Category Archives: FFonline

Today in Rants: FFXIV and the Endgame Gear Grind [#Blaugust 10]

For those of you not familiar with FFXIV’s endgame, it consists largely of this:

  • Hit max level
  • Do all the dungeons and trials to unlock roulette LFG and hardmodes
  • Farm roulettes for marks to raise item lvl
  • Farm more roulettes for higher item lvl
  • Farm raids for even higher item lvl
  • Do story quests and trials after content patches

If you’re a WoW player then this sounds very familiar, only in FFXIV the grind for marks is even more straightforward in my opinion. There’s all this gear available at the endgame hub from the getgo and from there it’s basically chain-queuing LFGs for this week and that week, racing through different gear sets. You can solo your way through, as in no guild required, and it’s rather fast. That’s why SE limit the amount of marks/week for the higher tier gear and also the weekly drops from the new raid instance. When I re-joined for ARR this February, none of these restrictions were in place anymore for the old content, which made chasing up that gear ladder even more bewildering. I guess that’s what happens when you insist on item-lvl restrictions for content.

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Oh hai, we’re here for that gear!

I must say, am a little peeved at the whole thing. I can’t bash WoW for its linear, uninspired endgame grind and turn a blind eye to FFXIV at the same time. Eorzea certainly has more to offer besides just dungeons to explorers, there’s some side/holiday-activities and the regular content patches with updates to the storyline (although that usually sends you into dungeons) – nonetheless, I would have expected Heavensward’s endgame to take a different, more refreshing approach to group content and raids. Idyllshire, which replaces Mor Dhona as the highlevel hub, is conceived in the exact same way and centered around the vendors that trade marks for gear and upgrades. Everyone’s favorite lootz NPC Rowena even moved over from Mor Dhona because this is “where all the business is”.

Now to clarify, it’s nice that there’s all this gear and cosmetic choice in FFXIV and I dig running different dungeons. It really wouldn’t hurt making the acquisition of high-level gear a bit more varied though and the gear itself more “meaningful” – I don’t have a better word for it. At least the dungeon sets you can collect while levelling up need to y’know, drop from different dungeons. I am crushed that even my unique BLM class set is part of the same mundane marks grind in Heavensward! Already the first time around, we got our sets completed when dinging level 50 in ARR and from there I probably wore my Wizard’s attire for about 2.5 seconds before it got replaced by the first tier of marks gear. One more for the cosmetics tab which never happened – it’s too much hassle glamouring gear all the time and it’s not exactly free either.

Guess that’s where SE did change things up a tiny bit in Heavensward, since the new class sets can only be bought for second tier marks (currently). That is still one tragic case of missing a great opportunity because unique questlines and challenges in MMOs rock! Heck, I would’ve been happier with a set of individual achievements (*gasp*) and dungeon runs for my set over this exercise in boredom.

And yes I know, I obviously don’t have to do all of this; I can just wait until it becomes even easier to get all the gear and speed through all dungeon content, with overgeared groups, just so I can follow the storyline. What a great prospect.

/rant out

FFXIV “High Adventure III” and Fairytales [#Blaugust 7]

Am kinda loving #blaugust this far and at some point I will have to blog about that. If you’re currently in need for more topics, check out the prompts on Anook and the blaugust AMA thread!

It’s handy to have a screenshot series going during events such as blaugust and while these don’t tend to spark discussion, I hope someone is enjoying them. The whole idea behind High Adventure is that I pick my favorite FFXIV screenshots from Heavensward and then tweak them to look like they came out of a picture book or children’s tale. I’ve mentioned on the blog before that I grew up with a lot of stories – fairytales, folklore, mythology, you name it. They were and are an important part of who I am and some defining choices I’ve made along the way.

If you live in my hood of central Europe, the Grimm’s Tales are every child’s standard source and early inspiration as far as the classics go. There are the cautionary adventures of Wilhelm Busch’s Max&Moritz and of course Hans Christian Andersen’s work – melancholic father of the Little Mermaid, the Ugly Duckling or the Snow Queen. When you read the original texts of his more popular tales, you realize how they are way more heart-breaking than their mainstream adaptions and there’s rarely a happy ending. Already as a young child, I was profoundly moved by the difficult emotions therein.

