With it being Final Fantasy XIV’s third anniversary it’s only fitting that I take a look back at the reason I’ve been playing it since its closed beta — and why, even though on several occasions I’ve felt like I might be “done” with the game, I keep on coming back, time after time.
These memories are presented in no particular order, but it makes the most sense to start with this one.
Knowing FFXIV was going to be something special
I jumped into Final Fantasy XIV’s closed beta after a casual discussion with a Twitter friend about Final Fantasy XI and how much I liked it despite never really getting all that far with it. Eventually I found myself with an invite to the testing period of the game, and I was immediately smitten with it. Everything about it felt Final Fantasy. The look, the feel, the music, the controls, the battles, the monsters — and yet, it had enough of its own unique identity to make it feel like far more than just series fanservice.
Specifically, Final Fantasy XIV adopts a somewhat “dark fantasy” tone throughout, clearly heavily inspired by works such as Game of Thrones and The Witcher in places. Sure, there are still moogles and chocobos, but there are also complicated political machinations, betrayal, murder and, technically, just prior to the start of 2.0’s story, apocalyptic catastrophes.
I was immediately drawn into the world in a way that World of Warcraft never quite managed to enrapture me. NPC dialogue, although localised with more than a few liberties taken from the original Japanese, much to the chagrin of people who play with Japanese voiceovers, was beautifully written with an almost Shakespearean tone in places, blending old- and middle-English words and phrases with modern spellings to make it actually comprehensible.
The fact that Final Fantasy XIV placed any emphasis on its main story at all — let alone to the degree that it has ended up doing so — was a unique feeling for me. Even its predecessor Final Fantasy XI’s main story had felt like a side activity you did when you had done enough level grinding to be able to take on the next mission; here, the main story was tightly tied in with your character’s progression: you advanced through the levels and became more powerful both in terms of mechanics and narrative, until you eventually reached level 50 and took on your most terrifying challenges yet.
During the closed beta, I only played up to about level 20 or so, but that was enough to know that I wanted to keep playing — and to know that I wouldn’t mind when the servers were wiped post-beta to prepare for the start of live service.
Making some great friends
My friend who had urged me to try out FFXIV was all set to assemble a Free Company — FFXIV’s take on guilds — as soon as the facility became available, and many members of that free company, centred around the Giant Bomb video games website, became great friends. I even took a trip to PAX East to hang out with a bunch of them and had an absolute blast. And while I recently left said Free Company in favour of a smaller group who are more local to where my wife and I are, FFXIV’s various ways of keeping in touch — as well as extra-game means of communication like Discord — mean that I’ll never be far away from this band of loveable rogues.
Castrum and Prae keeping me up until 5am
When I reached level 50, I was proud. The only other MMO I’d ever reached the level cap in prior to that day was World of Warcraft, and I’d stopped playing shortly afterwards, as my lack of friends playing had made that game a rather lonely experience at high level — this was the days before its current Dungeon Finder system, itself inspired by FFXIV’s Duty Finder.
I’d heard the final two story dungeons, intended to be done pretty much as soon as you hit 50, were quite an experience, and so I asked the Free Company very nicely to accompany me on my first run through them. This was — and still is — the best way to run these dungeons, since they’re both full of cutscenes, and running with a completely preformed party means no risk of other people running ahead and starting boss fights while you’re still watching dramatic scenes.
The experience of running Castrum Meridianum and Praetorium left such an impact on me that I immediately wrote about it on USgamer. It remains one of my fondest gaming memories to date, and it makes me a bit sad that people coming to it now will more than likely be partied up with a group of people who outgear it to such a degree that every boss fight is a complete steamrollering. Pro-tip, then — if you’re just hitting 50 for the first time and you have 7 friends handy, queue up for Castrium then Prae and check the “minimum item level” option in Duty Finder in order to experience these two dungeons at their original difficulty level from shortly after launch.
Entering the Coil
I happened to be up and about one night when some Free Company-mates were heading into the endgame raid dungeon The Binding Coil of Bahamut. At this point, the raid had been “unlocked” because better gear than it offered was already available, and so it was there for people to run just for the experience of the unique story it offered, as well as unlocking subsequent chapters.
Coil was a whole other level of the game for me. The encounters were much more complex, they demanded much more coordination and awareness of what was going on, and the unique story, music and enemies you fought in there made it feel like a truly “special” experience.
Forming LoCoBomb and tackling Coil proper
Loose Cannons, or LoCo, were Giant Bomb’s neighbours in the Limsa Lominsa housing district of Mist, and they’re now my new Free Company. LoCo is a tiny little group compared to the hundreds of members of Giant Bomb (many of whom are inactive players, but still) but we struck up a mutual friendship with one another, even going so far as to put together a rather casual, slapdash static for tackling The Binding Coil of Bahamut, a little later than much of the rest of the player base, but tackling it nonetheless.
