Category Archives: FFonline

The Cosmic Heights of Final Fantasy XIV’s Combat Music

I will love MMO music until the end of my days. It is the only thing about MMOs that has consistently made me happy over the past 16 years and has never let me down. Games come and go, so do posts, blogs, people – but the soundtrack is here to stay. It is a constant source of wonder and joy for me. Battle Bards, the MMO music podcast I share with my friends Syp and Steff, is turning 3 years old this April 2016 and we have a special anniversary episode upcoming next week. These three years, I have not missed a single recording and I regret not the times when I re-scheduled appointments or popped another pill so we could record together across the pond. Above all the things that I do in connection with gaming, the podcast has become my number one priority.

We recently did a second show on FFXIV on Battle Bards, with focus on the Heavensward soundtrack.  While slightly smaller in scope and narrower in focus, Masayoshi Soken has once more hit it out of the ballpark with Heavensward. The music celebrates everything that Final Fantasy means to people, treats its legacy with great respect and comes with a large variety of tracks for both day and night time. And as usual, the combat and boss music knocks you off your socks!

The Cosmic Heights of Final Fantasy XIV's Combat Music

King Thordan is very serious about kicking your butt.

The Cosmic Heights of Final Fantasy XIV’s Combat Music

Combat music is one of the most overlooked themes in most MMO soundtracks which is weird considering how often we do it. Many games don’t have any or only for special occasions, great raid bosses and such. Other games are so terrible at them, you get fed up after the first three times of hearing them. Only FFXIV cannot seem to respect its battle tunes enough; there are a total of 40+ tracks dedicated to different combat/grind/dungeon/raidboss occasions and even the standard field combat themes vary from greater region to region. Fates, leves, guildhests, exploration missions, dungeons….they all get their own dedicated music. As for primal fights, they are bewildering, unique arrangements players will either love or hate but never feel indifferent towards.

But enough gushing, let the music speak for itself. Here’s my very selective list of amazing combat tracks from both ARR and HW for you!

1. FFXIV ARR: Tenacity (Leve theme)
My favorite battle track from ARR, this gets you pumped from the first second and never ever gets old. Leves can be a grind but when Tenacity is on, I couldn’t care less. If you keep listening, you’ll even hear a bagpipe show up!

2. FFXIV ARR: Minstrel’s Ballad (Ultima Weapon theme)
Ultima Weapon is back and don’t let the choral intro to this track fool you, for it takes off at the 1:20 mark. This special story fight was the first time I lost my composure during my ARR journey – just how much more epic can a fight get thanks to the music?

3. FFXIV ARR: Good King Moggle Mog!
If this track isn’t a direct hommage to Jack Skellington and Danny Elfman’s “Nightmare before Christmas” soundtrack, then I don’t know – I’ll eat my hat!

4. FFHW: Ominous Prognisticks (dungeon boss theme)
If A Realm Reborn had great dungeons and raid bosses, Heavensward has taken everything to new heights both in terms of gameplay and music. This particular track comes up in various dungeons for boss encounters and is one of the greatest pieces of music in the entire expansion. I cannot sit still when I hear this!

5. FFHW: Heroes Never Die (Thordan Extreme theme)
The Thordan encounter is one of the most intense multi-phase challenges the game has seen up to now. I have only beaten this boss on normal so far and have been awestruck as he reigned down fire from the heavens while everyone was dying like flies. Such sweet death to such wonderful music packed with familiar FF cues!

6. FFHW: Ravana’s Theme / Thok Ast Thok
Unlike with so many other primal fights, there are only two phases to the Ravana fight as far as the music goes but boy, was I not prepared for that transition after 05:30! This boss fight is a condensation of what only Final Fantasy has mastered time and again, all at once: to be both grandiose and martial while very goofy and unserious at the same time. All hail Ravana, master of roses and death!

Looking for more? Thanks to the tireless work of Mekkah Dee on youtube, you can find a playlist of every single FFXIV combat track here. Enjoy and spread the love!

#Listmas: FFXIV is the Best, 2016 Plans and MMO Malaise Mayonnaise

Yay for post titles that include nonsensical rhyming! Also: it’s time for look-backs and predictions in MMOing!

