Final Fantasy XIV is a pretty impressive global sensation. Practically everyone knows the story of how its initial launch was a mess, to put it mildly, before receiving a significant revamp that eventually birthed the monumentally successful MMO many love today. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who actively dislikes Final Fantasy XIV nowadays; I sure never have.
Well, that is sort of a lie because I actively dislike Final Fantasy XIV. It’s the worst gaming experience I’ve ever had, bar none. I played from the very beginning, pre-A Realm Reborn quest-cutting, to the end of base Shadowbringers in the span of about a little over a month.
Yet, my awful time with it is solely due to several colossally horrible decisions I made in the build-up to playing it and the process of playing it. I’m reasonably confident that I’m one of the few, if not the only, one who has gone through FFXIV in this fashion.
To get into the how and why, let’s do a summation of my ineptitude, which will, in turn, hopefully, pivot others who are unknowingly heading down the path I regret. This all happened back in the May of 2020.
So, it’s vital to preface that I usually do not enjoy playing video games with other people. Because of that, I naturally avoid MMOs and anything multiplayer. But I’ve always heard that FFXIV could be played entirely solo; this quite understandably intrigued me. I, of course, had a difficult time believing it, though I was constantly told how this was the case. If I had to attach a percentage, I’d say around 97-98% of the people I asked said that complete solo play was possible, so I was inclined to believe that crowd.
In hindsight, this belief of mine stemmed from desperation. I misunderstood, perhaps self-deludedly, that literally the entirety of FFXIV could be played without interaction from other players. Obviously, this is not the case. I’m getting a bit ahead of myself, though.
When I began playing Final Fantasy XIV for the first time, I went with the Hyur race and did not alter my character’s appearance whatsoever. I always prefer pre-established characters with designs of their own instead of character creation, meaning I spent less than a minute in the FFXIV character creator. Looking back, the initial signs were there. My averseness to gaming with other people and this skip past the opening section countless players spend hours on is prophetic.
I know that FFXIV has been implementing solo trials and dungeons for some time now; back when I played it, that incorporation was minimal. In fact, I think it was only available in Shadowbringers, but we’ll get into that later. The point is I wasn’t aware of dungeons, trials, or raids necessitating other players. I assumed that all of this content could simply be completed by yourself since the feasibility of playing the game solo has always been talked up. However, this isn’t a fault of the player base or community since a single second of research would rectify that misunderstanding. I was just absurdly naive.
Final Fantasy XIV is an MMO, not a single-player game. That is elementary, self-evident, and intrinsic to the title’s very existence. It is innately contradictory to think otherwise. As a result, my interest in the actual gameplay was practically nonexistent, and this was bolstered by how much the UI perplexed me. I progressed without knowing the basics of the basics. To elaborate, I ended up becoming an Arcanist, and then eventually, a Summoner, by complete coincidence, never knowing that it was possible to change one’s Job.
The only reason I became an Arcanist was because that happened to be the first Job quest I selected. And due to my insistence to solely go through the main story and nothing else if I could help it, I entirely overlooked the opportunities to grow my other Jobs. This also led to me not learning you could even change Jobs for the entire 400+ hour duration I played FFXIV.
Anyway, back to my single-player confusion and yearning. My reality was quickly shattered by the necessary involvement with other players. But that mutilated notion was offset by an omnipresent avenue of praise this title received; its story. If there is one element of Final Fantasy XIV that’s beloved come hell or high water, it’s the narrative. And this praise was my primary fuel for keeping on.
Ironically, the discussion I often saw about A Realm Reborn being the weakest part of the story unconsciously excited me. Because of that perception, my expectations for the base game were immensely meager, causing me to enjoy it the most out of anything else in FFXIV. To explain that apparent contradiction, because A Realm Reborn is treated as the lowest of the low, I was able to go into it with a relatively clear head. By contrast, since Heavensward onward is considered the cream of the crop, I treated it all with ludicrously high standards. I have never seen the collective FFXIV story be disliked post-A Realm Reborn, giving the expansions an impossible reputation to uphold.
