Since its launch, I’d been meaning to play Final Fantasy XIV but could never convince myself to make the commitment. As someone who’s usually swamped with work and other obligations, the idea of tackling what is now a huge base game with three lengthy expansions has been incredibly daunting. It didn’t help that I feared losing control of my life to an enormous MMO that everyone loves; that I’d have to start from scratch; and that paying for subscriptions gives me anxiety. So, whenever I’d see someone who’s kept up with all the content say I should wade through literally hundreds of hours for the latest expansion, it didn’t click for me.
And that’s why, after finally starting out only over a month ago and now being well into the second expansion, I’m here to say you should abandon all hesitation and take the plunge with XIV, too. Nay, I’m here to beg this of you, and I’m armed with several reasons to make my grovelling convincing.
I grew up playing most Final Fantasy games and consider this to be my favorite series, so I don’t say this lightly. But when a story is powerful enough that it constantly moves me to tears even when nothing tragic is happening, I can’t even call my words hyperbolic. XIV is not only Final Fantasy at its best but also the blueprint for what Final Fantasy can be. I believe this with my everything. I’m not at Shadowbringers yet (so don’t worry about any spoilers here), but I don’t even need to talk about the highest rated game on Metacritic this year to say this. That’s how amazing XIV is.
I’ll say it upfront: A Realm Reborn is a slog. But it’s also a necessary one because it provides the foundation for one of the most captivating worlds you’ll get to know, one which you have the privilege of discovering as the Warrior of Light. It’s a slow start, but it’s efficient at captivating you with its beautiful landscapes, immediately memorable central characters and fascinating discussions on power, class, morality, freedom and empathy.
So far, each expansion is vastly different from the other, too. Heavensward, a high-fantasy story involving dragons and floating islands above the clouds, is one of the most magical experiences I’ve ever had. The writing is so exquisite, so beyond what I could’ve ever expected even with hearing my friends talk about it for years that it’s hard to call it anything but phenomenal. It encapsulates the best of Final Fantasy while making it grander than ever. On the other hand, Stormblood centers on the human core of Final Fantasy—on the themes that have built the bridge between these fantasy universes and our reality, resonating with millions of fans in the process. It’s an exploration of some of the most essential issues of our world, deeply delving into the subjects of oppression, bigotry and the different ways in which marginalized people try to survive with a nuance that I’ve rarely seen before. It only gets better the more one plays and continues to astound hundreds of hours later.
I’ve been in a depressive slump recently, so chatting with friends like I normally do has been difficult. But logging on and asking friends if they’ve done their daily leveling roulettes, and being told that they’ll join me regardless of whether they’ve already done them has been incredibly comforting. On days when I’m feeling more social, I most look forward to jumping on voice chat with my friends to defeat primals together, help each other with missions we’re stuck on and talk about our days as we progress through the game. I love using the emotes to blow kisses to them and the game’s screenshot system to take cute pictures out in the field or in our Free Company house. I get happy when I think about the random bard dressed up as Mario who held a concert in Limsa Lominsa for hours; who listened to the requests my friends and I made and played as many songs as they could, from Final Fantasy favorites to the Friday the 13th theme. Although every moment of XIV is worth it, it’s not easy to catch up. Friends both old and new make it a lot easier, so don’t hesitate to use it to reconnect with pals or make new ones.
We’ve all done it, yeah? Daydream about ourselves in unrealistic situations, having experiences we’ll never get in the real world. For those of us who love to lose ourselves in fictional worlds, our minds often go to those worlds even when we’re not actively immersing ourselves in them. In this sense, XIV is a gift, for it makes you a main character in a fully fleshed out universe that effortlessly makes you feel like you’re a part of it.
The character creator is possibly the best in any videogame, letting you make your character look exactly how you want them to be. The game lets you pick from several classes while also giving you the agency to not feel compelled to stick to a single one. You can grind through hardcore content like raids and grind through dungeons like Palace of the Dead and Heaven-on-High to get all your classes to the level cap, or you can stick to one class and focus on the story that underlines your fantasy dress-up game. XIV even lets you make some dialogue choices to drive home that this is your story.
There’s no wrong way to play or to exist in this universe; you simply do, with all the freedom that entails, and it’s glorious. Pictured above is a screenshot of my beautiful Au Ra black mage, whom I would die for, with her totally canon boyfriend Aymeric, whom I would also die for, to serve as supporting evidence for this claim.
No joke: if XIV gets its hold on you, you don’t need another game. There’s a legitimately endless well of content waiting for you, from the thousands of side quests and dungeons for leveling your classes, to the new story patches that are released during the two-year waiting period between the fantastic, sprawling expansions. The quality of all that content is something that, even as a critic, I struggle to accurately lavish enough praise for, so it really is the biggest bang for your buck right now. Try out the free trial to see if it grabs you; if it doesn’t, you lose nothing. But if it does, get the complete collection and pay the affordable subscription. (I recommend the monthly subscription to save money if you know you won’t have much free time in an upcoming month). I can guarantee you’ll have no shortage of wonderful things to do, remarkable characters to fall in love with and delightful gaming memories to make throughout the year.
Natalie Flores is a freelance writer who loves to talk about games, K-pop and too many other things at @heartimecia.