Please, For the Love of Primals, Play Final Fantasy XIV
When I first started playing Final Fantasy XIV at 22 years old I had never in my life touched an MMORPG. I knew of WoW’s reputation, I’d heard about people like that, and I had refused for years to extend my gaming obsession into those realms of no return. I could pour hours into other games but I could do that at my own leisure and with, I convinced myself, far less dignity at stake! I knew how my party members worked in single player games, I could fail endlessly without needing to apologize or get kicked out of parties, and for goodness sake, I wouldn’t be that kind of person.
Oh, you know, an MMORPGer.
But then there was this free trial of Final Fantasy XIV (hereby referred to as FFXIV for the remainder of this narration) and as a lifelong fan of the Final Fantasies, I thought it appropriate that I step in and give it a go. It was a few weeks after my official college graduation in which I still had a summer left to cherish before I left the ivy-laced walls of academia for the cold, cruel cubicles of the real world. Sadly, I did have to take a class that summer and I am proud to say I did indeed finish Statistics I — to the beatific notes of a C-.
So, needless to say, being only partially employed and taking a small break from the rigors of higher education, I spent much of this summer exploring the sprawling world of Eorzea. And I, like most small saplings in their first few weeks of taking steps, had no clue what the hell I was doing. To this day, I remain in blissful ignorance for the most part, although with a perhaps healthy addition of not caring nearly as much as I did about it.
I shall never forget the day that I booted up the dowloaded game, (at the time it was only a Realm Reborn, the base game revamped from it’s decidedly less stellar origins) a process that had taken hours to complete, and logged into the character creation screen. Here, clearly, is where I spent most of that first day. There were five races to decide upon at the time, which were basically: human, elf, hobbit, large peoples, and a cat. I, of discerning tastes and higher standards than most, obviously chose the best one.
(Obviously, though, this is not me. He is, some would say, better)
You put cat ears on people and I am the first to say “hm, no, that is suspect!” but you allow my cat-eared female warrior to don thick armor and bash in the skulls of reanimated undead in a pirate’s den? I will not complain. In fact, I will hand you my money, thank you, because this is precisely what I want to do. If I am to be adorable, than by God I want to be fierce too.
Now I am wont to chose to play as close to myself as possible in these kinds of games which is, I gather, not particularly common nor rare. Always, my characters are female. Always, they are blonde. And, now, also, they are cat.
My class of selection was initially Pugalist, because I, of less than brilliant punching ability in real life, need to live out some fantasies. I leveled it until I decided I wanted to switch to knives, run like a Naruto character, and jump about enemies like a reckless maniac. Thus, I became a Ninja. Now my first few weeks of FFXIV were spent getting acquainted with a world that I began to feel I had no possible business being in. I was, at best, a slightly dirty casual. I did not know mechanics. I died in the middle of the open world and got rezzed occasionally by veteran players running by and witnessing my rotting corpse being stepped upon by giant efts. As a nervous person in real life, you can imagine the stress my first dungeon put on me! I mean, wow, you are telling me that I must play this game, an MMORPG, with other people. That they must depend on me for tactical moves and quick decision making? The stress! I have never shook so hard as my first play through Haukke Manor — as a DPS, let me remind you — after reading assiduously through the mechanics. It took me days to work up the nerve to enter that dungeon!
I am proud to announce that now, years and many expansions later, I barely bat an eyelash at entering dungeons with random folks. I do however, cry at my potential failings in new Trials and cannot fathom doing endgame raiding with my deplorable HUD setup and slippage, slowly, into absolutely feral casual fan. I say casual because this game is not about raiding for me. It is fun, now, to learn new mechanics, but in the beginning I had an absolutely delightful time simply exploring the open world and talking to NPCs and furthering the main storyline and getting into fashion. Ah, yes, fashion, the true endgame.
Story is still my favorite part aside from meeting up with friends, both in the game and IRL who also have accounts, and having an absurd amount of fun simply jumping around next to each other and spamming emotes. But when I am not doing such a frivolous thing, I am running the MSQ that I am now, finally, almost caught up to (perhaps this time I can join an expac at launch!) And it’s true that FFXIV has a beautifully realized, breathtakingly deep, lore-heavy story. And by God, is there a lot of dialogue.
I wish I could tell you what FFXIV is about, story wise. Sadly, I do not know where to start. There is a calamity, lots of Gods that you absolutely must slay, and nation-states whose inner political workings you become uncomfortably privy too. It starts off with unfriendly “beast tribes” summoning their unholy Gods, but then you slowly become embroiled in a plot regarding other mysterious figures, more Gods, and an evil empire. But above all else, there are these humble little NPCs called the Scions of the Seventh Dawn that guide you on your journey.
At first it all feels very…well, normal. It was really nothing special to me at first, and I actually took some years playing FFXIV to finish the base game and advance into Heavensward which I did just last year, even though I’ve been playing (on and off — heavens who has the money and time for consistent subscriptions!) for around five years. I guess repetition bred familiarity, and eventually sowed the seeds for love because by the time I got into Shadowbringers I realized that I would absolutely die for these characters in the game and, also outside of it. Which, I guess, multiple times throughout the story is something my character almost did.
This is unlike other MMORPGS of a similar nature, I’ve heard, in that these characters are as central to the story as you are. And it isn’t just the Scions. What FFXIV excels in, if you’re of the mind to invest in its story, is creating a whole range of characters from all different backgrounds, kingdoms, and loyalties. Even enemies are endearing here. And when you meet a character you love you’re bound to see them pop up again, sometimes to assist you in battle. And that feeling itself is massively rewarding. Small, one-off missions become bigger and bigger as plot lines converge. Optional dungeons hold wealths of lore and new cutscenes, with some now being essential to the main storyline’s progression (staring at you, Crystal Tower).
