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!
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!