New year expectations are treacherous things. Two years ago I talked about my MMO expectations for 2014 and was as wrong as wrong can be: misplaced was my faith in ESO, I’ve not played Archage to this day and my misgivings towards EQNext on this blog came one day before Columbus Nova went public with their SOE takeover. Since then, we have heard absolutely nothing of note about Everquest Next and unlike Bhagpuss, I doubt we ever will. When Wildstar made my MMO of 2014, no one was more surprised than moi.

At the end of 2014 my general gaming outlook had become more varied, with only two MMOs tentatively making the 2015 list (both ended up not releasing in 2015). Again, I was horribly bad with the new year predictions, with exception of the The Witcher 3 which is unquestionably my GOTY of 2015. Shamefully, no intentions stated anywhere towards FFXIV, the game that literally saved my 2015 in MMOs and which I have since paid some much-deserved tribute to. Hell, I even spent one month being subscribed to Draenor this year – a rather short expedition brought upon the powers of nostalgia, which marks the last time I had to learn my WoW lesson! At least that chapter is now closed.

Returning to Eorzea was my MMO highlight in a year that was all about expansions, and not a bad thing either. WoW’s bewildering success spurred a decade of frantic AAA-releases (and not-so-AAA) many of which went for good first looks over finish and substance. From a pure consumer perspective, I do welcome fewer MMOs that bring more content to the table longterm; I know that sucks for anyone trying to break into that market, yet this genre rises and falls with player retention and mutually exclusive appeal. As much as I have become an MMO wanderer, I still want to know where my “MMO home” lies. I trust that in 2016 too, that place will be Eorzea.

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I look fabulous in this MMO and the rest is also quite great!

MMO Malaise Mayonnaise

Ever diligent with his lists, Wilhelm recently put up his personal MMO plans for the upcoming year. As jokingly mentioned by me in the comments, his list presents a rather dire outlook as far as my own tastes are concerned which is not at all a criticism of said games or players who enjoy them. It looks like 2016 will be a year of niche and more PvP-oriented games which is cool for some, not so much for others. If you’re in love with exploration and whimsy, there’s not an awful lot happening in the strictest MMO sense.

Which is not to say that 2016 will be a bad year for MMOs at all. I’ve learned my lesson here: lack of notable new releases must not mean absence of great content to play! Therefore, I already expect my 2016 to rest safely in the hands of FFXIV. It feels like I have something to make up for when it comes to my faith in the franchise that started my MMO career. I still intend to dive into HoT whenever boredom strikes and there are Black Desert Online, Overwatch and other online coop titles to come. Not strictly MMORPG maybe but I have been widening my scope for some years now and greatly enjoyed games like DayZ, 7 Days to Die or Don’t Starve Together more recently. The fact that there’s more online multiplay across the board is fine by me; there’s times when I want some quick and dirty coop, next to my introspect world wandering.

My very down to earth Top 5 MMO(ish) plans for 2016:

  • FFXIV (remaining excellent)
  • Heart of Thorns
  • Black Desert Online
  • Overwatch
  • More new coop titles (like Gigantic, The Division…)

No further predictions from me for me, so maybe I can be right for a change! I have omitted Blade&Soul since I don’t expect to appreciate the aesthetics nor combat. Skyforge seems rather boring too and nothing to lose any sleep over. Speaking of introspect world wandering, I actually expect games like No Man’s Sky to scratch that particular itch, so for now I am good in the upcoming games department. No MMO malaise for me in 2016 – bring on the games, yo!

FFXIV “High Adventure #7″: Daybreak

My screenshot journey through Heavensward is far from done. The game keeps being breathtaking and it’s not just that it has pretty graphics because many MMOs nowadays do. No, there’s something about the settings in FFXIV, the atmosphere, the light that swallows you whole at unexpected times, and you seemingly transcend the boundaries between the real and virtual without effort. I can smell the brisk morning air in Idyllshire as I stare into an early campfire and ponder, what will the future hold?

