Do the Manderville! A Married Couple Bickers Over Final Fantasy XIV

Once upon a time in the late 20th century, Keyes and Howard met on a Final Fantasy message forum. Today, they’ve been married for almost eight years. They have a massive collection of Final Fantasy games and games that should be Final Fantasy games (Bravely Default, Bravely Second) and still get nostalgic for things like Fat Chocobos and Black Mages. But neither had played an MMO before… until now. So what do two first-time MMOers think about the popular MMO that is supposed to be the best game in their beloved franchise in the current generation? Let’s find out…


Howard: For those who don’t know, every numbered Final Fantasy game is its own setting and story. So if Final Fantasy XIV is your first Final Fantasy game, you don’t need to play other games to know what’s going on. It’s its own self-contained story, just one loaded with references to other games in the series. You will appreciate the references more if you’ve played other games, but if you’re looking to start here, you will be just fine.

Keyes: So our collective history with this franchise is extensive, if rather fraught over the last, say, ten years or so.

Howard: It’s hard to state exactly when the dark times began, but I believe it had something to do with a bunch of annoying people we didn’t care about from some place called “Cocoon” hogging the franchise for an entire console generation.

Keyes: Well, mostly because you liked Final Fantasy XII more than I did, by which to say, you killed Yiazmat, and I started the game like five times and went BUT IT IS PLAYING ITSELF FOR ME and ran off. It should further be noted that our squabbling for console time to play Final Fantasy XIV is also unusual because neither of us play MMOs otherwise.

Howard: It’s the first MMO for both of us. And it’s entirely my fault for jumping down the rabbit hole first and saying “Hey, I haven’t been killed by angry rabbits! Come join me!”

Keyes: Yes, I squarely blame you and also my brothers, who have achieved their lifetime dream of telling me how to play a Final Fantasy title rather than the other way around. There’s a lot to unpack about this game, and there are also many ways to play it, so let’s talk a little about how we play differently. You have, at least until the release of Stormblood, mained as a Tank, whereas I have mained as a melee DPSer.

Howard: Yes. Tanks. They kill and die slow. Assuming your Tank knows how to not die. Which is shockingly something that can’t be taken for granted.

Keyes: DPSers, on the other hand, particularly the melee DPSers, kill fast and die fast. Or, as I announced to a pick-up party earlier today, “It’s my party, and I’ll die if I want to.” To be fair, though, a bad DPSer will usually not cause a total party kill. A bad Tank, as I had unfortunate cause to find out, will almost always do so.

Howard: Yes. I watched a bad Tank repeatedly destroy your party. It was surreal. And hilarious.

Keyes: The screams of the White Mage going, “BUT THIS WAS SUPPOSED TO BE AN EASY RAID” will echo for all time. It seems to me that there’s less to watch out for when you Tank but what you have to watch for, and do, is so bloody essential that it’ll take the whole team down paths nobody wants to go down if you fail. In the raid you mentioned, we had two Tanks and one of them was extremely aggressive. While one of the more experienced people in the raid was explaining we simply should not get too close to the giant row of OMG DEATH MACHINES but should rather slide carefully off to the side — something you, who had already done that raid, also told me — one of our Tanks ran up and pulled the entire lot of them.

Keyes: And we all died.

Keyes: Repeatedly. Until we kicked him out of the raid.

Howard: Let’s not forget the healers laughing at him first.

Keyes: You know it’s bad when an eight-man raid decides it’s better to go seven and one Tank — who was clearly very new and terrified — than have a Tank keep wiping the whole party out. A “pull” to be clear is when a Tank runs up and draws the aggression of a group of enemies to collect them into a knot so the rest of the party can tear them up.

Howard: For those at home who don’t know what we’re talking about, a Tank’s job is to shout “look at me” and get beat up by the enemies while the other people kill them. The problem is that sometimes instead of selecting a group of enemies that the party can handle, the Tank decided to get an army of 500 enemies all in a cluster. Then the Tank dies; and the party, unable to withstand the beating a Tank can withstand, gets slaughtered.

Howard’s Paladin. A Tank. He has since changed his character into a lizardwoman, but that’s a topic for another time.

Keyes: A DPSer — that’s Damage Per Second — has one of two primary roles. One is to do huge amounts of damage to one enemy at a time; the other is to do so to a group. I main a Monk, so I rip one enemy at a time to bits; a Black Mage would also be a DPSer but is better with crowds. But DPSers have a lot, in general, to watch on the field. A DPSer needs to watch who the Tank is targeting, since that’s usually who they should target also, but also keep an eye out on the back field to make sure nothing escaped the draw of the Tank. If the Tank does fall down on the job, it’s up to me to get any enemies that charge at the healer and any ranged DPSers hanging out on the edges of the battlefield.  And I ALSO have to see if anything special to this fight is happening and be prepared to break off and deal with it. It’s a lot. And there are a few special battles — like Ifrit — where an inattentive DPSer will wipe the party.

