Me at 7AM Saturday, trotting gamely after trainer into gym to do stuff you need spotters for: Oh yeah sure, I’ve got this, I’ve basically been doing this stuff with free weights anyway. How bad could it be?
Me at 8AM: Kill me.
I didn’t, then, do a lot of moving around Sunday, because any movements I made looked like those of a very old woman. Which meant: MMOs! And let it be known that Black Desert Online has one of the most lavish seasonal displays I’ve ever encountered in any MMO:
The event takes over an entire otherwise empty beach, on a trail leading down from the cliffs that first meanders through street vendors selling foods amidst colorfully-painted surfboards, culminating in a multiple-dancefloor-and-restaurant beachfront complete with private cabanas, pirate shooting galleries, and opportunities to fish gunk out of the water to keep the environment clean despite the influx of people.
But what really got me here — because again, BDO is not where you go for story or plot — was the colors. It’s just so pretty. In fact, do you know what it reminded me of, the minute I stepped into the surfboard alley that led to the beach?
Yeah! Besaid, from FFX. All we needed was a blitzball team. (Actually, please no: I loathed blitzball so. So. Much.) In fact, BDO’s Terrmian Waterpark event put me so much in mind of FFX that I decided to go ahead and do a free trial of FFXIV. Because I love MMOs, and because it’s the last of the big current [non-space] ones going that I haven’t played. And also, because my muscles were begging me not to move, so I wasn’t about to move.
And it’s pretty. As pretty as Elder Scrolls Online, my MMO of choice? No. The lighting — the sunstars, or rather the lack thereof, and the tree shadows thrown down in patterns onto the landscape below, as well as the blades of grass that make up that landscape — are slightly subpar. But it’s as smooth as ESO, and that is a massive step up, for my eyeballs, from BDO, whose vibrant beaches and sunsets are gorgeous, but whose objects stick out way too much from the surrounding countryside, the way old cell art animation sticks out from the painted backgrounds. In 2D, where your eyes are tracking the moving target anyway, it’s fine; in 3D where you’re trying to immerse yourself in the environment, it hurts.
And while the landscape may be behind ESO, the character animation and writing is easily on par. I say writing though, and not voice acting, because, holy shit, there are next to no voices in the beginning levels of FF14. I’m told this changes with expansions; I’m told that maybe 70% of the game is ultimately voice-acted? But, early on, there’s a whole lot of reading.
You gain lots from this, it’s true! The localization is as good as Fantasy Life’s was — and after BDO’s horrible, horrible localization, this is a tremendous surprise and relief. There are little asides, plays on words, correctly-employed idioms, and prolonged conversations with character types whose subtle shading would have been lost, without those extra paragraphs into which to cram their personalities. There wouldn’t have been time or space to record all those lines being spoken, I know. But still, just the silence of it — it startled me, in 2017. Recognizing voices — and I am damn good at it — and whooping with triumph when an IMDB search turns up a confirmation is one of the keenest incidental joys I take from recent games. But FF14 offers no real route to that mental truffle hunt: it’s just birdsong, pianos, and ambient noise. Which, again, is okay. Just kind of shocking at first.
Having played FF11 back in, oh, 2005, I can say that they’ve fixed a bunch of things that bugged me:
1.) Male and female for each species.
2.) All races can be all classes, again like ESO, which I appreciate.
3.) You can now jump. Jumping is a big deal, people! Always let us jump.
But mainly I’m here for the bright colors and blessedly smooth textures. The Sotha Sil pvp server for ESO is nearing the end of its monthly brawl, which means that for the Daggerfall Covenant, for whom I fight and who has held the lead all month, pvp is currently brutal. We’re already going to win so there’s no real reason to play — so no one is. Which means those few sorry individuals who do show up get steamrolled, day in and day out.
Soooo to FF14 I went.
I had considered a post comparing ESO and FF14 in more detail, given that both of them struggled at first with the legacy of deeply-loved single player games — how to bring that experience into a multiplayer situation without forfeiting either the fannish love for the original, or the necessary change in experience required of an MMO version. But I think I am too much of an Elder Scrolls fan, and too much of a Final Fantasy critic, to do anything remotely resembling a fair job at that comparison. This, for example, was the list I had started to make comparing the struggles of each:
Things Essential to the Experience of Your Single Player Game That You Now Want to Export Into Your MMO
- Open world
- Openable things: crates, barrels, etc.
- Guilds whose ranks you climb up
- Cool hidden people and places that have to be stumbled upon to be found
- Bright, elaborate outfits
- Most of your interactions mediated through glowing blue UI windows
- Moogles, chocobos, those big many-eyed acid-belchers, etc.
- Storylines based on friendships deemed way deeper than we’ve seen them actually be
As you can see, I’m kiiiiind of biased. Just a little bit. So I’m not the person to point to each and say, “this is what is intrinsic to the single-player experience of each franchise, and this is what they successfully ported to the MMO versions of each.” I enjoy both ESO and FF14, and will be playing a lot more of the latter in the next month, since I have the 30-day free trial.
I do hope, though, that wherever I level up to next after this lovely sun-dappled forest isn’t dusty, dry and dead. Or dark, dank and dreary. Give me a scintillatingly bright desert or a chain of islands or a sun-drenched plain or something. Maybe even a sunstar or two! It couldn’t hurt…