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Meeting our MMO Doppelgangers

Custom character creation is one of the most defining aspects of the MMORPG genre. Stuck with alter egos longterm, players may spend more or less time initially creating their character’s looks but almost everyone agrees that it’s important not everybody look the same in massively multiplayer games. As a non-alt player who cares about customization a great deal, I have high expectations of character creation screens. But whether a game makes it easy or very hard to create a more unique avatar, adventuring alongside thousands of other players means that one day it is inevitably going to happen: you meet your doppelganger online.

My human priest in WoW was far from a popular model in an MMO that has always offered very little in terms of individualism. While scores of white- and violet-haired nightelf twins were running around everywhere in vanilla WoW, it took months before I encountered “myself” in Azeroth. I still remember how weird this felt – in fact, I remember being mildly annoyed about it. Wearing the same gear was obviously inevitable in early WoW but looking the exact same all the way down to the bend of your nose was a big no-no in my book. Whenever I re-encountered that player in Ironforge, I would rush in and out of the auction house quickly. Go away, imposter!

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This is an intervention! (forum.square-enix.com)

I never even thought about this issue until I encountered the above tweet the other day. It certainly didn’t occur to me that there could be such approval for MMO doppelgangers. I guess encountering someone with the same taste as you is some kind of confirmation but I still can’t feel positive about it. Maybe it’s a matter of being too immersed in your online self (there’s no identical me in real life…I think), in a way it takes away from the whole illusion created by virtual worlds. It’s probably a little silly of me too, but…..don’t copy my character design, okay??

Happy Friday to all the unique butterflies out there!

OTC – Big Deals Edition: The Challenges of Virtual Poop, Undertale and DPS Meters still suck, thank you!

You guys, I actually used “poop” in a topic title! *Achievement unlocked!*

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The big deal that is pooping in ARK

I’ve been playing some ARK over the past weekend after finally upgrading my old graphics card to a 970. The game is beautiful but also rather straightforward and boring, to the point of where I am calling over-hype. Coming from the suspense that is 7 Days to Die, ARK still has a long way to go before it catches my survival fancy – “just surviving”, as in making sure you’re not starving, isn’t a good enough reason to sink hours into a game and build fortresses for me. That’s all well though and I will return to ARK once it received more content love and fixing.

Of course one very under-reported, hilarious feature in ARK is your character’s defecation mechanic which has caught many an unsuspecting player by surprise. It also spawns fantastically comical forum threads such as this one which was my main inspiration for looking into the topic. For those who don’t know how it works, just a brief summary: player characters in ARK randomly poop all over the place with a “you defecated” message popping up on your screen and an overly realistic bowel sound effect going along with it (eww). Also, you can pick up player poop and do things with it! There’s apparently a way to initiate pooping yourself (I did not know this), rather than being taken by surprise when your character relieves himself in the middle of your base like he’s part of the livestock.

This is noteworthy because most games never dare venture into the no-go zone that is human poop, no matter how high their authenticity bar is set otherwise. I only remember encountering virtual pooping in the Sims and Conker’s Bad Fur Day myself in the past. Even toilets as part of game settings are kind of a big deal, as was recently deliberated in this RPS article. Cross-reading different ARK forums, there’s plenty of players utterly aghast at this, nevermind all the violence and moral decay portrayed in videogames otherwise but…..poop? No way! I actually got a buddy of mine to play ARK and he is turned off so much by the defecation thing, he’s already stopped playing. I couldn’t stop laughing after it “happened” to his character the first time around!

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So many places to do your business!

Now, I am possibly the last person to ask for poop mechanics in videogames, or any simulation of mundane bodily functions for that matter, since I’m all for the idealized, stylized and aesthetically pleasing fantasy environments! The fuss over something as trivial as poop in a game like ARK cracks me up though; I guess I’m okay with the fact that my human body does that sort of thing and so does yours because y’know, we’re part of nature no matter how fancy we dress and talk. We tend to be fine with “manure” (different word for poop!) from beefalos when playing Don’t Starve, so let’s try be a little less Martha Steward about the whole thing, shall we?

