After 300 hours of playtime across 18 months, I’ve finally finished Final Fantasy XIV‘s MSQ. Watching the end credits scroll I realized that I had just wrapped up one of the great gaming experiences of my life. A game which genuinely made me reconsider what the genre, heck even the entire medium, could achieve in the realm of storytelling.
But it wasn’t a journey that was without its ups and downs. The very fact that it took me well over a year to get through the main story is revealing in and of itself. Sure 300 hours is a considerable amount of time to spend in any single game but spread over 18 months that’s only about 16 hours a month.
I didn’t play this game in such a steady manner though. Rather, the bulk of that playtime came in a handful of frenzied weeks, at moments where the story picked up enough momentum to have me desperate to log in. This mostly coincided with the end of each of the game’s expansions and would subside when a new one began.
So FFXIV is, in many ways a game of two extremes. There are things I absolutely adored and things which frankly almost made me throw in the towel altogether at many points in my journey. In keeping with the moral of Endwalker‘s story though (don’t worry, no spoilers here), you can’t have the good without the bad, hence why this list weaves the things I loved with the things I didn’t.
Okay, so this one isn’t terribly uncommon in modern MMOs, but the fact that there’s an ongoing effort to make the main story as soloable as possible is a major boon. I recently wrote a little about how much I’ve been enjoying story-driven MMOs and a big part of that is the feeling of still playing in a shared space, but being able to do stuff on my own and at my own pace. The old introvert thing of enjoying being around other people, but without the pressure of being forced into actually maintaining some form of person-to-person interaction.
The dev team are currently in the process of converting all of the MSQ’s four-player duty missions into solo dungeons, but after that I’m hoping the eight-player trials will get a similar treatment. Some people don’t want to be subjected to the MMO experience at all, and when a game’s story is this dang good it’d be a shame for them to miss out on it because of the anxiety that comes with having to group up.
Didn’t Love: Combat is tough
Look, I’m not good at videogames. It’s probably one of the main reasons I play MMOs. I like to explore, collect things, and just generally have a chill time. I’ve never really played games ‘for the challenge’.
Most of the time that isn’t a problem because MMO combat is relatively undemanding outside of endgame raiding and PvP. Some of those mandatory duties and trials in FFXIV had me seriously tearing my hair out though. I have neither the reaction times nor the spatial awareness to keep track of everything that’s happening on screen as well as trying to keep my combat rotation going.
Solo-duty missions give you the option to switch to an easy-mode version of the instance if you fail. Once all the four-player dungeons are made solo-able I don’t think it would hurt to give them the easy-mode treatment too.
Loved: Friendly playerbase
Bless the Final Fantasy XIV community for being so danged forgiving when I just couldn’t help but continually make a hash of the mechanics in each dungeon’s boss fights.
I never joined a Free Company so all of my group runs were from the game’s exceptionally easy-to-use dungeon finder tool. Not once did I encounter any kind of offensive trolling, bursts of anger, or rage quitting. On more than one occasion I would have given up on a boss fight had my PUG allies not rallied me to try ‘one more time’ when I was convinced I just didn’t have the reaction times necessary to pull us through.
Didn’t Love: Slow pace
As such, it wasn’t the game’s difficult spots which stalled my progress, but the moments in the MSQ where everything seemed to slow to a crawl. I can’t really explain this any better than JoCat did in this lengthy, but very much worth watching YouTube video.
The questing in this game simply isn’t fun. Sometimes there isn’t really any questing at all and you can play for an hour at a time without doing anything which would actually constitute gameplay. Running from one end of the map to the other only to be subjected to nothing but another lengthy monologue genuinely had me yearning for a good old-fashioned ‘kill 10 rats’ quest at some points.
Loved: The story and worldbuilding
Yes, the pacing is uneven, but my goodness if it doesn’t all come together in the end. Each expansion’s story works on roughly the same formula: solve the problems which ail the peoples of each landmasses individual provinces before rallying them all for one final push to overthrow the evil regime.
This simplistic plot however offers a huge amount of freedom in exploring the larger history of the world(s) and their peoples, and FFXIV goes all in on making sure everything ties together in a satisfying manner.
Do a YouTube search for ‘FFXIV lore’ and you’ll find a whole bunch of videos and even entire channels combing over every aspect of the game and for good reason. After nine years, a relaunch, and four expansions, the world of FFXIV already feels as expansive as decades-old franchises like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings and there’s still so much room for the story to grow in the years to come.
Didn’t Love: The Cringe
Oh, the cringe. I’m going to be honest, I was put off from playing this game – like so many other MMOs – for the longest time because of certain elements that just don’t sit well with me.
Anime cat/bunny girls/guys, the childlike Lalafell, the game’s oft-mocked ERP scene. Not to mention the genre-obligatory lewd armor options. At face value this game is kind of embarassing, especially if you share a house with someone who isn’t keyed into the whole anime thing.
So that my two cats can come and go as they please, I generally don’t close the door to the spare room where my desktop sits. There were a handful of occasions *cough* Costa del Sol *cough* where I found myself rushing through cutscenes for fear that my fiancée would walk by and see what I was playing.
That isn’t how I want to be spending my gaming time.
Loved: Genuine Emotion
One aspect of the game’s cringe factor is that it 100% wears its heart on its sleeve. That can be jarring at first (particularly to a western audience), but once you bend your mind to FFXIV‘s way of doing dialogue, it’s a breath of fresh air in a media landscape which is so often saturated with cynicism, irony, and an inability to let a serious moment sit without throwing in a quip.
Because of this the game can handle complex villains rather than lean on one-dimensional threats. You can form real emotional connections with your fellow Scions. And when, in the latter stages of the game, you’re confronted with really rather thought-proving philosophical questions and existential themes, it feels deserved.
It may seem like a bold claim, but Final Fantasy XIV is, in my opinion, one of the great pieces of romantic art of our times.
Loved: The music
And what is romantic art without a musical element? People will tell you that FFXIV only gets good at the end of A Realm Reborn, or in the Heavensward expansion. And yes, there’s a step up in the storytelling department at these moments in the game. What really hooked me around this time however was the music.
Masayoshi Soken’s score is a consistently great MMO soundtrack. But my goodness, the collaborations between composer Nobuo Uematsu and vocalist Susan Calloway which cap off A Realm Reborn, Heavensward, and Stormblood just quite simply make the spirit soar. Yes, that may seem a little purple, but in the spirit of the game, why mince words?
Then there are the quieter moments – some of which aren’t afraid to pilfer from Final Fantasy‘s rich 35-year history. The track below, adapted from a Final Fantasy IV number, was a particular highlight for me. Coming so close to the end of the game it just seemed to stop me in my tracks, making me sit and acknowledge for a brief moment, the beauty of the world to which a small part of me now belonged.
I started playing Final Fantasy XIV because I kept hearing how great the story was; how it was the new benchmark for MMOs. I didn’t intend to stick around. I didn’t expect to find a home. But now I’ve finished the journey I set out to accomplish I feel a genuine pang of sadness at the thought of moving onto pastures new.
I don’t think it’ll be long before I return to Eorzea.