Square Enix’s endless Final Fantasy series has come in many different forms since its launch in 1987. We have everything from turn-based pixel adventures to giant 3D worlds where action is the key word. Strategic grid-based combat to Gauntlet-like concepts. And of course, the online games, the titles that many of us doubted, but which grew to become Square Enix’s most profitable game ever.
Final Fantasy XIV in particular is particularly remarkable. Its motley story is a truly spectacular “Bird Phoenix” story. At least in terms of publisher Square Enix, which has historically shipped success after success. That Final Fantasy XIV would be the black sheep, they themselves could not even imagine. Especially when Final Fantasy XI, their previous online-based creation, has been really successful.
A reborn game
The rest, that is, how they turned the ship around completely with a world-destroying event, is history. In 2013, the servers were restarted, this time for the A Realm Reborn upgrade. “New Final Fantasy XIV” turned out to be the original game should have been. A more living world instead of the original repetitive structure. A revised menu system was introduced, along with a faster combat system. Upgrades also took place at server level and resulted in, among other things, faster response times and smaller lag.
However, we should put the cards on the table immediately. We are not frequent guests in Hydaelyn, the world of Final Fantasy XIV. The last time we played was in connection with the expansion Shadowbringers and then mainly to test the new class “Gunbreaker”. This is because we at the editorial office are big fans of Final Fantasy VIII and take every opportunity given to live Squall Leonhart.
One thing our spontaneous visits, however, have taught us is that the world in Final Fantasy XIV is at least as unique as in the more traditional games. And the references to just the other parts abound. To the extent that we wonder what fans of “regular”, offline-based Final Fantasy miss about when they skip the online games. But above all – are there incentives for single players to pick up a membership?
Have we ended up in Ivalice?
We recently had the chance to play an early version of the upcoming Endwalker expansion. Our goal? To play as much solo as possible. But first the essentials – the name Endwalker does not mean that Square Enix is planning another apocalypse. But rather the end of the story that has been going on since the very first launch of the game.
And luckily so, as the world of Final Fantasy XIV still has a lot to give. Such as the new areas we are allowed to explore during our session. We start in the port city of Old Sharlayan, one of the various hubs where hundreds of players gather. Were it not for the countless menus around the screen, everything could just as easily have been taken from a stand-alone sequel to Final Fantasy XII.
The aesthetics of the architecture, the different races that interact – everything breathes Ivalice. This also applies to our own character, a so-called “Viera” with the huge hares-like ears that are so characteristic of the breed. After fumbling around dock workers, human players who just stand still, and a series of helpless npc files, we teleport to other areas, hoping to get some more action.
Attack is the best defense
For the sake of simplicity, our character is maxed out, with access to all the different jobs. Initially, we test the Paladin class and trudge through a beach area, with the sunset behind us. Thavnair is significantly more tropical than the previous port city, something that is reflected in a more colorful flora and fauna. We see jungle areas further away, but before we even have time to take a few steps, we are attacked by a giant turtle.
We aim at the beast, circulate around it in real time and then feed on the various attacks that are specific to our character class. These are presented in icon form and are really easy to access through simple clicks. Since we are maxed out, however, it became difficult to pick and choose among the attacks. But if you start from scratch, you will gradually learn what works best in different situations.
From time to time we get help from other passing players, and sometimes we jump into other people’s battles ourselves. Completely without delays. The system still has group play as a starting point and therefore it is no wonder that this aspect works painlessly. However, there are other elements that are more or less specially developed for single players. And unsurprisingly, this is where we spend the most time during our demo session.
Dump the team!
We decide to take on the Tower of Zot, a giant tower with roots in Final Fantasy IV. Here the idea is to fight your way through hordes of enemies in narrow corridors, to finally reach the top. Normally, a full-scale team is needed to even have a chance, but fortunately we can put ourselves in a queuing system that locates and brings in other teammates with the same goal. For those who can not wait, it is also possible to bring in computer-controlled fellow players.
Ahead of the upcoming battles, we have also switched to one of two new character classes, Reaper. The tower we are in yesterday is, after all, in the sign of death, with meaty and bony environments – aesthetically excellent for a lieman. This particular class is really suitable for us solo players, as a lot of focus is given to melee abilities. From time to time we also evoke a ghost who then takes the opportunity to hand out meadows.
In these particular segments, the game is very reminiscent of Final Fantasy XII. On the other hand, the players’ independence aside, there are times when the ai makes dubious choices. Choices that end with the characters, for example, “falling” off the track. Here and there we simply have to manage a man briefly. Here we hope that the developers fix the problem before the launch of the expansion.
“References, references everywhere”
Despite good interaction between our teammates, we are completely discouraged from time to time. But for some reason we continue anyway. Just like when we play a really good action game, we just get more tagged on testing new techniques. We learn which magic and maneuvers work best the hard way. A contributing factor to the fact that we spend so much time in this particular tower is all the references that were just thrown in our direction.
The background music is unsurprising from part four. The antagonists, on the other hand, are a mix of new and old acquaintances. There’s something particularly magical about watching Magitek Armor from Final Fantasy VI again. Or at least the tower’s three rulers, the Magus sisters from the aforementioned Final Fantasy IV. The developers have thus made a big impact in terms of fan service. In this particular context, it also works great without feeling like another regular crossover.
In other words – a lot of Final Fantasy for the money. How easy the whole thing will be for solo players remains to be seen, but Square Enix themselves believe that at least the story is workable.
Final Fantasy XIV Endwalker will be released on November 23, 2021 for Playstation 5, Playstation 4, Windows and Mac OS.
Footnote: We played a preview version via the streaming app Parsec.