Playing Final Fantasy XIV is like being fed a blooming onion by a waitress dressed as a cat-girl. Tenderly, she dips each petal into one of a hundred different sauces before placing it delicately onto your outstretched and eager tongue. Sometimes it’s garlic dip, sometimes just ketchup. A bit got on your shirt… but overall a very memorable and mostly enjoyable time.

Yes I am pleased with that analogy, thanks for asking.

The game takes what could be a very generic experience and elevates it with superb attention to detail. I’d be lying if I said anything felt particularly exceptional, or didn’t frustrate occasionally… but that high level of polish is exactly what makes the odd imperfection stand out. Delivering to expectations and then going a step beyond makes it feel comfortable, even as it adds enjoyable twists to familiar systems.

It’s Final Fantasy, of course it’s beautiful

A gorgeous cake eaten a layer at a time

Fans of the series or MMORPGs will get onboard quickly. Hovering exclamation marks denote questgivers, the the interface is standard. Final Fantasy fans will, if not enjoy, then expect the heavy reliance on beautiful cutscenes which are par for the chocobo race-course, featuring more cutesy races and ridiculous names than you can shake a Tonberry shank at. Even if you can’t remember the names of Probably Evil Ambassador or Toffee-Nosed Mage Girl, they’re still interesting to interact with.

My beloved companion, British Cat Lass

One thing they should have left on the MMO orphanage doorstep is the many fetch quests, though these are at least streamlined. Items have a 100% drop rate and auto-loot into your key inventory upon killing. Which I guess just makes this a kill quest? I suppose we must have SOME quests in this game about questing, I just wish they were a bit more epic. The combat system really helps pull this back though, with a satisfying mix of combos, cooldowns, status effects and a high time to kill.

You will have complicated feelings about the Horizon crystal

What is inexcusable, though, is how often you traipse across the world to have a single conversation, only to be immediately sent back where you came from. The cit of Horizon in particular will start to grate, due to how often you’re sent there and immediately told to bugger off again. An item called a linkshell exists in-world, which is essentially a walkie-talkie with infinite range… why isn’t this used instead?
I hear this is being revised in an upcoming patch, but for now it’s a pain in the arse made marginally less sore by a robust travel system. Large Aetheryte crystals teleport you to previously visited towns and cities around the world for a bit of pocket change, and smaller crystals let you jump around big cities easily.

Sufferers of chronic altitis will be pleased to hear one character can level all nine main classes, just by switching their main weapon. Eight of these can be enhanced with a job at level 30+ (Marauder into Warrior, or Pugilist into Monk) with the Arcanist having a choice of two, the lucky devil (Scholar or Summoner). There are a further eight jobs to unlock also. So, counting the eight crafting and three gathering classes, that’s a stonking 29 roles to fill so far, if you’re being conservative.

And you can look like a stern patrician in all of them, if you like

This is where the game both shines and frustrates. Each new ability is well-explained with a pop-up when it first becomes available, plus there’s a player compendium on your hotbar from your first login. This careful approach to introducing unique abilities makes you feel like you’re discovering new aspects of the class as you play which is very compelling. However, it does lead to them feeling very similar at earlier levels and is mildly annoying for those used to a quicker pace.

I still don’t know what all these do…

I’ve only had Pepper for 10 levels, but I’d kill everyone and then myself if anything happened to him

This slow intro isn’t just for class specific abilities – things like your mount (chocobo, obvs.) feel like they come quite late in the game. This particular gripe is alleviated by your Teleport and Return abilities that let use the Aetheryte network to jump around from anywhere, and go back to your home location for free.

Besides your class, you’re constantly drip-fed new ways of spending your time in-game as part of the main story quest. Triple Triad – Top Trumps played on a 3×3 grid – makes a glorious return, as does the Golden Saucer, with multiple gambling games, a lottery, Mahjong, fashion contests and loads more.