At some point I dove into a collection of greek myths and from age 12, latin and everything about Roman society (who have basically adopted Greek mythology) became part of my school curriculum. I went from Hercules to Thor and Siegfried with some Sindbad in the mix. Mythology is pretty gruesome stuff actually but nothing ever scared me more than this guy, so as far as I was concerned the eagle eating Prometheus’ liver, every day, was okay.

Considering this path and my big audiobook collection of illustrated international children’s tales by grandpa, it made perfect sense that I ended up reading D&D-based fantasy novels and Tolkien as a teenager. I remember my enchantment by Larry Elmore’s cover on the first edition of Dragon’s of Autumn Twilight, which I am keeping on my shelf to this day. I own illustrated versions of most of my favorite books and stories, if such a thing is available and I completely freak out if one of them is missing. There’s a story about a certain nervous breakdown that shall remain untold.

I will continue this topic next time around to talk about some of my favorite book illustrators, new and old. My third screenshot from FFXIV was taken in Aziz’la and this time I went for a more ink&spatter feel –

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Riding the skies.

Happy Friday everyone and keep that blaugust spirit up!

Irresistible, futile player housing (#Blaugust 3)

Last night I finally rid myself of a 300k gil in FFXIV to acquire a private chamber in our guild house on Cactuar, mostly out of curiosity to see how SE handled the housing feature. Five hours flew by in which I found myself in a familiar building and decoration frenzy until I was pretty much “done”, browsing web databases and the auction house included. Significantly lighter in the pocket change department, I had to ask myself: what’s it all for? It is the age old question of the MMO player and the future still hasn’t arrived.

Welcome to the cosy SPA!

Welcome to the cosy SPA!

Maybe we’re asking for too much when we demand meaningful housing from MMORPGs. Building and housing simulations are an entire genre of their own and one need only look at Landmark, Minecraft or the Sims to understand the required freedom and complexity to make this activity, even as an end in itself, appeal to players longterm. The issue with building and decorating your house in an MMO is simply that “it ends” without further use or consequence but MMOs aren’t designed toward the finite. Once that item limit is reached on your plot, and FFXIV sports an underwhelming 50 items maximum, there’s only so much re-decoration you’ll be willing to do (or afford). At most, you’ll be adding the odd achievement trophy further down the line, yet the question about more meaningful and consequential player housing remains. May be that the two genres really aren’t a great fit, may be that nobody’s interested enough to allocate more resources towards figuring it out.

For what its worth, I had immense fun with my room in FFXIV while it lasted and SE’s housing isn’t even that great. Dealing with their fussy and limited tools, I missed my huge Wildstar plot with a sudden, overwhelming acuteness. And yet, as self-serving and ultimately futile as this whole activity was towards my further journey in FFXIV (if we are even allowed to question the futility of any actions in MMOs), it was engaging and made me learn a few more things about the world I hadn’t realized earlier. It was 5 hours well spent because I enjoyed it – I just wish there was a bit more to it than immediate and short-lived solo gratification.

FFXIV “High Adventure II”

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Over the years, I have spent a good while searching for perfect screenshot moments in MMOs but it’s rare for a scene to come together this well, all by itself. When my black mage entered Matoya’s cave for the first time in Heavensward, no stage designer nor dramaturg could’ve conceived the scene better; the strange magician with her pointy hat speaking to the resident frog servant, with tomes of magic piling up in the background and animated broomsticks sweeping the dusty floor. For a moment, I was the magician’s apprentice rather than a wayward Au’Ra, chasing the next chapter of Square Enix’ storyline. For a moment, I was a character in a much bigger story than the one that’s been told.

[FFXIV] Welcome to “High Adventure”

This journey through Heavensward has been a spellbound tome of wonders for this fairytale child. I have found myself philosophizing with the goblins, negotiating with old witches and their chatty broomsticks and conversing with dragons, fighting for dragons, flying on dragons – so many dragons everywhere.