At the risk of sounding too much like a fangirl, (which, I confess, I am) what I love most about what FFXIV does is that aside from immersion, which is important, it creates a space in which you can explore the story and world at your leisure. It feels massive in scope, to the point that I liken it to fantasy greats like Game of Thrones and Lord of Rings but perhaps with an even greater need for meticulous planning because there are simply so many moving parts, characters, and storylines that layer on top of one another. Unlike a book or a movie that follows a more linear progression of story, FFXIV has to be expansive by design for its very application and allow for “off-roading”, so to speak, within its world. It’s got a wealth of stories. Stories for jobs, classes, grand companies, quest chains for characters, optional dungeons and raids, etc, etc, etc.
There are honestly so many directions it can take, it’s a wonder it won’t go on forever. So it takes its time, this game. Slowly injecting the world with more and more until it feels vivid and fresh and you wander wide-eyed into it once more, a sprout all over again. (I say sprout because you get these little green icons above your head as a new player and — ah, I digress.) And when some of the smaller, more intimate story elements come back into play, sometimes after years of being dormant, the payoff is immensely well thought out. Planning with FFXIV is honestly top notch.
I doesn’t hurt that exploring this world is also, hunting aether currents NOTWITHSTANDING, a joy. When you arrive in new areas they seems to connect and interact and breathe with the stories they hold. It’s a very beautiful game.
And although the graphics are dated by standards of more modern games, they still standout as being very lovingly crafted with the engines provided. They tell their visual stories exceptionally well. I can certainly see FFXIV with better textures, but I also don’t really need them. In a way, I’m sure just like World of Warcraft and many other long-running games, the slightly older graphics are endearing. And this isn’t too say they’re at all too unwatchable. If anything, they’re even more lovely than more modern games in their diversity of art, design, and personality.
Now I don’t want to wax poetic all day about the game’s stories, themes, and locales. I want to say more about why I, a usually casual player, came to love this game and its community. Because I feel like sometimes with these kinds of very hyped, very popular, and longstanding games (especially online) there is a bit of an invisible gate that tends to keep new players, even gamers in general new to MMOs, out. I want to dispel that assumption, ultimately, because I have spent many years in this community (at the sacrifice of other monthly subscription services) playing this game at a very basic level of expertise and I have adored most of if not all of those times.
I am not a very good player. I am middling, at best, and I am only level 80 in one class. I think I know this game well and then, oh no, I’m not even close to most veteran players even though I have been playing sometimes far longer than some of them. Six years, to be precise, with this game in the background of my life. For all the horrid reputations MMORPG players produce, I am here to announce that — no, fortunately, that will not be you sitting there only ever playing FFXIV for all hours of the day. Given our current situation you might find yourself dedicating a good chunk of time to it, but that’s to be said for any hobby while we’re all staying inside more. Why, when I’m queued for dungeons I even cook, do dishes, do some push ups, and pull the aphids off my lavender plant! And gosh, aphids are small little things.
There is definitely a steeper learning curve than most games in that eventually you have to understand your rotations and the mechanics of fights and each time they get progressively more difficult to master. It isn’t for the casual of heart, in that case. But, like a puzzle, finally realizing where all of the mechanics line up, finding patterns in entropy, and making a split second decision that saves a wipe — it’s a good, excellent feeling in brain power! And most of the other players are friendly and willing to help, which is a gratifying fact that I am very thankful for. They are, also, and I say this with much pride, delightfully hilarious.
In a time when the world seems a bit lost, and maybe you are too, it’s good to escape for a while. And for people who might find being at home more lonely than others, FFXIV offers a wonderful remedy. Friends can be found almost anywhere, across the world, and you all have a built-in unifying thing to bond over — the very game you’re all playing! You can join Free Companies, which consists of other players you can befriend, and a new novice network to connect to fellow green leaves. It makes the game so much more fun when you run through content together!
Gosh, I got a bit sentimental with that one! My initial intention for this post was to come from a different, albeit far from unfamiliar, angle when recommending this game. Namely, it has excellent puns. It’s quest names are tongue-in-cheek and the serious subject matter of the game is offset as a reminder that this is, in fact, a game we are meant to be enjoying. There are some very important quests that must be taken with names like “Ifrit Bleeds, Kill It”, “Sir, Doust Thou Even Heft?”, “It’s Probably Pirates”, “It’s Definitely Pirates”, “You Have Selected Regicide”, and “Shut Up and Take My Gil.”
FFXIV is light in that sense. For every heavy quest, there is an abundance of laughs to be had. Other players do concerts in cities. There are people dancing everywhere. Also Urianger (and do try to pronounce that correctly, I first ended up with “Yur-ee-anne-jur” but it is definitely not that) speaks extremely old fashioned, way older fashioned than most of the characters, if for no other reason that he likes to. He’s read one too many books on the matter and has decided that’s how he should go about things, thank you very much. So his countless lines are a source of endless entertainment and eye-rolling. Sometimes I joke with my friends who also play that I’m slowly becoming more like him as I write work emails to the point of nauseating formality. Although, my recent appreciation of stories set in the Edwardian and Victorian periods might also be to blame.
If you’re not thinking of giving FFXIV a try after all of this posturing well, then, that’s fine. I like to talk to myself too, sometimes. Get everything out in the open. But I do hope if you’re looking for a new game, even if its one that’s ideally not an MMO, you might give it a try! You can play on PS4 too, if you have one of those, or PC! Here’s the link for the free trial. Which, it so happens, has been extended up to level 60 and includes the first expansion Heavensward! Oh, and if you do it give it a shot be sure to let me know! I’m on the Faerie server, and I absolutely love new friends.
May the Twelve be with you, friends! ❤