Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood. PC/PS4. Square Enix. June 20, 2017. $39.99
It’s hard to believe Final Fantasy has been around for 30 years. Its parent company, Square Enix just celebrated their 30th anniversary—quite an achievement in a fast moving industry. Square Enix released several impressive titles to celebrate this anniversary; a numbered entry in the series Final Fantasy XV was massively successful, Final Fantasy IX finally made its way onto the PC, but most recently Final Fantasy XIV Online got its second major expansion pack, Stormblood. So is the world of Eorzea worth diving into again? Does the series’ MMORPG deserve that coveted spot at second most played MMORPG after World of Warcraft? The answer is a resounding yes, despite server issues around the expansion’s launch the core game is brilliantly written—truly a story to resonate with the times. Players old and new will enjoy Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood.
Square Enix did a number of things in order to retain their impressive XIV playerbase. It’s tough work to keep people paying a monthly subscription to a game in 2017. Elder Scrolls Online went free-to-play within a year of its release, for instance. Keeping this subscription takes great content, excellent longevity, and brilliant direction—Stormblood has all of these. However, fans of the series and gaming aficionados will remember the colossal failure that Final Fantasy XIV 1.0 was when it launched in 2013. It almost sent Square Enix out of business. Thanks to some agile development and a complete re-launch of the game, the MMORPG went from zero to hero.
In Stormblood, the level cap for players has been raised from 60 to 70. This change will make newcomers to the series weary, but in order to mitigate that weariness, Square Enix has added jump potions to bring the new players all the way to level 60 so they don’t feel left out of the high-level action. Another thing that Square has done to keep players in the loop is bundle their previous expansion (Heavensward) into the purchase of Stormblood, meaning players get the older expansion content free with purchase!
A controversial decision in the process of releasing the game was to end PS3 support. Final Fantasy XIV was the first MMORPG for the PS3 and by 2017 it was safe to say that developing for the dated console was holding the game back. In order to help out those who still played on PS3, Square provided a free copy of the PS4 version to subscribers on PS3. These sorts of decisions keep Square fans in love with their developers. They just keep making good decisions. Once a company whose hubris almost gave way to failure, they’ve turned around completely. Final Fantasy XIV under the direction of Yoshi-P (producer/director who saved the title from utter failure back in 2013) is exactly what MMORPG fans are looking for.
The plot of this expansion centers around the liberation of a small nation, Ala Mhigo, bordering Eorzea (the protagonist’s home nation). The evil imperial Garleans, expunged from Eorzea rule Ala Mhigo with an iron fist and it’s up to the Warrior of Light (the player character) to put an end to their tyranny. The plot is full of twists and turns, surprises, old faces, and new ones too. A highlight would have to be seeing so many strong female leads! Especially if the Warrior of Light is a woman, there are many hours of cinematics featuring strong females on either side of the conflict —other games could learn a thing or two from the characters of Lyse, Yugiri, and Alisae.
The game’s departure from the PS3 really allowed the developers to redesign some assets and build up the graphical component of the game. Jagged polygons are almost completely gone and rendered cinematics must have been tested hundreds of times because they look outstanding. As far as a game from 2013 goes the graphics are impressive and Eorzea is as beautiful as ever. The new zones are truly something to behold, they are massive and have some cool new surprises! One of these surprises is the addition of swimming and diving. Upon the competition of a certain, early main scenario quest, players can dive to the depths of breathtaking seas and swim among the coral and sea life.
Square Enix has really stepped up their usability here too. They promised a revamped combat system and the removal to unused skills from bloated level 60 hotbars—they were not lying. In trimming the fat, they made room for new skills for each of the games jobs. There are no new playable races in this expansion but players were given access to two new, popular jobs, stalwarts in the Final Fantasy series: Red Mage and Samurai. By all accounts, these new jobs are simply marvelous to play.
The production elements of Stormblood really shine too. Masayoshi Soken, the game’s composer, really outdid himself. The man also recently received a Guinness World Record for most tracks composed for a video game! Stormblood will be another feather in his hat. The far-eastern setting has applicable, but not derivative music. Gorgeous soundscapes and music shift between day and night, and the battle themes are exciting. Fortunately, voice acting is masterfully put together as well. Though the Japanese acting is a little better, the English track is leaps and bounds better than it was in 2.0.
Stormblood is just was Final Fantasy XIV needed. There was some concern as it’s pretty commonly accepted that Square Enix sort of goofed with their endgame raid for Heavensward, Alexander. The reviews of Stomblood’s raid, Omega have yet to be written as the content will be released Tuesday July 4th, 2017. Until then, players have one hell of a huge expansion to enjoy. New or old, if you’re on the fence, I say go for it. Square Enix have truly taken care of their players since Final Fantasy XIV version 2.0 came out. This game has one of the friendliest, non-toxic communities in all of gaming right now, complete with a mentor system. If you find your way to Gilgamesh server, make sure to drop me a line!