So, I managed to get my hands on a beta key… awesome!
The game is still in beta format, but I’ve logged a good amount of hours on it and I’ll give you my initial experience.
The first thing that strikes you is the graphics. They are very polished, even at this stage. Everything looks fantastic and the level of detail that they’ve managed to achieve on such a large and massively multiplayer game is impressive. I cannot understate how devastatingly pretty this game is.
The universe is quite charming and extremely ‘square’. You can instantly tell that you’re playing a game made by square just by the look of the character skins, the towns and the level design, and this is before you spot people whizzing around on chocobos, moogles delivering letters and hear the tell-tale musical ambience that is so engrained in the long and inconsistently brilliant series.
The music is a bit patchy at the minute, but you can tell that the aim is ambient scores that fade seamlessly into battle music and back again when you encounter and vanquish a beast of some kind. There is none of the randome encounters that some people love and others seem to hate, you peruse the area and press tab until you target the thing you want to kill.
The standard ‘victory tune’ (we all know the one I mean) blasts when you level up, a shiver running down my spine the first time it happened. Basically, they’re doing all they can to make this MMO seem like a Final Fantasy game.
When I started the game up for the first time, it detected that I had an Xbox360 controller plugged in and announced that I could use that instead of a keyboard and mouse. In the interests of science, I tried it for a few hours.
I have to say, it doesn’t work too badly once you get the hang of it, but it makes targeting enemies a long and difficult process. I’d use keyboard and mouse if I were you. It’s playable, but awkward.
At the minute, there’s no voice acting in the game, but the script that you read (old school) is written in an oddly anglicised way, with accents from all reaches of the UK written in to it. I hope this means that they’ll be staying away from the cheesy americans that so plague the series and make certain characters impossible to like.
The races are the usual Final Fantasy fare, with some influence being taken from D&D races (there’s your human and elf races and an ork-ish race etc.). They all look great, if a little anime-ish.
Whilst the beta only let you play as three classes, it did show the list of classes that will be in the game. This is where we become a little disappointed because it seems like there’s a continuation of the tendency for MMO’s of late to remove the roles from role-playing games.
I suspected that there would be the black mage (attacking magic) and the white mage (defensive and healing magic), but the mage in the game was clearly a red mage (bit of both, master of nothing). They want the player to be able to complete the game on their own and in my opinion this is why MMO’s of late have had awful communities. Why discourage players from teaming up to complete missions? I really wish an MMO would break this trend.
The storyline, at the start of the game at least, seems to be exactly the same regardless of race or class. I hope this isn’t the case, because this would severely reduce replay value for me. No light is gleamed on the endgame from the beta, but it’s got to exist after Guild Wars 2… That’s another review entirely.
After playing the beta for a significant amount of time however, I realised something. It hit me like a brick in the face…
…Aside from the shine and the polish, I’ve played this game before… lots of times. This game doesn’t do anything interesting or new. It does the same stuff that every MMO does, and with more fiddly controls. Two examples of this are the fact that you can’t move whilst charging a skill/spell and targeting the enemy you want to attack can be clunky (especially when there’s 20 players piling onto an event).
This is the tragic thing about the game; the fact that it hasn’t done anything aside from looking fantastic means that if it charges any kind of subscription for the game, it’s just not worth it. Too many competitors are free to play, and do the genre arguably more justice.
Single player Final Fantasies (well, most of them anyway) are great. They are a set of games that everyone should have a go at, but Square have made the mistake of including its MMO exploits in the series main, breaking up the series with what is effectively a side project (and expensive one at that! Subscription fees have been unbelievable for their MMO games so far.).
Now, I’m all for Square making MMO’s, and I wouldn’t even mind if they stuck the Final Fantasy name on it, but Final Fantasy XI and XIV should have been called Final Fantasy: Online and Online II.
You can make an MMO feel like a Final Fantasy game, but it still isn’t one… It’s a branded MMO-RPG.
Am I excited for the release? Meh, not anymore.