In general I felt Yakuza: Like a Dragon was consistently funny, though not always fun.
The first handful of chapters is so wonderful in its cross of absolutely menial stuff (a whole segment dedicated to recycling, another to finding a job, looking for coins under vending machines) and adorably wacky (Ichiban hallucinating enemies and special effects, Nanba's special pigeon attack). Combat follows the same logic. There's just this chaotic energy permeating the whole thing which makes it very difficult to be strategic, like the way each AoE effect has its own peculiar and unpredictable logic. The game does not take itself seriously in the most satisfying of ways—even when things start to get serious, there's still this joyfulness to it that is refreshing in a AAA gaming scene dominated by an attempt at portraying serious people doing serious things.
The second half of the game is a bit more confusing and seems less sure about how to move forward. This is particularly visible in the disparity between the first four team members (a cop who was dishonourably discharged, a homeless man, a barmaid) and the last couple of arrivals (such as a hitman very much still in his job), or in how people start to actually die. The zany, wacky spirit remains alive for the most part, probably thanks to Ichiban being such a silly and charismatic protagonist, mixed with the usual melodrama common to the Yakuza series.
Finally, a lot of mixed feelings regarding gender representation. There are about five named female characters in the game, out of which two have any sort of agency. Jobs are strictly gender-specific in weird ways. This is a game where a cook can beat down a construction crane with a wooden spatula, but a male Idol or a woman breakdancing are somehow too outrageous. The Night Queen job (a dominatrix) also evokes uncomfortable feelings—nothing wrong with kink and with women expressing their sexuality outside of standard social boundaries, but the fact men do not get their own highly-sexualised job choice is telling. Mini-games are also an occasional victim here, as Eri is presented as infinitely more qualified for the CEO role, but somehow falters without a nice strong man making all decisions.
The way the narrative unfolds is very interesting. Though it might look like the game allows the player to choose how the story will develop, these choices are by and large oblique ways of delivering information piecemeal in a climactic manner while keeping the final, successful branch from breaking under its own weight. The end result is quite satisfying, creating this sort of spiral storytelling structure where we get progressively closer to the "truth".
Pretty solid if sometimes frustrating platformer. Gameplay is very elegant, with refreshing iterations on the same gravity inversion gimmick that keep difficulty levels challenging throughout the 2-3 hours playthrough.
An educative and somewhat poetic experience that doesn't overstay its welcome. As simple as gameplay is, there is something to be said about performing those actions nevertheless. Staring at the dead body, cleaning it, massaging it, watching it oscillate between object and someone else's loved one.
A decent enough story, fairly entertaining in the way it evokes a supernatural horror vibe even as everything turned out to be fairly mundane.
The multiple romance options were accommodating to a fault, as I found myself in a polyamorous relationship pretty much without trying. This was a bit jarring as I felt the initial monogamous romance grew up rather organically and required some effort, whereas adding a third person was done after two scenes.
This review contains spoilers
Endwalker had the impossible task of finishing a decade-long story. There was simply no way this was going to be a perfect and elegant ending—too many threads to bring together, too much lore to handle, too many accumulated issues over the course of these 10 years. It is a wonder that it manages to finish everything it set out to do.
In short, 6.0 encapsulates everything I love and hate about this game. It is absolutely ridiculous in the best and worst ways—we punch despair to death on a magic platform floating the back of our archenemy who turned into a dragon god (again!), we travel to the past, we see plot-relevant people returning from death through the power of deus ex machina, we kill and dethrone multiple supreme gods of creation, and we share wholesome moments with bunnies and friends.
I will skip over gameplay. MMOs are not for me. I find them tedious, messy, and overly complex. This is not an absolute judgement, just a matter of personal preference. Endwalker did not offer much really new here except a couple of new "stealth" sequences which are thankfully short.
The narrative has its very low points. The moments after a grand revelation, in which we are mired with an absolute overabundance of lighthearted content are one example. Don't get me wrong, the Loporrits are adorable and I love them, but both their questlines were painful filler. Endwalker also fumbles—once again—when trying to address geopolitics and how to handle fascists, though I did appreciate the WoL did not fix 60 years of eugenics and imperialism in 5 days through the power of friendship and rainbows. Zenos and Fandaniel barely deserve a mention, tired and mediocre discount-bin villains as they were—at least they mostly disappear after the first third of the game. I feel almost dirty dealing with them after fighting against Emet-Selch.