Keyes as DEATH BANANA!

Howard: Every role (the other being healer) is vital, which is why the game REQUIRES a balance of them to let you play the dungeons and raids that make up the only parts of the game that really MUST be played with a cooperative group.

Keyes: It’s really hard to overstate how apparent it becomes whether you are decent enough at your class role when you go into a dungeon or a raid or a trial. You don’t really notice that in the solo stuff. A crappy DPSer isn’t going to realize that they’re bad at their job until they’re accidentally yanking all the Tank’s aggro and wondering why they are dead again.

Keyes: One of the really nice things about this game is that it will let you form parties with your friends and all go into a dungeon together, but it also has pick-up parties.

Howard: One of the best and worst things about the game.

Keyes: Which are sometimes really great, and you can get some wonderful pointers, and on rare occasion will be really, really terrible.

Howard: Like when I tried to do the last dungeon of the initial release of the game and got stuck and the party ran off without me and told me to “enjoy the cut-scenes.” I would’ve liked to have played. But it would “waste their time.” I’m understating. They were really insulting.

Keyes: Yeah, you almost put the game down.

Keyes: That’s part of what a Free Company (an in-game players’ guild) is for, of course, and it’s worth noting that, rather like we main different classes, we are in two very different sorts of Free Company.

Howard: Mine is huge and throws fireworks parties.

Someone call Katy Perry to sing that song about the watchamacallits.

Keyes: Mine is much smaller, but more broadly interactive with each other. Not to say yours doesn’t interact with each other — I know they do — but I can, and do, get care packages of gear from my FC Head. But there are also lots of times I’m the only person in my FC online, particularly since a disproportionate amount of the core of my FC are in Oceania, in different time zones.

Howard: While I appreciate the social aspects of the game, there’s a part of me that would prefer a version I could just solo. But the whole reason I picked up FFXIV to begin with was the lack of quality single-player games that do what it does well: have a huge world, detailed story, good music, challenging battles, etc. Like, I actually picked the game up because it was the closest thing I could find to a new Xenoblade game. I suspect I will have an easy time putting this down if we can find a Nintendo Switch by the time Xenoblade 2 comes out. I guess I should say that I like talking ABOUT games more than I like talking during them. The thing is, the game is beautiful. It’s fun. It offers a TON of things to do. But I’m not sure whether or not the social element is the real draw for me.

Keyes: I like it more than I would have thought broadly but in no small part that’s because it lets me play with my brothers, who live several states away. I agree there are lots of times I wish I could just solo something that’s making me play as a group because I want to advance the plot, and I can’t do it alone. It is making me take a team. And if nobody in my FC or my bros aren’t around, well, I am taking a risk that I will be playing with jerks.

Howard: Right. And I play to unwind. I don’t like the randomness of running into either hardcore elitist jerks who just want to rush or, conversely, people who don’t know what they’re doing getting the party wiped. I enjoy hard games. Bloodborne is one of my favorite games of all time. But if I die, I want it to be because of my actions, not because I got randomly assigned to jerks. This sort of makes forming a Free Company almost a defensive maneuver to ensure that the experience doesn’t suck. Which makes JUST PLAYING THE DAMN GAME more aggravating than it needs to be. These are problems single player games just don’t have.

Keyes: It is also worth observing that we have not talked about the characters or the plot.

Howard: FFXIV‘s plot is a greatest hits version of the early FF games’ plots, basically. It’s incredibly fan-servicey. Well, done, but SUPER familiar.

Gilgamesh! Again!

Keyes: It’s as basically enjoyable as it needs to be and not a drop more. There is a moment which is supposed to be dramatic and a bunch of NPCs die, and you are clearly supposed to really care. And we were both like “eh.”

Howard: This comes from not having a well-developed party at the core of the plot. The game TRIES to fill that gap, but can’t pull it off. It doesn’t have any memorable characters like, say, Vivi or Celes from earlier FF games.

This game is gorgeous.

Keyes: The setting, on the other hand, is quite nice.  But the lack of my attachment to the core NPCs really shows. SO AND SO DIED ARE YOU NOT SAD/ANGRY? “Meh,” I say. SO AND SO IS ALIVE ARE YOU NOT HAPPY? “Who was that guy again?” I say. Which is a shame. This series is historically capable of finding heartstrings you did not know you had and then yanking on them.

Howard: I think part of the problem is that the story is REALLY drawn out to pad its length to keep you subscribed. Everything takes SO MUCH LONGER than it would in a single-player game, even a massive one like Witcher 3, Xenoblade, or Dragon Age Inquisition.

Keyes: But all those games, particularly Witcher, which is VERY long, can pull off their length based in no small part on how enjoyable it is to spend time with these characters.

