Blaugust Kickoff: Happy Street Gang

So Belghast initiated another round of #Blaugust for this August 2015 and in one last-minute act of madness, which was totally not instigated by other bloggers on twitter, I decided to join the crazy company (you can still do so btw!). I always said blogging on a daily basis is not for me and since I usually end up doing the things I say I won’t do (like never joining twitter or playing Tera), I might as well lose whatever credibility I got left. Twitter is where your resolutions go to die.

I figured this is a good opportunity for me to get back to a more frequent posting schedule and also get over that raging post-vacation malady. Also, I hear there’s a tattoo involved for all those that beat the Blaugust challenge.

Join the Happy Street Gang!

A while ago I was looking for more mobile games to play on tablet. I have since tried out and un-installed a long list of titles, most of which have proven to be disappointing one way or another to no one’s surprise. My search did however yield one unexpected gem I’ve been playing since and that you should look into if you’re up for some solid casual fun on your phone or tablet: Happy Street.

Happy Street was developed by french team Godzilab which is really two guys living in Europe and the United States. It’s been around for a few years and is totally not inspired by a certain popular community simulator by Nintendo. Think 2D-Animal Crossing with different maps, very straightforward town building and some quest-based crafting and you’re almost there, cool outfits and hats included! What sold it for me were mainly the following points:

  • It is incredibly kawaii. The buildings and sites are a pleasure to behold and the characters are adorable, or as this article said it best: “So what makes Happy Street so awesome? It’s super-cute.”
  • Level 17 and going, the game is still completely casual without any increased pressure from timesinks or IAP gates. There is a virtual currency that’s very optional and easily acquired through other means, if you really wanted to. There’s no obligation to spend real money and plenty to do otherwise.
  • The game is addictive in its simplicity; as more and more options unlock, you’ll be hard pressed to choose from a plethora of decoration themes and combo options to make your town and villagers look hot and keep tourists spending cash in your shops. From puke-monster balloons to gameboys and rock guitars, everything is on offer!
  • Certain mushroom concoctions will launch a “Fiesta” in your village, putting everyone in a mental state of spending frenzy accompanied by this track. Need I say more?

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Also optionally, making an account and adding friends in Happy Street will allow you to save progress, earn some free currency daily and help each other out with resources (or send rude mail). By now, there’s a small group of MMO bloggers who have found their way into my Happy Street neighbourhood, so if you’re curious about the game drop me an email or tweet sometime and I’ll provide you with all the info.

Join the Happy Street Gang today – we have mushroom grog!

[FFXIV] High Adventure #2

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Over the years, I have spent a good while searching for perfect screenshot moments in MMOs but it’s rare for a scene to come together this well, all by itself. When my black mage entered Matoya’s cave for the first time in Heavensward, no stage designer nor dramaturg could’ve conceived the scene better; the strange magician with her pointy hat speaking to the resident frog servant, with tomes of magic piling up in the background and animated broomsticks sweeping the dusty floor. For a moment, I was the magician’s apprentice rather than a wayward Au’Ra, chasing the next chapter of Square Enix’ storyline. For a moment, I was a character in a much bigger story than the one that’s been told.

[FFXIV] Welcome to High Adventure #1

This journey through Heavensward has been a spellbound tome of wonders for this fairytale child. I have found myself philosophizing with the goblins, negotiating with old witches and their chatty broomsticks and conversing with dragons, fighting for dragons, flying on dragons – so many dragons everywhere.

What a delight this expansion is. The dialogues, the locations, the magical creatures may as well spring straight from the pages of the Grimm’s Tales or Edda or Tolkien’s works. As always, Square Enix are borrowing everywhere but brewing their very own enchanting concoction. That way lies greatness – that way lies high adventure. I have not experienced so many memorable moments in an MMO since forever. It’s been nothing short of inspiring and I realized, I really need to do something with all my screenshots!

Thus beginneth my High Adventure screenshot journey through FFXIV – A Realm Reborn.
I hope you enjoy and if you haven’t yet, give this MMO a go sometime (or again)!