The Tunes of the Undertale

Undertale, a successful Kickstarter project that’s been created for the most part by one guy named Toby Fox, has recently been released on Steam with a bang. Not only is it difficult to find anything but raging reviews from players and journos alike, the fact that many would go as far as calling it the best RPG they ever played or at least among the best, got me curious to check it out myself. Only about 1 hour in and without wanting to spoil anything, I think it’s safe to say that lovers of the (J)RPG genre will find this to be an interesting journey for its toying with player expectations, tongue-in check approach to classic tropes and unorthodox approach to round-based combat. That is, if you can get over the minimalistic graphics. I’m not even sure how much I like Undertale yet myself but there is something about it I need to get to the bottom of.

What’s already won me over is the game’s soundtrack – a whooping 101 tracks of oldschool goodness composed by Toby Fox again (that guy!), and available for only 9.99$ on his bandcamp site. If you’re at all into retro VGM, this is for you and one great deal for the buck!

And MMOs are still better without DPS meters

Most players who have ever spent a decent amount of time in FFXIV: A Realm Reborn will at some point talk or write about its incredibly friendly community that seems at odds with the current WoW-based MMO standard. I have mused on this not too long ago and so have other bloggers, and it requires no great leap of logic to grasp that FFXIV’s lack of (acknowledged) DPS meters, as well as its very forgiving dungeons for the most part, have a lot to do with it. FFXIV relies heavily on social engineering in many different ways and pugging is as essential to the player experience in this MMO as it is in WoW and other games, toxic hells that their LFGs have become. I have lamented the state of pugs in WoW as well as in Guild Wars 2 in the past and Eri did in fact recently write a similar review on returning to Tera.

Now Rohan linked an interesting experiment from reddit in his post yesterday, in which some guy parsed both the harassment and the DPS for pugs in both FFXIV and WoW. Bottom line: the jerks in WoW are often also the “good” players (no doubt using meters as their justification). In FFXIV on the other hand, in case of a bad pug it’s more likely that the loudmouth is also a bad player (that’s simply never detected). So far goes the result of the experiment.

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More dps whyyyy…look I have a pretty angel!

It’s easy enough to believe this data. Like Rohan, I fail to see how any of the two options are superior in theory because well, I generally don’t want any jerks in my pugs. Doing well on meters doesn’t entitle you to be a jerk. Where I disagree slightly is the bottom line that the two approaches to meters are on the same level / cause equal inconveniences; in reality I am a lot less often subjected to harassment in FFXIV than I am in WoW by virtue of how the FFXIV devs handle meters. And this is a big deal.

Would you rather deal with a 5% chance of getting ebola or a 70% of getting SARS?  The 5% suck but are preferable to the 70%! Naturally, these are my uncorroborated percentages to illustrate approximately how often my pugs have been awful in FFXIV vs. WoW. Source whatever you like, it would surprise me greatly if you didn’t end up with a huge disparity between these two titles. I must have done a 100 runs myself in FFXIV by now and I recall precious few group disbands either, outside those 2-3 single raid boss encounters everyone seems to loathe.

Of course the question of whether bad players matter much towards outcome, factors into this and once more FFXIV appears to be more laidback and forgiving where the majority of its puggeable content is concerned. I mean look….the 4-man dungeons aren’t exactly difficult. I am still undecided whether WoW’s dungeons are truly that much harder to warrant meters – I’ve a feeling this is not the case. The amount of harassment in WoW happens because meters are readily available and because people can. So, I’ll take a few loudmouth players in FFXIV who are “also bad” any day, if it means a much friendlier overall community.

[FFXIV] A special Heavensward Tribute

I am in love with Eorzea; the snowy lands beyond Coerthas, the forests of the Black Shroud, the windmills of La Noscea. The sense of scale and immersion created in the zones of FFXIV are only matched by LOTRO. And some of them are unrivaled entirely. I didn’t expect to ever find a “go-to MMO” again after WoW, a game that I will log on to after an exhausting day just to unwind and find comfort in its world. FFXIV is that for me.

My journey through Heavensward has been rather wonderful up to this point, both in terms of traveling around as well as following the engaging storyline. I have taken around 900 screenshots of this expansion alone. There are so many favorites that I decided just picking a few and uploading them somewhere won’t do – this time, I’ll showcase them a little differently than usual.

