The races for FF14 are essentially more detailed, more refined versions of their FF11 counterparts. Instead of Mithra (cat girls) you get the Miqo'te. Instead of the Tarutaru you get them Lalafell and so on. These races have a bit more depth to them. In FF11, the races all represented a specific emotion which was meant to attract players and keep them interested as that emotion was expressed through the narrative. In FF14, these races are part of a nation which is now a part of a global culture. In as much that this game is about details, it doesn't stray too far even in the complicated ideas behind an international political arena.
Upon starting a new character, you are presented with a long list of possibilities and options. Most of these are standard, hair, eyes, nose, chin, and voice, but they add zodiac, tattoos, nationality (what type of elf, cat girl, or gnome, etc) and the widest range of skin colors and hair colors that I've ever seen in a video game. It should be noted that there are stat differences between all of the races but they are not as extreme as they were in Final Fantasy 11. Each nationality deviates slightly in stats as well; but again, this is not as significant. As for the color choices for characters, this deserves a bit of a note.
Whereas most MMOs are limited in their ability to express a character in any shape and color on earth, Final Fantasy 14 expands outside the realm of human possibility allowing for one of the most equitable distribution of possible self-representations I have ever seen in a game. Some may scoff at this observation but given that the avatar is an extension of our self-identity, limitations can cause a bit of attrition over time. Square Enix wants you to look how you want to look (though you are limited to only having hair that looks salon fabulous).
The models themselves are extremely detailed and of course change as characters gain new earrings, rings, and other clothing. I had access to an eye patch within a few levels and it was amazing. Somehow, eye patches and full on cloth masks over the eyes don't stop characters from being able to see. It's almost as if the character's clothing somehow goes for Japan-cool before thinking about function. However, you could also say that this is a play on the character/player relationship in that a character doesn't need to use their eyes since the player's are the ones that matter.
Speaking of Japan-cool, perhaps the most interesting part of the character models are their ability to do something unique that most games don't seem to do. Here, characters convey complex emotions through facial expressions and body language during cut scenes, emotes, or even during battle maneuvers. It is very understated to just say, "they got feels in them characters" because they really do have an amazing range of expression. Final Fantasy 14 really tries to match emotes to events. Here is what my character did when Melty Blood was born.
I mean, check out this range of expression on NPC's