Final Fantasy XI: Rhapsodies of Vana’diel

vanadiel poster

Last month saw the release of the final chapter in Final Fantasy XI’s latest add-on scenario, Rhapsodies of Vana’diel.  This scenario marks the end of all new storyline/expansion content for the game. In the eyes of most players, Rhapsodies’ serves as a sunset for a game that has been loved for over a decade. As promised, I have taken the last few months to catch up on much of the content I’ve missed over the last few years and I have to say, now that the final chapter has been told, I’m glad I took the time to give this wonderful game one last look.

For veteran players who have already conquered most of the game’s content, Rhapsodies of Vana’diel will serve as both a trip down memory lane, and a final capstone to all of the epic storylines that FFXI has presented over the years. Between the three chapters in Rhapsodies, Square Enix has done a wonderful job of bringing back old characters from the various ages of Final Fantasy XI and blending them in to one final romp through the various locales of this vast game. For new players, the Rhapsodies content actually integrates into the existing storyline as players explore the content in the game. It serves as both a guide and a vehicle to clarify some of the more obscure parts of the game’s scenarios.

img_20151217_152609

Aside from simply being a collection of cutscenes and battles, RoV also introduces three new zones to the game. Admittedly, two of these are largely recolors/remixes of existing areas. The third, however, is an entirely new zone and one that players have been begging to explore for many years. I suppose the inclusion of this area is small way of saying “Thank You” to players who have stuck through the game over all the ups and downs.

I was fortunate enough to experience RoV along with a few of my old FFXI friends. But thankfully, the scenario is also quite solo-able thanks to the new Trust system in the game that allows to you make make virtual parties with AI controlled NPCs. So if you’re on the fence about returning to Vana’diel to experience this swansong, don’t be. The content is very accessible even if you have to play through it alone.

img_20151221_193308

As I mentioned in one of my previous XI posts, stepping back into this world after being gone for a couple of years felt both familiar and foreign at the same time. So much has changed with Final Fantasy XI since it’s prime that it did take a little getting used to. Yet, it didn’t take long for everything to start falling into place. If you’re one the fence about returning, know this: Yes, the game is much easier than it used to be. Content that used to require alliances of players can now be conquered alone. Yes, the population of the game is significantly smaller than it used to be. But the players that remain have a true love and passion for the game that is undying.

I would find it difficult to recommend FFXI as a whole, to a new player simply because it has reached its sunset period. But if you are a true fan of Final Fantasy, or if you have a friend who is also interested in playing, it is certainly worth spending a little time exploring this world. Personally, I have played countless games over the years, a majority of them RPGS. I have also dabbled in nearly every MMO on the market and I can say this with no hesitation: Final Fantasy XI is without a doubt the greatest game I have ever played in my life. It certainly has it faults, but I doubt that another game (even FFXIV) will ever be able to take its place in my heart.

As a final treat, players who complete Rhapsodies of Vana’diel are rewarded with a final cutscene and credit roll. The song that plays in the background features a chorus sang by the players of the game itself. A few months back, SE provided instructions for recording audio that could be sent back to SE for inclusion in the mix of the final song. I found this to be a touching gesture and nice way to immortalize the loyal players by placing them into the game itself once and for all.

img_20151221_194641

** POL Viewer Final Fantasy XI – The Rise of Zilart    –   Chains of Promathia   –   Treasures of Aht Urhgan –  Wings of the Goddess  –  Add-on Scenarios – Abyssea Scenarios –  Seekers of Adoulin –  Rhapsodies of Vana’diel **

Final Fantasy XI: Seekers of Adoulin

240856_front

In March of 2013, Final Fantasy XI saw what would end up being it’s final full expansion ever: Seekers of Adoulin. Announced at a time when players had accepted the expectation that their beloved game had been all but abandoned, the news that XI would be a getting a new expansion came as quite a shock. SoA was more than players could have ever asked for. But it’s release was not without controversy. First off, this new scenario saw a number of big changes to the game. First, this expansion was the first in the west not to be available on PlayStation 2. SoA is only available on PC and Xbox 360 for US players. While this may seem trival due to the small number of US PS2 players, it is a still a big reversal from SE’s previous stance regarding PS2 support.

