Returning to Eorzea: Square Enix Follows Through With Vast Improvements to Final Fantasy XIV

It’s gratifying to see a game publisher like Square Enix admit fault and work to publicly fix a flawed title that we had so anticipated. That is the saga of Final Fantasy XIV. After some encouragement from a friend I gave this game a second chance, and I am glad I did.

Final Fantasy XIV was a title I was drooling over since the first teaser trailers. Then I lucked in to the closed beta of it. The beta had me so excited. Never before had I seen such amazing graphics in an MMO or any other game. The beta, as is the case with any game in testing phases had its issues, but nothing that would turn me off. I pre-ordered my Collector’s Edition of it and eagerly awaited its arrival.

When launch day came I plummeted headlong into it, having decided to retire my Final Fantasy XI character. (FYI: In addition to FFXIV I currently am on WoW and ST:TOR. If you don’t know those acronyms you probably are not a gamer, or at least not an MMO gamer.) Back then, I must say, I was enthralled with the first few levels. On a technical note, thank god I have a powerful gaming PC because initially that was needed to play this game at all. Even with my powerful beast of a machine my fans would whirl like a wind tunnel. People without a hardcore gaming rig were left out in the cold. After my first dozen levels my disappointment started. This was a game I truly wanted to love, but it left me empty. A game, especially an RPG or an MMO needs to give you some sort of raison d’etre, a reason to be. That was lacking, and much time was spent trying to figure out what the hell to do next while my PC was whirling like a NASA wind tunnel. So, I eventually ended up not playing the game at all. I considered deleting it to free up hard drive space, but something in me, whether it was sentimentality or optimism, said wait. My decision paid off.

I must give Square Enix credit for admitting to their mistakes and then developing a game plan to make much needed improvements in both the technical aspects of the game and the game play itself. Here is the link outlining the changes being made for version 2.0, and check out the PDFs that go into further detail about the changes.

After having not played in a year, I have spent the last several nights playing, investing on the average seven hours a night. That being said, the changes I have noticed have been dramatic.

After I got in the game, I grew concerned because my PC was not kicking into overdrive like it did before. Then I checked some of my performance monitors and realized that the system’s resources was being used much more efficiently and economically. With several background apps running on Windows 7 64-bit, total RAM usage was only 2.8Gb, while only 27% of my i7 processor was being used. My rig also runs dual Nvidia 465 graphics cards. For this game I do not use SLI configuration, running graphics on the primary and PhysX on the secondary. Square Enix had said they were changing the graphics engine, and they did. And, there is no noticeable compromise in graphics quality. The game looks amazing. I repeat: amazing. This is some of the best graphics I have seen. And with this new graphics engine, they have made this game much more playable and accessible for people who do not have high-end gaming PCs. To cap off already amazing visuals, the weather effects and time changes in the game will make you stop and watch. The texture detail is, for lack of a better word, dazzling. So, as for the graphics, visuals, and arts style of this title this game deserves an A.

I’m baaa-aaack!

But, visual components alone do not a game make. You have to have some kind of driving momentum. Once I got over the amazing graphics, I was pleased to immediately see those exclamation marks over some NPCs’ heads indicating some available missions. As well, the new leve quests that SE introduced into this game are still there. As promised, Square has added content and refined others. There are also some really nice cut scenes that caught my attention, adding to some of the story lines and tying things together. They have promised more work on this, and I am anxious to see how far they go. Of course, in the time I have played it since going back, it is impossible to see everything that has thus far been tweaked, but I have to say from what little I have seen, that Square is making a valiant attempt at putting its money where its mouth is. It is really a shame that they didn’t get it right at the beginning, but the strides they have made make it worthy of a second chance.

A Man and His Chocobo

If this were a full review, I would take time to write about the character creation, jobs, crafting, and plethora of choices that we have come to know and love in our MMORPGs. I will revisit that when the 2.0 version hits (and/or if I create a new character before then.) I will tell you this, there are a multitude of choices to make, and if you are one of those who like to craft and sell your wares there is plenty to do in that area.

Ultimately, what they are striving to achieve with their version 2.0 slated for release this fall, is a complete overhaul of their game. They have wisely chosen to tackle this incrementally. As of this writing, they seem to be right on schedule. As of this writing they have a game that I am looking forward to playing right now. If you played it before, but were turned off as many were, I highly recommend giving it a second chance. If you haven’t played this before and were considering, you have two options: one, waiting for the 2.0 release and/or its companion PS3 version, or two, jumping in right now to a gorgeous game that at this point is a good solid MMO. Did I mention that it is gorgeous?

All I need is my moogle!

