It was a strange feeling, the thought of returning to the world of Eorzea after time away. The first visit was fraught with trepidation – MMOs don’t have the most glittering prospects, especially new ones and definitely those that had already failed before. Playing A Realm Reborn on the PlayStation 3, however, was a delight – a solid, beautiful and wonderfully inclusive experience, unafraid to stick to tried and tested genre traits. With a sheen of polish typical of the Final Fantasy franchise it surprised and delighted in equal measure. So why return to it on an admittedly more powerful console all these months later? Surely much can’t have changed…
The good news is that, yes, things are different and the PlayStation 4 does bring a few new ideas to the table. First, though, a refresher (or primer) for anyone unfamiliar with the game. A Realm Reborn derives its name from the initial release of Final Fantasy XIV so many moons ago – a failed MMO that insulted fans and died a deserved death, Square Enix calling a halt to the derided embarrassment in order to patch things up. In fact, they did more than that – the game was overhauled, with a new engine, more user friendly quest system and general improvements in every facet of the title. Relaunched with the Realm Reborn moniker, the game explains away any previous in-world events as wiped clean in a catastrophic final battle, killing off any old player-made characters and instilling universal amnesia amongst the surviving citizens. Players return to the world as prospective adventurers five years later, the usual prophecies and fated destinies acting as motive for your importance amongst the settlers.
Bringing an already good-looking MMO to the PlayStation 4 does mean that it’s hard to spot graphical improvements immediately, but the power of Sony’s latest does offer a game that runs smoother, faster and ever so slightly shinier than before. Characters and environments are basic in comparison to other Final Fantasy instalments but compared to other MMOs available on the market XIV stands head and shoulders apart in graphical fidelity. The Elder Scrolls Online – probably the closest rival in terms of established RPGs turned MMO – looks laughably retrograde compared to the elegant art design on show in A Realm Reborn.
The addition of the Dualshock 4 touchpad introduces a cursor that makes navigating menus a touch more convenient. Aside from that, there’s not a huge deal more that’s blindingly different between the PS3 and PS4 versions. Perhaps the biggest stumble lies in the ability to transfer your character from the older console to the newer – while it’s great that it’s possible, the method of doing so is drawn-out, clunky and enough to put you off bothering to play. To do so you need to have both versions of the game to hand and must instigate the transfer from one console before retrieving the data on your PS4. In an age where the cloud is so vaunted and where you’ll have already spent many hours downloading gigabytes of data before you can even launch the game, the fact that such a roundabout method is employed to transfer your character is unbelievable. It’s understandable that Square Enix are cautious in order to head fraud off at the pass, but merely changing from a wireless to a wired connection resulted in a temporary account ban and a mandatory password change. The game is great fun once you’re in; the hoops you must jump through to get to that stage are almost not worth the effort.
Luckily, the time that has passed since our look at the PS3 incarnation of A Realm Reborn has been kind to the game. Joining an MMO at launch is risky business – so many fail in this day and age and paying a premium or subscription is rapidly becoming unpopular. Poor subscription numbers don’t translate into great support but Square Enix has done XIV proud, with plenty of patches and content updates to keep things fresh. Amazingly, new content doesn’t just extend the game for higher level players – new quests are introduced for lower levels as well. There are also new features designed to show off the beauty of the world – a new questline essentially tasks players with discovering the best vistas in Eorzea. Mechanics have also been streamlined; world navigation is easier, communication via the text box is simpler and even the world itself has been redesigned and polished here and there. This is the type of support that turns an MMO from a fleeting affair to a worryingly time-consuming pastime. A sure sign that there’s something right.
Restarting presented an opportunity to choose a different class and starting area, revealing that the personality imbued in the first playthrough wasn’t a fluke. Limsa Lominsa – the nautical hub of Eorzea – had a pleasantly piratical vibe to it, the quests feeling entirely different despite following the same pattern as before. The world also still felt populated – a devoted band of old and new players alike keeping A Realm Reborn active, even so many months on from launch. That an MMO could survive not just a resurrection but a staggered platform release again testifies to the open and accessible nature of its inherent systems.
With regular content updates confirmed for the future, there has never been a better time to explore Eorzea. By adhering to the cookie-cutter conformity of MMO tropes, A Realm Reborn doesn’t attempt anything wholly new but shines in its familiarity. You’d think that there’d be a huge hurdle to leap, coming at the game from the standpoint of a newcomer. Not only does it have the Final Fantasy lore to contend with, but a whole previous incarnation as well as MMO etiquette – a daunting prospect for even the most hardened grinder. In fact, it eases you in gently and never feels like a hassle. Maybe it’s the graphics, the outstanding soundtrack or just the charm that calls you back time after time. A Realm Reborn has been born anew and it remains one of the best MMOs on the market.