This expansion adds access to a whole new continent. The land of Ulbuka is located across the ocean to the west. It is a bit of a “new world” much like the Americas of Earth. In fact, one of the main focuses of the new storyline is participating in the pioneering of the undiscovered country. Players are able to participate in activities such a “rieves” and coalition assignments that explore the untamed wilds of the new land. Included in this expansion are two new jobs: The Geomancer and the Rune Fencer. These are somewhat trivial in their addition, but the new options are certainly welcome.

When it comes to content, Seeker’s is an expansion almost exclusively aimed at endgame players. SoA has adopted a new “item level” system much like that found in FFXIV to help players gauges the value of new level 99 equipment. Some older pieces can be upgraded to higher items levels, but most of the new gear is obtainable through participation in SoA-exclusive content, such a Delve. Delve is a new super-challenging battle system that focuses on notorious monster battles. It’s extremely difficult, but the rewards are well worth it.

img_20150525_195542

Aside from the usual expansion-type content, Seekers of Adoulin also ushered in a wave of core-game changes that would forever alter the way Final Fantasy XI was played. The Mog Garden was introduced. This features a small little private island where players can gather and cultivate materials. Players can now farm and gather from one simply location instead of scouring the landscape looking for places and competing with other players. The expansion included a new “waypoint” system that allowed players to warp around certain areas of the game world. This concept was later extended to existing homepoints. Players can now warp to any homepoint in the game that they’ve previously visited. This removed a giant pain-point for players and has really helped to modernize Final Fantasy XI. On top that, a whole new system called “Records of Eminence” has been added to the game. This is a sort of  sub-system of in-game achievements and rewards. Players are rewarded points and experience for completing certain in-game objectives. The points can be redeemed for almost anything; gear, skill ups, etc. This is very helpful considering the scarcity of items on the auction house these day. Not to mention, the experience points granted by completing objectives is great indeed. Making leveling now even faster than ever.

Shortly after the release of SoA, the ability to summon and party with NPC “alter egos” was also added. This is called the “Trust System”. Now players are able to form their own parties with NPCs instead of spending hours recruiting other members for content. While this is a welcome change, in a way it saddens me. It, along with the Records of Eminence system mentioned above, is a silent indication that the game’s population has become low enough to be addressed by the development team.

All in all, Seekers is a very welcome additional to XI. It added plenty of new areas for players to explore, as well as provided challenging and fresh activities for the game’s aging playerbase. Over the course of this last month, I reactivated my subscription and actually spent quite a bit of time exploring the post-Seekers world of Vana’diel. I participated in the new Trust initiative, reconnected with some old friends, conquered some old content on my to-do list and really got a taste for the way the game has changed.

As I mentioned earlier, Seekers of Adoulin is officially the final full expansion for Final Fantasy XI, so my little nostalgia trip will soon be coming to a close. I’ll be making one more post regarding the game itself by the end of the year upon the completion of the Rhapsodies of Vana’diel add-on that is being released for free. This new content is being rolled out between now and November. Until that time, I will leave my subscription active and continue to enjoy the experience that is Final Fantasy X – quite possibly the greatest video game I have ever played. I don’t make that claim lightly.

img_20150525_195649

 ** POL Viewer Final Fantasy XI – The Rise of Zilart    –   Chains of Promathia   –   Treasures of Aht Urhgan –  Wings of the Goddess  –  Add-on Scenarios – Abyssea Scenarios –  Seekers of Adoulin –  Rhapsodies of Vana’diel **

 

 

Final Fantasy XI: Add-On and Abyssea Scenarios

FFXI_UCAE_Package

Two years after Wings of the Goddess, FFXI players were getting antsy for new content. Square Enix had already announced a new MMO in the Final Fantasy series and many players were concerned that their long loved game was slowly being abandoned. Finally in 2009, SE announced three small “downloadable scenarios” for Final Fantasy XI: A Crystalline Prophecy, A Moogle Kupo d’Etat, and A Shantotto Ascension. These mini-expansions were scattered out over a period of several months, and were sold for $10 each. Essentially, these were nothing more than a small series of storyline missions, each ending with a boss battle and selectable item reward.

