There is one area where if you took a poll of all Final Fantasy XIV players, A Realm Reborn would come out on top quite a ways, and that is in the area of the 8-man raid dungeon series. Post release, 8-man dungeons are rolled out at set intervals and tie in to each other with an overall narrative. For A Realm Reborn, the 8-man raid series was the Binding Coil of Bahamut. Most of the really difficult fights took place there, and some very fascinating story that also tied into the events that led up to the storyline death of 1.0 Final Fantasy XIV. While Heavensward was widely loved, and is generally considered to be better than either ARR and Stormblood, its Alexander 8-man raid series was considered by many people to be a little disappointing. The story tied together well and the fights were interesting, but it didn’t have quite the visual splendor of the first series and it also didn’t tie in much to the overall world story. Stormblood‘s 8-man raid series was the Omega Weapon, and it was both a step forward and a step back. The story had even less to do with the overall world arc and the individual instances weren’t tied well together. But the Omega Weapon did call on enemies from all across the Final Fantasy series lore, so there was a ton of nostalgia in those fights if you were a longtime fan of the series. Once again, Yoshi P and his team seem to have taken all those criticisms on board and crafted a dungeon series for Shadowbringers that both ties into the overall narrative extremely well, and also has very interesting and congruent fights within the dungeon itself. So far only the first part of the dungeon series has been released, but it is a story featuring a massive Lightwarden named Eden. And just as the name suggests, Final Fantasy VIII fights, music and enemy designs are featured very prominently.
Things are off to a great start with Shadowbringers, but there is still much more to come. Unfortunately I am not able to review the 24-man raid series quest line yet, because it has not been released. We already know that it is a raid series based on NieR: Automata, but until it comes out there is not much to say about it other than speculation on how it will fit within the game. However, with how well they fit in the Crystal Tower 24-man raid series into Shadowbringers, and with how wonderful the Ivalice series was from Stormblood, I have little doubt that we will be amazed when that content drops. Of course, there will be collaboration events that will be released as well (like there was with Monster Hunter World, Dragon Quest, and Final Fantasy XV), but most of the content is released on a fixed schedule. Some people do consider this strict schedule to be a bit limiting and unimaginative, but when the quality is this high, I consider that to be a feature more than a detraction. And the schedule worked out even better this time around because of server stability. This was the smoothest launch of any MMORPG I’ve ever experienced, and that applies to the game itself or any expansion. There was a brief period of an hour where I was unable to play 3 days after the early access launch, but other than that the servers only went down for maintenance. There were, of course, queue times to get into the game. But you should always expect that at launch, especially if you are on a 1.0 legacy server like I am, and it will calm down in the weeks after.
Masayoshi Soken is a name that video game enthusiasts need to get into their lexicon, he is the main composer for Final Fantasy XIV. He has been doing amazing work on the game for years, but he has truly surpassed himself with this release. It is going to be a long wait until the Shadowbringers soundtrack will finally be released (usually a year after initial launch), but I cannot wait to get it in my grubby fists. Not only is this soundtrack a masterwork in the genre, I consider it to be an all time work of art for video games as a whole. There are a lot of beautiful remixes of previous Final Fantasy tunes, as you would expect for this game by now, but his best work comes with the new songs he has been composing specifically for the game. Unlike the previous two expansions, the main title theme that has been heard in a few trailers takes a long time before it comes into the game, but when it does, it is at the perfect time and many people just flat out start crying. I’m not being hyperbolic about it, I watched several streamers just break down in tears at that moment. I effusively praised the story, and justifiably so, but all the zone, dungeon, battle and story themes musically bind the whole thing together and help it transcend what it would have been capable of otherwise.
If you are waiting for any negatives, I simply don’t have any. It’s entirely possible that a game of this type will not be for you, and especially when it comes to a monthly subscription. But for those who are enthusiasts of the genre, that is no real barrier to entry. This was simply the perfect release for me, and is now my favorite MMORPG experience of all time. The one issue they might have going forward is how to continue at such a fantastic level. It is a really difficult balance to make a single player story feel so immediate and important in an MMORPG setting. And one casualty of that process is that I now love the First so much, that I don’t even want to go back to the Source. Of course, there are much worse problems to have in a game. And as the story of Shadowbringers continues, there will be more story hooks that will lead us back into the Source. This is a meaty RPG on its own, but the structure of Final Fantasy XIV expansions is always that you get about half of the story up front, and the other half will progress across the next two years leading into the next expansion. Even what is here more than justifies the $39.99 expansion price, but the continuing story also makes it satisfying to keep renewing that $10-$15 a month subscription fee. It’s much more than busy work, they truly care about this game and they always listen to their community. There is just nothing more you could ask for a MMORPG, and this is the new standard for which other developers are going to have to reach for in order to have any chance with us switching over to something new.
Review Copy, Expansion and all fees were purchased by the reviewer.