Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Final Fantasy XIV Stormblood: How Square ENIX Keeps You Addicted

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After an unsuccessful start with the vanilla release of Final Fantasy XIV, it appeared that the second online incarnation of the massive Final Fantasy franchise would flop. The first had failed so magnificently that to revive the battered game, the producers overhauled their entire team, destroyed the existing digital world with a giant meteor attack and rebuilt the game into Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn.

Now in its 7th year with a growing player base of 10 million worldwide, and thriving after the rebirth, Square ENIX released the second expansion of its online behemoth in June with Stormblood. For those who haven’t followed the lore of XIV’s online world of Eorzea, this expansion opens the game map to two new areas: Ala Mhigo, the fallen country and Doma, the Far Eastern territory that had been occupied by the Garlean Empire for 25 years.

As with all new content, new classes have been added and gameplay received a fair revamp, as well as a plethora of new NPCs, locations, and countless goodies and Easter eggs.

After battling the invading Garleans out of the Allied Nations of Eorzea and ending the Dragonsong War in Ishgard, you and the still existent Scions of the Seventh Dawn, take the fight to the Garleans in Ala Mhigo.

New Classes

New classes are available after Level 50, similar to the previous new class releases in Heavensward. However, in Heavensward, you could only access new classes once you can enter the city of Ishgard… which was only available with the completion of the Main Story Quests from A Realm Reborn, including the episodic content releases that come out approximately every quarter. So despite being able to gain the new classes at Level 30, you still had to be at least Level 50 to get to them.

Realizing that this caused some players a bit of frustration, the new classes in Stormblood are available after Level 50 in Ul’dah.

Samurai: The Chivalrous Warrior

Since all of Doma is inspired by Edo Era Japan (1600-1868), the newest DPS class released is the Samurai. This new melee class features light armor, similar to Ninjas, Monks, and Bards. Equipped with a katana, the Samurai follows the chivalrous code and offers some pretty badass class gear to make your character look like they stepped right out of 47 Ronin.

After achieving Level 50, whether or not you’ve finished the Main Story Quests, you’ll find a Ul’dahn Citizen near the Ul’dah Aetheryte, going on about some sick battle in the Gladiator Arenas. Since you’re a curious adventurer and eager to beat the crap out of arrogant NPCs, head on over to the Gladiator Guild and speak to the Lalafellian Ringmaster who will tell you about a warrior that promises to bestow a great gift to the fighter that can beat him.

Thus starts your relationship with your mentor, Master Musosai as he guides you in the chivalrous code and ways of the Samurai.

Gameplay for the Samurai is similar to Ninja as skill combos unlock some pretty hard hitting attacks. You’ll start off with basic Level 50 gear for a Samurai, but make sure you equip the handy set of earrings that increase your EXP gain, so you can continue your journey without spending too much time trying to level up a new class.

To be honest, I spent just a small amount of time as a Samurai, which was an easy transition from playing a Max Level Ninja. Attack speed is slightly lower, but the damage output is comparable to the speed. If you’re the type that really likes hearing the hits flow at a faster pace, Monk and Ninja are still your fastest DPS classes.

Red Mage: Charismatic Sorcery

For those who aren’t completely into Melee, the second class released for Stormblood is the long awaited Red Mage. This class was popular in several previous Final Fantasy games, including Final Fantasy, IV, V, VI, IX, and Bravely Default.

Red Mage is unique as it is both melee and a ranged spell caster DPS, setting it apart from previous classes. Previously, players had a few spell caster classes to choose from: Black Mage, White Mage, and Summoner. Red Mage brings in the elemental balancing act that Black Mage was familiar with. White magic and Dark Magic will need to be cast alternately to build up your alignment gauge, which will trigger your melee attacks to be enhanced and cause more damage. Of course, no Red Mage is complete without some fancy footwork, which comes in the form of being able to leap into melee and then doing a majestic backflip out of the damage area.

You’ll first gain access to Red Mage in Ul’dah after rushing to the rescue of a young girl in the midst of a kidnapping. After the Mi’qote Red Mage X’rhun appears to show you up and take down the kidnappers, he cordially invites you along with him to learn the skills of a Red Mage as your fighting prowess has thoroughly convinced him of your merit. He’ll take you out of town to the little bar right outside of Black Brush Station.

This is the only issue I have with the new class quests. X’rhun will give you level 50 gear for a Red Mage and you’re like “Sweet! I’m geared up and ready to go!” That is, until you try to open the box of goodies and an error message that says you can only open the box in a major city. Ok, it’s a minor complaint. But it’s just so tedious when you have to go back to the city to open a box and then go back to the bar outside of U’ldah to continue the quest. Again, a minor setback and one of annoyance, but not the end all condition of the game.

Anyhow, once you’re geared up, X’rhun will have you follow him into his grand journey of making up for past mistakes by assisting those in need. The truly annoying part, besides the goody box error? The fact that he never stays in one place, so you’ll have to remember where you left him before you can continue on.

New Areas

Without giving up too many spoilers, the main story picks up from the end of the Far Edge of Fate (Patch 3.57). More fighting and character reveals finds your Warrior of Light facing the Garlean threat in the fallen nation of Ala Mhigo. Of course, facing the Garleans in conquered territory means eventually liberating the nation of Doma.

