Final Fantasy XIV
Platform: PC, PlayStation 3
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Release: US 2010

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Kick butt at crafting, get the girl.
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Yes, those flying-bug-tower things are completely normal.
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I can't even tell what's going on here, but I know it's awesome.
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So manly! (This caption left over from the Rune Factory 3 template, but I thought it was hilarious here.)
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Sam Hansen
Hands-On Preview
Sam Hansen

Maybe you can chalk it up to the downright daunting movie theater screen at the center of their booth, or to the strings of demo stations that they've got speckled around it, but it should be known that Square-Enix never has to worry about having a dearth of eager attendees with thumbs at the ready. And with a variety of games spanning more genres than you'd probably expect (puzzlers, shoot'em'ups, and... wait, is that Space Invaders?), it should come as no surprise that their floor space hustles and bustles at all hours. No matter how you slice it, the fathers of Final Fantasy know how to put on a good show.

Separate from the cinema, yet close enough to sing along with whatever Utada Hikaru remix was blaring from the speakers, the Final Fantasy XIV station remains tucked away at the booth front for private showings. Accompanied by fellow editors Liz Maas and Mike Salbato, I walked into the boxy dwelling which houses Square-Enix's next big attempt at snatching up the MMO market. The version we got our hands on was an extremely early one, with bugs and warnings about them aplenty. And despite the inevitable hiccups, I was able to get a good, albeit minute, taste of what we can expect come release time.

As the name implies, Final Fantasy XIV is a brand new title, complete with new storylines, locales, and inhabiting characters. We were immediately dropped into a spectacular port town, elevated above the ocean floor with long, snaking stone walkways and towers housing homely villagers and distant adventurers. The harbors below sloshed pirate ships and fishing vessels about with aptly rendered next-gen water, and combined with the sheer scale of the labyrinthine corridors and surrounding fauna, the entire scene was a real joy to experience.

Of course, a good chunk of the fun came from seeing this all in 3D. Did I forget to mention that little tidbit? Described to us as a mere testing of the waters – more of an expo showpiece rather than a concrete implementation – the three-dimensional spin certainly added a little something extra to the already breathtaking vista. I can't say that the added depth of field was a dealmaker, but considering the scope of the vicinity and the vertical space separating us from the oceans and forests beyond, I was willing to put up with the goofy goggles necessary to make it all pop.

"If you can see it, you can explore it," said the booth guide as he directed us through the sprawls and spirals. Our tour weaved us in and out of key areas throughout town such as the Adventurer's Guild (for those who fancy a quest) and the Culinary Guild (for stat enhancements via delicious digital cuisine). All the while, our tour guide dropped graphical selling points upon us, all of which became readily apparent and were inarguably gorgeous. Perhaps the key feature here was the ambient lighting effects, which kept the camera flaring and adjusting to match with scenery changes. While it goes without saying, you can bet that these visuals will be looking all sorts of pretty come release.

Following the citadel romp, the latter half of the demo showcased at brevity FFXIV's quest system and battle engine, which will ultimately be where the meat of the game can be found. I was dropped off into an underground, crystalline tunnel and charged with the task of destroying a small group of crab enemies alongside my party of two other E3 attendees. Quests will apparently shift regularly depending on the particular circumstances. Additional crabs, for example, could show up as reinforcements following the defeat of the initial handful in question, or they might scurry away into the depths of the tunnels, making a simple kill-or-be-killed assignment into a cat and mouse game of attrition (or in my case, Conjurer and Dungeness crustacean).

As I followed my teammates into the salted abyss, the specifics of the Action and Stamina Bars (the cruxes of the battle system) were explained to me. A click of a button will bring up the former, a spell HUD with different tiers of character-dependent magic and other strategic actions. Physical attacks, buffs, ailment-inducers, etc. Each attack displays a specific numeral value delineating the amount of MP or TP necessary to carry out the action, with the latter gained through the actual act of combat. The more basic actions you perform and wallops you suffer, the more TP-based specialty moves you'll be able to dish out.

The final outlined feature was the Stamina Bar, which appears to be a countdown timer of sorts to control the speed and regularity of your attacks. Upon performing certain actions, your Stamina Bar will begin to deplete, allowing you to perform as big of an attack combo as your pretty little self can muster. Once it runs out, one can expect a cooldown time for the bar to fill back up. As expected, large attacks like AOE spells will drain the Stamina Bar in larger, more instantaneous increments, forcing players to consider where their priorities lie in relation to how much stamina is being chipped away.

So there I was, ready to go headlong into the fray with my posse in tow. I had the utmost faith in my comrades. The stalwart Gladiator, the armor piercing Lancer, and I, the Conjurer with wand and oversized robe sleeves &ndash we were stacked. My teammates and I rounded the corner, and I watched as they galloped off into the gloomy cavern, slashing this way and that at the... wait. Wait, what? Why are they hitting at the air? Oh gosh, they're actually damaging empty space...

"Whoops. Looks like the character models disappeared. Gotta love that experimental 3D version."

Alas, I was bested by the dreaded invisible crab mob. My fireballs and Doomsdays were for naught.

In spite of that unfortunate, bugged finale to an otherwise flawless run-through, Final Fantasy XIV is looking to be a solid addition to the franchise. With this being Square-Enix's second stab at the genre, fans are undoubtedly eager to hop back into the MMO swing of things, and with a new universe and gameplay engines, this could very well be a tantalizing excuse for longtime fans to farm Gil all over again.


© 2010 Square Enix. All Rights Reserved

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