The new content was certainly welcome, but these scenarios seemed a little weak in terms of what fans had come to expect. Luckily, fans were in for a very big surprise in the near future…

6923_1144696775235_3179707_n[1]

As news for the upcoming Final Fantasy XIV became more and more prevalent, FFXI players were now even more worried than before. Rumors began to circulate that FFXI services may come to a close as SE turned their attention to FFXIV instead. Many players waited for the 2010 VanaFest (Final Fantasy XI convention) with dread. To be honest, I was one of them. But, thankfully, our fears were put to rest.

I remember staying up all night to watch the VanaFest stream online. SE was quick to reassure players that there was no end to Final Fantasy XI in the foreseeable future. They followed this announcement with a presentation about upcoming job changes within the game. As they began the presentation, I recall them showing a video of a level 75 Red Mage doing battle in one of the areas outside of Aht Urhgan. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary until suddenly, the Red Mage gained a level. It took the audience a second to register this… before the entire room erupted in applause. Square Enix had just announced the first level cap increase to the game since the North American release. This changed everything.

Not only did SE announce that they would up the level cap past 75 (a feat with itself would change the very core-design of the game), but they would eventually be taking the cap all the way to level 99! To assist with this, they announced the release of three new “battlefield add-on scenarios”: Vision of Abyssea, Scars of Abyssea, and Heroes of Abyssea.

These scenarios would take players into an extra-dimensional area “Abyssea”, that essentially served as training grounds and battle areas to help level jobs from 75 to 99. Not only that, but to go along with the new level caps, a slew of new gear and job abilities were going to be released and tweaked over time. Finally the future of FFXI was looking bright again. Player excitement has hit a new high.

img_20150525_192231

Despite the initial excitement, upon its release Abyssea became a very controversial part of the game. While it certainly proved a great way to level jobs from 75-99, players were able to enter the areas with jobs as low as level 30. Naturally, players were able to “think outside of the box” and Abyssea became a way to power-level jobs from level 30 to level 99 in mere days. This is a task that would normally have taken months or weeks previously. On top of that, FFXI found itself with a new producer as the development staff was being shuffled around between various projects at SE. The new development team made a number of changes that made leveling even easier. The age of casual gaming had finally reached Final Fantasy XI. Over the span of about six months, Final Fantasy XI went from being a notoriously “hardcore” game to have the easy-button pressed. Fans began to express discontent and subscriptions slowly started to decline. Even I, ended up eventually cancelling my subscription for the first time ever upon the release of Final Fantasy XIV… FFXI had changed and it wasn’t clear if the change was for the best.

I had fully expected the Abyssea add-ons to be the last updates to the game. Perhaps they would have been, but something happened that SE never anticipated. Once Final Fantasy XIV was released, it failed –  miserably. While SE has announced their intentions to fix and rebuild their new MMO, they had to do something in the meantime to keep the money rolling in. Naturally, they turned their attention back to the one game that had proved to be their most profitable venture ever; Final Fantasy XI…

** POL Viewer Final Fantasy XI – The Rise of Zilart    –   Chains of Promathia   –   Treasures of Aht Urhgan –  Wings of the Goddess  –  Add-on Scenarios – Abyssea Scenarios –  Seekers of Adoulin –  Rhapsodies of Vana’diel **

Final Fantasy XI: Wings of the Goddess

1239237431-00

Merely a year after the ToAU expansion was released, players of Final Fantasy XI were treated to yet another expansion: Wings of the Goddess. For me, this was a release that I was really looking forward to. By the time WotG reached the store shelves, the game was in it’s prime but was starting to show its age a bit. Despite this, it still had a very large and loyal fanbase. Even if the game was beginning to receive a lot of criticism for being too grindy and antiquated. Other MMOs like World of Warcraft were starting to siphon players, so for many, the content in Wings of the Goddess was expected to address that.

