Final Fantasy XIV ended in 2012. Plagued with constant issues and mired with poor controls, Final Fantasy XIV hardly deserved the series moniker. Despite being speared by critics and fans alike, the game was filled with devoted players who stayed in Eorzea up until the end. Faithful Warriors of Light stood together as the constructed moon of Dalamud fell, and Bahamut emerged in spectacular conflagration. Players looked on in horror as Louisoix — using the last of his power — transformed Bahamut’s world-ending Teraflare into harmless aether, dispersing it into the atmosphere.
As the final pieces of Dalamud fell, the servers of Final Fantasy XIV fell with it. Despite this, character info was saved and locked away for the eventual return.
Final Fantasy XIV would go on to be the only series entry that was no longer accessible in any form; it was no longer a playable game.
In a move unheard of for an MMORPG, Final Fantasy XIV eventually returned as A Realm Reborn, the 2.0 version of the failed game that improved on it in every conceivable way. Gone were the endless Levequests, the lack of the ability to jump, the aged UI, the slow combo-centric battle system and menu heavy gameplay. A Realm Reborn returned from the ashes like the Primal Phoenix himself, a brand new game for a brand new generation of players.
Still, hidden somewhere in those aetheric ashes were the memories of what the game had been.
I first played the game back in 2012 out of morbid curiosity. My poor laptop chugged and groaned as it attempted to load the areas, and after a few hours as a Lalafel Lancer I counted the experience to “I’ve had enough.” Despite being a longtime series fan, I logged out of Final Fantasy XIV and moved on with my life. It wasn’t a good game, or at least, it wasn’t for me.
I had given up entirely on thinking about Final Fantasy XIV until the announcement of A Realm Reborn. It was a point in my life where distractions were whole-heartedly welcome: I worked a miserable job as an underpaid prep cook for a catering company, my girlfriend of almost four years was ready to leave me, and my life had little direction. Video games have always been a comfort for me, especially during the rockiest times in my life. MMORPGs seem to hold that comfort to a higher standard; what’s better than having an enormous, unending, content-rich world to escape to?
My Final Fantasy obsessed friends and I were suddenly excited for A Realm Reborn. The game looked different. Yes, it was still Final Fantasy XIV in technical terms, but the team had rebuilt the game from the ground up. So, after pre-ordering the game in advance, we were given the option to jump into Eorzea one week early in August of 2013.
Final Fantasy XIV was different. I am no stranger to MMORPGs; up until that point I had experienced World of Warcraft through Cataclysm and played a host of smaller free-to-play MMOs that only existed to fill the boredom void. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn was more than that. It was damn fun, and it felt like everything in it had been tooled to cater to the experience of the new player. I jumped in as an Arcanist, the seed class that would turn into Summoner and let me sling magics with miniature Primals at my side.
I never looked back.
Seven years later, I’m still playing it. Seven years later, I still main Summoner. Seven years later, Final Fantasy XIV stands as a triumphant experience where so many other games have come and gone.
Warriors of Light
Despite its background in the MMO tradition, Final Fantasy XIV allows itself to be a surprisingly solitary game. The Main Story Quest (MSQ) is robust, and throughout its additional three expansions, it has wedged itself comfortably among the ranks of the best plots in the entire Final Fantasy series. A Realm Reborn was fairly traditional Final Fantasy fodder: the Warrior of Light and their friends must take down an evil empire, fighting Primals (summoned monsters) along the way and culminating in a fight against the Ultimate Weapon. After A Realm Reborn resolved, the game branched out wonderfully. Heavensward not only took to the skies but evolved the game beyond expectations.
The original endgame content for A Realm Reborn was infinitesimal compared to what we have now. I fondly remember farming The Wanderer’s Palace and Amdapor Keep for Darklight gear and teaming up with Free Company mates in order to seek out my Relic Weapon. At that time, A Realm Reborn didn’t have 24-person raids, a Duty Roulette, or much in the way of endgame content at all. Still, my friends and I who began the game at day one didn’t give up on it, and we were pleasantly rewarded.
I noticed a change in myself as I played through the endless content of Final Fantasy XIV. The stories and characters of the Final Fantasy series have always deeply affected me. It’s easier for me to empathize with the plights of fictional characters than it is for me to do the same with anyone in real life. Final Fantasy has long provided me a safe space to feel my feelings without judgment, and in exchange, I have learned so many lessons on life from the series. Final Fantasy XIV ratcheted this up even more.
In addition to the action and intrigue that A Realm Reborn’s story held, the game itself offered that exquisite second layer that only MMORPGs can; I was experiencing these highs and lows alongside other players who were doing the same thing I was. Yes, our MSQ events and scripted cutscenes were the same, but our paths were different. We were free to choose our Grand Companies and Free Companies, we made and lost friends, we bought and sold and traded and saw the sights of Eorzea to our own paces. While I was falling in love with the world of Eorzea and the characters therein, I was falling in love with the players of Final Fantasy XIV, too.
Growing with the Game
I’ve always been a solitary, introspective person. Even now in my early 30s, I have a difficult time opening up to people or making new friends. Stepping into Eorzea doesn’t turn me into a new person, but it does allow me to feel a little freer outside my physical body. I’ve joined and left Free Companies, I’ve made and lost friends, I’ve played Dungeons and Trials and Raids with hundreds and thousands of random strangers and shared deep bonding experiences with people I’ll never see again. Final Fantasy XIV does more than give me a place to draw a sword and cast a spell, it gives me a place to bond with people in a way I simply can’t do in real life.
And, in turn, Final Fantasy XIV has made me see the world in a different light.
The inherent draw to a MMORPG like Final Fantasy XIV is personal. It’s a video game. You purchase your copy of the game and renew your subscription based on a desire to play the game. What I never expected was that I would keep coming back to Eorzea again and again not only because I love the content of the game, but because playing it with other people is an experience that makes me feel better as a person. I’ve helped new players clear Dungeons and Trials, I’ve given friends items they’ve needed, I’ve cleared new content with friends in real life and friends I’ve met online, and I’ve challenged the most difficult fights the game has to offer with complete strangers that become real buddies.
From A Realm Reborn to Shadowbringers, Final Fantasy XIV has transformed into something both wholly different and achingly familiar. The base components of the game are still there, and always will be. It’s the unending content, Job changes, story additions, and overall improvement that have kept Final Fantasy XIV strong, interactive, and incredibly fun. With the inclusion of Shadowbringers, Final Fantasy XIV has shown itself as not only an MMORPG with staying power but one of the absolute best narratives in the entire catalog of the series. I’ve been playing Final Fantasy XIV for more than seven years now, and if they keep going, I’ll be playing it for another seven.
While the world has been recently tumultuous, Final Fantasy XIV has been there for me through it all. It’s more than just a bout of escapism — Eorzea often feels more real and worthwhile than the physical world. With the inclusion of the new free-to-play content and the popularity of Shadowbringers, I’ve been able to help family, friends, and friends of friends through old content, seeing it new and fresh through their eyes.
Although it’s changed, and I’ve changed with it, Final Fantasy XIV is something special for so many people, a landscape where friends and strangers can team up in the pursuit of the common good, a place where the barriers of the world fall away while we sling spells and share experiences.
To every friend real and virtual, to every adventure I’ve ever had, to every new piece of equipment and chirruping mount and beautiful piece of music and heartbreaking turn of the story, I say thanks. Final Fantasy XIV is an experience like no other, a game that stands apart from the rest, a titanic example of how a video game can make one feel like they truly belong in the world and are better for having experienced it.
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