I’ve played quite a few MMOs in my time, including a few that I thought were sort of JRPG-ish in nature (Aion and Tera come to mind), but I have to say, FFXIV in some ways is a brand new world to me.
It is freakishly weird how quiet the general chat is in this game. I can’t recall the last time I played in an MMO where the general chat wasn’t filled with a constant stream of random subhuman noise. Even paid subscription games. One time (only once!) I saw someone trolling general chat by posting something like, "Obamacare is great isn’t it?" In a typical game, that would result in two solid hours of rapid-scrolling yelling back-and-forth in general chat. In FFXIV, it was met only with silence. The only explanation I have is that a lot of FFXIV players are on the PS3, which suggests a significant number of people are playing the game without a keyboard.
Alternatively, it could be because very few people have figured out how to silence the gold spammers. If you don’t take the time to blacklist them, the first thing you see when you log in is your general chat filled with a constant scroll of "blahblah.com best gold value safe effective buy now." It’s been over a month since they re-launched this game, so I’m a bit shocked that they still haven’t put basic spam filters into the chat system. I thought that was the first thing you had to put in an MMO chat system nowadays. Anyway, if you don’t mute the spammers, even if you do type something in chat nobody will ever see it.
Terminology in FFXIV takes some getting used to. In every other MMO I’ve played, you buy things with some combination of platinum, gold, silver, or copper. It’s been like that since D&D invented fantasy money in the 70s. Well, that wasn’t good enough for FFXIV. Here, you buy things with "gil." I have no idea what a gil is, though I presume it’s some kind of coin. (It’s actually kind of nice to have one denomination of coin instead of three.) Measurements are given in "iln" and "malm" or something like that. Factions are called Companies. Guilds are called Free Companies. Instances are called Duties. There’s a party action called a Limit Break, which is the weirdest name for an action I’ve ever heard. I finally figured out that it’s supposed to mean that it’s something for you to "break your party’s normal limitations." (Apparently this is a term with some history in the Final Fantasy franchise.)
There’s something else in FFXIV I’ve never seen before in a recent MMO: You can’t advance the main storyline without going into instanced dungeons. Several times. That means you need to form groups to keep going. I thought this silly idea had died out in MMOs forever. I can’t even remember the last time I saw anything like that. That’s not to say there shouldn’t be group content–there’s always been some places you couldn’t go without a group–but there’s always been alternate paths for solo players. Not in FFXIV. You run into this around level 17, and then you have to decide whether to go on without the main story, or group up for a dungeon. In the past, I would have been like, "Welp, I guess I’m done with this game now." Because good god forming parties with strangers by spamming chat is the worst thing ever. Fortunately FFXIV did ship with a built-in "LFG tool" (called a Duty Finder), and I’ve done a reasonable amount of PUGs before, and after all I chose to play the Archer class in FFXIV specifically so I could get into groups and observe how things are done without too much stress (ranged DPS is by far the easiest role to play in a group), so I jumped into the Duty Finder. An hour later (because there are always 100 DPS players for every 1 tank and 1 healer) I finally got the "Duty" with 3 other players and finished the dungeon so I could go to my next story quest. Thusfar I have had to go through five dungeons this way (one of which was a "trial" — basically just a single boss encounter).
To be fair, you don’t have to do the main storyline quests. In fact, after the first mandatory dungeon Steva-something-or-another, I considered how long it took to queue for the dungeons and said to hell with it. I ran around on my own for a while, doing odd side quests, and "Levemetes" (which are like daily open world quests – I have no idea how that term is derived), and "FATEs" (which are like public quests or dynamic events), and just plain old grinding on mobs like the good old days. It didn’t take long to run out of side quests and my daily allotment of levemetes, and FATEs only pop up occasionally, so that left only grinding. When I got bored with that I did a dungeon to see how much XP I could get from that, and it turned out to be a lot of XP. So since grinding dungeons is apparently the fastest way to level anyway, and I discovered that you get a Choco-whatever bird mount as a main storyline quest reward, I went back into the queues to get the other mandatory dungeons out of the way. (By then, though, I was way over-leveled for the storyline and it’s taking time to get back in sync.)
Another thing that is somewhat weird about FFXIV is that people actually use emotes to communicate. In my MMO experience, people who use emotes are generally on the weird side. The only exception is the /dance emote, which everyone uses while waiting because it’s funny to make your character dance like a stripper. Not so in FFXIV. I don’t know if this is a FF thing or a JRPG thing, but people actually /clap and /cheer and /wave and one guy even /groveled when I ignored his guild invite. It’s almost as if people are gasp role-playing in this role-playing game. After you win a loot rool, you might expect to (occasionally) read "grats" in the chat but instead you see avatars clapping and cheering. It’s very disorienting.
Continuing that same theme, once you get to level 20 and beyond, the general atmosphere of the entire game seems to get a bit more social. People start to gasp recognize you and gasp say hi and gasp invite you into groups and gasp invite you into guilds. (Well, to be fair, everyone gets invited into zerg guilds.) I suppose the number of players really thins out in the 20s. I remember that kind of behavior way, way back in Ultima Online and a little bit in WoW but in almost every game since then, there seemed to be a general understanding that everyone stays anonymous unless you go out of your way to find other people.
(Maybe it’s just me. I tend to stand out in MMO groups as a better-than-average player. Particularly as DPS because I actually gasp don’t pull threat away from the tank. Not to brag about my deafening awesomeness or anything.)
(Pro Tip: If you do happen to get invited into a FATE group or something, there’s no handy UI menu to leave again, like, oh, every other game in the world. You have to type: /pcmd leave or put it into a macro. Talk about old school.)
Crafting in FFXIV is also unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s, like, complicated. In most MMOs, crafting is just a side job for your character. But in FFXIV, gathering and crafting professions are dedicated classes unto themselves–you really have to commit to it. (By the way, it’s called a Discipline of the Land, not Gathering, and it’s called a Discipline of the Hand, not Crafting.) That is, you switch to your Botanist class and go cut down trees and grasses, and you can’t fight monsters or do quests while you’re doing it. (Well, I discovered actually that you can swing at monsters with your axe if you use a controller, but it takes like 5 minutes to kill anything.) (Pro Tip: Using the controller for gathering is the bomb. Not so much for crafting, though.)
After you get all your materials with your gathering class, you switch to your crafting class and start building things. This is where it gets a little interesting. In most MMOs, you craft things by clicking a button that says "craft" and you get some number of points which advances your crafting skill level, which then allows you to craft more advanced items. Well in FFXIV, crafting is more of a mini-game. (A bit similar to EQ2, if I remember right.) The amount of XP you get is based on how you craft the item. If you just hit the crafting button until the item is done (which takes several steps), you get a certain number of points. The first time you make an item, you get a big bonus in XP, but after that the XP is not that great. So at first it looks like you have to craft 50 million items to get anywhere. But the trick, I discovered, is that you have to take some time and hit some other buttons to try and improve the quality of the item, and then you get a lot more XP. I mean, a lot more. I’m not prepared to say it’s an awesome system–I mean, it’s still crafting, which is inherently tedious–but it’s definitely different. And crafting is something that needs some rethinking in MMOs, imo.