Howard: Right. Witcher‘s storytelling is superlative and it’s not fair to compare it to almost anything. But it exists, so you kind of have to.

Keyes: I do not enjoy spending time with, say, the Scions of the Seventh Dawn. I can’t even name more than like two of them at a time.

Howard: Right, but you have no real interaction with anyone. The story is strictly linear and it’s totally based around pushing you around. You never talk so your motivation is nonexistent other than to be the world’s most talented gofer who occasionally slays demigods.

Keyes: You aren’t driving the plot. You are the Almighty Janitor. The Final Fantasy‘s Greatest Hits bits are fun though. I got chased by a giant Tonberry today. I giggled the entire time. Which is perhaps not the reaction someone who has not played as many of these games as I have would have, but there you go.

Howard: Main characters in the better single-player FF games had real dilemmas and drove the plot in meaningful ways. Your hero in FFXIV is generic because they have to be. Because you create them.

Keyes: Yeah, there are bits of real dilemma here but you are so removed from it that it’s hard to care.

Howard: Sure. There’s TONS of fan-service and a lot of it is really effective. It’s well-made.

It’s not a fat chocobo! It’s the sacred bird! Lali-Ho!

Howard: Game plots where you are just the person that things happen to are ineffective, IMO. Even Witcher 3, where you don’t play the Legendary Hero, but her foster father, I felt real agency and a sense of impact for what I did. FFXIV is a ton of fun to play, and it has the bones of a good story, but I’m not sure it’s POSSIBLE to tell a meaningful story the way they are telling it. But I just got to Heavensward, the first expansion, and it’s supposed to get better from there. I hope so. Because the setting of the game has so much potential and the genericness of so much of it is not stopping me from playing it, but the lack of a sense of it going anywhere meaningful is starting to drag on me.

Keyes: Not sure they are either, which is probably why the characters who stick with me are ones like HAMON HOLYFIST!!!!! Who is the early-level pugilist trainer. You solo his plot, so it feels deeper.

Keyes: I will say this though, Howard: this game gives you plenty of cool things to ride around on.

Howard: I got a Unicorn!

Because Unicorns belong indoors.

Keyes: You still have the unicorn. 🙂

Howard: *cough* Witcher 3 reference *cough*

Keyes: I haven’t unlocked as many mounts as you have, but some of the beast tribe side quests let you ride around on fun things.

Ride that Goobbue!

Howard: We have pictures! Which is part of what I can’t stop playing this game. There’s an absurd amount of places to go, things to do, and sights to see.

Keyes: And ways to dress up .I am currently a very pirate like monk.

Yarrr! Pirate Monk!

Howard: And thanks to expansions, like Heavensward and Stormblood, they keep adding more. I mostly played Paladin (a Tank) to this point, but I’ve been experimenting with Samurai, a new DPS class, and the change in gameplay is crazy fun.

Keyes: I have been sticking close to monk at the moment, though in part that was because I knew the core gameplay of several classes — and how you got the classes — was about to change and I didn’t want to be yelling DAMN YOU MUSCLE MEMORY!!!!

Howard: One of the nice parts about coming in at a new expansion like Stormblood is we don’t have to unlearn as much. I used to use a Dragoon (lance-wielding Dragon Knights) as my DPS class, but they changed it so much that rather than unlearn what I learned, I just picked up Samurai so I could just learn it from scratch. And learning new classes is one of the game’s major joys for me.

Flora pulling doing her best Kanbe Shimada impression.

Keyes: I also enjoy the crafting quests. But that’s not everybody’s cup of tea.

Howard: People play for very different reasons. I like to explore and challenge myself, primarily. You seem to find crafting meditative. Like, you spent a ton of time with Stardew Valley, and I barely touched it. Conversely, I love Dark Souls and you’ve never shown any interest in games designed to be harder than hell.

Keyes: I have a very stressful job. I don’t find it relaxing to come home and be enraged.

Howard: Right. This is where I link to Extra Credits’ “aesthetics of play” video. We met on a Final Fantasy message board, and I think we both kind of miss traditional FF. FFXIV is a great treat for FF fans, but I don’t think it quite fills the void of FF‘s peak era from about IV to X. FFXV was good, but didn’t fill that void either. We both really loved that style of game. Games like Persona 5 (which we discussed earlier) kind of carried the torch a bit. But it makes me kind of sad that FF basically stopped doing what it did best after Final Fantasy X. Final Fantasy XIV is a great game, don’t get me wrong, but what I’d really like to see is a brand-new game done in the classic style with characters, settings, and story focused in the way games like Final Fantasy VI focused them. I think those days may be over.

Keyes: At least insomuch as a expecting it from a Final Fantasy, yes. But I think we an agree that while Final Fantasy XIV isn’t quite an heir to the classics, what it is is very good.

Howard:  Agreed.

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