What scares me about Final Fantasy XIV

I am not the biggest Final Fantasy fan. But that's more because I lack for time, not because I lack interest. I played FFXI, but only until level 18 or so, and even then I would only return once in a while. The game was punishing to a solo player even with the recent changes that gave more opportunity to level. There was something ever-alluring about the world, however -- something complex and deep, and I knew that, if I could just become more powerful, it would show itself to me. Skip to the present and to the FFXIV beta.

For the record, I try everything. I am not just a "free-to-play" guy -- quite the opposite. For most of my time in blogging and podcasting, I have maintained subscription games like FFXI. So, when the opportunity finally came to try the "new" version, I jumped at it. I'll be honest, it feels a lot like FFXI but with a nice twist. It's friendlier, more accessible, yet it still retains that uniqueness that attracted me to FFXI.

There is one thing I'm a bit scared of, though.

I will admit that I am not very familiar at all with the lore and world of any of the incarnations of Final Fantasy. The single-player games made me wince a bit -- they were the games that others played while we were busy killing each other in Goldeneye. Once the online version of the popular franchise came out, though, I was intrigued. But by the time I made an account, most players were off destroying mighty creatures and didn't to seem to have enough time for a lowbie like me. I tried the "stand around for two hours to find a group" thing, even frequenting the recommended spots to find others to play with. It only took a week of that to turn me off for a while. I knew that the story was intense, though. I saw the videos of giant creatures being killed and knew that I was interested -- I simply hadn't the time to reach such lofty goals.

Now, I have a new chance to stay caught up with my fellow players. If I play my cards right, I might maintain a decent clip and stay on top of the latest monster-killing trends. I am actually quite impressed with the fatigue system -- another reason to think that I, Beau Hindman, the free-to-play guy who doesn't have the same time to dedicate to a single subscription-based game as he used to, could actually pull it off. To think that I might be able to do this in a Final Fantasy title -- well, that feels more than a little surreal. Time is so precious to me, now. I concentrate on one new game per week for one of my columns and play my normal SOE or free-to-play favorites in between. Do I really want to spend 60 dollars and 15 dollars a month on a game that might possibly pull the story rug out from under me in the middle of my journey? While I used to prefer soloing and placing self-made restrictions on myself to become "immersed," now I really enjoy nice, long jaunts through someone else's story.

And what an interesting story I was asked to participate in during the beta! Will it give way to killing 10... whatever the heck you call those mushroom guys? Maybe... maybe not. Here's what I know, so far:

After character creation, I found myself in a bright forest. I wasn't at ease, despite the serene setting. I knew something would break the tension, and there it was -- falling out of the sky. The object left a trail of smoke across the sky and crashed down deeper in the forest. My curiosity got the better of me, and I ran to investigate. I came across a pair of people -- a hyur and a lalafell -- lying there on the ground.

Luckily for me, my experience with
FFXI helped me wake them. I remembered to hit enter to select something, then enter again to use it. Sure enough, they were up and talking to each other within moments. Something we said, either because of the tone or subject matter, didn't sit well with the forest. A giant creature made from the woods itself rose up and came at us. The animations and degree of detail was refreshing.

Suddenly, the characters on the screen became frozen in air. A tiny parade of Moogles, characters I remembered from
FFXI, bounced past us. Something they had, some quiet power, convinced the tree-giant to leave. After meeting with a group of bitter, masked individuals, I actually felt sorry for being attacked. It seems we had awoken something in the forest and needed to remove the stink of our shame through a magical process. A female voice said something to me as we walked into town. What followed was an introduction to a raven-haired hyur; a horned teenager who oozed power; and a group of dancing children. It was not only an original story, but an eerie one (that's the best kind).

What did the voice say? I can't remember what the voice said. Three words -- what will they mean to me later?

As I moved through those great cutscenes, I became very excited. How do the characters end up? What happens with my involvement with that group of children? Will the story last until I hit my maximum level -- or close to it? Even though I giggle when someone says that he is "scared" to try a game simply because there might any number of bumps in the road sometime in the distant future, I have become that guy. I worry about that distant future. I'm not concerned about crit-chances or crafting recipes. I'm worried about being swept away, only to be dumped into another mindless grind.

I have decided that if the story's end worries me that much, then it must be investigated. No, I'm not plunking down the extra money for a collector's edition (I spend enough on virtual goods and toys as it is), but I will buy it once it comes out. I'm really excited to get back to the tale I was investigating in the beta. I'm also excited to see whether I, a casual Final Fantasy fan, can actually make headway in an IP that has always eluded me. We'll see. Until then, I am avoiding all fan sites and spoiler posts. Yes, even Massively ones.

Some things just need to be left to be discovered.

This article was originally published on Massively.