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Pictures that tell an entire story. Definitely click for fullres!

MMO Heartbreak

This Tuesday Bhagpuss over at Inventory Full revisited the topic of MMO fatigue or rather I would call it disenchantment, that phenomenon all of us who have played in virtual worlds for a while, know so well and keep wrestling with. It is a well-argued post beautifully written and full of heartbreak by one of my favourite (and most prolific) writers of the blogosphere. If you do not follow Bhag yet, now’s the time to amend that. His words rang wistfully in my ears for the rest of the day. To highlight just a few of them:

 I used to abandon plans just because I saw someone having a tough time. They wouldn’t even need to be asking for help. I knew things and I wanted to share. I had a Chipped Bone Rod and I knew how to use it and what’s more I knew where to take you so you could buy one too. I knew how to get to the sewers under Qeynos and I knew how to get out the other side. I knew barbarians couldn’t see in the dark, while my half-elf had infravision, and even though I’d only just met you I trusted you to give me back my Greater Lightstone at the end of the tunnel to Blackburrow because otherwise what were you going to do? Stay in Everfrost the rest of your life?

That was when we were all living a shared imaginary life in a shared imaginary world. Before we all started playing games. How long did that last, really? That it took years to wind down to an ending is maybe the most amazing thing of all.

And we miss it so much. Perhaps that’s why we chase every new game almost before it appears, hoping we’ll catch the unicorn by the tail and swing back astride before it vanishes around the corner, yet again. All we get are a few strands of silver that quickly lose their shine or, worse, a thumping kick, a humiliating stumble, a painful fall.
[Read the full article here]

The waning star of the magical MMO experience, we have all felt its decline. The more veteran the player, the keener that sting becomes over time. We wonder whether it’s us or the games or everyone, we lament how all things change and people move on, yes the good ones too. I’m with Bhagpuss in acknowledging such a thing as unique collective experiences in time that cannot be reproduced. There is a singular nostalgia reserved for members of the first hour. I do however hold the conviction that there will always be new and great games for somebody.

Each time I think of WoW, I’m so so glad I was there for vanilla. And yeah, TBC was good too and WotLK was great in places; but we were there when the days were young, with all paths wondrous and new and everyone in the same boat of “whoa”. If you missed vanilla, I’m sorry, what can I tell you – you missed the 60ies, friend. [source]

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Still finding rainbows.

Once we have moved past the age of wonder, we may become more self-complacent or demanding or cynical. Yet, magic is still to be had in MMOs for the travel-worn; it is in fleeting moments, in unexpected kindnesses and starry night skies where fireflies roam. Bhagpuss laments the transition of the MMO “world experience” to just MMO gaming, and I am right there with him, but then what is life really if not a never-ending quest for moments of happiness and joy amongst the struggles and demands? We grow up in MMOs the same way we grow up in real life; at some point without notice or warning, our toys stop holding a life of their own. The magic’s gone and we can’t quite say why and when we outgrew them. No toy, no matter how new, can fully bring us back.

But as I grew older, it became harder and harder to access that expansive imaginary space that made my toys fun. I remember looking at them and feeling sort of frustrated and confused that things weren’t the same.

I played out all the same story lines that had been fun before, but the meaning had disappeared. Horse’s Big Space Adventure transformed into holding a plastic horse in the air, hoping it would somehow be enjoyable for me. Prehistoric Crazy-Bus Death Ride was just smashing a toy bus full of dinosaurs into the wall while feeling sort of bored and unfulfilled.  I could no longer connect to my toys in a way that allowed me to participate in the experience. [Hyperbole and a Half]

Today it may be smaller things that charm me in MMOs, rather than dramatic social experiences. My mind is less overwhelmed by novelty but more appreciative of details. And I don’t race to a promise of endgame because I’d really rather not die just yet. Maybe all that means is that my mind has matured and I am closer to a world simulation after all, rather than just playing a game.

