work, and he’s come back to the office impressed. In fact, he feels it’s yet another statement of intent for Sony’s MMO strategy on PS4.
”I’m convinced that this kind of game can exist happily on consoles and it shows that you don’t need to employ the traditional mouse and keys template to craft a solid MMO experience. Square has optimised Final Fantasy 14 to the point that it functions just fine with a DualShock 4.”
Before we dive in, I’m aware that Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn isn’t a free game, but it’s got me thinking about that whole space, so stick with me on this one…
When PlayStation 4 was announced, it was clear that Sony understood the industry’s changing tides. The influx of affordable indie titles on PSN keeps the store populated between big blockbuster launches, the PS Plus model impresses with each passing month, while the firm’s attitude towards consumers and the notion of value is quite refreshing. Sony ‘gets’ it.
I also see real change in the way Sony has grasped the free-to-play and MMO sectors. Its online entertainment division has been active within these spaces for some time, and has enjoyed a reasonable degree of success by refusing to peddle out a torrent of fast-buck freemium titles. That particular gold rush ended years ago, and we’re now living in an age where MMOs need to deliver substance and quality in order to succeed.
Simply pushing out weak products and expecting people to invest doesn’t fly any more, and I feel those cynical releases corrode the trust that exists between paying consumers and creators. They undermine the intelligence of players because they assume that you’ll willingly buy anything without question. It’s a despicable attitude yet these games still exist; you only need to look at my scathing tear-down of EA’s cynical Dungeon Keeper reboot to see that.
But in this line of work I’ve seen a great number of studios that refuse to stoop so low. ‘Free-to-play’ and even ‘MMO’ used to suggest games of a lesser quality, but now, teams like SOE, Carbine, Blizzard and ArenaNet know that nothing less than triple-a production values and a strong proposition will do, free or not. That certainly bodes well moving forward and in Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn, Square Enix has shown that it understands the online market after doing some much-needed homework. It certainly seems to have paid off.
I took this screenshot using my PS4’s share button. I also really want a fat chocobo.
”In the end it took MMOs coming to consoles before I started considering them as a viable part of my gaming intake, and I guess that’s the main point of this article. I’m this close to being fully invested.”
Although it’s not a free title, I’m convinced that this kind of game can exist happily on consoles with a fee if the content is attractive, and it shows that you don’t need to employ the traditional mouse and keys template to craft a solid MMO experience. Square has optimised Final Fantasy 14 to the point that it functions just fine with a DualShock 4.
The HUD can get a little cluttered and typing in the chat bar with a pad is a chore if you don’t have a bluetooth keyboard, but it’s entirely possible to play this game on your front-room couch and have an enjoyable experience. Getting MMOs into the living room is quite a big deal.
That’s progress, and along with Warframe, DC Universe Online, PlanetSide 2 and other PS4 MMO titles, Sony has the potential to host an impressive stock of online experiences on PSN that will help it keep up with what has traditionally existed as a PC-orientated arena. In a Realm Reborn, I was initially drawn in by all of the fan-baiting touches, such as the classic Final Fantasy theme that plays out delicately over the initial cut-scenes, as well as familiar tropes such as the victory sting and returning enemies from across the series.
But what kept me returning for more was the satisfying progression rate, which sees your hero completing a wealth of small chores between key quests that are geared towards dispensing gratification almost on demand. Once I left the confines of my starting zone in Ul’dah city, I was quickly met with a long line of ‘kill ten rats,’ or ‘go deliver this object to that guy,’ tasks. Now, that might sound uninspired, but if I’m just coming on for a short sessions I can quickly boost my XP intake by doing a few of these quick quests.
”Final Fantasy 14 suffered a rocky first start, so it was refreshing to see Square Enix taking time to reappraise its strategy and try again with great success. Few studios get a chance like that, and it appears that the board’s faith was well placed.”
And that’s important, because my reluctance to get involved in MMORPGs over the years stemmed from being unable or unwilling to commit to big quest trees or missions that demanded I pair with other human beings. I’m not anti-social, but the idea of having to plan a guild meet-up online at a specific time so we can finish a particular quest feels too much like work. No, I want to play at my pace, and I want to get something out of every session. Square Enix has nailed that sense of near-instant reward on the head, and it’s convinced this former sceptic to keep coming back for more.
Of course, there are larger quests linked to the overarching plot that demand a little more work, but the point is that there’s almost always something to be done, and some kind of compensation for doing so. You might be sitting there thinking, ‘yeah, but MMOs have always done that,’ but bear in mind that I’m still relatively new to this scene, and I’m liking it more and more each time I play these games. In fact, the first time it all clicked for me was Guild Wars 2, as I liked the fact that I could play solo if I wanted, but could quite easily join in big live events if they took my fancy.
Final Fantasy 14 has nicked that idea and re-packaged it as FATE events, which are regularly spawning challenges that see throngs of players participating and earning a share of the spoils. They happen often, and appear on the map as blue circles. All you have to do is enter the highlighted zone to take part, and depending on your contribution to the fight you’ll get a certain level of reward. For example, I recently took part in a FATE that saw a group of players attacking a bandit camp and after it ended I earned XP and Gil based on how many thieves I had defeated. It’s a brilliant co-op model that encourages participation without the long-term commitment that comes with guilds.
I could really go on about how well I’ve taken to this game, but I’m guessing I’d be preaching to the converted. I’m still an MMO noob in relative terms, and I do feel a bit like a kid that’s discovered a new toy shop, with a wealth of new ideas and content before me. That’s a nice feeling and I’m already trying more online games as a result, such as Carbine’s incoming debut Wildstar. You’ll be able to read my initial preview of that later this week in fact.
But yes, I’m enjoying A Realm Reborn’s colourful world, its satisfying combat and overall design. Best of all, it feels like a Final Fantasy game and if I had to compare it I’d say it falls close to FFXII, a game I sunk some 120 hours into, so you can see why I’m quite taken by it. Square’s visuals also stand up well on PS4 and put the drab, cheaply produced aesthetics of cash-cow MMOs to shame, serving to underline just how far this market has come in such a short time. It’s a title given a new lease of life thanks to some much-needed love and care.
In the end it took MMOs coming to consoles before I started considering them as a viable part of my gaming intake, and I guess that’s the main point of this article. I’m this close to being fully invested if it wasn’t for being hideously busy all the time. Regardless, Sony played a wise hand when it worked with Square to bring Final Fantasy 14 to PlayStation formats, and for including games like Warframe on its slate. The company needs to keep up with the times, and it’s already placed a strong foot forward by entering the free and paid MMO space, while the arrival of PlanetSide 2 and EverQuest Next will undoubtedly bolster that offering.
Final Fantasy 14 suffered a rocky first start, so it was refreshing to see Square Enix taking time to reappraise its strategy and try again with great success. Few studios get a chance like that, and it appears that the board’s faith was well placed given the quality and addicting nature of the end-product. It was a learning process, much like the way PS4 was informed by the pros and cons of PS3’s life-span, and I can safely say I’m on board with both the title after putting a few hours in over the Easter break. I simply think it’s a solid attempt at replicating the success if MMORPGs on consoles, much like the PS3 version before it.
More like this please Sony.
Disclosure: To assist in writing this article, Square Enix sent Dave an early access code for Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn on PS4.