Last week, Final Fantasy XIV released patch 4.5, better known as A Requiem For Heroes, the first part of what will be the final content update before the game’s next major expansion, Shadowbringers, launches later this year.
Really since Heavensward, the game has been a roll when it comes to delivering excellent story-based content, and A Requiem For Heroes delivered once again, offering up a fascinating but ultimately shocking look into the mindset of the Garlean leadership.
Final Fantasy XIV isn’t a perfect game, but it does a lot of things right. It’s fairly well-balanced (especially when compared to Final Fantasy XI), it gets very consistent and substantial updates, and is one of the most beautiful MMORPGs on the market.
By far, though, its biggest strength is its story. Ever since the development team was free to focus on writing a focused narrative without having to really worry about having filler quests designed to level people up (read: vanilla A Realm Reborn which we’ll get to), Final Fantasy XIV’s story has been, and still is among the best in gaming right now.
Over the course of the base game, two expansions, and roughly 15 or so content updates, the world of Final Fantasy XIV has evolved tremendously.
Initially, Eorzea was dominated by the antagonistic Garlean Empire, and only thanks to the help of your player character (and a few other miracles), are you just barely able to pull the three starter nations together to hold off a full on conquest by the Garleans.
Since then, with each passing expansion, your efforts have resulted in new allies being brought into the fold (Ishgard), and the liberation of formerly conquered territories (Ala’Mihgo and Doma) that have also joined the fight.
Now a coalition that started off shaky at best, and could barely keep the peace in their own backyard, is now strong enough to rival the Garleans themselves.
In the next expansion Shadowbringers, the Eorzean Alliance is finally throwing off the gloves and bringing the pain to the Garleans, and hopefully putting a stop their nonsense once and for all.
There’s a lot more to it than that, in fact we learned a lot about the nature of the Garlean Empire this past week that I won’t spoil for those that still haven’t caught all the way up. Needless to say, even if the Garlean Empire is finally put down after Shadowbringers, there’s still plenty of other problems on the horizon.
That’s only just the main storyline too. Separate from that, you have the raid storylines (two of them), which were especially interesting in Stormblood.
One of them featured a tournament led by classic Final Fantasy villain Omega which had the player character go up against other classic enemies. And the other was a crossover with Ivalice, namely Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy XII which has expanded on the lore of both those games.
And then, you also have long-running sidequests like the hysterical Hildebrand saga which has persisted throughout the game since A Realm Reborn.
There’s just so much amazing story content in Final Fantasy XIV that you can spend hours on, and still feel like your subscription is worth it without really having to dive too hardcore into the traditional stuff like dungeons and raiding.
There’s just one massive problem. All of this is gated behind having to play through the initial base game, the vanilla version of A Realm Reborn I alluded to. You can’t just jump right into the good stuff.
You’ll need to spend at least a typical JRPG game’s worth of hours for it to start getting good. And it does get really good after you hit level 50 and finish the first main quest.
But it’s a struggle to try and hype up Final Fantasy XIV’s story to a friend, knowing that at some point you’re going to have to undermine yourself when you explain to them they’ll have to spend hours doing filler content first before the story gets going.
It’s not that A Realm Reborn is terrible, but it’s certainly more in-line with the old stereotype of MMORPGs —that they can’t tell great stories.
The parts that matter are interesting enough, but there’s so much stuff that just doesn’t matter in the original main story quest.
There’s a lot of pointless fetch quests, dull characters asking you to do meaningless tasks, and just a generally doing a lot of things that won’t appeal to anyone outside of MMORPG fans.
It made sense originally when A Realm Reborn first came out, since the development team had to make it last, and the main story was the primary vehicle for getting characters all the way from level 1 to level 50,
Now though it’s just a gigantic boring hurdle that needs to be cleared before getting to the content that sets Final Fantasy XIV apart from its competition.
It’s a problem that development team has recognized. The game’s real-life cash store offers boosts for those that just want to skip to the current content for a price.
However, trying to get people to pay to skip part of a game that they not only need to buy, but also subscribe to, is very a hard sell.
Plus, the story skip seems like a solution that is geared more for people who just want to rush to end game content as soon as possible. Not everything in A Realm Reborn is worth skipping over, it’s just there’s a lot of needless clutter around it.
It’s a shame too, because you can absolutely make the case that the current ongoing narrative in Final Fantasy XIV is the best the series has seen since Final Fantasy X, if not even further back than that.
Leveling up isn’t even the problem anymore because there are plenty of in-game (free) boosts to help players catch up. The problem is again just the sheer number of quests that require you to run around and perform mindless tasks that take forever.
Catering to people who are only in it for playing through the expansions, or experience the Hildibrand/raid quests for themselves only serves to help the growth of the game, and it doesn’t negatively impact those that are in it for the MMORPG gameplay in any way.
All solving this problem would do is grow the game beyond just the typical players who would consider subbing to a MMORPG like Final Fantasy XIV.
The best we can hope for is that the development team recognizes this massive trump card that they have, and are actively looking for ways to be inclusive of new players that just want to experience arguably one of the best Final Fantasy stories the series has to offer.