[FFXIV] In Heavensward, everyone is dressed for the Occasion

I hit level 58 tonight in A Realm Reborn and between catching my breath because of what’s happening in the main storyline and looking for aether currents everywhere, I need to give this expansion some serious props in terms of gear design – omigosh, it’s all so pretty!

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Aurin race set (leftmost) and some caster sets between lvls 50-57.

Gear details have always been stunning in FFXIV (they’re all in 3D which helps a lot…) but adventurers starting out in early Eorzea had to put up with many a yellow burlap sack and baggy clothes in the past. Not so in the expansion: Heavensward is packed with armor sets from the get-go and they are all new and shiny and easy enough to acquire through questing or dungeons. I especially love the baroque and gothic vibes of some of my black mage’s gear and feel the class is properly treated for a change!

It’s rather remarkable how SE aren’t stingy on providing all this gear without demanding blood sacrifice. While good-looking and matching gear (weapons included) is hard to come by in many MMOs, it is impossible to underdress in Eorzea. And for my part, I find this very motivating.

MMO Masterclass: Storytelling in FFXIV – A Realm Reborn

Tamrielo from Aggrochat has recently been looking at storytelling in FFXIV in his two-part post, where he’s analyzing the different content seasons and story archs in the game, how they have improved over time and immersed him as a player. If you’ve been playing a Realm Reborn for any decent amount of time since FFXIV’s relaunch, you know that there’s no way around the main storyline in Eorzea. In fact, there is probably no MMO out there right now that is more dedicated to its storytelling than this one. The narrative is front and center and accomplishes the remarkable feat of including its audience. After Yoshida took over the reigns for ARR, the player character was brought back into the narrative fold.

Naturally, many MMOs turn the player into a nearly omnipotent hero of the story and much has been criticized in regards to that particular trope. However, FFXIV does it in such an unconditional, dedicated and traditional way, that it’s kind of a big deal. Telling stories has always been the forte of the FF franchise and finally, there is a classic MMORPG that not only manages to rise from the ashes but combine the linearity of JRPG storytelling with an MMO environment. As much as I tried to care about the politics of Azeroth or Tyria in the past, no other MMO has managed to include me, make me care about NPCs and the greater course of events, the way FFXIV has done.

The Great Final Fantasy Formula

Ever since the early beginnings of the FF franchise, Squaresoft’s much beloved JRPG titles followed a very clear and narrow path: the player gets to control a powerful hero, more often than not a person of unknown origins or obscure past. The hero is not the player, since the player has no real agency over the character’s story and there are next to no choices. An equally important ingredient to this formula is “the party” which is one of the most central aspects of all FF games; your very own gang of specialists, distinctly defined by their class and different abilities that will mostly align with a holy trinity concept, despite the fact that FF is all about round-based combat. Down the line, you and your gang will probably find out that you are all related or were raised in the same orphanage. You are never truly alone in a FF game.

Cloud and the gang

Cloud and the gang

Add to this very straightforward setup a linear storyline with next to no branching; the point is not to write your own story or find your own path but rather, to immerse yourself in a tale told by an invisible puppet master. The tool you’re given to accomplish your goals is a customizable, complex round-based combat system with random encounters. Your driving force is a world struck by tragedy or impending doom that only you and your A-Team can save (most likely by help of some sparkly crystal or other). Along the way, you will face one or two ambivalent villain figures as well as lots of wacky side-kick characters.

Now imagine all of this being crafted with an outstanding sense of aesthetics on a graphical and musical level, and the result will always be the same: your next FF title. In the past, Squaresoft have consistently pushed narrative RPG standards for at least 15 years, during a most pivotal time for gaming and not just with the FF franchise either. A Realm Reborn, although set in an online world where choices and interactions with other players are possible, follows most of this old textbook to a fault.

Intricate Politics and Overwhelming Stakes

A great many heroic tale comes with a doomsday prophecy: it will be the end of the world as you know it, or alternatively the end of the world full stop, unless significant obstacles are overcome and evil is vanquished. While this can be a tiring setup in RPGs and MMOs, it is still popular enough in getting audiences engaged. I don’t really mind this trope personally, what I really care about is execution. Am I presented with an uninspiring tale of clear good vs. evil or a much more complicated world where loyalties and intentions change constantly?

