Final Fantasy XIV Online: Stormblood (PlayStation 4) Review

By Az Elias 29.07.2017 3

Review for Final Fantasy XIV Online: Stormblood on PlayStation 4

Final Fantasy XIV has come a long way since its revival in 2013. Its speedy success laid the foundations for an MMO that did the Final Fantasy name justice, leading into the Heavensward content that greatly improved on the overall storyline. Four years and over six million players later, and the second major expansion, Stormblood, has arrived, bringing with it a whole host of new features, locations, storylines, and more.

It is no small stretch to say that Final Fantasy XIV is currently in the best state it has ever been in. Despite a very slow opening with A Realm Reborn, having played through Heavensward and through to the end of Stormblood in quick succession, it can safely be said that this is one MMO worth sticking with. After all, there is four years' worth of content to hammer through, with the improvements made in subsequent patches and expansions following 2.X telling of the feedback taken on board and work put in by director Naoki Yoshida and his team.

Stormblood marks a highly noticeable upgrade in quality in general over the entire rest of the game, including Heavensward, which itself was a great leap ahead of 2.X content. Granted, there are no new playable races, which might come as a bit of a disappointment given the number of fresh Beastmen Tribes and the introduction of the wolf-like Lupin encountered throughout patch 4.0, and perhaps more so because 3.0 brought in the Au Ra. With an upcoming Ivalice raid on its way, though, maybe it isn't out of the question to see Viera someday.

Screenshot for Final Fantasy XIV Online: Stormblood on PlayStation 4

No new races, then, but there are a couple of new jobs to play as. Still less than the variety Heavensward made available, but they are good ones. Both DPS roles, the red mage and samurai mix up styles, with the former being ranged and the latter taking the close-quarters melee approach. Starting out at level 50, each new job can be acquired in Ul'dah, provided the Stormblood expansion has been bought and the user has another level 50 role. The great thing about this is that anyone still in A Realm Reborn or Heavensward can pick up these two jobs early and put them to use in pre-4.0 content.

Donning the famous and eye-catchingly slick red hat and jacket, the red mage is a hybrid damage dealer that combines ranged black and white magic and getting in close with the rapier to inflict the pain on any opposing enemies. A balancing act is needed with regards to using each magic type, as mana gauges build for each black or white magic that is used.

Keeping the gauges roughly growing at the same rate by switching between using both types in rotation, once enough mana has been built up, that's the cue to close down and unleash havoc with several physical attacking abilities. These drain the mana back down quickly, where the red mage can pull off a finisher before stepping back to long range again and repeating the process. Overusing too much of one type of magic makes it more difficult to accumulate mana for the other, resulting in this DPS not making the most out of the damage that could have been dealt on the current rotation.

Screenshot for Final Fantasy XIV Online: Stormblood on PlayStation 4

It sounds like a lot to take in for the red mage role, but it is rather simple to get the hang of. There is a constant need to pay attention to the mana bars and look at which spells have received procs to indicate which should be used next, but once that is down after some practice, this becomes a good job to make use of, not least because it even has cure and raise abilities that can come in extremely handy in situations where the healer is knocked out, or to relieve some of the stress of other party members.

Fittingly enough for this expansion's step into the Far East, the second and final new job is the samurai. This is sure to be a popular one amongst the crowd, owed to more than just its appealing aesthetic design and for the sheer fact it is a sword style alone. Like the red mage, there are a couple of different gauges to manage, with Kenki being built through the use of weaponskills and required for the unleashing of other more powerful single and AOE attacks.

By chaining particular abilities together, three different Sen effects can be acquired, with the number currently held allowing for various types of sweet-looking finishers that gracefully add a visual flair typical of samurai, cherry blossom petals and all manner of sword slashing effects and all. The most important thing, though, is the damage dealt, and boy, does the samurai pack a punch. The artistic style and elegant moves are backed up with huge damage output that makes playing this role extremely rewarding.

Screenshot for Final Fantasy XIV Online: Stormblood on PlayStation 4

It is an in-depth job that is heavily geared around constant attacking, with focus needed on chaining abilities together in order to reach the target finishing move, but is a great one to learn for newcomers, as the basics can be gotten to grips with easily enough. As new finishers are gained through levelling, users can slowly learn the required chains necessary to lay down each one over time.

Of the two new roles, samurai seems to be the preferred job to take up simply for its stream of high intensity damage dealing, but the red mage's all-around balancing act equally makes it just as attractive - helped especially because of the irresistibly sophisticated ruby-coloured attire that these skilled mages don. Tanks and healers may feel a little left in the dark this time around, but no effort has been spared to make these two DPS roles worth investing time into.


