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'Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn' review: Biggest turnaround in video game history?

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FILE: A still image from "Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn."SQUARE ENIX CO. LTD

The “Final Fantasy” role-playing series has been a hallmark of quality since its inception back in 1987, spawning an enormous amount of titles, some of which are considered among the greatest games of all time.

Then came “Final Fantasy XIV” in 2010.

Final Fantasy’s second forage into massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) gaming was awful, with a poor interface, weak quests and unstable servers among the common complaints. Reviews weren’t just dismissive of “FFXIV” – they were downright scathing, with respected games website 1UP.com describing aspects of the game as “maliciously incompetent.”

But instead of cutting losses and moving on, developers Square Enix apologized and went to work, sacking and replacing the dev team and bringing in Naoki Yoshida as director and producer, who was tasked with rebuilding the game from the ground up.

“With 26 years and 14 numbered titles, no movie, music or video game franchise has ever had as long a history than ‘Final Fantasy,’” Yoshida recently told FoxNews.com.

“I felt that the failure of the original ‘Final Fantasy XIV” was something that seriously undermined the trust toward the “Final Fantasy” series. If we were to continue with this series, I thought regaining that trust was something paramount; this is the biggest reason why I wanted to go back and revamp the game.”

Click here to read FoxNews.com’s full interview with Naoki Yoshida

And revamp they did. So much so that the updated game was re-released with a new title -- “Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn” -- last year for PlayStation 3 and PC, and has just been released for PlayStation 4.

“FFXIV: RR” is set five years after a calamity wiped out much of the continent of Eorzea (and the events of the previous game.) You play a fresh-faced adventurer, whom you customize from a number of races and jobs, setting out on your journey to fame, fortune, and lots of dungeons filled with monsters.

The plot will cast itself differently depending on which character you choose and the city in which you start. However, anyone familiar with Final Fantasy will be familiar with the typical plot devices, from moogles and chocobos to deadly meteors, crystals, and imperial forces armed with ominous machines looking to take over the world. It’s standard Final Fantasy fare, but for an MMORPG, it’s surprisingly in-depth.

Although games like “World of Warcraft” focused on questing and keeping graphical quality low to make it more accessible to more gamers, “FFXIV” goes in the opposite direction, and focuses on producing a beautiful, vibrant world, an engaging plot, interesting non-player characters and high-quality cut scenes. The multiplayer aspects are certainly there, but the primary focus is on creating a Final Fantasy world, and it is one of the best looking next-gen titles.

Yet, while the story may not be quite as in depth as prior Final Fantasy games (although it is significantly deeper than most rival MMORPGs), the world certainly is. At times “Realm Reborn” seems impossibly big, and verges on overwhelming.

The characters are never going to rival fan favorites like Aeris, Kafka and Vivi, but the sense of adventure in exploring this new world, discovering the myths and legends behind each city and getting into epic battles, is on a much grander scale than anything before it.

If the essence of Final Fantasy is going on a grand adventure and exploring a huge world, then XIV is the purest Final Fantasy yet.

Yet what killed the original “FFXIV” wasn’t the plot, but the gameplay and the interface. Players coming to “A Realm Reborn” for the first time would never be able to tell it was an issue. PlayStation 4 users will be surprised just how well a complicated MMORPG interface fits on to the controller. The only major issue being that selecting an enemy is clunky, and can frequently end up selecting an enemy far away instead of the one kicking your cranium. Apart from that, combat and control is easy and a model for future MMORPGs.

One of FFXIV’s biggest strengths is the ability to switch between “jobs” just by changing the tool or weapon in your hand, allowing you to bring together as many roles as you would like into one character and move quickly between them, instead of having to start with a new avatar each time.

The ability to move between classes or combine a few skills (archer by day, carpenter by night, mage by brunch) leads to flexibility that makes the world your oyster, as paths are never cut off from you entirely.

Still, Final Fantasy XIV falls back on a few MMORPG tropes that occasionally feel a little tired. While the FATE system (where quests spring up at random in an area allowing all nearby to participate) is an excellent innovation, other quests fall into the “collect x amount of y” or “take a to b” type and often feel like filler. While the excellent combat, solid dungeons and intuitive duty finder make up for this somewhat, I hope future updates will show a little more originality in quest design.

When FoxNews.com spoke to Yoshida, he called good content updates were the most important thing to compete and survive, so it will be interesting to see what these updates bring to the table.

The question remains: “Is Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn” a “World of Warcraft” beater?

It’s a tough one to answer, since WoW has been out much longer than “FFXIV” and has many more updates and expansions. But “FFXIV” has a better, more vibrant world, a deeper story, better graphics and music, excellent console controls, and is just as addictive.

If “A Realm Reborn” can continue drawing in players, and keep building on its strong foundations with bigger and better updates and expansions, then in 10 years we will be looking at ”Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn” as the title that took the MMORPG crown from “World of Warcraft” and completed the biggest video game turnaround in history.

9.5/10

“Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn” is available now for PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and Windows PC. The Entertainment Software Rating Board rating is T -- Teen.

Adam Shaw is a News Editor for FoxNews.com. He can be reached here or on Twitter: @AdamShawNY