The more I play through the FFXIV open beta, the more apparent it is that the game is really meant to be a console experience. Everything about it just screams “port.” From the menu design, to the seeming expectation for players to only hop in for an hour or so a day, FFXIV is the console MMO we always said we wanted. To the average console player, virginal in their expectations and prejudiced against the typical MMO timesink stereotypes, the game probably seems pretty cool; a bridge between single player and MMO gaming. I’m very much left with the impression that Square wants this to be the Final Fantasy fan’s introduction to the world of MMOs.
The problem, of course, is that we’re all veteran players and have all of the expectations that comes with that. We want controls that we’re familiar with and we want them optimized for the keyboard/mouse before anything else. We want the freedom to throw ourselves at it for as long as we’re willing, and we want the stream of rewards WoW made famous.
That’s just not this game. Honestly, I don’t think FFXIV is the MMO for MMO fans. This is more akin to a persistent world version of Final Fantasy 8. Heck, running around through Limsa Lominsa, you could be forgiven for look for Balamb Garden over the next rise.
With that in mind, I decided to plug in an after-market PS3 controller I bought from Gamestop (used) for $15. It was a breeze to set up in the configuration utility and WOW, what a game changer. Interacting with the game goes from being obtuse to simplistic and natural. Seriously, if you’ve ever played a console game, you can get the hang of playing FFXIV in seconds. Not using the mouse cursor also gets rid of any perceived UI sluggishness, which supports that it was never the UI to begin with: it was the game cursor.
As I played, I started to notice that my perceptions about the game started changing too. The simple act of using a PS3 controller made me feel like I was sitting in front of a TV instead of desktop. Combat no longer seemed sluggish, but more in keeping with the PSone era Final Fantasy titles. I started multi-tasking and exploring menus while I was running around. Interacting with everything was so much smoother that I explored the city and talked to the citizenry for the fun of it, not because I had to. In short, FFXIV changed from an MMO into an online console game. The difference is subtle on the surface but the difference it can make in your outlook is tremendous. Not to mention, removing the layer of crap that is the keyboard/mouse control scheme just makes the game more fun, plain and simple.
So, instead of looking at this as the “Final Fantasy version of Aion/WoW/LotRO/Etc.,” try looking at it like an online version of your favorite entry in the series. If you’d asked me ten years ago how I felt about having to grind XP in FF8, you wouldn’t have heard a complaint. That was what you had to do to advance the story and get to more bits of awesome gameplay. That is the exact same thing FFXIV is asking you to do, only they’re giving you more choices in how you play and a massive world in which to do it.
Don’t believe people when they say this game is no fun. It is. If you look at the complaints, they’re almost universally based in comparisons to other MMOs. It doesn’t hold up and it’s no wonder people feel let down in that way. And, you know, I don’t blame them. Why shouldn’t they compare it to WoW or any of the other myriad titles? It IS an MMO after all. But, when you break from that mold and take FFXIV for what it is — an online console game — the differences are much more acceptable. It may not be that MMO outlet you want, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good game in its own right.
The suggestion: Most importantly, and no matter what else you do, pick up a game pad before you play. It will change the way you play and, if you’re like me, how you look at the game. Maybe it’s bad that you need something like this to enjoy the game to its fullest but it is what it is. Get it and save yourself the frustration.