 
Onto the main course of Stormblood, then, and that's the advancing of the main storyline - and what an advancement it is! The Scions of the Seventh Dawn know the time is right to take the fight to the Garlean Empire and take back Lyse's home nation of Ala Mhigo, which has been occupied for twenty years. The opening segments are in contrast to the Ishgardian snowlands from Heavensward, as this dry and barren region is the prime focus early on. The almost colourless and noticeably war-ravaged country, with destroyed structures and smashed up magitek armour dotted about the place, paints a depressing picture that emphasises the state the Empire-controlled region is currently in. Various areas of beauty crop up as the wastes are ventured across, though, somewhat acting as small metaphorical lights of hope in amongst the struggle of the Ala Mhigans' plight.

What is apparent is just how well the pacing of the story is handled. Whereas A Realm Reborn was particularly slow to get going, and Heavensward suffered from its fair share of standstills, Square Enix has gone to great lengths to keep things moving forward in Stormblood, never spending overly long in any one area. Indeed, after some tried and failed missions in and around the Resistance town of Rhalgr's Reach, it is decided that the best course of action in the battle to overthrow the Empire is to travel to the Far East and the distant lands of Othard. Key to winning this battle relies on strength in numbers, and by helping out the oppressed citizens of Doma, it is hoped that the Warrior of Light and fellow Scions can increase their ranks and ask for a few favours in return.

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The Far East is based on real world counterparts, which becomes immediately clear upon arriving at the busy port town of Kugane, with its people dressed in traditional kimono garb, buildings that are designed and structured in fashions reminiscent of Asian ones, and an absolutely gorgeous soundtrack that maintains its quality all the way through the expansion, using instruments commonly associated with oriental pieces.

There are some particularly fantastic field themes that could fit right into the likes of Shenmue, and the main theme itself is a catchy and powerful piece that sets the tone for the events that unfold. Sadly, it is overused throughout the game, with many arrangements being played in a number of locations, so it does lose its impact after the umpteenth time of hearing.

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The Asian theme proves to be a truly wonderful choice for not just the contrast in locations, which deliver a berth of vivid and lovely areas that add much needed colour back into the world after the disheartening sights of Gyr Abania, but also for the divergence between the East and West in the real world. The beliefs, the way people live their lives, the customs - incorporating these ideals and philosophies into the game is an effective and simple way to communicate the polarity between the two sides of the ocean in Final Fantasy XIV. The differences between the peoples is captured through the storyline, where the Eorzeans face a difficult task in trying to win over the approval of Domans and others.

Despite moving ahead at an engaging pace, the story comes across pretty believably in the way it suggests the events occur over the course of many weeks or months, with Lyse's added narration helping to lend a hand in that feeling. This leads into an opportunity to highlight the surprisingly exceptional voice acting.

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The early days of A Realm Reborn struggled massively with voice acting, as it was plain as day that the cast consisted almost entirely of Americans attempting bad English accents. From Heavensward, and now as things have progressed into Stormblood, Square Enix made a decision that really needs to be commended by completely overhauling the cast with genuine British actors. On a personal level, it cannot go understated how brilliant a choice this has proven to be. Not only does it give relatively unknown actors a chance to shine over well-known American actors that simply cannot always nail regional accents down, but it contributes so much more personality to the game as a whole.

Northern English dialects have been used for Ala Mhigans, which adds a degree of authenticity to their origins, existing outside of the four other main city-states encountered prior to Stormblood. It is noticeable that many of the voice actors used are indeed locals of Northern England, having appeared in soap operas and other British television dramas. For many, this is their first video game role, which itself is pleasing if only to see that Square Enix made authenticity a high priority.

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The quality cannot be overlooked, either, though. A particular highlight is antagonist Fordola, but perhaps even more so is Lyse. She is the central figure in the narrative throughout this expansion, and her performance is immaculate. There are some memorable moments where you can feel the emotion in her voice - actual emotion that doesn't sound fake. It's a bit unfortunate that the character animations are still more or less reliant on fixed emotes that don't always play in the precise moment they're needed, but these limitations are circumvented by virtue of the likes of Lyse and Fordola's voice actors alone.

Special mention is reserved for the main antagonists. Already mentioned is Fordola, but striking fear into the hearts of those below them are Yotsuyu and prime villain Zenos yae Galvus. The former is the acting viceroy of Doma, suppressing her follow citizens to years of torment and death, whilst the son of the emperor rules over Ala Mhigo. They make for legitimately chilling enemies - especially General Zenos, who has an incredible aura about him that would be enough to make one mess themselves in his presence. The dread of failing him would weigh heavy on anyone serving under him.

