The Sea of Criticism: Final Fantasy XIV

I love to read reviews of video games.  Not because I want to know what’s good and what’s bad about them (I’d rather play them and find out for myself), but because it interests me to no end to learn just how reviewers come to the conclusions that they do. Most of the time I would agree that the conclusions are well founded, but it wouldn’t be a generalization I’d make. In fact, every so often, reviews will stray from the mark so wildly that the arrow hits the reviewer in the ass. Perhaps the most interesting point is that, when a game is to be given a bad review, the review itself will take weeks to be published.

Case in point: Kane & Lynch: Dead Men was released in North America on November 14, 2007. Gamespot’s review of the game, however, was actually delayed one week (in contrast to any information you’re likely to find on their website). The reason? They gave the game a score of 6.0.

Most recently, Final Fantasy XIV comes whizzing out on the PC as early as September 21, 2010 and the Gamespot review didn’t make it to the web until October 6, 2010. Now before you start to criticize me: I understand that a review of an MMORPG is not an easy thing, given that they are by definition designed to be enjoyed over months and years of time. But in playing the game, a review was clearly possible within a week, or more importantly, by the day that the standard edition was released on September 30, 2010, nine full days after the collector’s edition.  The reason for the delay?  Final Fantasy XIV Online received a score of 4.0.

The jig is up, Gamespot.  At least IGN has the decency to tell us that they were working on a review, and let us read their observations as they progressed.

It would take a lot for me to rank a game as low as 4.0, and in playing FFXIV, I can’t help but wonder if the reviewer was perhaps a bit jaded. Maybe his initial frustrations due to the lack of clear direction or of tutorials in the game left a lasting impression that he could never move beyond. Maybe he doesn’t really enjoy high fantasy games. Or maybe he just can’t keep from contradicting himself:

“Variety isn’t Final Fantasy XIV’s strong suit, but things pick up as far as flexibility is concerned. You pick a class when you first begin, but this isn’t a permanent discipline. Rather, you can be any class at any time by simply equipping the weapon or tool associated with it. Want to become an archer? Grab a bow. Fancy yourself a conjurer? Ready your wand. Not only can you be what you want, when you want, but you can also mix and match the actions you learn from multiple disciplines during combat.”

So variety isn’t the game’s strong suit, but you can “be what you want, when you want”?

But I can be any class I want!

Or how about this criticism:

“Every aspect of the game is filled with dumb obstacles.”

What does that even mean? I agree that the game has its fair share of flaws, but how accurate is it to make such a sweeping generalization? Really, every aspect? Even the title screen?

How dare you insult my handsomeness!

In its review, IGN.com describes the game as “…an arduous experience that, in its current form, isn’t worth playing” and yet still manages to give the game a score of 5.5 (even higher than the Gamespot score)!  Maybe it’s just me, but isn’t a game that’s not worth playing more deserving of a score of, I dunno… a 1.0?  Apparently the pretty graphics alone are worth over half of the score.

Finally there’s a comment from IGN that “…you’re forced to waste so much time fidgeting…with lag and performance annoyances”.  I just purchased a new computer, it’s nowhere near top of the line, but it qualifies as middle of the line. I’ve encountered a serious lag issue only once. I’m fairly certain that IGN must be using a higher quality computer than I currently possess, so how is the criticism about the lag issue still justifiable?

I’ll admit: FFXIV is far from a perfect game.  In fact, it is a game where you have to spend time researching (online) how to do things in the game, which is horribly unnecessary by any means.  The interface is awkward without the benefits of proper hotkeys.  The messaging system is far more complicated than it needs to be.  Skill points are distributed at random.  The main map is near useless.

And yet, none of these aspects have made the game as “unfun” as the reviews would make it sound.  It has nothing to do with the fact that I’m a compulsive Final Fantasy nutcase–I’ve never played an MMORPG in my life before now.  But the comments and criticism of FFXIV are overtly, and is some cases unnecessarily, harsh and lack valid reasoning to support them.

Gamers always complain about the same two things: gameplay freedom, and the ability to play online.  FFXIV allows for both of these things with success.  You can choose any class, switch it, learn any skill, and spend your time however you want. Don’t want to fight? You don’t have to! You can make all your money and experience (yes, experience) crafting and selling items. I can say with complete confidence that the FFXIV community is the most friendly one I have encountered so far, and they’re all too keen to team up, kill some badies, teach you gameplay tricks, or help you acquire the items you want. But nobody seems to notice how easily FFXIV accomplishes these feats that are a constant source of whining among gamers.

Square Enix did not get FFXIV wrong. In fact, I would argue that the game is the result of far too many ideas without enough time to implement them and refine them to the level of polish that the community has come to expect from the series. But the game remains fun and allows you to embark upon an adventure with as many friends as you want.

And that is something that Final Fantasy games don’t do often enough.

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