Amidst a raging storm, a group of adventurers battle against a god, who commands the very elements of rain and lightning. Dancing between deadly bolts of fury and watery explosions, the adventurers strike back with all the might and magic they can muster. The god falters in the wake of flashes of steels, then the battle takes a sudden unexpected turn! The god transforms into a towering phantom giant and brings down a colossal sword upon the unsuspecting adventurers. One adventurer rushes forward and intercepts the crashing mountain-sized sword with his axe, barely holding on to save the rest of the people from certain doom in a stunning cinematic fashion…
That was my experience with the very first boss encounter (Trial) of Final Fantasy XIV Stormblood Expansion, the last MMORPG expansion from Square Enix. The entire team wiped out the first time, because most of us were stunned to see a visually impressive QTE (Quick Time Event) in an MMO. We failed to break the sword in time and got squashed like bugs. However, instead of getting frustrated, we were all amazed. We chatted fervently immediately after the wipe, about how “awesome” that phase was. Just then, I realized the heart of Final Fantasy beat passionately within this expansion.
Stormblood's story immediately follows where the previous Heavensward expansion ended. The thousand years of Dragonsong War is no more, but the battle is far from over. The Warrior of Light (Player) must now travel to the war-torn lands of Ala Mhigo and Doma, both of which have been under the iron-fist oppression of the Garlemald Empire for more than two decades. The Warrior of Light has to face a new adversary unlike anything in the previous A Realm Reborn and Heavensward: It is the evil of war, despair and tyranny itself.
The threats from vengeful dragons, false gods and otherworldly beings take a back seat in this expansion. The Warrior of Light is tasked with the mission of rekindling the spirit of revolution in the lands ridden with despair and tyranny under the heels of the Garlemald Empire. The theme of human centric struggles for liberty against totalitarianism replaces the usual JRPG plot of stopping arcane beings who are hell bent on destroying the world. It is a refreshing take and reminds me closely of my favorite JRPG, Suikoden II.
Stormblood took its narrative potential to such new heights that I completely forgot that I was playing an MMORPG, simply because the main story was as engaging as any single player RPG from the olden days. Well-executed cut scenes with exceptional voice acting are also abundant in this expansion. Unlike most MMORPGs where a player is just one of the nameless/faceless soldiers unimportant to the events around the world, Final Fantasy XIV puts the player in the very center of the story like a silent protagonist, making the entire experience intensely engaging and entertaining.
The colorful cast they introduced quickly grew on me. Unlike most MMORPGs, Stormblood made me emotionally invested in the characters of the game, whether it was a side character or a major one. The characters all played their own role in the story and have unique and likeable personalities. The outstanding voice acting also helped bolster emotions in every scene. The narrative and character developments in Stormblood are, as yet, the best I have ever experienced in an MMORPG.
The sense of adventure is strong in this game. The new areas are not only graphically stunning, but they are also thematically distinct and immersive. The feelings of excitement lingered long and deep in my mind while exploring new areas. Just like when I explored the Calm Lands for the first time in Final Fantasy X, excitement and wanderlust burned inside me when I reached the Mongolian-themed Azim Steppes of Stormblood. I spent my time taking screenshots every five minutes in the Chinese-themed Yanxia and Japanese-themed city of Kugane, because every location was screenshot-worthy. In hindsight, the old areas from A Realm Reborn and Heavensward looks extremely restrictive and, in some cases, outright bland when compared to the newer areas. This alone attested the overall improvements.
Another finer point of Stormblood is the music. Masayoshi Soken, the composer of Final Fantasy XIV Online, has outdone himself. Taking the main theme “Revolution” as a leitmotif, Soken produced a wide array of tracks that perfectly syncs with every scene, dungeon and area. From a blood boiling battle theme to a calm tribal hymn, the music scores simply ooze with greatness.
While Stormblood did not move away greatly from the foundation set by its predecessors, the entire battle system received a major overhaul. Each job (class) has been revamped and made unique along with two new jobs, Samurai and Red Mage. Every skill has been tweaked, tuned or outright removed to reduce skill-bloats.
All jobs now have a special job-specific UI. This brings the new thematic gameplay elements to the table. For example, the Red Mage has a UI that shows the gauges for Black and White Mana. True to classic Final Fantasy roots, the Red Mage can cast both Black and White magic in chains, and the player must maintain a close balance between both Black and White Mana, as displayed in UI to unleash devastating melee combos, creating a distinct play-style from other mage classes.
The dungeons and trials (Boss fights) are polished and well-designed as well. As I mentioned earlier, the boss fights in Stormblood take a more cinematic and visually appeasing approach, while keeping the structure more or less the same. Incredible cinematic events/scenes which look like they are taken straight out of games like Devil May Cry and Bayonetta are now integrated into the fights. There are dungeons on ongoing large-scale battlefields, as opposed to traditional settings of ruins/labyrinths/caves… etc. Nothing pumped my adrenaline with sheer immersion more than marching into a battlefield, felling soldiers left and right, while mortars and fire rained down upon me, amidst the deafening war cries and cheers from allies and enemies alike. This, I must say, is simply a stroke of genius.
The entire PvP (player vs. player) system has also been revitalized with an entirely new system. The skills are now separated from PvE (player vs. enemy) and simplified in PvP to encourage fluid gameplay for every job. Once you enter the PvP area, the hotbar changes to PvP hotbar with a handful of simplified skills. Obviously, there are some jobs and skills that are in dire need of balance, but PvP has become largely enjoyable and entertaining. PvP had been the Achilles’ heel of Final Fantasy XIV but now, this has easily become one of the most entertaining pastimes for me.
However, Stormblood is guilty of not taking any risks with quests. There is no major innovation to core quest structures. Repetitive fetch quests galore still presents in game. It becomes stale very fast with pointless “Go over there, click that rock and come back” type of side-quests. Luckily, PvP now gives considerable amount of EXP. So instead of gathering up will-power to plow through boring side-quests, you can do PvP to earn experience points in more entertaining way.
Ever since its rebirth, Final Fantasy XIV is well known for getting better with each entry. Stormblood, in my opinion, finally brought the very identity of “Final Fantasy” into the game. During my thirty or so hours of playing the main story, I found the game as engaging as any numbered single-player Final Fantasy titles. The captivating narrative, the spectacular visuals, the colorful characters, the phenomenal voice works, the rewarding gameplay and the blissful scores, all incorporated masterfully to near perfection in this expansion. Final Fantasy XIV Stormblood remains as not only one of the finest MMORPGs on the market, but also one of the best Final Fantasy titles ever produced.
Lv-99 simple sheep