Fi­nal Fan­tasy XIV: Storm­blood

PC, PS4

EDGE - - GAMES -

The pan­theon of Fi­nal Fan­tasy he­roes is largely dom­i­nated by spiky-haired boys with pierc­ing gazes and chilly de­meanours. By con­trast, Fi­nal Fan­tasy XIV: Storm­blood’s new hero­ine, Lyse, is like a warm sum­mer breeze. She’s af­fa­ble and vi­brant, and her strug­gle to lib­er­ate her home­land from the evil Gar­lean em­pire is fraught with ten­sion and drama. Storm­blood is more than just an ex­pan­sion to Fi­nal Fan­tasy XIV. It’s also among the finest Fi­nal Fan­tasy sto­ries ever told.

Fol­low­ing the events of the pre­vi­ous ex­pan­sion, Heav­ensward, Storm­blood sees you, the War­rior Of Light, and your cadre of fel­low he­roes off to free the prov­inces of Ala Mhigo and Doma from Gar­lean rule. Like much of Fi­nal Fan­tasy XIV, it’s a throw­back to the golden era of the se­ries, a story about a grand ad­ven­ture with good friends. While Lyse is eas­ily the most like­able, the cast of Fi­nal Fan­tasy XIV has grown into an eclec­tic bunch, each with their own back­sto­ries and mo­ti­va­tions.

Things aren’t all sun­shine and rainbows, how­ever. Storm­blood’s story is laced with op­ti­mism, mak­ing the tragedies that un­fold through­out the 50-hour cam­paign more poignant. Dur­ing the siege of Doma cas­tle, an ex­cit­ing vic­tory turns bit­ter af­ter a ma­jor vil­lain ex­acts some last-minute re­venge. Voice act­ing and writ­ing, thank­fully, have been much im­proved.

Of course, what is Fi­nal Fan­tasy with­out a good vil­lain pulling all the strings? Again, Storm­blood ex­ceeds ex­pec­ta­tions by in­tro­duc­ing Zenos Yae Galvus, the amoral and in­tim­i­dat­ing crown prince of the Gar­lean em­pire who lives only to chase the thrill of a good fight like a drug. Zenos might never com­mand the ado­ra­tion of clas­sic vil­lains like Sephi­roth, but he’s just as de­testable. His calm, yet de­ranged, per­son­al­ity is oddly mag­netic, and he steals the scene ev­ery chance he gets.

Whether you agree, how­ever, will largely de­pend on if you still en­joy MMOs. Storm­blood does lit­tle to change the genre’s cen­tral for­mula of quest­ing and grind­ing. Its main story is chopped up and gated off be­hind level re­quire­ments in a man­ner that is fre­quently frus­trat­ing. Where other MMOs such as World Of War­craft have vastly im­proved the di­ver­sity of their quests over the years, Storm­blood’s are, on their own, thor­oughly bor­ing. The main story arc hides this prob­lem be­hind dra­matic cutscenes and ex­cit­ing boss bat­tles, but the sid­e­quests nec­es­sary to level up have no such crutch to lean on.

Worse yet, be­cause Fi­nal Fan­tasy XIV’s story is one long arc that car­ries over from base game to its two ex­pan­sions, you’ll have to play through ev­ery­thing be­fore reach­ing Storm­blood. That’s a 60-hour gig. Square Enix now sells items for real money that will let you skip the story, but it’s a catch-22. Char­ac­ters like Lyse are so en­dear­ing pre­cisely be­cause we’ve spent so much time ad­ven­tur­ing with them; we’ve been watch­ing her story evolve for al­most four years now. If you’re com­ing to Storm­blood as a new player and want to ap­pre­ci­ate it in its best light, you must be pre­pared for a long, weary­ing trudge be­fore step­ping foot in Ala Mhigo.

In­stead of fix­ing the genre’s weak­nesses, Fi­nal Fan­tasy XIV suc­ceeds by buff­ing its strengths into a glo­ri­ous shine – no other MMORPG can ri­val its of­ten breath­tak­ing au­dio­vi­sual di­rec­tion. The new, Asian­in­spired con­ti­nent of Othard is gor­geous. Sim­ply ex­plor­ing this new land is a de­light, ex­cept for the new un­der­wa­ter zones which, while pretty, don’t con­tain an aw­ful lot that’s worth do­ing. The new group dun­geons and their re­spec­tive boss fights are in­ven­tive and a joy to play. In Ku­gane Cas­tle, for ex­am­ple, the fi­nal boss is a hired sa­mu­rai who only fights in ex­change for money. Through­out the fight, his em­ployer hurls piles of gold into the arena that play­ers must col­lect be­fore the sa­mu­rai does, in or­der to weaken his at­tacks.

It is in pri­mal boss bat­tles, how­ever, that Storm­blood truly shines. Each has a sin­gu­lar stand­out mo­ment or me­chanic, such as hav­ing to com­plete a quick-time event to parry a blow from a sword-wield­ing demigod sev­eral hun­dred times your size. These fights are ef­fec­tive be­cause Storm­blood does a won­der­ful job of set­ting the stakes in its story, and then de­liv­er­ing on them with ex­hil­a­rat­ing bat­tles that are both chal­leng­ing and the­mat­i­cally re­ward­ing.

For long-time play­ers of Fi­nal Fan­tasy XIV, Storm­blood also in­tro­duces sweep­ing changes to the com­bat, mak­ing it more stream­lined and, bar­ring a few early bal­anc­ing is­sues with in­di­vid­ual classes, a lot more en­joy­able. One of the bet­ter changes is that you no longer have to level other classes to un­lock skills nec­es­sary for your main class.

New job gauges fur­ther en­hance the com­bat by pro­vid­ing flashy user-in­ter­face el­e­ments unique to each class. These are best utilised by Storm­blood’s two new classes, the Red Mage and Sa­mu­rai, which feel built from the ground up with the new sys­tem in mind. The Red Mage’s gauge, for ex­am­ple, dis­plays two mana bars that slowly fill in re­sponse to the types of spells they cast. The goal is to al­ways keep those two bars rel­a­tively even, be­cause the char­ac­ter’s most dev­as­tat­ing at­tacks spend those types of mana in equal mea­sure. It’s a del­i­cate bal­anc­ing act that is sat­is­fy­ing to mas­ter.

For those al­ready play­ing Fi­nal Fan­tasy XIV, Storm­blood is a beau­ti­ful, es­sen­tial ex­pan­sion. New play­ers, how­ever, will only see it if they are pa­tient enough to first play through the in­fe­rior main game and its ear­lier ex­pan­sion Heav­ensward. Stick with it, how­ever, and Storm­blood will be a wor­thy re­ward. It’s not only a great ex­pan­sion to a much-im­proved MMO. It’s also, in story terms at least, a game that stands tall among the best Fi­nal Fan­tasy has to of­fer.

Char­ac­ters like Lyse are en­dear­ing be­cause we’ve spent so much time ad­ven­tur­ing with them

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