What a delight this expansion is. The dialogues, the locations, the magical creatures may as well spring straight from the pages of the Grimm’s Tales or Edda or Tolkien’s works. As always, Square Enix are borrowing everywhere but brewing their very own enchanting concoction. That way lies greatness – that way lies high adventure. I have not experienced so many memorable moments in an MMO since forever. It’s been nothing short of inspiring and I realized, I really need to do something with all my screenshots!

Thus beginneth my High Adventure screenshot journey through FFXIV – A Realm Reborn.
I hope you enjoy and if you haven’t yet, give this MMO a go sometime (or again)!

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Pictures that tell an entire story. Definitely click for fullres!

[FFXIV] In Heavensward, everyone is dressed for the Occasion

I hit level 58 tonight in A Realm Reborn and between catching my breath because of what’s happening in the main storyline and looking for aether currents everywhere, I need to give this expansion some serious props in terms of gear design – omigosh, it’s all so pretty!

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Aurin race set (leftmost) and some caster sets between lvls 50-57.

Gear details have always been stunning in FFXIV (they’re all in 3D which helps a lot…) but adventurers starting out in early Eorzea had to put up with many a yellow burlap sack and baggy clothes in the past. Not so in the expansion: Heavensward is packed with armor sets from the get-go and they are all new and shiny and easy enough to acquire through questing or dungeons. I especially love the baroque and gothic vibes of some of my black mage’s gear and feel the class is properly treated for a change!

It’s rather remarkable how SE aren’t stingy on providing all this gear without demanding blood sacrifice. While good-looking and matching gear (weapons included) is hard to come by in many MMOs, it is impossible to underdress in Eorzea. And for my part, I find this very motivating.

MMO Masterclass: Storytelling in FFXIV – A Realm Reborn

Tamrielo from Aggrochat has recently been looking at storytelling in FFXIV in his two-part post, where he’s analyzing the different content seasons and story archs in the game, how they have improved over time and immersed him as a player. If you’ve been playing a Realm Reborn for any decent amount of time since FFXIV’s relaunch, you know that there’s no way around the main storyline in Eorzea. In fact, there is probably no MMO out there right now that is more dedicated to its storytelling than this one. The narrative is front and center and accomplishes the remarkable feat of including its audience. After Yoshida took over the reigns for ARR, the player character was brought back into the narrative fold.

Naturally, many MMOs turn the player into a nearly omnipotent hero of the story and much has been criticized in regards to that particular trope. However, FFXIV does it in such an unconditional, dedicated and traditional way, that it’s kind of a big deal. Telling stories has always been the forte of the FF franchise and finally, there is a classic MMORPG that not only manages to rise from the ashes but combine the linearity of JRPG storytelling with an MMO environment. As much as I tried to care about the politics of Azeroth or Tyria in the past, no other MMO has managed to include me, make me care about NPCs and the greater course of events, the way FFXIV has done.

The Great Final Fantasy Formula

Ever since the early beginnings of the FF franchise, Squaresoft’s much beloved JRPG titles followed a very clear and narrow path: the player gets to control a powerful hero, more often than not a person of unknown origins or obscure past. The hero is not the player, since the player has no real agency over the character’s story and there are next to no choices. An equally important ingredient to this formula is “the party” which is one of the most central aspects of all FF games; your very own gang of specialists, distinctly defined by their class and different abilities that will mostly align with a holy trinity concept, despite the fact that FF is all about round-based combat. Down the line, you and your gang will probably find out that you are all related or were raised in the same orphanage. You are never truly alone in a FF game.

Cloud and the gang

Cloud and the gang

Add to this very straightforward setup a linear storyline with next to no branching; the point is not to write your own story or find your own path but rather, to immerse yourself in a tale told by an invisible puppet master. The tool you’re given to accomplish your goals is a customizable, complex round-based combat system with random encounters. Your driving force is a world struck by tragedy or impending doom that only you and your A-Team can save (most likely by help of some sparkly crystal or other). Along the way, you will face one or two ambivalent villain figures as well as lots of wacky side-kick characters.