Ala Mhigo itself is a somewhat plains & desert area with villages and outposts surrounding sparse oases. You’ll only see about 40% of Ala Mhigo before your band of Scions of the Seventh Dawn will venture out to Doma, the long awaited Far Eastern nation.

If you remember the patches from A Real Reborn, you’ll know of Doma as a nation where the ninja Yugiri and her refugees came from. After escaping the country from a failed siege against the Garleans, the Domans smuggle themselves into Eorzea and take root in Mhor Dhona where the Scions had re-established their base. Now it’s your turn to traverse Othard, the eastern continent where Doma resides.

Heavily influenced by 18th Century Japanese history, Kugane is the port city you come across upon arrival. Players are eagerly waiting for housing to be available (in Patch 4.1) with Japanese Imperial-style housing, lush bamboo, and koi pond gardens and a bustling city. If you’ve ever watched old samurai films, the entire city of Kugane appears to be influenced by an old world Edo, complete with Shinsengumi police-force samurai and illegal smugglers.

Kugane sits outside of the perimeter of Yanxia, allowing its citizens some semblance of freedom with a tentative relationship with the Garleans. As you move through the story, you discover the relatively depressing history of Doma as you fight to rekindle their pride in their nation.

Beyond the Garlean-occupied Doman territories, the new ability to dive underwater introduces you to half of the Au Ra people, the Raen, who escaped Garlean rule by hiding beneath the waves. The history of the Au Ra, which became a playable race with the release of Heavensward, unravels itself in the Main Quests of Stormblood, including the nomadic tribes of Xaela tucked away on the Azim Steppe.

Each area of Ala Mhigo and Doma is beautifully designed, pushing the limits of your system’s video cards. High mountains and fields of rice paddies pepper the countryside, while crystal clear waters react to your contact with vast ripples and colorful coral reefs.

Playing though the story quests does take quite a bit of time but with each reveal of a new area, the apparent effort and care that was incorporated into Stormblood and all previous XIV maps is executed magnificently.

Keeping Your Character Busy

Of course, beyond quests, new classes, and exploration, crafting recipes with heavy Japanese influence are introduced. Kimonos and yukatas are available as well as plenty of new weapons, accessories, meals, and outfits are just part of the virtual cookbooks of the crafting classes. Spearfishing is the new way to hunt for fish in the underwater regions of Yanxia.

You’ll still be able to sightsee as well, with each area offering viewpoints that are accessible after flying is granted in a map. Besides, who wouldn’t want to take in the breathtaking views of the Azim Steppe or the peaks of Gyr Albania?

With each new patch, comes more content, keeping players immersed in the carefully crafted world of Eorzea. Players are eagerly awaiting the next patch, which promises Kugane Housing in the district of Shirogane, Final Fantasy Tactics implementation and the continuation of the comedic side quests adventures of Hildebrand Manderville.


Tips for New Players

If you’re just joining the World of Eorzea, you’ll have to start from the beginning of A Realm Reborn… that is, if you don’t care about the story (which is a big mistake, honestly) and just want to get to the new content. In a clever attempt to get your real world money, new tomes have been released on the Mog Station (your web-based store for in-game items) that will allow you to level a class to 60, which is the minimum starting level for Stormblood, as well as story tomes that will let you skip past everything that happened in A Realm Reborn and Heavensward.

Though, this means you’re probably going to miss out on some cool items, backstory, and getting that full immersion of the world that was built. Some story mandated items will be available, like the Magitek Armor mount. But not experiencing the game for its story is probably one of the biggest losses a new player can give themselves. Not to mention that by Level 60, everyone else is expecting you to know how to play your class.

Final Fantasy XIV has figured out that a player’s role in a group is crucial to success. Understanding your role and having abilities that work for the assigned positions is key to many of the boss fights and dungeons which require a bit of studying before attempting them. While some players can get by with just blindly hacking and slashing their way through, nearly every player understands that a single misstep can lead to an entire party wipe.

Novice Players can find assistance in miniature quests after Level 15 that help you understand your class’s role and the abilities made available to you. Additionally, veteran players, after completing some intense pre-requisites, can act as mentors to novice players in a sort of buddy-system.

However you decide to play, help is available every step along the way.

Ode to the Past

Just like the original Final Fantasy games, it’s going to take more than brute force to take down a boss. No true Final Fantasy game is complete without the summoning characters, which have been referred to as many different things: primals, eikons, eidolons, or espers. Classic favorites make appearances, such as Titan, Ifrit, Shiva, Bahamut, and Leviathan, all with new designs and battle mechanics unique to their individual abilities. Each one has its own story to go along with it, some being incredibly in-depth and others being simple “Here’s a threat. Go beat it up” stories. Most will be forced upon you as you complete the story quests, but some are accessible after certain levels, such as Odin.

But primals aren’t the only reoccurring Final Fantasy theme. Players are rewarded for subscription loyalty with rewards every set number of days. Sometimes it’s useless tchotchke for your player house, but sometimes it’ll be an outfit reminiscent of past heroes like Cloud, Kain, and Zidane. Even the beloved casino of Gold Saucer makes its way into XIV, providing players another area away from the main story, to whittle their time away with Chocobo Races, Triple Triad matches, and Pokemon-like minion battles.

Whether you’re a veteran player or coming onto the game as a novice, Square ENIX and the XIV development team continues to build a bigger world with nods to the past and game mechanics that evolve as much as its player base does.

Featured Image Courtesy of Square-ENIX

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