Slideshow clips aren’t my favorite thing on youtube but in this case I felt it was a perfect way of arranging and uploading quite a lot of screenshots that are also tied together storywise and for the most part, in chronological order from lvl 50-60. For those who aren’t playing FFXIV or haven’t been to Heavensward just yet, my tribute will be less meaningful than for me maybe and other HW players. I get incredibly sentimental watching clips like this but I hope it can serve as a worthy teaser too for someone who’s never been to Eorzea, showing them a few of the most wonderful moments and sceneries to be encountered in this MMO. Enjoy!

P.S. Yes, I like my dragons, what can I say!

FFXIV “High Adventure #6″: Fireworks

My High Adventure journey through FFXIV continues. I’ve been spending more time in Alexander again this past week and look forward to the next content drop. There’s only so many times you want to repeat the same dungeons in MMOs. Sometimes it’s important to take a break and watch the fireworks.

Happy weekend everybody.

Fireworks in Limsa Lominsa

Fireworks in Limsa Lominsa

FFXIV “High Adventure #5″

Important info: as of now, my MMO music quiz is still unsolved. That means you still have a shot at winning a copy of The Witcher 2 and be declared glorious victor of this formidable challenge! Head here for the quiz! (winners who already own the game may have it gifted to a friend.)

My fifth screenshot in the High Adventure series for FFXIV is one of snow. I love snowy maps in MMOs and winter themes. Heavensward is full of cold and dark places but there’s brilliance in winter too and solace.

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[FFXIV] An Anniversary to Remember

Thanks to Rohan’s post this week I got around doing the FFXIV anniversary event “The Rising“, which is still available until September 7th. It was hands down the greatest anniversary quest-line I’ve ever come across in an MMO, so I am very glad there was still time. Because I read Rohan’s post first I had a vague idea of what it was gonna be about and a good thing too – I would’ve missed a lot of the inside jokes and references otherwise and likely have clicked impatiently through half the speech bubbles first. Don’t do it!

*Spoilers ahead*

As Rohan mentioned too, The Rising is one remarkable and successful shattering of the fourth wall in an MMO. Strictly speaking, MMO anniversaries are all a little out of character anyway, as they specifically celebrate the existence of your virtual fantasy world since [insert launch date]. SE have more to celebrate than most though and so they’ve taken things as far as it gets; if you have any history with FFXIV/ARR or SE at all, or any context of how far this title has come since 1.0, you really need to take the 20mins to experience this unique event! It is delightful in its self-irony and heart-warming in its humbleness. As far as my own MMO experiences are concerned, The Rising is also very much unprecedented in its very personal and direct address of the player base. Also, when do you ever get to explore a dev team’s virtual offices or sit with one of your favorite MMO composers’ alter ego?

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Talking MMO music with ol’ Soken!

For those who won’t be experiencing The Rising either because they can’t or don’t want to, you can check out the essential cutscenes on youtube and read about all the not-so-hidden references on the reddit mega thread. That only leaves me with saying “you are welcome, SE” and kudos for not giving up on a legacy that’s dear to so many franchise fans worldwide! May our adventures in Eorzea indeed be a continuous source of joy and wonder! Happy weekend everybody!

Shared hopes

Shared hopes

FFXIV “High Adventure IV” [#Blaugust 22]

Back in primary school we used a lot of watercolor and Neocolor wax crayons in art class. I remember when our teacher showed us a special (and messy) technique one day, in which you started off covering an entire leaf of strong paper in all the different colors of the rainbow, wildly mixed. This first layer would either be normal crayon or water color.

Once everything was dry and finished, a second layer of thick black Neocolor would go on top and completely cover up the entire page. Such a smeary affair it was that we all looked like chimney sweepers afterwards, with black wax covering our hands and faces and god knows what else. But that’s when the real fun started and we finally got to carve out the actual image with a piece of wire or a spatula-like instrument, by scratching away fine lines out of the wax to reveal a magical world of colors underneath. I absolutely loved this technique for its wondrous effect and that negative contrast.

This fourth pick in my ongoing FFXIV “High Aventure” screenshot series is therefore an homage to those early days of creative experimentation. I think am gonna call it Cloud Watcher.

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