Now imagine all of this being crafted with an outstanding sense of aesthetics on a graphical and musical level, and the result will always be the same: your next FF title. In the past, Squaresoft have consistently pushed narrative RPG standards for at least 15 years, during a most pivotal time for gaming and not just with the FF franchise either. A Realm Reborn, although set in an online world where choices and interactions with other players are possible, follows most of this old textbook to a fault.

Intricate Politics and Overwhelming Stakes

A great many heroic tale comes with a doomsday prophecy: it will be the end of the world as you know it, or alternatively the end of the world full stop, unless significant obstacles are overcome and evil is vanquished. While this can be a tiring setup in RPGs and MMOs, it is still popular enough in getting audiences engaged. I don’t really mind this trope personally, what I really care about is execution. Am I presented with an uninspiring tale of clear good vs. evil or a much more complicated world where loyalties and intentions change constantly?

Squaresoft JRPGs have often introduced such nuances, despite their linear plot. Over the course of a playthrough, you’d learn about the background stories of your adversaries. You would have to rely on characters of questionable allegiance, you’d see mercenaries turn altruistic or allies turn traitor. Faced with warring factions unwilling to unite for a greater cause, you’d find yourself drowning in petty schemes and side-politics. Even villains may be worth saving in the end.

MMORPGs have a hard time delivering such complexities, given that they try to achieve a certain degree of open world freedom and accommodate various playstyles. A Realm Reborn doesn’t compromise much on that front; players who want access to dungeons or endgame, will need to engage in the story. But since the story is the driving force behind the entire game, rather than an afterthought, things feel different.

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Unwelcome refugees in wealthy Ul’dah.

Now I’m with Liore in that there’s still some “goofy MMO writing” and delivery going on at times, the cutscenes sure can get tedious while your character is silently nodding along. But I’m impressed at the different issues the story has touched on thus far – from immigration poverty and class warfare to interracial politics (and racism) and even environmentalism. That’s just to name a few themes. Down the line, you realize how you’re being pulled into twisted intrigues and machinations by multiple players on a chess board Game of Thrones-style, while SE take full opportunity to send players all over the world (including so-called old zones and dungeons) to chase their story’s tail, simultaneously serving the social engineering of the game. For an MMORPG, that is one noteworthy use of narrative.

Joining a band of brothers of sorts, the player soon establishes a steady home-base to return to in between missions and before long, gets attached to the NPCs that share the story with him. It’s safe to say that not many an eye was left dry at the conclusion of ARR before the expansion.

The Heavensward Trailer and The Adventurer

The official launch trailer for Heavensward is another example of storytelling done right. Instead of the usual showcase of random locations and encounters without obvious connection, the trailer takes over from the moment your character finished his/her main story. The Adventurer, an unnamed character who represents the player in FFXIV is back, while the ending of the Seventh Astral Era as well as some future events flicker over the screen. The trailer concludes with the player arriving in Ishgard, which is where your journey in Heavensward begins. Talk about trailers bridging content.

In Conclusion

While I am praising FFXIV’s storytelling here, that doesn’t mean its delivery isn’t without issues. As mentioned above, the cutscenes and loading screens can get too long and it’s a bit of a tragedy that SE didn’t invest in more voice acting for Heavensward. For your daily grind, uninspired fetch&delivery quests are a dime a dozen. When it comes to the main storyline however, ARR has achieved greatness by virtue of omitting branches and player agency. This might present a bit of a downer for some players but in my personal experience, most consequences in MMOs come down to an illusion of choice rather than the real thing anyway.

If there is one advice I would dare give to game developers in charge of big franchises, it would be to play to their strengths and also, not to fix what ain’t broken (okay, that was two pieces of advice). You can mix up some things and you should definitely improve on your weaknesses, ARR is a prime example of that – however, it is a mistake to abandon franchise-defining elements and to throw your greatest virtues overboard for the sake of innovation. Too often have we seen over-hyped sequels crash and burn because they strayed too far from the established path, rather than to widen it just a little. FFXIV has conserved its JRPG traditions and legacy masterfully and for the most part, with little compromise. Storytelling is this developer’s strong suit and they have had the good sense to embrace that.

