Iím the furthest thing from an MMO player, but I have to admit Final Fantasy XIV looks pretty dang cool Ė especially in 3D.

Before jumping into all the reasons you should be interested in Final Fantasy XIV, itís important to note Square Enix has no intentions of pulling the plug on FFXI servers once the new game launches. As long as people are playing, theyíll keep the servers up and running. Now on to the reasons youíll probably want to make the jump anyway.

The most striking element of FF XIV is, not surprisingly, the visuals. Compared to FF XI, FF XIV looks amazing. Not that the former looked terrible, but itís been a few years and probably time for a makeover anyway. The one element that really stood out is color. At the start of my demo, I was shocked to see lush green fields, blue skies and bright purple robes on my character. Final Fantasy XI looked nice, but was pretty drab. Now things are brighter and have a little more ďpop.Ē

For players who want added ďpop,Ē FF XIV supports 3D. I'm still not sold on 3D gaming and, quite honestly, Iím still hesitant to jump on board. Square Enix hasn't officially announced whether 3D will make it into the final release. Based on what I saw, this may be one of the few games that could convince me thereís some future.

Unlike a few other 3D games on the show floor, 3D is used primarily as another visual tool. There are no gimmicky tricks. Instead, 3D simply adds another level of depth. Environments feel larger and more alive than in 2D. I was especially impressed with the menus. Rather than feeling like flat overlays, they stand out a little better, almost like theyíre a real piece of the game world.

Though my hands-on playtime featured a pre-made character, I had an opportunity to look at the new character creation system. In-game jobs are now closely tied to which weapons youíre using. Crafting is much more important and plays a more central role. Additionally, level progressing is no longer dictated strictly by experience gains. The system is skill-based, placing emphasis on player skill, not just their ability to endure a long experience grind.

What's really cool about the system is you're never locked into one particular job. Say you're a mage, but decide close-combat is your thing. All you have to do is swap weapons.

The gameplay portion of the demo focused on the mission system and combat. After stepping into a glowing pillar, I was prompted to choose a difficulty level for the mission based on the size of my party. Missions, called Leaves, support solo play, as well as both large and small groups. Interestingly enough, solo players can attempt a mission meant for a group. Itís a complete gamble, but itís nice to have the option.

Stances are a key concept in combat. Characters default to a passive stance, but can switch to aggressive with a button press. While in a passive stance, characters regenerate health and move faster. Aggressive stances bright up a targeting reticule and list of attacks, such as spells. A two-part stamina bar regulates attacks. Each time you cast a spell or use a skill, a bit of the bar is depleted. The more powerful the spell, the larger the stamina drain.

Itís possible to spam weaker spells, though even a steady barrage of low-level spells can kill the meter. This is where player skill enters the equation. Combat is all about knowing when to use the right skills. As tempting as it was to unleash a bigger spell the minute I had enough stamina, I quickly learned carefully planned combinations were the way to go.

Square Enix is keeping a tight lid on an actual release date, but would like to ship the game sooner rather than later, if possible. We'll have more once we know more.

Final Fantasy XIV
Square Enix