Writing about this game is surprisingly difficult. It’s an MMO – yes. It is seemingly one of the most played MMOs right now and – with the World of Warcraft exodus of players to the world of Eorzea – in the spotlight of many theme park MMO players.
Obviously, MMOs are by definition games which cannot really be „completed“, so this genre seems a rather good fit for someone who calls himself an Incompletionist. I started playing the game in 2014, after being turned off by WoW: Mists of Pandaria and disappointed by Star Wars: Old Republic, Guild Wars 2, and Tera.
In 2014, I was not seeing myself as a ‘progress player’ anymore and due to family and kids I had no time left for raiding schedules, preparations, DKP, and the like. Also, I have not played FFXIV straight on since then. There have been longer breaks in between when I did not subscribe at all and even left for longer periods of time.
When writing about a game like Final Fantasy XIV, I wonder what should make the topic of this post after all? The difference to other MMOs? A walkthrough on the story? Another strength and weakness list? Difficult. With clocking more than 2000 hours until today, it could still be interesting to talk a bit about what – made – me play so long. Which aspects of FFXIV – game and domain related – made me come back and re-continue my journey over time?
So, let’s see.
Story and agency
For me, story is important. I need to know why I am doing what I am doing and how my actions are embedded in a believable world with characters who are persistent and evolve around me. The story aspect of FFXIV is always mentioned as one of the strengths of the game, because a well told and believable story is often seen as a conundrum in MMOs.
From the MMOs I mentioned above, only Guild Wars 2 is following a comparable story approach to FFXIV, told through its Living Story seasons. Star Wars Old Republic is also story-driven, with very interesting class and universal stories. Blade & Soul also has a quite narrative story, which is buried under meaningless side-quests over time. Other MMOs, like WoW or Tera, let you feel like a random dude and you participate in large story arcs that tell the story around you, which turns your agency in it to zero. Coupled with a horrendous quest design, providing 30 word quest descriptions that task you to collect 40 boar tongues does not make questing any fun at all.
In FFXIV the story is told in a very detailed and lengthy manner. Even side quests have a lot to tell you and are mini stories in their own regard, some better, some worse across expansions.
But what the game is doing exceptionally well is placing me in the center circle of events by calling me the Warrior of Light, no matter which job/class I am (see below). This means you are a well-known personality in Eorzea. People know you, recognize you, and call for your help for specific reasons. In the main story questline you are even the motive for why people cause trouble. Often, quest givers even excuse themselves for asking you to do something for them, or quest texts refer to your Warrior of Light status tongue-in-cheek when solving more mundane quests. This allows me to experience agency in a world where tens of thousands of other players are doing the same tasks as myself, and still make me feel that I am the real Warrior of Light.
Honestly I am not sure, why this is not more often mentioned and strengthened as a quality when people talk about MMOs or games in general. The soundtrack in FFXIV is exceptional on so many levels without becoming boring or repetitive, that I have a hard time thinking on other MMOs who can keep up to this quality.
Masayoshi Soken is the composer of almost all tracks since Realm Reborn and through every expansion you can hear and listen how he became better and better. Some tracks are so good, I still want to listen to them outside of the game during work or watch videos of The Primals, the official FFXIV band; all members are Square Enix people by the way.
In Trials (8 players) and Raids (24 players) the score often shifts from boss phases into a more heavy-rock’ish tune, which provides an awesome texture and complements to the intensity of the battle.
For reference I have highlighted some of my favorites down below:
- Oblivion (Shiva Extreme) – The Primals (Live Zepp Tour 2018)
- Titania’s Theme – Trial and Boss fight footage (Shadowbringers)
- Titania’s Theme – Live from FFXIV Fan Fest 2021
- Lakshmi’s Theme – Trial and Boss fight footage (Stormblood)
- The Great Gubal Library (Extended) – Dungeon Soundtrack (Heavensward)
- A Long Fall – The Primals – Official Music Video
Obviously, when you grow older, time seems to become more of a thing. This results in evaluating time spent to outcome in a quite interesting manner, as I start to engage in gaming activities when I have the feeling that the time spent is worthy of a proposed outcome. Or quit, when I think the game is disregarding or stealing my available time (well, not as often as I should…).