Squaresoft JRPGs have often introduced such nuances, despite their linear plot. Over the course of a playthrough, you’d learn about the background stories of your adversaries. You would have to rely on characters of questionable allegiance, you’d see mercenaries turn altruistic or allies turn traitor. Faced with warring factions unwilling to unite for a greater cause, you’d find yourself drowning in petty schemes and side-politics. Even villains may be worth saving in the end.

MMORPGs have a hard time delivering such complexities, given that they try to achieve a certain degree of open world freedom and accommodate various playstyles. A Realm Reborn doesn’t compromise much on that front; players who want access to dungeons or endgame, will need to engage in the story. But since the story is the driving force behind the entire game, rather than an afterthought, things feel different.

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Unwelcome refugees in wealthy Ul’dah.

Now I’m with Liore in that there’s still some “goofy MMO writing” and delivery going on at times, the cutscenes sure can get tedious while your character is silently nodding along. But I’m impressed at the different issues the story has touched on thus far – from immigration poverty and class warfare to interracial politics (and racism) and even environmentalism. That’s just to name a few themes. Down the line, you realize how you’re being pulled into twisted intrigues and machinations by multiple players on a chess board Game of Thrones-style, while SE take full opportunity to send players all over the world (including so-called old zones and dungeons) to chase their story’s tail, simultaneously serving the social engineering of the game. For an MMORPG, that is one noteworthy use of narrative.

Joining a band of brothers of sorts, the player soon establishes a steady home-base to return to in between missions and before long, gets attached to the NPCs that share the story with him. It’s safe to say that not many an eye was left dry at the conclusion of ARR before the expansion.

The Heavensward Trailer and The Adventurer

The official launch trailer for Heavensward is another example of storytelling done right. Instead of the usual showcase of random locations and encounters without obvious connection, the trailer takes over from the moment your character finished his/her main story. The Adventurer, an unnamed character who represents the player in FFXIV is back, while the ending of the Seventh Astral Era as well as some future events flicker over the screen. The trailer concludes with the player arriving in Ishgard, which is where your journey in Heavensward begins. Talk about trailers bridging content.

In Conclusion

While I am praising FFXIV’s storytelling here, that doesn’t mean its delivery isn’t without issues. As mentioned above, the cutscenes and loading screens can get too long and it’s a bit of a tragedy that SE didn’t invest in more voice acting for Heavensward. For your daily grind, uninspired fetch&delivery quests are a dime a dozen. When it comes to the main storyline however, ARR has achieved greatness by virtue of omitting branches and player agency. This might present a bit of a downer for some players but in my personal experience, most consequences in MMOs come down to an illusion of choice rather than the real thing anyway.

If there is one advice I would dare give to game developers in charge of big franchises, it would be to play to their strengths and also, not to fix what ain’t broken (okay, that was two pieces of advice). You can mix up some things and you should definitely improve on your weaknesses, ARR is a prime example of that – however, it is a mistake to abandon franchise-defining elements and to throw your greatest virtues overboard for the sake of innovation. Too often have we seen over-hyped sequels crash and burn because they strayed too far from the established path, rather than to widen it just a little. FFXIV has conserved its JRPG traditions and legacy masterfully and for the most part, with little compromise. Storytelling is this developer’s strong suit and they have had the good sense to embrace that.

Ironically, other developers never overcome their struggle with the fourth pillar in MMOs: how to include the player while not making him the center of attention? How to manage that balance of player agency and choices versus narrative chaos and insignificance? Square-Enix’ answer to that would be, not to go there at all. Better to have a solid, engaging and linear story the way it’s told in a book or movie, than to fail epically with the best of intentions. I can’t help but agree with them on that one. The proof is in the pudding.

Life is a painful journey but we can walk together

This is an editorial post unrelated to gaming, MMOs and all the silly things that also make me happy.

