First and foremost, I freely admit that the title for this one is a bit of a misnomer, since we’re covering a lot more than just trials… but it’s for the purposes of consistency. And really, Final Fantasy XIV kind of doubled down on making trials a primary means of content delivery for this expansion, since we really didn’t have the same sort of raid structure this time around, which I’ll be going into more detail about when discussing Omega.
The villains of the piece
Much like in Heavensward, we had two trials that were part of the core story. Unlike in Heavensward, both of these trials can easily make mincemeat out of parties on-level for the gear requirements, comparable only to doing Nidhogg on the day of the patch. And while they may have been tuned a little higher than needed, I honestly love it.
I saw people talking about how hard Shinryu was at launch, for example, but I managed to clear him on my second run. A lot of the difficult was phantasmal; once the mechanics were known, it was pretty simple and straightforward. Tsukuyomi, similarly, is actually not super difficult with a party paying attention. They’re fun, engaging fights that have a lot going on, but none of them are filled with cheap deaths and both make these boss encounters feel like bosses.
Frankly, I like both of these trials. They’ve got some fun and neat mechanics, and I would rather have something that I fail once or twice when I’m doing something on launch day. Not because it’s super difficult, but because it requires effort and attention. I can only hope that the bosses of Shadowbringers live up to the same standards.
The Four Lords (minus one)
Sadly, the Four Lords series still wound up with some underwhelming elements, not least because of the story beats. To their credit, the actual normal versions of the trials definitely felt more rewarding in terms of play, and I appreciate how they were actually necessitated a little more by wrapping up a dungeon in clearing them first.
Unfortunately, they also continued the trend of being useless outside of that fact, a fact which still strikes me as wasted potential. Especially when you consider that these fights require more attention and effort than the fights in Heavensward for the equivalent. The issue of these fights being one-then-done is something that really should have been handled before now, and while I can understand trying to push people into the EX versions (which are, let’s be real, not tremendously hard) this seems underwhelming.
Frankly, even just weaker weapons or accessories would be nice to incentivize people to do these trials more than once would be a nice thing. The trials themselves are good, better than what we got in Heavensward; I just wish they had a little more, like, reason to exist.
The biggest “problem” with Omega is that it’s not actually a raid in any way. There’s no trash whatsoever, it’s just a series of trial fights in sequence, sometimes with more elaborate setpieces in the middle (Phantom Train springs to mind) but always functionally identical to a trial. To a certain extent this isn’t actually a failing, since Alexander proved that the trash was largely a speed bump in the first place, but I do long for more stuff that features, say, two mini-bosses rather than just one boss you beat up for a while. The distinction between “trial” and “raid” is unnecessarily fuzzy.
Of course, it was always going to be more about how these fights actually play out than anything else, and on that front they manage… pretty well, actually. We didn’t have any fights that felt overly easy in the quartet, although there was usually one in the middle that felt far harder than it needed to be, which was not to its credit. Midgardsormr and Guardian are both unnecessarily harder than the last fights in their respective sequences; meanwhile, while Halicarnassus isn’t terribly difficult, she’s got about two mechanics too many over the course of her fight.
While some people no doubt dislike the fact that the majority of these bosses feature some sort of minigame wedged into the middle, I actually like that element of the gameplay. It’s technically a way for boss fights to get extended, but it’s a fun breather to play the maze game with Halicarnassus or figure out Omega’s big off-camera phase. And that’s not counting the more subtle mechanics, like how Chaos locks down portions of his arena or the uniquely stacking mechanics on Guardian giving the fight a very diverse feel from simple foundations.
I’m also actually a fan of the game having additional forms for the Savage encounters. It feels like it’s enough to maintain the idea that these harder bits are a prestige award without leaving something out from players like myself with no interest in that avenue of gameplay, which is always a difficult balance to strike.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, if Eden basically winds up just being Omega again, that’ll be pretty good just the same. There’s stuff I’d love to see in an update, but the existing content we had in this expansion was darn good.
Return to Ivalice
After I went through Heavensward feeling like the Alliance raid series was generally too easy, Return to Ivalice showed up with two installments that felt too darn hard. It’s really easy for groups in Rabanastre to kill themselves on Hashmalum or Rofocale, and Famfrit is a brutally random murder festival for groups walking into Ridorana. For that matter, while I appreciate the nod to his status in Final Fantasy XII, Yiazmat really would have been better-served with a more normal health progression.
All that having been said, I also feel like these raids stick in your memory and wind up being a lot more fun than the Shadows of Mhach line. Mateus feels a little overstuffed with mechanics, but it’s still a neat and multifaceted fight. I still really love the big “voice” mechanics on Argath. And Orbonne Monastery, while it still has a difficulty spike with the Thunder God, is just a treat on every level… right down to the boss not resetting progress if you wipe after her form change.
The raids also felt as if they explored a bit more of what could be done with the format. None of them use the original trash-to-boss repetition three times over; the first two both go boss-trash-boss-trash-boss-boss, but in different ways, and Orbonne staggers it out with trash-boss-boss repeated twice. They feel more exploratory and cool, especially Rabanastre’s community-accepted race to see who gets to flip the platform switch.
All in all, this is a good look to have moving into the YoRHa raids. I’m not sure how they’ll translate the action combat of NieR: Automata into the game, but I’m willing to bet it’s going to be interesting no matter what, and there are no shortage of neat things to fight. Sure, it’ll be a weird tonal change, but that’s the fun of things.
Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, we’re going to go over the odds and ends of the expansion before the final assessment; we’re in the home stretch now!