MMOs have a bad reputation in that regard, as many systems have been then implemented to keep people playing the game, even when they have finished the end-game content. A very common MMO game design aspect here is most prominently known as twinking; when you level a second character class and you have to replay the entire game and story again. World of Warcraft, SWTOR, Tera, Guild Wars 2, etc. they all follow this foul paradigm of fake replayability.
In my opinion, this has always been an utter waste of time and a massive disregard for the time of players. Also, this prohibits experimenting with classes and punishes you, when you started with a class that you end up not liking in endgame.
Final Fantasy XIV is providing here a system for changing your ‚classes‘ called jobs, on the fly. So I started with a Paladin as my main class in 2014, changed to a Dark Knight on Heavensward, and added a Dancer in Shadowbringers. And all my progress is still there – it is still the same character with all experiences, drops, achievements, items, and retainers as before. I cannot believe, that such time-respecting systems have not made it into more games in 2021.
Because instead of adding more game time through leveling alts/twinking, FFXIV provides so much content around the Main Story, that there is no reason to start a completely new character at all. Every minute I spend in FFXIV is therefor contributing to the growth or development of my character. There is simply no ‚wasted‘ time unless I decide to waste time on purpose.
Additionally, this system helps contribute to the agency aspect mentioned before. I have job quests and storylines that introduce me to the mindset of each new job, as well as the feeling of “learning something new”; not only as a player, but also as my in-game character.
In short – I love my guild. Not only because they are super nice people but because they care and maintain the guild for us members, who cannot continuously play and only log in from month to month or year to year. We are only seven members in our guild and only three of them still play regularly (in another more active guild), but they keep the old guild active through their alt-characters for us, whenever we return.
And when we do, all come together to say hello, cheer, hug, and celebrate the coming back together. It’s always feels like returning home.
These guys are the best.
Compared to other MMO communities other players in FFXIV are distinctively nice and supporting. I can remember only three bad experiences with players behaving toxic in dungeons or raids. And when this happened, it felt so off and awful, simply because it is so rarely happening.
All the other times, players will wait when you disconnect, help you with tactics, forgive mistakes and support you, when you need help in your job role. And I too love to explain tactics to new players, be easy on mistakes and further support this community as best as I can.
Giving back is something very rewarding and whenever I help people out, it is really appreciated. This is a very strong aspect of returning to the game, because I know, that even when I forgot the strategies on some boss, people won’t be toxic, but help and support. I have already collected more than 2000 commendation points, and always give out commendations to other players.
And that is just awesome.
Nier – Raid
Although the New-Raid is within the new batch of content in Shadowbringers, I have to say that this is one of the best collaborations with two game worlds I cherish. Yoko Taro and Naoki Yoshida are so different in their understanding of how to design a game for players, but the fusion here is exceptionally remarkable.
The placement and setting in the story of FFXIV is for sure a bit staged, but the story around the raid is a great experience. All three raids are awesome in terms of strategy and visuals; especially, when you also have played Nier Automata.
And – of course – the music is again fantastic. If you have not yet listened to the great soundtrack of Nier Automata, you should definitely start here.
It remains difficult, to highlight all the aspects of why I like to play FFXIV so much and always keep returning to the game. And of course, there are many more aspects to be mentioned, like the exceptional care for detail in graphics and environments, even in side quests or places hardly anyone will ever visit. Or the great flow of combat in max-level jobs. Or how distinctively different all jobs play and are balanced out. Or what an awesome crafting system they have cooked up. Or the token system to purchase end-game armor that eliminates random loot from bosses in dungeons, so I can advance my gear for raids.
There is so much well done, that it is difficult to think what I do not like in FFXIV. Sure, the game still has tons of grind to keep players locked; it is an MMO after all. But I experience grind only as awful when it’s boring and done for artificially stretching out my progress in a game. But when grind is embedded in a meaningful world and story, time-respecting mechanics, and activities, that are still fun to do after hundreds of repetitions, I even enjoy playing the starter dungeons for the 347th time.
What I also feel in every second of playing the game is the passion, enthusiasm, and love of the developers that goes into the many details within texts, graphics, music, and a lot of humor and fun (Hildibrand’s Questline!)
Something that is too rarely appreciated and felt in games these days.The Incompletionist