A quick history lesson. In the beginning, there was Final Fantasy XIV, an MMO of such insultingly poor quality that its players revolted and demanded more. Aside from the terrible controls and distinctly inferior storytelling, there were so many major bugs that the whole thing bordered on unplayable.
That was 2010. Fast forward to 2013 and things switched gear. Embarrassed by the game's failures, Square Enix decided that a complete re-launch, a complete rebuild, in fact, would be better than trying to fix the game's numerous ills. From that thinking, A Realm Reborn was, um, born and unleashed upon PC and PlayStation 3 users to great critical and commercial success.
Fast forward again, to present day 2014, and that version is now available on PlayStation 4. And running on Sony's new-gen hardware, this fairy tale comeback kid of an MMO has never looked or played better.
A major part of A Realm Reborn's initial charm comes from the quality and diversity of its visuals, a side of the game that is accentuated beautifully by the PS4's superior processing power. Its setting of Eorzea is a heady mixture of high fantasy and Earth-like familiarity - combining to create a world that you simply can't help but want to explore and engage with. Being a Final Fantasy aficionado doesn't hurt either, as there's a wealth of visual references to past games in the series that are sure to tickle those strings of nostalgia nestling inside you.
This PS4 edition is, unsurprisingly and in every way, a graphically superior proposition to playing on PS3. But more importantly, here's an MMO that looks as good on console as it does on a PC running 'high' settings. Genuinely, there's no discernible difference between the PC and PS4 editions, and it's difficult not to wax lyrical about how good it looks for the duration of this review. But we'll try.
An engaging aesthetic is the shallow side of A Realm Reborn's charms, however. Its real quality comes from its enormous depth and flexibility. The act of levelling up, for example, is swift and (relatively) painless.
Aside from the primary story and side quests that you pick up as you venture deeper into Eorzea, there are abundant dungeons to delve in to, ad-hoc community missions to complete, materials to be crafted, guilds to be joined, jobs to be mastered, daily quests to complete and all manner of checklists to be ticked off.
While these options are present and correct in many of A Realm Reborn's peers, it's the seamless way in which they're integrated with one another that's impressive here. Many of these actions can be completed in unison once you've gotten a firm grasp on how the game works, significantly increasing the rate at which you're able to level up. Thankfully, this goes a long way to remove the 'grind' phenomenon that is so prevalent throughout the genre.
"Genuinely, there's no discernible difference between the PC and PS4 editions"
Giving players the ability to level up quickly is a smart move on Square Enix's part given that the Final Fantasy name is sure to attract an audience significantly wider than simply MMO veterans. For the first 25 levels (you're currently capped at 50) progression is especially quick and new elements are added with welcome regularity. This is sure to please genre newcomers and do much to convince them that there's ample here for them to enjoy.
First and foremost to such enjoyment is the epic nature of the narrative, a story that sits comfortably alongside the most dramatic this series has yet to offer. There are a number of quests that stand out as lazy filler designed to artificially lengthen the narrative arc, but largely the plot is, in itself, enough to encourage progression.
What's more, once you reach a certain level you're able to change character class at will. It's impossible to overstate just how important this is in terms of the freedom it provides, as you always feel safe in the knowledge that you can re-customise your approach whenever you see fit. In effect, you needn't worry so much about making the 'wrong' levelling decisions.
It's disappointing, though, that the tutorial system is so poorly designed. In some cases, the only way to garner useful information on a certain game mechanic or a specific in-game item is through trial and error. Either that or you hop online and absorb information from those more experienced than you.
Case in point: eating food bought at markets or acquired during combat or missions results in you gaining a small XP bonus or other effect for a limited time (usually 30 minutes), but this is not explained to you through normal play. Such bonuses are small, around 3% in most cases, but over the long haul such an increase becomes immensely valuable to the point that you'd be stupid not to take advantage of it. Therefore, it's irritating that the value of food is not made more obvious, and even MMO lovers will get caught out.
"Navigating through the game is intuitive using a control pad"
Additionally, the map system is extremely fiddly to get to grips with when you first start playing. In part this is due to the way it has been mapped to the PS4 pad, but in bigger part it's down to the fact that the tutorial simply doesn't teach you how to interact with it.
Interestingly, this is much less of a problem if you've plugged a USB/bluetooth mouse and keyboard into your PS4 - demonstrating, perhaps, that the tutorials have been designed with PC players in mind.
Once you've got the hang of it, however, navigating through the game as a whole is intuitive using the control pad. The only modification between the controls here and those on the PS3 is the addition of touchpad support for PS4 players, allowing you to drag a cursor around on the screen in the same way you would a mouse. Frankly, the delicacy of touch required to utilise the feature makes it an unviable alternative to simply scrolling through onscreen options using the buttons - especially during combat when your party is relying on you to act quickly.
As with so much here, the touchpad represents an option that you can use or disregard completely. That freedom, that ability to take what you want from a game that offers so much is A Realm Reborn's greatest achievement and an approach that the genre as a whole should do more to embrace.
The best Final Fantasy game in years and the finest MMO you can currently play on a console.
- Enormous depth and variety of content
- Areas look beautiful and feel unique
- Overall intuitive controls
- Some quests lack intrigue.
- Tutorials don't always include finer details