Continuing to Impress – Ragnarok Odyssey (Japanese release)

I just have to add to my previous review: This game is awesome! At least it is in Japanese, a language which I embarrassingly admit to knowing next to nothing. (All the Japanese I know is from watching Kill Bill, anime, and Kurosawa films. A fact which I intend on remedying soon.)

As I mentioned before, it is a testament to a good game its ease of learning when you can pick up a game in a language you do not know and intuit the mechanics and enjoy it. This is the case with RO. This is easily one of the most addictive games I have played in a while.

There have been several updates to the game since I started playing, all of which have tweaked the online features. Because of my ignorance of the language, I hadn’t really experimented with the online… until last night. I wasn’t sure, but I had surmised, that a certain dialog was referring to entering a game lobby in the tavern and inviting players to come along on a mission. And I was right! Much to my elation, a few Japanese gamer brethren joined my party and we rocked some monsters! Although there was some lag in the gameplay, it did not detract from it at all. I was quite impressed to play this Japanese game in America on Japanese servers with people on the other side of the world with little or no problems. And as for the obvious language barrier, the game has quite a few animated emoticons that your character can use to communicate with others, breaking down the language barrier. If they get the localization right for the North American release, this should be the game to own for Vita owners; it already is in my book.

Vita owners, I recommend pre-ordering this title. Or if you can’t wait (like me), get the Japanese import. If you can’t find a copy of the import, let me take this opportunity to refer you to one of my fave places, Video Games New York.

Ragnarok Odyssey (Japanese release) Review, and I Can’t Wait for the North America Release

You know a game is good when you can play it in a language you do not understand and be thoroughly hooked. I am referring to Ragnarok Odyssey.

One of joys of living in New York City is having a local game store like Video Games New York that specializes in Japanese imports and retro games. I frequent this place a couple of times a month just to check out their new arrivals and cruise through their vast selection of retro games and consoles. It was on my last visit that I was chatting with the store clerk. I wish I could remember his name, he deserves a shout-out. (It’s always refreshing to find a video game store clerk that is actually very knowledgeable of video games.) We were talking about their latest Japanese PS3 imports when he pointed out their Japanese PS Vita titles. And there it was: Ragnarok Odyssey. Score!

I must admit, I was totally unaware that this had been released in Japan and there is a North American version due out in Q3 2012. I have always been a fan of the Ragnarok universe, and to see a PS Vita addition had me like a kid at a toy store days before Christmas. Ragnarok Odyssey was released in Japan earlier this year to much acclaim. A Hong Kong release is slated for July 12 that includes both Chinese and English.

Before I go on, let the record show that my knowledge of the Japanese language is limited to what I have learned from Kill Bill, sushi restaurants, and watching anime. (I fully intend to work on this skill in the immediate future…) To be this excited about an action rpg without being able to understand the dialog and menus of the game (or for that matter the items I am purchasing experimentally from the various vendors in the game) tells you that this is going to be a great addition to the PS Vita game library and the Ragnarok universe.

Not being able understand the language yet be able to pick it up and quickly figure out that gameplay is a credit to the designers of this game. A game should not have too steep of a learning curve. Ideally the controls and logic of the game should be somewhat intuitive. And this one has that working for it in addition to everything else. From the lush music of that pops up with the title page, to the amazing opening action-filled battle movie that begins the game, to the stellar graphics and art-style of the game, this game is an audio and visual delight. The gameplay is much like Monster Quest where you take increasing difficult missions of venturing out to rid the area of increasingly difficult foe or gathering items while battling these critters. There are a nice variety of character classes to play. (I am playing the default Sword Master class.) The boss battles are challenging. You will die a few times, and this game does have a certain amount of forgiveness in that it lets you resurrect twice during a mission, but you will still fail a quest every once in a while. There is a lot of loot to be had on these missions too. Developers Acquire and Game Arts and publisher XSEED have also taken unique advantage of the PS Vita’s features by incorporating an unique in-game “near” app access feature in addition to using the touch-screen to bring up potion and communication menus. You will get a kick out of making your character flirt, joke, sass, bow, wave, cheer, anger, taunt, etc., etc. I know I a missing a lot of the content of this game since I am clueless as to what’s being said, but to enjoy it this much… I can’t think of higher praise.

I can’t wait for the English language version. I hope the people behind the localization meet the high-bar that that the developers have set, because this is and shall be a great title Vita, and a great game, period.

Review Rating: 9.5/10

  • Available now in Japan (and your local store that carries Japanese imports!)
  • North American Release Date: Q3 2012
  • RP-T+ for Rating Pending: Targeting a Rating of Teen or Above
  • Genre: RPG
  • Publisher: XSEED Games (and Gung Ho Entertainment in Japan)
  • Developer: Game Arts

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