Last month, I'd never played more than five hours of a Final Fantasy game, let alone played an MMO for more than a week. Now I'm in my 120th hour of Final Fantasy 14, wrapping up the Heavensward expansion and sprinting right into Stormblood, the second expansion, with no signs of stopping until I take care of Shadowbringers. It's a game that I am geared to hate, but have ended up falling in love with despite the tedium frontloading the experience.
Final Fantasy 14 has more flaws than most games I like, and yet I like it more than most games. I'm hoping to rope more ideal candidates in, especially those like me that normally avoid MMOs. You don't have to talk to anyone in this MMO, which feels more like an excellent show a few seasons in at this point. Anyone looking for a good story and a game that doesn't demand perfect dexterity and constant attention should keep reading.
Join me on this very particular journey into what could be the next 400 hours of your free time. Let's find out if Final Fantasy 14 is actually for you, and if it is, I'll set you up with some crucial advice for getting over the early humps.
Why play Final Fantasy 14 if I'm not one of them there MMO or Final Fantasy people?
Because it's barely an MMO. Well, it is completely an MMO, you just don't have to play it like one. There are healers and tanks and weapons and armor. Dungeons, raids, and hundreds of other players crowding the cities and villages. You level up, unlock mounts, and your combat abilities all live on a hot bar that slowly grows until it covers the bottom third of the screen, sometimes crawling up the walls.
But I don't play Final Fantasy 14 for any of that. I'm in it for the story. If you're a Final Fantasy fan for narratives and high-tech fantasy settings, then quit dinking around and get to playing. Stephen thinks it's the best story in the whole series. The way I play Final Fantasy 14 is more like a visual novel, mainlining story quests to sit through captivating cutscenes and excellent dialogue, occasionally running a dungeon or killing a few monsters to kick the narrative along.
If you're like me and recoil at the first mention of moogles (or feel nothing at all), I ask for some patience. Final Fantasy 14 presents as a very typical fantasy narrative—chosen warriors arrive to cleanse the world of darkness, huzzah—but manages to subvert those tropes in some really clever ways. Often, the forces bringing 'evil' gods to life are doing it out of desperation. Class struggles, colonialism, religion, nationalism, capitalism, war, trauma: Final Fantasy 14 tackles more contemporary issues than most games I play, and usually does it well.
The true villains of Final Fantasy 14 are just people taking advantage of or attempting to navigate the bureaucracy upholding the civic structures and moral fibers that make up each culture. My once merry band of adventurers is now having a complete existential breakdown, questioning every dungeon conquered, every small village saved from the threat of 'evil'. Final Fantasy 14 morals take a long time to fade to grey, but when you start picking up on the how and why, every cliched questline from the early game will start making sense in a completely different way. Are you a hero or a dumb puppet? It's not so simple.
The presentation is excellent, too. The base game's story culminates in a 30-minute sequence that plays out like a batshit anime take on a season two episode of Game of Thrones. Expect trippy dimension-hopping, regular chats with gods, dragon fights that look like WinAmp music visualizers come to life, and surreal battles between warriors with huge weapons and sweet clothes.
And the story extends beyond the game. If, prior to this moment, you were completely in the dark about all things Final Fantasy, then the story of FF14's development is going to feel like quite the doozy. See, Final Fantasy 14 used to be a completely different game, but it sucked. A lot. It was slow as hell, contained indecipherable systems and UI design, and ran like garbage. With a dwindling player population, Square Enix brought on a new game director to remake the game from scratch while supporting the existing MMO with quality of life patches and story content.
Listen to the people involved tell the story in the excellent, three-part NoClip documentary on Final Fantasy 14's strange development. It's a big reason I started playing in the first place, to experience FF14's last six years of development firsthand, from a total rebirth to better, but extremely typical MMO before becoming what some consider one of the best narrative games there is. It's trending that way for me.
The big caveat
The first 60 or so hours are a drag. So should you bother?
If you're in it for the story, then yes. The bulk of A Realm Reborn, the first story arc, consists of the player character meddling in some fairly domestic affairs, intervening with the local politics of the realm, and sometimes walking to a river, filling up a bucket, and dumping it on a drunk's head. There's some maddening filler in ARR but it's punctuated by some huge twists worth slogging through fetch quest after fetch quest for. It's a long, slow introduction to a huge world that desperately needs some trimming, but most of its characters and plots come into play in the long term, it just requires no small amount of patience.