Ironically, other developers never overcome their struggle with the fourth pillar in MMOs: how to include the player while not making him the center of attention? How to manage that balance of player agency and choices versus narrative chaos and insignificance? Square-Enix’ answer to that would be, not to go there at all. Better to have a solid, engaging and linear story the way it’s told in a book or movie, than to fail epically with the best of intentions. I can’t help but agree with them on that one. The proof is in the pudding.

[FFXIV] Happy Heavensward Launch and the Evolution of Me

This fine Tuesday June 23rd, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn got its very own, first expansion, an event which begs for a moment of recollection. For such a long way this title has come: this ship that had almost sunk into the morass of disastrous MMO launches, somehow managed to do the nigh impossible and turn its course around, establish ARR as a brand new title with over 2mio subscribers to date, and release an expansion packed with new content. It may have been a rocky road, yet across the finish line shines a title rivaling all other fantasy-themed MMOs currently on the market. Chapeau really, to all the folks at SE who made this happen!

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Despite their ever fussy account-management, a thing that will surely never change, I somehow managed to get my early access for Heavensward running this past weekend and ding lvl 53 before official launch day. From what I’ve seen so far of the new zones and quests, I’m more than satisfied. The story picks up the pace from the Seventh Astral Era where it left off, the zones are beautiful if not slightly annoying in terms of navigation (apparently SE’s idea of making their audience desperate to fly), the new professions look interesting and the Au Ra aren’t nearly as dull as anticipated. In fact, I found myself surrendering to story pressure and swallow yet another bottle of Fantasia to transform myself, but more on that later. I also managed to get my chocobo off the ground for the first zone so far – a feat that doesn’t come free or easily in Heavensward for flight must be earned, again and again for each new zone. I should’ve known.

Isghard is as impressive a city as it’s cold and uninviting, which goes with the social, political context and icy weather. Naturally, I was delighted to hear the city music come in four different variations with some lovely day and night themes, just the way the other capitals got them. It will be a while before we see any Heavensward soundtrack release, I fear (but in the meantime, some of us will find ways to listen to it anyway).

Heavensward at a first glance, fulfills all the promises of novelty. What I am somewhat disappointed in is how SE never seem much interested in improving the existing. Gripes like the quest tracker not allowing you to uncheck old quests, or the fact that for some reason you may not use a companion pet together with a mount, persist and have not been addressed. I realize that there are technical restrictions sometimes; I still expect some effort towards improving the mediocre, whether the player base (grudgingly) goes along with it or not.

Me, Myself and I

I’ve never changed a main character as often or as drastically as I have in FFXIV, an MMO which is very liberal in its re-customization options. I started this journey few months ago as Sylberry Goldwink, a delightfully sunny Lalafel with odd eyes and a cheeky face –

I still love that character to bits, in fact I believe SE have done a fantastic job on the race design of their smallest citizens. I usually don’t gravitate towards shorties in MMOs but next to the Asura and Gibberlings, Lalafel are truly my favorite people.

Unfotunately for them, armor design on higher levels doesn’t agree so much with Lalafel proportions (maybe less so on females than males) which is why I decided to give a more mature and darker type of character a go after reaching lvl 50. Yes, yet another tall human female called Syl, with raven black hair and a sardonic smile –

Human black mage Syl feels like the most accurate ‘real me’-condensation in an MMO since ever, so I was really happy with the outcome. Furthermore, I gave the character some distinct Lulu-attributes (I don’t have purple eyes for one thing), that aloof sorceress from FFX that has been resting on my desk for over 10 years in figurine-form, hugging her Mog companion. I may also have a T-shirt.

Needless to say I adore this character, yet I’m not perfectly happy with the way SE have treated Hyur females. Their movement seems graceless, as if not enough time had been invested in studying the anatomic female form and how that would affect motion. Maybe it’s the same for male Hyur, I don’t know. Few armor sets aside such as the above one, I often found myself standing around in baggy garments, which gave my character an almost buffoonish look. Bleh.