Ultimately, I experienced A Realm Reborn with the purest state of mind I had compared to everything after it. I should also note that throughout my entire time playing FFXIV, I never skipped any cutscenes and read every text box I encountered. Granted, I did almost no side content, so it wasn’t all that much, but I undoubtedly tried to pay attention to the core story. The number of text boxes was never a bother to me either, maybe because I’m a Trails fan.
Alas, because of the rate I was progressing throughout the narrative, I did not absorb anything. In fact, despite having played the game from the start to the end of base Shadowbringers, I could not tell you a single thing that has happened, let alone instances of character growth. This was a symptom of beelining the story, not learning how to actually play the game, and being miserable in combat.
Almost humorously, the format I was playing FFXIV in contributed to my awful progression. I was in a preferred world, meaning my leveling rate was drastically heightened until level 70, where you’re supposed to be during Shadowbringers. So, I wasn’t forced to learn how to play whatsoever since my leveling was ridiculous. And since I didn’t know you could change Jobs, I was probably leveraging this benefit in the most unintended way possible. Further, I’m unsure if Square still does this, but reaching Level 30 on this preferred world gave me 15 extra days of free playtime, meaning my determination to catch up with the story in as rushed a manner as possible was made far more feasible.
Of course, by the time I reached Shadowbringers, where this level-raising effect wore off, I was in the worst possible position I could have been in. I did not know how to play correctly, making dungeons and trials dreadful. For one, my ignorance was quite noticeable, causing those I was allied with to grow increasingly vexed at me for not understanding the basics, which, to be fair, I don’t blame them for. Some of the messages I got were rather harsh, yet if you’re in Stormblood and Shadowbringers and you’re in a party with someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing on the most elementary of levels, it’s natural for most to feel intense annoyance.
I only had one person who occasionally played FFXIV with me, but they were already fully caught up and didn’t really explain how the systems of anything worked. They were mainly there to help me get past battles I couldn’t brute-force. I appreciate their help, even now, because it was a catalyst for teaching me just how unfit I am for this genre. Shadowbringers had these scenarios where you could play with NPC characters, and that honestly had me hyped beyond belief. However, because I was so ill-equipped, it was essentially impossible to clear these segments with the NPCs, so I had to resort to other players.
All of this is to say that my atrocious experience with Final Fantasy XIV is entirely my own fault. My dislike of playing with other people, disinterest in character creation, lack of basic gameplay research, desperation to catch up on the story as fast as possible, and making the gameplay worse for whoever was unfortunate enough to party with me make Final Fantasy XIV my worst-ever gaming experience. And I don’t believe that’s an exaggeration after going through it for over 400 hours.
Because of all of this, seeing Final Fantasy XIV tends to cause negativity to resurface. The only way I can see myself ever trying FFXIV again is if it were to receive a completely offline single-player version. Dragon Quest X did just that, and while I have not played it because it remains Japanese-exclusive, it has compelled me immeasurably more than its conventional MMO state. Regardless of how much FFXIV tries to make itself more single-player friendly, it is an MMO at its heart, so if you’re opposed to the genre on a fundamental level, it’ll never be for you.
Still, if you’re someone at least remotely similar to me in your dislike of MMOs and generally just gaming with other people, I’m not saying you should avoid trying Final Fantasy XIV altogether. But you should make adequate preparations. Before playing, look into what Jobs you want to pursue, and as difficult as it may be, try playing with other people you know. If you’re even moderately open to the idea of playing FFXIV with others, then embrace it and see how it goes. But most of all, don’t force yourself.
The initial reason FFXIV became so terrible for me was that I was too weak-minded in the face of the impossibly high standards its existence comprises. I was chasing a dream of having an unparalleled gaming experience born from endless waves of praise without putting in the work to get there. Instead, I went on a half-assed delusion-filled path to catch up as soon as possible when that supposed catch-up was just running backward from the starting line.
Ultimately, I’m sure FFXIV must be a fantastic game, given its vast player base. Still, that doesn’t provide you a guarantee of being in with that crowd. So, if you start up FFXIV and end up liking it, that’s fantastic, though if you’re more similar to me and realize you’re absolutely miserable over 100 hours in, then stop. Save yourself time, and don’t try to convince yourself that there’s a paradise over the horizon because, I can promise it isn’t one for you.
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