The character-focussed sections are, as always, the shining beacons of FFXIV, the reason for which I play this game. Nothing that hits as hard as Shadowbringers, but that's at least in part because Endwalker simply had a lot to do, and needed to do it in the most brazenly melodramatic manner. The special moments we shared with our companions were always preoccupied with signalling a major chapter of their story had reached an end, and that this end was supposed to be a good one. When a secondary protagonist dies without 25 minutes of mourning cutscenes and is then quickly followed by another, you just know their arses are 100% safe. This rather dampens the emotional impact of the whole thing. Meeting the Amaurotines, on the other hand, is lovely and, a couple of suspiciously retcon-y moments aside, really expands our understanding of these people were and why they did the things they did. Except for Hermes, whose main character trait is "misguided attempts at dealing with personal issues."
My biggest disappointment was the amount of compromises when it came to previously fundamental aspects of the world. Our planet/star is suddenly no longer Hydaelyn; the mothercrystal is not some fundamental pillar of existence, just rocket fuel; primals are trash mobs; summoning no longer tempers anyone.
But, with everything said and done, I'm happy I played this game, I'm happy I experienced this story, and I'm happy it's done. I will forever treasure the characters, the story, the gargantuan scope of the narrative, even as I will probably never touch a multiplayer game ever again.
This patch gives me the feeling I won't enjoy Endwalker that much. FFXIV villains work best when they have some degree of grey to them: from the first time Elidibus came into play he was interesting because he seemed mostly reasonable; Emet-Selch was brilliant because he was not laughing maniacally sitting on his throne made out of dead babies. Zenos' "hunt" is wholly unconvincing and Fandaniel's evil psychopathic jester shtick is frankly exhausting and overplayed.
The towers are sort of visually interesting in their fleshy design, but the fact they spit out discount bin primals is narratively difficult. They go from world-changing creatures to…trash mobs, basically—the supposedly giga-powerful Lunar Bahamut barely qualifies as a dungeon boss now. After years of worldbuilding around the awesome power of primals, this leaves a vacuum that will be very hard to fill.
I was quite honestly ecstatic with the story finally tackling tempering and that someone cared enough to make it their life's mission to revert the process. If anything, it seems like the questline resolves too quickly. An incurable affliction that was commonly solved through execution (that moment in which Thancred offhandedly mentions Ul'dah would put all people we saw being tempered by Ifrit to the sword was one the darkest throughout ARR, imho), suddenly curable with an almost 100% success rate, given enough resources.
I also appreciated how 5.x in general has been slowly bringing "beastmen" into the fold as sentient beings worthy of respect. I 100% do not trust any Eorzean nation to not betray them again, given how racist they all are, but it's very nice that the narrative finally addresses the issue with some degree of attention.
5.3 sort of perfectly encapsulates everything I love AND dislike about this game. It is FFXIV's highest point.
Narratively, there's just so much good stuff going on, all beats expertly crafted so they deliver continuous emotional gut punches. The pathos of the Unsundered and the way Elidibus wavers under the weight of mission he can no longer understand, for instance. The Scions' farewells are equally beautiful and bittersweet—this was the moment all their talking about wanting to save the world because they love it unconditionally really felt tangible, where we got to see how saddened they were to leave their friends of the First. I might have shed a few tears while watching Seto's cutscenes. These are the reasons why I play and love this game.
But then there are the actual gameplay bits. The trial encapsulated everything I dislike about playing MMOs. Mechanics stacked on top of mechanics, making it hard to find my own character in the middle of all the flashy stuff going on, let alone understand what I was supposed to do. While of course keeping some sort of awareness as to what the other 7 players were doing, maintaining oGCDs on cooldown, and performing a decent enough rotation. For me, this sort of situation feels more like artificial difficulty than an interesting challenge, even more so because it felt more like a cross of an eyesight test and social challenge than a fun game: who has the shiny stack up marker and who has the shiny move away marker amidst the 5 other shiny explosions? How to get these players to understand they shouldn't stay close together? Is the villain saying something relevant? Who knows, ain't nobody got time for that when all party members are at <10% HP. I don't get anxious about these things anymore; my only reaction is "I hope this ends soon".
The focus moves to Ascians/Elidibus, even as we continue to trying to get the Scions back to the Source. Though it contains interesting tidbits of info, I imagine I would have been very frustrated had I played this patch when it was released. The lore dripfeeding artificially extends the plot to sustain hype without actually moving anything forward.