Granted, these are smaller details; for the most part SE character design and animations are top notch and beat most of their competition, armor detail certainly does too. Still, the launch of a new expansion was a great opportunity to check out the Au Ra, with their strange horns which are more or less obtrusive depending on the face you go for. It is a tragedy that SE decided to bundle face and horn types together – a most curious decision that greatly reduces your choice in different looks. You might really dig one of those four faces on display but if it comes with the huge lobster-shaped horns, tough luck! Seriously, this needs fixing.

In the end, I managed to create a character that I really enjoy and that probably feels the most Japanese/manga of the lot, while also reminding me of my old Rift Kelari mage. I went with a painted face look in honor of Harle, beloved jester figure from Chrono Cross. I could do without the tail thing honestly, but I absolutely love the idea of my character being partly dragonkin now, given that Sylvara, my online name of many years, has been taken from a special character in the Dragonlance novels who is also a dragon. This meant a name change was long overdue too since Sylberry Goldwink has by now expired its date of appropriateness.

A smart business model

It seems weird to switch character race as often as I have in FFXIV and yet, it’s always fun creating new looks for yourself. Be it Sylberry the sunny and funloving Lalafel, the dark human femme fatale with the stern face or the mischevious Au Ra jester – all these characters are a facet of my own personality. Many MMO players probably roll alts for this exact reason, which isn’t something particularly beneficial in FFXIV. Relying heavily on their main character, players are more likely to pay for character re-customizations whenever new features are introduced. At the same time, there’s already a lot of customization and job freedom in the game by default, as well as the odd Fantasia freebie once or twice a year. That’s more than fair in my book, even if I already spent some extra cash on my looks in the Mog Station. What can I say, I do like me my MMO character creation!

NBI Screenshot Safari: FFXIV Selfie

As my The Witcher 3 download is approaching the finish line, I decided my second entry for Murf’s #NBI2015Safari shall be a recent FFXIV selfie. I started leveling Sylberry the Lalafell and adore her still, but halfway through the Crystal Tower raids I acquired Scylla’s outfit which looks decidedly better on a full-figure character with some degree of sex-appeal (cleavage is kinda silly on Lalafell). Since I finally also managed to acquire the shiny Bogatyr’s robes last night in Keeper of the Lake, it was time for another epic shot together with my favorite companion, Midgardsormr. I am incredibly happy with FFXIV’s gear looks and variety; everything is crafted in great detail down to every last button on my gloves or the ornamentation on my weapon’s hilt. I am dressed and ready for that expansion!

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(click to enlarge)

 

NBI Screenshot Safari: In the Lair of the Dragon

So Murf has a #NBI2015Safari going on, to which bloggers may or may not contribute one screenshot per week to a given topic. As the piles of boxes around my house are diminishing, I am finding my spirits for blogging and gaming return – and of course I like screenshots, even if the prospect of choosing just one shot per week from a backlog like mine can be very daunting. I realize, I am also somewhat late to the party joining at the end of week two, alas!

In the Lair of the Dragon

Today’s screenshot is dedicated to the ‘High Fantasy’ genre because nothing in the world says high fantasy to me like magic & dragons do. I was introduced to this venerable genre by the Dragonlance novels over 20 years ago and ever since, my heart’s been out dancing with the fairies (when I was young, I was a fool). And dragons, well there’s no more iconic and formidable creature to be found in the entire beastiary of folklore, mythology and fantasy. We are all fascinated by dragons.

A thing that isn’t frequently mentioned about FFXIV is its pretty off-the charts, high fantasy style mob and boss design. During my journey to max level, I’ve encountered some of the most amazing dragon and creature design that would make every D&D veteran’s heart pound a little faster. Be it dragons, chimeras, beholders or cyclops – FFXIV has a mature and very classic sense for epic creature design. The dragons look ancient, dark and sinewy. That makes FFXIV a game of stark contrasts, for there is much frivolity and silliness to be found for sure, yet its serious moments are serious.

The below screenshot shows my midlevel Black Mage battling Aiatar (based on Ajatar, the “Devil of the Woods” in Finnish folklore, a female spirit that manifests as a dragon), the last boss in Brayflox’s Runstop.

(click to enlarge)

There’s magic, a big ass scary dragon and me – it doesn’t get much more high fantasy than this in gaming!