Final Fantasy 14: Stormblood breathes life into tired MMO tropes

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I've always thought it was a tragedy that Final Fantasy 14 is doomed to be the estranged cousin of the series. Being an MMO, it immediately appeals to a different bunch than the sort who enjoy turn-based combat and singleplayer exploration. But make no mistake, Final Fantasy 14: Stormblood isn't just good by MMO standards—it's the best Final Fantasy I've played in years.

That I'm saying this about a game that half a decade ago was on its deathbed is remarkable. But Final Fantasy 14 has made a kind of comeback that no other game has ever pulled off. And with Stormblood, the expansion that released this summer, Square Enix took the series to bold new destinations. It's Final Fantasy at it's best: a cast of endearing characters, a magical world to explore, and a villain you love to hate (and hate that you love).

But Final Fantasy's best strengths lie in how it stands out in the crowded MMO genre. With gameplay that is basically a clone of World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy doubles down on gorgeous graphics, thematic oomph, and some really ingenious subversions of what we expect from the genre. Halfway through the 8-man boss fight against Susano, a primal god with a jolly demeanor and a sword so big he has to be compensating for something, Square Enix pulls a wonderful switch-a-roo. Right as Susano bears his massive sword down on the group, the main tank can step forward to parry his blow, triggering a Platinum Games button mashing sequence straight out of Metal Gear Rising: Reveangence. It's glorious.

Final Fantasy 14 turns each boss fight into a climactic spectacle that reaches Dragon Ball Z levels of tension. But those moments are also more meaningful because of the carefully told story that strings them together. I never thought I'd see the day where I constantly praise an MMO for having a good story, but each expansion continues to delight. Stormblood is a return to the more optimistic, upbeat early years of the series and the step away from the melodrama of later FF games is a welcome one.

That isn't to say Final Fantasy 14: Stormblood is a perfect expansion, though. Once you get past the excitement of its cutscenes, the quests are still hopelessly boring. And speaking of boredom, the endgame is especially light on content. It's like cooking and eating a pancake one at a time, and it means I'm often quitting for weeks straight until a new update is out.

While the endgame could use a lot more things to do, the journey was wonderful. The initial story is sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, and always worth paying attention to. And with several more major updates to come that'll only expand Stormblood's opening chapter, there's a lot of pancakes left to enjoy.