Put two separate development cycles together - the original version of the MMORPG that tanked in every way imaginable and this - which is effectively a complete rebuild of the title. It's easy to tell there's been a lot of resources poured into the project: the visuals are of a standard that we're simply not used to seeing in the genre. Another thing that'll impress the long time fan is just how well Square-Enix have made use of the franchise's extensive history.
Instead of reinventing the wheel, they've dusted off the job system from Final Fantasy V, created areas that could have been lifted straight out of Final Fantasy VIII, IX and XII, and loaded the game with all the elements we expect to find in a Final Fantasy title. That means, in part, big, golden birds.
Chocobos are an early luxury, as you can rent a bird to travel the world and avoid harm while journeying to the classic Chocobo music. Speaking of the music, it's of the highest order, and it's a real treat simply seeing the sights while enjoying the soundtrack. At the same time the quests initially strike us as anything but exciting, something that's true for most MMORPGs at first. Every NPC you encounter has something they need delivered, a certain number of enemies that need to be taken care of, or some sort of anomaly that needs investigating which in turn prompts a small boss fight.
Thankfully Eorzea turns out to be a great place to spend your time in, even if the quests are somewhat familar in their design, and we've several hours ahead of us in the opening area of Gridania. We're soon running around, slaying evil squirrels, as well as seeking out a band of troublesome mushrooms, while someone else has charged us with slaying some murderous ladybugs. Off in the distance we can see a group of high level players taking on a Treant Sapling - an enormous walking tree who's capable of depleting our health bar simply by looking in our general direction. This may all sound somewhat twee, but the sell's in the presentation, and with designs that are dunked in Final Fantasy mythos, you're able to swallow the tropes of the genre and just enjoy the adventure and exploration.
The overarching story is thankfully more interesting and is a tale firmly set in Final Fantasy lore with vital crystals and an approaching cataclysm hanging over a world that's barely recovered from the last calamity. To group up with friends and embark on an adventure in this world is pure bliss, and Square-Enix have clearly taken notes on Western MMORPGs when designing this reboot. It's a happy marriage of two worlds, with addictive Japanese elements like the Hunting Log, that makes fighting even the most mundane enemies fun as you try and track down specific creatures much like you would in Pokémon.
It's when you take on the more difficult enemies with your friends that the game really comes into its own. Taking on Summons that you'll recognise from previous games in the series in epic battles is an early Christmas present for any Final Fantasy faithful. Similarly taking on classic enemies like Cactuars and Malboros takes on a whole new meaning here. Simply put, the Final Fantasy universe suddenly feels enriched as your companions are no longer just marionettes under your control, but actual people doing all they can to assist you with white magic, heavy attacks or generous supplies of Phoenix Downs.
Progression isn't a case of simply levelling up your character; there are story-driven instances that you need to qualify for. There are a lot of features in the game that unlock through completing these instances and while we weren't sold with a similar structure in World of Warcraft, we think this is something that Final Fantasy fans will feel right at home with. It reminds of playing previous Final Fantasy alone, and it's a nice change of pace compared to the rest of A Realm Reborn.
It's only the technical shortcomings - that will surely be patched over time - that prevents this from achieving a higher score. The ambitious goal of appealing to fans of Final Fantasy and fans of the genre has been attained. This has been a successful adventure for the company - a MMORPG worth living in.