I don’t normally play MMOs. Not for a lack of trying, but for a lack of interest. Most MMOs fail to hold my interest for more than a few days, and even the ones that keep me interested usually get boring after a short while. I just don’t find the genre particularly interesting or exciting.
Which is why I find it odd that Final Fantast XIV: A Realm Reborn held my interest for over a month straight, and why I obsessively played it from level 1 to level 50. No other MMO prior to that has held my interest for that long, and no other MMO since has managed to entice me. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why that is, and I’ve decided to try and break down a few of the reasons why FFXIV held my interest for so long.
The first thing that comes to mind is that it looks good. And I don’t just mean that the graphics are good. The art design in FFXIV is outstanding, and really helps bring the world to life in a meaningful way. Every area is vibrant, unique, and brimming with life. Even areas that should be desolate and lifeless, like deserts or wastelands, feel very alive. As I played the game, I found myself taking screenshot after screenshot as I played, culminating in a folder filled with nearly 1000 in-game screenshots.
But more than that is the fact that the world feels connected. World of Warcraft and similar games have seamless transitions that allow players to run from one town to the next without ever hitting a loading screen, but the overall world feels somewhat lacking at times in the way it’s laid out. In FFXIV, the layout of the world feels natural and connected in a meaningful way. The position of a giant railroad being developed between a small merchant town and a booming desert city feels natural and helps make the world feel a bit more alive.
Of course, the art design would be incomplete without the music to help it. Final Fantasy XIV has amazing atmospheric music that works well with the overall layout and art design, and which feels reminiscent at times of older FF soundtracks. One song, in particular, is a very clear callback to the boss themes of the NES/SNES games.
Another thing that caused me to like FFXIV more than other MMOs is the emphasis on player choice, especially when it comes creating a character and choosing your class. Games like World of Warcraft will often lock certain races out of playing as certain classes, forcing players to choose between playing a class they enjoy or playing the race they prefer. FFXIV doesn’t do that. In FFXIV, any race can play any class, and the stat differences between classes are so minor that it might as well not exist. In addition, past level 10 you can add on new classes and swap between classes on the fly, so players are not restricted to their initial choice of class.
FFXIV does not have an amazing story. I’ll be the first to admit that. It’s fairly bog standard, and it hits a lot of the same beats you’d expect. But the story that is there is well-told, and the characters themselves are all really interesting. What made me enjoy FFXIV, however, was that it made me feel like my character was a major player in the events of the story and that the plot revolved around me in a meaningful way. I wasn’t just a pawn, along for the ride with a more important character. I was the rags to riches hero who saved the land and fought back the evil empire.
In terms of gameplay, FFXIV is fairly standard. The battle system is the same as any other modern MMO, but the thing that set it apart was the encounter design. I didn’t realize this until people told me about it later on, but FFXIV has some of the best boss and just general enemy encounter design of any MMO. Most MMOs just boil down to running circles around enemies or a boss, and following the same cycle of healing, damage, and tanking. But FFXIV is different. Dungeons and enemies in FFXIV are laid out in such a way that battles require some amount of cooperation and precision, and bosses are all unique and feature their own unique gimmicks. Playing FFXIV, I never felt like I was just fighting the same boss battle over and over again. The mechanics were all well-known from established MMOs, but the way they were used was completely different.
Or course, I have to mention the controller support. FFXIV is one of the only PC MMOs I know of to support controllers, and to have them function as a viable method of playing the game. I like to sit back and relax while I play games, especially if I plan to play them for long stretches of time. Because of this, I ended up playing all of FFXIV with a controller and actually found it far more difficult to play with a mouse and keyboard. It seems like a simple thing, but the lack of controller support in other MMOs really stands out after playing FFXIV.
There are many other tiny details that stood out about FFXIV for me, but overall I’d say that the game just felt more welcoming and easy to get into compared to other MMOs, and was just a charming game from level 1 to level 50. I played it obsessively for a month, and I would easily resub and play more if there was still more content that interested me. But unfortunately I have no interest in the raids or other post-50 content. Still, FFXIV was the only MMO to hold my interest for nearly that long, and the only one I actually would love to go back to and play more of. Maybe it’s not the best, but it was my favorite MMO.