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Overall, there is a real sense of adventure and actual accomplishment with the mission tasked in Stormblood. The growing underdogs of the Resistance versus the mighty and imposing Empire that has spread its corruption over the world in the past decades makes for a simple premise, but one that is focused, with Square Enix having found a consistent level of pacing and clear understanding of the story the developers wanted to tell. It is an improvement over what has come before in all areas of storytelling.

Some interesting and new takes on the way solo duties are handled are introduced, with AI companions tagging alongside and acting more like party members than before, with the team needing to quest through specific areas, battling, searching and examining, adding just a little more of a general single-player RPG tinge to the MMO formula. Nothing revolutionary, and they are rather few and far between, but good to see a mix-up all the same.

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FFXIV still suffers from the same issues that have affected it for some time, though. There are still the odd fetch and unclear quests wormed into the main storyline, although these are much rarer, making it not as big of a deal. However, despite the range of gorgeous new areas and never usually being consigned to one place for an extended period of time, seldom is there ever much reason to actually explore the regions you're in. Apart from seeking out aether currents to allow flying in the current area, and perhaps certain side-quests that also unlock said currents, there is just little point to actually adventuring around, as there isn't much to discover. Of course, it is restricted as an MMO as to what can be done, but there has to be more for soloists than quests that offer underwhelming rewards - usually EXP in Stormblood's case.

The actual storyline itself is easy to get through, not least because gear is handed out like candy in main questlines. This makes merchants needless, as the required equipment is always on hand in order to complete the primary missions. The only time that grinding is necessary to work for better gear is for postgame dungeons and raids.

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Grinding EXP is less of a problem, though, thankfully. Personally speaking, coming from mid-Heavensward through to Stormblood meant building up EXP beyond the previous level cap of 60, allowing progress through the main scenario quicker than normal, but even when progress was halted by level requirements, it didn't take long to gain levels through duty roulettes, even in the late 60s range. It's a much smoother experience than previously.

Postgame itself is lacking. There are a couple of neat dungeons and bosses, but the main draw is the Interdimensional Rift. The name may ring familiar for franchise fans, as Omega pits the Warrior of Light in a series of trials against the strongest foes in existence. No spoilers as to what to expect, but let's just say that Final Fantasy V fans are sure to be pleased.


 
Whilst this area requires a little effort to reach the required item level to access the raid, and even with a Savage version to complete following the standard sequence, there isn't too great of an appeal to keep returning to the Rift, save for grinding for parts that can be exchanged for high-level gear. Most hardcore players are likely to spend their grinding hours here to max out their characters ready for patches to come, but the average user will find little need to come back after running it once or twice.

Redeeming things a lot are indeed not just the bosses fought in Omega's trials, but those battled against throughout the core game. There are some fantastic engagements with primals and other central enemies, with multiple unique phases keeping things fresh, rather than having to simply pummel the foe till dead. Expect bosses new and familiar, as is normally the case for this game, which treats its series history with great respect.

Oh, yeah, and there's also swimming now. Blitzball next, please!

Screenshot for Final Fantasy XIV Online: Stormblood on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

The best Final Fantasy XIV has ever been. Ever moving forward, Square Enix has managed to craft one of the most focused storylines in the game thus far, backed up by exceptional voice acting and a desire to keep quests fresh with great boss battles, characters and dungeons. The main area Stormblood suffers is postgame, where there is little desire to top that subscription back up once the main story and few unlockable dungeons and raids have been completed. Whilst it lasts, though, thoroughly engrossing from start to finish.

Developer

Square Enix

Publisher

Square Enix

Genre

Real Time RPG

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

Wow! Epic review, mate! Smilie The more I read about this, the more I regret not buying it. What made me hesitate was the online fee and that I'd probably not play it often enough to get good value from it. I've still got FFXI, but barely touched that within the trial window, so pretty much wasted my money buying it.

Adam Riley [ Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited ]
Word of Adam | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter

Smilie The sub fee has always been a concern of mine, but I think I've realised the best way to play is to buy a month here and there when bigger updates come along. I've done a 6-month sub before and I just held off playing it so much because I always felt I could jump in any time, and seemed to end up wasting the majority of time I got as a result. At least buying a month sort of forces you to make the most of it, and it proved to be just enough to get through this entire meaty expansion (although having to finish HW meant I needed to put another sub in just to get the most out of little extra bits and bobs in postgame SB).

It's a lot easier for me to look back and see that things have improved greatly since ARR, so that old review is a bit overrated now. Excited to see where post-SB's story goes now. Surely taking the fight to the empire's home nation is on the agenda...

From what you say, it'll be interesting to see Ren's take on ARR and the rest, as he'll be tasting it all in one go, rather than in dribs and drabs.

Adam Riley [ Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited ]
Word of Adam | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter

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