Games, on the whole, tend toward the libertarian ideal. The player is the sole force of change in the world, created solely for them. Often the playable character is the chosen one, who must fight against incalculable odds to rescue the princess/save the world/ collect all the animals and brutally pit them against each other in increasingly more violent bouts of combat. But, slightly shop worn observations about Pokémon aside, games tend to veer toward solipsism. The only truly conscious entity is the player, and despite the fact that the world changing events of the game have already been created by an outside entity, the player is now the only force that can bring those events to a head.
MMOs can do away with this all of this. The traditional challenges of single player games change, and an entirely unique mechanic is set in play – co-ordination. You’re no longer the be all and end all when it comes to power. You have to shake off the shackles of complete control and understand that the most important mechanic now is co-ordination, co-operation. You learn your role, in order to support the other players. Gone is the libertarian ideal, replaced with the need to organise and work with those around us.When we play we’re aware that the inhabitants of the world aren’t just a collection of 1s and 0s, but a collection of 1s and 0s operated by a conscious mind (Unless you want to get bogged down debating solipsism properly) The people that make up the world are actual people, with real names, like xXDarkCloud StrifeXx, or some horrible jumble of vaguely Japanese syllables, or just straight up normal Japanese names.
The world I’m talking about in particular here is Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn. A confession (and also the whole premise on which this undertaking is based on) first. I’ve never played an MMORPG. I’ve whiled away plenty of hours within the single player Final Fantasy worlds, but the closest I’ve come to spending time with an MMO was a brief flirtation with Final Fantasy 11, in which I worked a character all the way up to level 12, then started university and found other ways to occupy myself. The next thing after that would most likely be bouts of Dark Souls.
The eponymous realm of A Realm Reborn is Eorzea, and it doesn’t stray too far from what you’d expect. It’s a fantasy world in the way all of the Final Fantasy series are fantasy worlds. There’s the usual fantasy trappings – Knights, Magic, Monsters, and the usual Final Fantasy additions – industrial technology conveniently powered by magic, the cat/bat/fairy creatures called Moogles. Being an MMO, ARR allows character customisation, unusual for a Final Fantasy game, where, for the most part, you’re given a set of characters with limited customisation that tends to come down to equipping specific items, which for the most part don’t change how the characters look. You can change their names but never their motivations. These are stories about the characters, after all, not about the player.
Character customisation on ARR is split between a handful of races. These are as following; The Hyur (Humans, boring), the Elezan (Elves, also boring), the Lalafell (Tiny, cutesy, childlike characters who have the best (read: most ridiculous) character animations. They also have a strong in game following declaring them the master race), The Roegadyn (The antithesis of lalafells, huge, hulking creatures, mostly human looking but with a few changes, skin tones range from blue-green to red, for one) and finally, the most populace race, the Miqo’te the ever present catgirl, which after the last Pikachu is hunted for its pelt, I assume will become Japan’s national animal. Unlike the Mithra of Final Fantasy 11, these catgirls can also be catboys, and the characters are slightly shorter humans, with a tail and cat ears. A choice within the Miqo’te customisation allows for either fangs or slit pupils.
The character customisation screen is somewhat limited by it being a Final Fantasy game. It’s very difficult to make an unattractive character. You can either be slender and lean or massive and chiselled (unless you’re a lalafell, in which case you’re limited to varying degrees of Weebl-ness). Hairstyles are a variety of J-Rock coiffures, improbably styled and feathered, all impervious to the flattening effects of the variety of outlandish hats and helmets (and my personal favourite – turbans, both for the fact they’re unusual to see in games, and a nice nod to the ornate and arabesque elements in the work of long time series artist Yoshitaka Amano), and the effects of dust, grime, and the assorted wages of prolonged combat. In some ways, it’s refreshing to see a character creator so enamoured with the romance behind the grandiose story, especially as every other fantasy property under the sun has taken the grimy realism of sweat and mud (although still not managed to get past the chiselled good looks and artfully placed scars typical of heroes from days gone by), but it does leave something to be desired. Your character is perpetually young, and despite being able to give your character a greying main (Like I did with mine), their face remains un-ravaged by time. Messing with sliders makes changes fairly subtle, making my attempts to give my catman a broken nose fairly pointless. It can be strong and handsome, or strong and handsome, just in a different way. There’re no chipped teeth, and, as noted above, scars are artfully placed as ever. It does allow for heterochromia, and I used this to try and give the eye my character has a scar through a milky sheen, which kind of worked, but not as effectively as I’d hoped it would.
The other big element of customisation, as briefly alluded to earlier, is the choosing of a name. You’ve got your normal ID, which your service account is linked to, and within that, a handful of characters (I’m not sure if there’s a limit to how many you can have – filthy casual that I am, one is enough for me) With this in mind, it surprises me when you see characters named with the usual ID someone would use to login to services. Each race, and within those, the clan you chose, has its own naming lore. The game can generate names within the lore for you, but after being restrained with the assets the game allows you use for your character’s look, this is the chance for people to get creative. Very boringly, I went with a game that made sense to the in-game lore, because I’m like that, but, as I dismissively mentioned earlier, the most common names are variants on pre-existing characters within the Final Fantasy universe(the game has a sort of multiverse approach to the canon – one event saw Lightning, one of the more tedious of Final Fantasy’s leading characters appear in the game, and series mainstays like the dimension hopping Gilgamesh are ever present), slightly embarrassing gothy names, or enough fake Japanese names to have you reaching for the Edward Said. Creating names within the lore provided has a sort of lego brick/minecraft satisfaction to it, wherein you use the materials provided to create something you’d be happy with running around (The Roegadyn clan Hellsguard have the best lore for this, as the lore for them is effectively a mad-lib. They basically work on a loose Adjective Noun system. One in game character is named Curious Gorge, and it seems like a missed opportunity that, at least on the server I’m on, and as far as I’m aware, there’s no Brokeback Mountain, no Whoops-a Daisy, no Black Dynamite.
After you’re done creating your perfect catgirl, you’re ready to enter the the exciting, subscription based world of Final Fantasy 14! Prepare for excitement! Adventure! Some truly awful voice acting! (and some that’s surprisingly good, too, cough Gideon Emery cough)Also prepare for this to be a weekly column, as I, a self confessed Filthy Casual, blunder my way through an MMO. One, which I’ve been playing for a remarkably long time, looking back on it, and yet still have not met a single person in the game, because I’m definitely MMOing wrong.
See you next Monday, or, if you’re on Moogle server, find me: T’mnari Nunh, and help me MMO better.