I only have two words after playing Final Fantasy XIV. CRAB BATTLE!

Ok, so perhaps I have more than two words to say after playing Final Fantasy XIV and interviewing the game's producer, Hiromichi Tanaka. I was finally able to wrap my mitts around the game here at E3 2010 and experience the meat of the game -- a short preview of the game's combat system and questing system and some time with the game's character creator.

Final Fantasy XIV seems to be bridging elements of the old with elements of the new, and it's wrapping it all in a very gorgeous graphics engine. It's complicated without complication, simple on the surface yet teeming with a deeper game if you know where to look.

Character creation

For the opening of the hands on, I got the chance to try out character creation and view all of the different possibilities. I tried to take as many notes on the options as I could, however my time was limited and I was off in the world before I knew it!

Character creation, much like the rest of the game, is a bridge between Final Fantasy XI's legacy and today's modern design. You're given your choice of race, sub-race (like the Miqo'te's Seeker of the Sun or Keeper of the Moon, which determines skin pigmentation), and your "character type" which gives you a few selections to get on your way.

If this were FFXI, that would be the end of it. However, there are no more pre-determined looks here! Players will be happy to know that many features on the face can be individually selected and changed, including lip type, nose type, hair color, hair highlight color, hair style, scars, jewelry, voice, skin pigmentation, and size. These aren't included in sliders, like other games, so you can't go off and create something totally ugly. Instead these are options presented in drop-down menus, which offer customization without adding unnecessary complexity.

After determining your appearance, you choose a class. Classes, as noted before, are separated out into the disciples of war, magic, hand, and land. War includes fighters and weapon users, magic includes the magic classes, hand includes the crafters of the game (who still utilize a type of synthesis), and land includes the gatherers of the game. However, this choice is simply for starting the game. After you get into the world, your current class depends upon what's in your hand.

Experience is handed out as expertise with your current weapon. Use an axe and you'll find your levels in axe getting higher, while using a blacksmith's hammer will increase your crafting skills. Even guildleve (pronounced "guild-LEAF") quests will hand out experience related to your weapon, so don't think of your character as actually having a level.

One of the final notes I took on the character creation system was the presence of Guardian Spirits and the "Nameday" system. When you create your character, you're assigned one of the world's star signs, most likely related to what time it currently is in the game world. (Final Fantasy XI players are aware that Vana'diel actually has a day, month, and year, and does not run on traditional time. One hour is one day in FFXI.) It's also at this point of the character creation process in which you'll choose one of the game's Guardian Spirits. What they do, no one knows. Mr. Tanaka had a devious smile on his face when I asked about what the Guardian Spirits do, so they must do something.

Crabs in a Barrel, AKA, CRAB BATTLE!

Just as I was staring at the game's Nameday and Guardian Spirits page, my friendly Square-Enix handler came over and flipped the game over to a pre-made test character to start the preview for the game's Guildleve system. Today's target? Crabs in a Barrel!

Joining me was The Onion AV Club's John Teti, taking the role of the shield-carrying warrior Gladiator (Thanks, FusionX!), while I was piloting the lancer class. There was a third player in the role of a mage, but he got left behind, so this article will leave him behind as well. Zoom zoom!

I was designated party leader, as I kinda knew my way around the controls from my FFXI days. After easily inviting other players by targeting them and opening my context-sensitive menu, I approached the local Aetherite Crystal and opened my menu to activate it.

Aetherite Crystals are the game's guildleve starting areas, and you'll use them for activating the quests you receive from other parts of the world. Activating a guildleve is easy, and the guildleve menu will display many pieces of useful information, ranging from completion rewards to monetary rewards to even the amount of time the quest will take. Crabs in a Barrel is rated at 30 minutes, however we quickly completed it in 10, most likely due to a lowered difficulty.

This article was originally published on Massively.