Last Friday night I got together with my oldest friend for dinner after a long stretch of radio silence. Silence not just from my side – ever since worklife has caught up with us after leaving university, the periods of not seeing each other have grown longer. I’ve come to accept this about adulthood; that we all get caught up in our private and professional lives, people moving away or getting married, changing jobs and struggling with all the daily tasks and responsibilities. We all do our best to stay in control but there are times when it’s hard to muster any more energy after the day is done. Before we know it, we start existing and stop living. That is especially true for those who are used to shoulder much more than just their share.

The overlaps of history between my friend and me are remarkable. Not only has life insisted on continuously bringing us together time and again ever since we were both 9 and 10 years old, as if our own winding paths could never part for long, I have also never known anyone to share that much of my own biography, so many experiences and constellations that made us who we are now. It’s this kinship that wipes whatever time away that may have passed between meetings. As long as we keep having these regular brushes, even per SMS or email, our friendship endures. That said, longer stretches of silence are usually a bad sign. That is certainly true for the extrovert types that we both are, who insist on functioning no matter what and have never learned to share their own pain, only share in the pain of others.

The moment she stepped into my new home, I felt it. She looked pale, she talked differently. She was like a tired shadow of her other version. I showed her around, I poured a drink wondering how best to catch up. And as usual, it didn’t take long – over the course of dinner I got to tell her what a rotten year lies behind me, how my partner finally started therapy for a complex case of childhood PTSD and how things are slowly improving for the both of us, step by step. I don’t hold back on these topics anymore; I’ve come to know too many wonderful people struggling with anxiety disorders or depression, to maintain any sort of shyness or tolerance for stigma around these discussions. Fuck stigma. Fuck the whole masquerade. Life is raw and deep and painful whenever it stops being easy.

I’m done wasting my time with false pretenses. When my partner decided to tell the world (as in all relevant environment such as friends and the workplace) that he had been suffering for over thirty years and that he was dealing with things now, in a serious manner by whatever help necessary, my heart ached with pride because he decided to stop hiding. When I think of how medication-based therapy enabled my mother to build a second life from scratch after the age of 55, when the alternative would have been death or hospitalisation most likely, there is only thankfulness in me and empathy. It’s such a huge step to get yourself help and turn your life around, no matter a more introvert or extrovert type of personality. Only you can do it and the pain tends to get worse before it gets better.

Opening up about these issues broke whatever fabric my old friend had wrapped around her pale exterior. She’s been going through her first ever rough patch that is in fact about herself. She’s a nervous wreck, she can’t sleep at night for all the noise in her head, she’s experienced several anxiety attacks at the new work place. Her body is acting up. After a life of achieving and caring and carrying, she’s finally stretched so thin that her entire system starts revolting. She’s being forced to focus on her own needs and she has no idea yet how to do this. Her first instincts are probably to write a list of priorities and weigh the pros and cons, so yeah she needs help…I was very glad to hear she’s already reached out about this to her GP.

It’s all so familiar. The moment my partner finally and earnestly got into therapy (which took three attempts), my energy levels completely rock bottomed. I got sick with serious infection several times in a row and my nerves deserted me even on trivial tasks. I have never felt as spent. That is the aftermath of overcoming hardship more often than not – it’s not sunshine and cheerfulness, it’s a deep well of exhaustion. Before you can move on, you have to breathe out and recuperate.

We’ll learn. Today I believe in baby steps, in cherishing lighthearted moments when they occur. I still look forward to things but I don’t plan so much anymore. I let things happen rather than making them – I am learning to chill. My friend is currently at the stage of debating whether she should tell her superior or not and if she can get a grip with “just a few GP sessions”. She worries about coming across as unprofessional when sharing too much about her life and well-being and I don’t blame her. But I also know that there are things you cannot hide from others. You can try of course but it won’t do you any good. When you reached the point where a condition or illness temporary or otherwise, manages your life, it is an impossible task to maintain the act. More importantly however, you are missing out; you’re missing out on reactions that will surprise and humble you. From the moment we open up about what is essentially our human condition, people around us will come out and connect. I have co-experienced this twice now and it’s stunning. Truth liberates, there is magic in being truthful about yourself. It also means you’re taking back ownership of your life by switching on the light in those dark corners. What we keep in the dark makes us sick. When we further isolate ourselves from others, we cut away all opportunity.

