You could call me a sucker, and I would deserve it. I pre-ordered the Collector’s Edition of Final Fantasy XIV before it was released in 2010. Having done so, I was invited to join the beta test in progress, and so I got to play a bit of the game before it came out. I was not pleased… but being the diehard Final Fantasy fan that I was, I stubbornly refused to cancel my pre-order. When the game arrived on my doorstep, I did not open it. Instead, I waited for the reviews. When they began to show up, they were scathing. My Final Fantasy XIV Collector’s Edition remains unopened on my shelf to this very day. But that’s not why I’m a sucker. I’m a sucker because I recently pre-ordered the Collector’s Edition of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, Square Enix’s redesigned game and desperate attempt to restore faith in their brand. So it was with a double helping of buyer’s remorse that I visited the Square Enix booth at E3 2013.
You ever notice how when you have incredibly high hopes for something that it is easy to be disappointed, but by contrast if you have no expectations whatsoever, you tend to be pleasantly surprised? I can’t think of any other reason that I would walk away from Bethesda’s booth one day completely let down by Elder Scrolls Online and from Square Enix’s booth the next actually looking forward to Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn! If you’re curious about why Elder Scrolls Online was a let down, I’ll be writing about it at a later date (edit: link), but here’s the short version: It feels more like other MMORPGs than an Elder Scrolls game, at least in terms of single player questing and fighting enemies. On the other hand, the part of Final Fantasy XIV I got to play was a boss battle with a group of other E3 attendees, so it may have just been a part of the game with more potential for fun to begin with.
In any case, I enjoyed the heck out of that boss battle. My team of 8 (including myself) was challenged with taking down Ifrit, one of the summoned monsters that makes a frequent appearance throughout the Final Fantasy series. Making up the party was a balanced collection of characters designed to each take a role in the usual MMORPG trinity of tank, DPS (damage) and healer. I ended up on a PC playing as an Archer, one of the DPS classes. On my hotbar was a dizzying array of abilities capable of varying degrees of damage output. Honestly during the fight I was pressing the buttons at random, because being a raid style encounter, I had to watch out for danger zones and I didn’t have a lot of time to analyze the skills.
As you might expect from a fight against Ifrit, there was fire everywhere. “Don’t stand in the fire,” was the name of the game, and having played my fair share of MMORPGs, I felt right at home hearing that advice. Actually I was hearing a lot of advice as during this demo there was an announcer amplified around the booth giving instructions and commentating. That helped quite a bit in getting the team organized, but not quite enough.
We managed to get Ifrit’s health down to about 50%, at which point an Infernal Fetter appeared on the battlefield. The announcer tried to get us to destroy it, but most of the DPS remained focused on Ifrit, and after a moment, Ifrit unleashed Hellfire, wiping us all out immediately. Fortunately we had some time left, so with lessons learned, we started the battle over. I knew the visual effects that preceded area-of-effect damage, and got out of the way before they triggered. The healers were more effective, the tanks were holding aggro and the DPS were backing off if Ifrit focused on them. And when the Infernal Fetter appeared again, after a brief moment of confusion and more frantic announcing, we finally focused our damage on it. Everything was going according to plan. The Infernal Fetter was almost destroyed! But… Hellfire came again. The crowd I had not noticed before groaned and the announcer began sputtering consolations.
But we weren’t dead.
I can only assume nearly destroying the Infernal Fetter weakened the power of Ifrit’s attack! Either that or someone managed to give us a defensive buff. In either case, the battle went on, and soon the pace became more hectic. “Don’t stand in the fire,” they said. But this was becoming harder to obey. Ifrit’s attacks were becoming more frequent as the remaining life dwindled. At the very end, players were falling left in right, but the few remaining delivered the final blow and… we all got polo shirts. Yay!
Actually, I got a lot more than that. I walked away with a renewed sense of hope that Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn might now be the game that Final Fantasy XIV should have been in 2010. Granted, I only spent 10 minutes with a very small slice of the game. For all I know at this point it could be 30 hours in between each great moment like the one I had just experienced. Maybe the solo grind is more of the same thing I experienced in Elder Scrolls Online. There are certainly a million things that could still go wrong. But for what’s it’s worth, I played Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn… and I had a damn good time.