LOS ANGELES — At E3 this year, we were given a special treat from Square, the makers of the hugely popular, long-running Final Fantasy series: a (mostly) technical demo of their newest entry into the franchise, Final Fantasy XIV. Like XI, this installment will be an MMORPG, so giving much of an in-depth demo beyond the graphics wasn’t too feasible with the time constraints of E3.
The demo was set up with NVidia’s 3D display system (support for which may or may not make it to the end user), and once we got used to wearing the glasses, we were blown away. In the town setting of the demo, we were able to look out into the distance or view objects up close, and we could even distinguish between individual blades of grass and flowers that you can even watch grow from all different angles. The lighting, too, was impressive: the sun leaves varying degrees of shadow from different objects, and going from outside to inside, or vice versa, causes the camera to mimic the adjustments your eyes would have to make in the real world, refocusing to the light level.
Character models are exceptionally detailed and animated, too, as evidenced by a non-player character inside one of the buildings cooking food: you can see individual items of food being tossed as he cooks, leaving a surreal, Uncanny Valley-reminiscent sensation at how lifelike his actions were. NPCs are even rendered at much greater distances than similar games, allowing one to feel really immersed in their surroundings, and will certainly lead to a feeling of being in a densely populater area when there are lots of people around. If you look off into the distance, for example, you might see little specks moving around the terrain; these are actual characters, instead of having flat backgrounds with objects that only load when you get within a few feet of them.
After allowing us to wander around their town, all the people demoing were joined into a party to go on a simple quest to kill two crab-like creatures. Where the quest system shines is in the reactive nature of different elements of the task at hand: for example, after killing one crab, the other escapes and finds another to help fight back, and the quest changes and we then had to kill three crabs instead of the original two. This process can repeat, and a simple quest to kill a creature or two can grow into a more epic battle.
It’s still too early to tell how the latest foray into the world of Final Fantasy will turn out, but this early glimpse is promising. If you were a fan of XI, this could be just what you’re waiting for, but it’ll be quite a feat to take some of the market share from World of Warcraft.