This patch starts well enough, moving us towards the quest of getting the Scions back to the Source, as well as moving our focus back to whatever mess is going on in Garlemald. Sadly, or perhaps predictably, this is soon cast aside in favour of accompanying the family-friendly political changes in post-Vauthry Eulmore.
As with other x.1 patches, 5.1 seems to be meant as a light and inconsequential sprinkling of new content, a sort of palate cleanser before picking things up in earnest again with x.2 and effectively finishing the expansion's main storyline with x.3.
tl;dr: I hate MMOs and will never play one again, but experiencing FFXIV's world and story is very much worth the bother for me.
After playing ARR (2.0), Heavensward (3.0), Stormblood (4.0), and now Shadowbringers (5.0) to Main Quest completion, across different roles (tank in ARR, DPS in HW, healer in SB, and DPS once again in ShB) and engaging in quite a few secondary activities (alliance raids, regular raids, optional trials/dungeons, blue sidequests, yellow sidequests, minor crafting, daily roulettes) I think I can say I hate MMOs.
My grievances go from culture (MMOs seem to encourage optimised play and I do not play videogames for optimisation; in single-player games that's a non-issue, but playing with other people means I need to at least meet them halfway), to gameplay (dungeons and trials were a price I paid to get on with the story and I seldom felt I was actually enjoying them), to socialisation (I prefer to socialise in outside of computers), to the mechanics of online gaming (let me tell you, dealing with latency is not a newfound pleasure, and waiting 30 minutes in queue in between mandatory multiplayer content does not help the narrative flow). This only became more clear with Shadowbringers, when running the game almost completely with NPCs becomes a reality and I could selfishly experience the game the way I wanted.
Even then, I stuck with FFXIV till now and will continue onwards to Endwalker. Beneath all those things I do not like, this is still a Final Fantasy game with all the bits I love about Final Fantasy. Even more than that, it is everything I love about this series given enormous scope and time, taking its story to a completely different level than what a self-contained game, with its limited amount of development hours and logistic/economic constraints, can achieve. The writers take their time setting up every major and minor narrative beat, achieving an impressive degree of narrative consistency and quality—not everything is great, but all these parts taken together make for an experience that is very hard to find in other games. Ever since the 2.x patches, every bit of content I played, from optional fetch quests to the main story beats, seems carefully designed and coherent with the overarching narrative and world.
Shadowbringers specifically is amazing. It learns from what worked in the past stories and put all its efforts there: charismatic characters, complex villains (excluding the final moments leading to the boss fight in which he devolves to run-of-the-mill bad guy yelling about infinite power, Emet-Selch is possibly one of the best JRPG villains I have encountered), fantastic worlds, and a plot that rarely flounders (Il Mheg being the only moment I really got bored).
Finally, Stormblood is done.
Absolute high-point of 4.x: seeing Varis absolutely destroying the Eorzean Alliance's rhetoric of "we're 100% always the good guys". The Emperor does have some very funny ideas about what is going to happen to the world once the Ascians get what they want—but, then again, when has eugenics been remotely logic?
This final patch is also narratively very well-crafted: the dwindling Scions together with the formal return of Zenos builds up to a quick and satisfying climax, which itself leads us smoothly into the doors of 5.0.
This review contains spoilers
Finally we begin to leave Stormblood behind and the story's messy and failed attempts at geopolitics. The most interesting part comes at the end, when we discover the origins of the Garlean empire.
Having the whole nation being an Ascian operation is sort of an elegant solution that allows the writers to move back to territory more fitting for a Final Fantasy game—the Empire is bad not because people can be cruel and genocidal, but because of supernaturally mean creatures. As weak as that premise is, it allows the story to focus on the fantasy elements, from which FFXIV seems to be able to derive better characters.
Yotsuyu's storyline comes to its end, thankfully. The summary is: according to the Good Guys™ (that's us) the only Yotsuyu worth saving is an Yotsuyu without any agency. She is good as a quiet, helpless victim; the moment she manifests her own will and desires, she deserves to die.
Honestly, by the end of the patch I was 100% rooting for her—as in, not for her "redemption", but for her to kick my Warrior of Light's arse due to complicity. I am happy she at least got to murder a few people. It seemed fair, all things considered.