One year later, Final Fantasy XIV still has me in its clutches

One year later, Final Fantasy XIV still has me in its clutches

Stories of loss, fire and faith

Critically acclaimed MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV. Maybe you have heard of it? It’s a massive undertaking, spanning years and expansions, featuring huge comeback stories and legions of followers.

It was around this time last year that I first wrote about Final Fantasy XIV. Friends had been trying to get me into it for ages, and I even did a character once before I immediately quit after seeing the whole mess on the screen. But hearing about the sheer enthusiasm as the servers buckled under the weight of new and old users trying to play Endwalker finally made me give it a real try.

I played some Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. And then I was off to Ishgard and Heaven. Then onto the deep conflicts of Stormblood, the grief of the Shadowbringers, and finally, the culmination of all things Endwalker. I played some XIV, and then I played a lot, a lot more of Final Fantasy XIV.

Screenshot via Destructoid

So instead of what it’s like to play Final Fantasy XIV at the height of its popularity, I’m back a year later. Here’s what it’s like to be totally into the Final Fantasy XIV frenzy, and why I think you should give it a shot, too.

Two-tone echoes falling through time

Starting into A Realm Reborn, I wasn’t sure what to expect since I’m not an MMO person. I gave a few chances here and there, but they weren’t my thing; something about standing around, hitting special skills from a massive lexicon of skills laid out in front of me, as leg-switching didn’t really do it for me.

The funny part is that Final Fantasy XIV doesn’t lean too far into this. Most of my fighting is hitting my spin skills, racking up damage and dodging pools of doom as they appear. What struck me about my XIV year was how I felt like I got to the good stuff so quickly.

Screenshot from Destructoid

It wasn’t long until my Lancer was giving me good opportunities to do more damage while maintaining a certain combo and positioning well. Soon I was switching combos, using one for increased damage and its effects while another produced more damage. Once I hit the Dragoon, I was given a bunch of jumps to work on my rotation, finding little cracks in the rotation where I could add more damage.

Everything seemed to get used to me, over time. I rarely felt the need to look up what a mechanic did, or felt lost while running content.

Storm of blood

It helps that the Final Fantasy XIV community is, for the most part, one of the most positive communities I’ve ever seen in a game. That’s not to say I haven’t seen some grief or trolling. But it has been an absolute contrast to the overwhelming positivity; most players tend to forgive mistakes, teach newcomers, wait patiently for stage-watchers, and share a common joy rather than drag each other down into frustration. It’s really energizing to sneak into a meeting and see everyone laughing and joking about what happened instead of jumping at each other’s throats.

Screenshot from Destructoid

The community and gameplay aren’t just combat and quest content. While there’s a bunch of high-level battles to be had, if you really want to push for glory, there’s also a ton of Final Fantasy XIV to check out featuring other talents. Sanctuary Island, added last year, is a completely combat-free area where players can farm, craft and create their own island, with some Animal Crossing vibes.

Disciples of Earth and Hand can delve deep into mining and crafting, receiving both tailored story content and benefits from it. Fishing is a more recent venture for me and I have come to love it. Finding new fishing holes allows me to revisit past spots for new spots, and ocean fishing adventures (sea raids, I like to call them) are really fun to do. And when all this work gets tiring, the Golden Plate awaits.

That’s not even counting all the player-created ventures. I’ve attended conventions and in-game meetups. I waited in line for the grand opening of a nightclub where a DJ streamed their set on Twitch and players danced to the game. Somehow, inexplicably, I found a fight club. She ruled.

Heart of embers, autumn

That’s not to say the main story isn’t good either. In fact, all together, Final Fantasy XIV as a whole might be one of my favorite stories in gaming. A Realm Reborn starts off slow, but lays all the groundwork and world-building needed, and has some really good stories hidden in the grunts and activities.

Then, of course, along comes Heavensward and throws the doors down. Stormblood feels like a Tactics-era tale, largely ditching the usual villains in favor of a grounded and poignant story about generations of war and conflict. Then comes Shadowbringers, turning the wheel in the opposite direction and creating an absolutely incredible campaign, easily my favorite of them all, before Endwalker ties everything together.

Screenshot from Destructoid

I played them all through 2022, in a marathon sprint that I hope would make Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi proud. In between all of this, I raided and tackled additional story content, bouncing between high-level content and pure world-expanding side adventures. I Fantasia’d my Warrior of Light into a new character, making them feel like my JRPG protagonist that I’ve led in every expansion. (Don’t worry, my original, hastily made Geralt knockoff is still around as my trusty holdover.) Triple Triad has dominated my time, and I’m just starting to get into some of the Extreme content.

Go ahead

Every day, I feel like I discover a new piece of content. I’m not sure how big Final Fantasy XIV is, but I know I haven’t seen the limits yet. It has made Square Enix’s approach to preserving old content a pleasure; while some games in progress may retain or remove certain content, the XIV team has been actively updating past work and making the node on the ramp smooth, even in the latest patch.

I can’t make any guarantees that a year from now, I’ll still be playing Final Fantasy XIV. Crashes and explosions come and go, and I’ve played and eventually dumped enough infinite forever games to know that the honeymoon phase will wear off. Still, Final Fantasy XIV feels built to accommodate immersion in and out. Updates are fairly regular, but the regular story content is fairly easy to play, while the harder content flows for the stronger base.

Screenshot from Destructoid

Final Fantasy XIV is an MMO that finally won me over in concept, mixing in a fantastic RPG story in the process filled with incredible story beats and characters. But what has kept me hooked on Final Fantasy XIV isn’t just the abundance of content or love for the series, but the way it’s fostered a world that doesn’t feel so hostile. Sure, I could bang my head against the wall in some tough fights. But if it’s been a long day and I just want to take a dip in the ocean or chill in the Golden Saucer with some friends, those activities are actively rewarding.

So a year later, I’ve been playing a lot of Final Fantasy XIV. I will certainly continue to do so as well. I’m all the way through Final Fantasy XIV, and I still feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. But now at least I can say for sure: it’s a trip worth taking.

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Eric Van Allen

Senior News Reporter

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