Crafting classes give you something to do with the various bobbins you’ve cut off adorable monsters and introduce even more unique quests and characters. Every crafting class also needs materials from other crafting and gathering classes, encouraging cooperation (or multiclassing if you’re a devoted misanthrope like me). You could also just visit the market to get what you need – and while you’re there, you may as well put some of your stuff up for sale…

Bunny girl fetish fuel is free of charge

MMO v1.1

So far, so done before. What makes Final Fantasy XIV special is the amount it crams in, and the polish it puts on as it dusts off those cobwebbed systems:

  • Class switching provides both unique quests and bonus XP for combat classes below your highest-level class.
  • Gathering classes get a stealth ability so they can ignore enemies if they’re doing level-appropriate tasks.
  • In parties, individual aggro is prominently displayed, and flashing lines show both linked groups of enemies and who a monster’s focusing on.
  • Loot is placed into your backpack automatically, and you’ve got 140 main inventory slots and a completely separate backpack for your equippable gear.

Just put all of it in my bag

So nearly kept apart by fate…

Tellingly, it’s when the game could have gone a little bit further that it annoys. When I automatically dismount nine times out of ten, that tenth time really stands out. With role-specific powers shared between classes, why can’t I mix and match abilities (like in Secret World)?. If the game can do a great job of explaining how your class and the world works, why can’t it be clearer how you unlock critical elements like mounts and housing?

Bearing in mind the scope of the game these pale into quite minor niggles, but contrast starkly with the high finish on everything else.

A tale of two-hour cutscenes

The story of FFXIV will be no surprise for veterans. Meaty, length, occasionally convoluted, stuffed with probably too many cutscenes and overly verbose characters… but it really brings the world to life. And if you’re a terrible person (like me), you can just skim the dialogue and still get a feel for the story. Bizarrely I think that speaks quite highly of the writing, if an impatient man like me can skip through it without losing the meaning.

Don’t judge me, I’m a busy man with many dragon nipples to collect.

Uhh, noooo, I said… flagon ripples…

This man has a concern for your menstrual health

Despite the often-cutesy characters and playful dialogue, the game doesn’t shy away from more adult topics. One quest sees you collecting items to give to a woman heavily implied to be suffering from a heavy period, another delivering items to soldiers who joke about wanting to know the gifter more intimately, and the murder of innocents is occasionally touted as the only option. How well these hit the mark perhaps depends on your personal views, but these made the world seem a bit more real to me.
The various optional quests, ongoing events, and mixing of high-and-low-level characters in the same area serve to make Eorzea feel alive and vibrant. It’s the only MMO I’ve ever played where I actually want to play by myself, so I can enjoy the slow story it’s telling and explore the various classes and areas at my own pace.
A treat for the senses

The game is gorgeous. Obviously. It’s a Final Fantasy. There’s a time and weather system that makes the land feel dynamic, character models breathe (occasionally through their breasts like some kind of erotic bullfrog, but a solid B- for effort), their clothing and accessories move and dangle realistically, and never once did I encounter a graphical glitch. Some animations are a bit basic (notably the ‘handing something over’ one which you’ll see a thousand times), but they’re an extra bit of spice on a very flavourful game. NPCs and environments have clearly had the necessary attention to make them feel both fantastical and well-realised.

Sound design is similarly impressive, with satisfying feedback for attacks and crafting and different sounds depending on the result. While I don’t doubt familiar tunes like the chocobo song and city themes will start to drag, I’m tens of hours in and still loving them. I found they’re easy enough to tune out, when you’re not singing along.

Bit of a fixer-upper

I’m in danger…

Other than fetch quests and having to cross a continent for a quick chat and cup of tea, the game seems to understand common player frustrations. Fetch quests are simplified, quest items always drop, resources nodes are player-specific and respawn fast – and are genuinely exciting to stumble across. They spawn very specific items, making you feel like a prospector who’s stumbled across a valuable resource.

So… I’m going to play FFXIV now. You don’t have to. But, like… I think you should.

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