No matter where you are, in this moment there are people around you with the same struggles, keeping quiet about the same things. The minute you come forth, there’s a high chance of experiencing togetherness, empathy and support from unexpected places rather than rejection. And inadvertently, you will become someone else’s spring of hope, too. It’s as if everyone was just waiting for a chance to chime in. This is life and it’s happening to everybody! If you think you’re immune to it, I say give it time.

I am glad I was able to support my friend in her time of need. She’s already tough but now she’ll also learn to be human – and that is an experience worth having. Last night my partner and I came across Wil Wheaton’s contribution to the “UR OK” project on youtube and we were both deeply moved by his words that describe much of what we’ve been through. It’s not over, every day is another step on the journey. There will be days of pain and more growth and there will be days of joy and not feeling bad, until we realize that this journey is really just life. And we can all walk together.

Mobile Gaming 4 U (and me)

After much consideration (I am cheap), I finally became the owner of a shiny Samsung T800 Galaxy Tab (10.5) this last Tuesday. Aside of being able to watch clips and movies as well as read and chat with more ease thanks to a much larger screen, owning a tablet means mobile games! I partly got this tablet so I could return to the frantic fun that is Cook Serve Delicious (which you should totally own) but I am also set on discovering more casual games to take to Italy with me next month. Yes, that’s what I do while sunbathing at the Adriatic coast (don’t judge).

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In my head, mobile gaming has so much potential and yet, discovering games that are worth a dime feels like pearl diving at the bottom of a vast sea of humbug. That’s why I’ve spent this week sourcing my social media platforms for solid mobile titles inside the RPG/adventure/sim and casual silliness corner. So far, I ‘ve been able to secure the following games, along with the awesome CSD:

  • You must build a boat
  • Crossyroad
  • Monument Valley
  • Blek
  • Plague Inc.

As you can see, I don’t really care if the games cost me a dollar or not, as long as it’s worth the investment. In fact, paywalled content or a lot of ads and popups are a big no-go in my book. This is where I’m shouting out for more tips from y’all – it would be especially nice if there was a JRPG or two that I could sink my teeth into. I do know about mobile Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy & Co., what I’m looking for is something potentially new and fun that lands somewhere between Zelda and FF (no tactical RPGs plx!). I also really like games that look good or have nice music, so this is where I’m recommending Buddy&Me and TA: Red Riding Hood to those of you who are into that kind of thing.

So yeah, I need some help with this. More mobile tips & recommendations this way please! And happy weekend everybody!

(P.S. I am waiting on Fallout Shelter to come out on Android, in case that was your first thought!)

[FFXIV] Happy Heavensward Launch and the Evolution of Me

This fine Tuesday June 23rd, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn got its very own, first expansion, an event which begs for a moment of recollection. For such a long way this title has come: this ship that had almost sunk into the morass of disastrous MMO launches, somehow managed to do the nigh impossible and turn its course around, establish ARR as a brand new title with over 2mio subscribers to date, and release an expansion packed with new content. It may have been a rocky road, yet across the finish line shines a title rivaling all other fantasy-themed MMOs currently on the market. Chapeau really, to all the folks at SE who made this happen!

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Despite their ever fussy account-management, a thing that will surely never change, I somehow managed to get my early access for Heavensward running this past weekend and ding lvl 53 before official launch day. From what I’ve seen so far of the new zones and quests, I’m more than satisfied. The story picks up the pace from the Seventh Astral Era where it left off, the zones are beautiful if not slightly annoying in terms of navigation (apparently SE’s idea of making their audience desperate to fly), the new professions look interesting and the Au Ra aren’t nearly as dull as anticipated. In fact, I found myself surrendering to story pressure and swallow yet another bottle of Fantasia to transform myself, but more on that later. I also managed to get my chocobo off the ground for the first zone so far – a feat that doesn’t come free or easily in Heavensward for flight must be earned, again and again for each new zone. I should’ve known.