Raiding together was a great way for us to get to know one another better, and we had a lot of fun times working out way through the first four Turns until we hit our first real barrier: Turn 5.
Turn 5 of Coil was originally the hardest fight in the entire game, facing a party of 8 players off against the rather angry dragon Twintania. Accompanied by the fantastic piece of music Thunderer, this was a genuinely terrifying confrontation in which you really felt like you were battling against insurmountable odds.
Twintania was our first real encounter with having to properly coordinate raid tactics thanks to now-notorious mechanics such as Divebombs and Twisters. Taking her down for the first time was an incredible feeling, only to be matched by the time we finally bested the final boss of the Second Coil of Bahamut.
Turn 9 of Coil — or Turn 4 of Second Coil, if you prefer — quickly took over from Turn 5 as being the hardest fight in the game, mostly due to how unforgiving it was. The fight featured a wide variety of tasty instant death mechanics and even a few sections where careless play could wipe the rest of the raid without too much difficulty.
After a long slog through Second Coil — Turn 6 gave us a lot of grief, though the subsequent two went a little smoother — LoCoBomb persevered and were eventually victorious, however, and we still weren’t sick of the two incredible boss themes Tempest and Rise of the White Raven.
This encounter remains, to date, my favourite boss fight of all time in any game ever. Ten character levels, over a hundred item levels and one expansion later and it’s still not particularly easy to clear.
Phoenix from the Flames
A lot of people will note that Turn 12 — Turn 3 of Final Coil — is as memorable an encounter as the grand finale Turn 13, and I’d certainly agree with that. Resolving a large number of questions surrounding what really happened at the end of Final Fantasy XIV 1.0, Turn 12 sees the party facing off against the iconic Phoenix, accompanied by this magnificent arrangement of the game’s main theme Answers. I still get shivers every time I hear it. And the recent The Rising event in the game now brought it out at the perfect moment to genuinely give me goosebumps all over my body.
The Final Witness
The final battle in Final Coil is appropriately spectacular. It wasn’t horrendously difficult by the time we got to it — each subsequent patch had increased the amount of bonus HP and damage you’d be blessed with when you went in, theoretically allowing more and more people of lesser skill and/or gear to enjoy all of Coil’s story — but it was still an immensely worthy absolutely, positively, definitely final boss. And it made incredible use of Answers.
An in-game marriage and a real-life proposal
(if the embed doesn’t work, go here to embarrass me)
January 3, 2015: Amarysse Jerhynsson married W’khebica Qimi (now Wuckle Bunny, because no-one can spell authentic Mi’qote names properly). During this process, the player behind Amarysse Jerhynsson — yours truly — made a rather lengthy virtual speech that culminated in him proposing to the player behind W’khebica Qimi, who was sitting in her study upstairs from him at the time.
We married in June 2015. And who says computer games are antisocial?
Heavensward and beyond
The first full expansion for Final Fantasy XIV was an exciting moment, as it would take us to brand new areas, see us tackling brand new dungeons and battling fierce new foes. It was everything most people hoped for, with an excellent story — to some, better even than A Realm Reborn’s at times meandering narrative — and one hell of a final boss fight.
While the long lull between Heavensward’s release and the first major content patch finally arrived with us was, I feel, largely responsible for the fact that my former Free Company are no longer quite as obviously “active” (at least in public channels) as they used to be, Heavensward has, on the whole, been a great evolution of A Realm Reborn’s base, even introducing a number of brand new types of content to the mix, with my favourite being the new randomly generated Deep Dungeon.
Heavensward’s raid scene hasn’t appealed that much — I’m not really a fan of steampunk in general, and the narrative set up around Alexander was feeble and unmemorable compared to the majesty of Coil — but there’s still been plenty of stuff to do, and as we saw with the Live Letter yesterday, there will continue to be more and more stuff to do as we start the buildup to the second full expansion, set to be revealed for the first time in October.
It’s not many games you can play almost continually for three years and still look upon fondly, but I guess anything you spend that much time in the company of eventually becomes something you really, truly can’t ever let go of.
It’s hard to get this across to people who haven’t been on the journey I’ve been on, and it probably won’t be quite the same for someone who starts right now, but I stand by my nomination of Final Fantasy XIV as my Game of the Year for 2013 over on USgamer, and given the number of hours I’ve played, it’s probably my GotY for 2014, 2015 and 2016 too.