I highly recommend listening to an audiobook or podcast as you play through A Realm Reborn. Press pause during cutscenes, skim most of the dialogue, and listen intently during the rare voiced scene. The story is simple early on, you'll pick up the important bits.
Oh god, I'm doing this. OK, so what class should I play?
I'm sorry, what? I don't know. Go with your gut. I chose a marauder because I'm a tall, muscular pirate woman there's no way I'm letting those guns go to waste on cute little spells. My advice for any role-playing game—though FF14 is only an RPG as far as your head canon allows, actual choices are scant—is to just choose whatever sounds cool.
Most of the early classes fit some basic MMO and RPG archetypes, like tank, healer, and DPS (damage dealer). You likely won't need to use more than three abilities for quite some time anyway, so don't worry about falling into too complex of a commitment. Final Fantasy 14 lets you switch up classes whenever you like anyway, no new character required. Just equip an axe and you'll start leveling as a Marauder. Equip a staff and you'll level as a White Mage. Experiment away until you get cozy. More classes become available as you play anyway.
Never walk, always teleport
Obviously, walking is necessary, but anytime a quest sends you across the world, just use the map or teleport menu to fly there immediately, assuming you've already visited and attuned a major aether crystal point. Every attuned crystal is a fast travel point that requires a small fee to use. Spend the money every time. You'll earn more than enough cash through the main quests along the way.
Don't bother with basic sidequests. Stick to the story.
When I say basic sidequests, I mean the quests marked by a completely gold exclamation bubble. Sidequests might color in some areas with little details and character moments, but the overwhelming majority of them are shit excuses for murdering some wildlife or delivering an item in exchange for XP you don't need.
Hunt down those golden meteor icons, the story quests, and stick to them as closely as possible. It never hurts to clean up feature quests either, denoted by blue exclamation bubbles. Feature quests always unlock new stuff, be it side dungeons, cosmetic items, or special vendors.
You'll want to pay special attention to your class quests, also marked by a blue bubble but bundled up with the main quests in your journal. Completing those unlocks new combat abilities and contain some fun recurring characters. The Marauder questline is just burly dudes getting mad and trying to contain their rage while being extremely vulnerable about the whole ordeal. Boys working through their feelings. It's nice.
You're gonna get level-gated a few times, here's how to ease your suffering.
Do the daily roulettes in the Duty Finder.
Roulettes throw you into a random dungeon or scenario (mini co-op challenges) you've already unlocked and hand out a massive XP bonus. I did one a day while playing A Realm Reborn and outpaced the story quest level requirements quite heartily. You'll thank yourself for sticking with roulettes once you hit the 50-60 range, where story quests leap between level requirements like you don't have anything better to do than click on snow wolves for a couple hours.
Hammer out levequests and Fates for the weekly XP awards.
Complete five Fates, those events marked by a purple icon happening almost everywhere, and you'll get a big hunk of XP. 10 Fates gifts another hunk. Hunk it up even more by picking up some levequests from the nearest levemete, a regional quest vendor. Complete five for a hunk and 20 for another. Fates and levequests aren't terribly exciting, but usually just require murdering a ton of wildlife with a fairly manageable time restriction. Get those hunks.
Commend players at the end of matchmade dungeons and scenarios
Leaving five player commendations per week nets you a huge XP prize. Look for the commendation notification in the bottom right corner after finishing up a dungeon or scenario and make of habit of clicking that sucker before the whole party leaves. A few clicks for some free XP. Easy.
Most importantly, dress for the job you want
In the world of Final Fantasy 14, I'm technically a pirate marauder turned hero of the people, but all my class armor is bulky and spiky and covers up my good arms and face too often. I want to be known as the chill pirate marauder in the pirate marauder community. A bit of a goofball that doesn't weigh myself down with pants made from a dragon's ass, but cool, breathable biker shorts and a fur coat you'd only see an ice palace ballroom.
Final Fantasy 14's glamour system allows players to transform the look of most gear into another look completely, all while retaining those helpful stats. Colored dyes are the finishing touch, turning messy, mismatched clothes into works of art. Your character is going to star in hundreds of cutscenes, so you might as well look good in 'em.