Isghard is as impressive a city as it’s cold and uninviting, which goes with the social, political context and icy weather. Naturally, I was delighted to hear the city music come in four different variations with some lovely day and night themes, just the way the other capitals got them. It will be a while before we see any Heavensward soundtrack release, I fear (but in the meantime, some of us will find ways to listen to it anyway).

Heavensward at a first glance, fulfills all the promises of novelty. What I am somewhat disappointed in is how SE never seem much interested in improving the existing. Gripes like the quest tracker not allowing you to uncheck old quests, or the fact that for some reason you may not use a companion pet together with a mount, persist and have not been addressed. I realize that there are technical restrictions sometimes; I still expect some effort towards improving the mediocre, whether the player base (grudgingly) goes along with it or not.

Me, Myself and I

I’ve never changed a main character as often or as drastically as I have in FFXIV, an MMO which is very liberal in its re-customization options. I started this journey few months ago as Sylberry Goldwink, a delightfully sunny Lalafel with odd eyes and a cheeky face –

I still love that character to bits, in fact I believe SE have done a fantastic job on the race design of their smallest citizens. I usually don’t gravitate towards shorties in MMOs but next to the Asura and Gibberlings, Lalafel are truly my favorite people.

Unfotunately for them, armor design on higher levels doesn’t agree so much with Lalafel proportions (maybe less so on females than males) which is why I decided to give a more mature and darker type of character a go after reaching lvl 50. Yes, yet another tall human female called Syl, with raven black hair and a sardonic smile –

Human black mage Syl feels like the most accurate ‘real me’-condensation in an MMO since ever, so I was really happy with the outcome. Furthermore, I gave the character some distinct Lulu-attributes (I don’t have purple eyes for one thing), that aloof sorceress from FFX that has been resting on my desk for over 10 years in figurine-form, hugging her Mog companion. I may also have a T-shirt.

Needless to say I adore this character, yet I’m not perfectly happy with the way SE have treated Hyur females. Their movement seems graceless, as if not enough time had been invested in studying the anatomic female form and how that would affect motion. Maybe it’s the same for male Hyur, I don’t know. Few armor sets aside such as the above one, I often found myself standing around in baggy garments, which gave my character an almost buffoonish look. Bleh.

Granted, these are smaller details; for the most part SE character design and animations are top notch and beat most of their competition, armor detail certainly does too. Still, the launch of a new expansion was a great opportunity to check out the Au Ra, with their strange horns which are more or less obtrusive depending on the face you go for. It is a tragedy that SE decided to bundle face and horn types together – a most curious decision that greatly reduces your choice in different looks. You might really dig one of those four faces on display but if it comes with the huge lobster-shaped horns, tough luck! Seriously, this needs fixing.

In the end, I managed to create a character that I really enjoy and that probably feels the most Japanese/manga of the lot, while also reminding me of my old Rift Kelari mage. I went with a painted face look in honor of Harle, beloved jester figure from Chrono Cross. I could do without the tail thing honestly, but I absolutely love the idea of my character being partly dragonkin now, given that Sylvara, my online name of many years, has been taken from a special character in the Dragonlance novels who is also a dragon. This meant a name change was long overdue too since Sylberry Goldwink has by now expired its date of appropriateness.

A smart business model

It seems weird to switch character race as often as I have in FFXIV and yet, it’s always fun creating new looks for yourself. Be it Sylberry the sunny and funloving Lalafel, the dark human femme fatale with the stern face or the mischevious Au Ra jester – all these characters are a facet of my own personality. Many MMO players probably roll alts for this exact reason, which isn’t something particularly beneficial in FFXIV. Relying heavily on their main character, players are more likely to pay for character re-customizations whenever new features are introduced. At the same time, there’s already a lot of customization and job freedom in the game by default, as well as the odd Fantasia freebie once or twice a year. That’s more than fair in my book, even if I already spent some extra cash on my looks in the Mog Station. What can I say, I do like me my MMO character creation!