You see, along with the usual content one would expect from a FFXI expansion, SE had also promised several new gameplay/battlefield systems to make earning experience both different and easier. The main focus here was the new Campaign system. But we’ll touch on that in a moment. First, let’s talk a bit about the concept behind the new expansion.

Wings of the Goddess, goes back to the roots of the Final Fantasy XI story; The Crystal War. This war is an event that took place approximately twenty years prior to the start of the game. It is often mentioned by NPCs in game and is quite a big part of the game’s lore. Now, with the new expansion, players are finally able to travel back in time and participate in the war itself! In the weeks leading up to the release of the expansion, strange stone “cavernous maws” began appearing all over the game world. Upon activation of Wings of the Goddess, players could enter one of these and be transported back to the age of the Crystal war.

Rolanberry_Cavernous_Maw

Once in the past, players will be able to align themselves with one of the three nations again and begin to participate in various war-time operations. Be it battle, or random tasks, players were finally able to earn experience points as a quest-based reward and not directly through the defeat of monsters in the game. As mentioned above, one of the most popular new systems in this expansion is the Campaign system. Essentially, Campaign is the participation on the front lines of battle. The player will take part in a mass assault against multiple waves of Beastmen. You can see the battle through to the end, or check out early if need be. Either way, your performance during the battle will be assessed and you will be rewarded Experience. While this may sound a bit mundane these days, at the time it was a big change for Final Fantasy XI.

Naturally, players are able to move between that past and the present. In fact, several quests included in WotG require players to do just that with often paradoxical results. Another example of this has to do with the introduction of a new free-roaming “monster”, the Pixie. The days of the Crystal War, Pixies are quite common. But they had never been seen in the game prior to the WotG release. If players kill a large number of Pixies in the past, this remains unchanged. But, if player spare these creatures, they will begin to appear in the modern game as well. I always felt that was a clever concept.

As you might expect, due to the whole time travel concept behind the expansion, many of the new zones are nothing more than alternate versions of areas already in the game. There’s a couple of exceptions but for the most part, this is the case. This led many players to feel ripped off. Their claim was that SE was charging full price for mostly “remixed zones”. Personally, I don’t share this point of view. To me, the crystal-era zones are quite different from their modern-era counterparts. And personally, I enjoy exploring the subtle differences.

6923_1135378742290_3269755_n[1]

Naturally, the expansion also came with a new set of storyline missions as well as two new jobs: Dancer and Scholar. Interesting jobs in theory, but these two new additions seems to get most of the action as subjobs – as their abilities seems more geared towards the support of other roles rather than as a stand out on their own.

A number of other systems were included with WotG; a new Notorious Monster system, for one. But the most popular may have been the new Walk of Echoes battlefield. This is another large-scale battlefield, but instead of being main content, Walk of Echoes is considered to be the “end game” content of WotG. In Walk of Echoes, players will fight waves of powerful monsters in an extra-dimensional battlefield. At the time, the rewards for this content were quite good, but these days they are subpar. Thus, this content is largely ignored by modern players.

All in all; Wings of the Goddess is a fun and interesting expansion for Final Fantasy XI. It adds plenty of welcome content, but it again falls just a bit short of the epic reputation that the very first two expansions brought to the game.

woe12

** POL Viewer Final Fantasy XI – The Rise of Zilart    –   Chains of Promathia   –   Treasures of Aht Urhgan –  Wings of the Goddess  –  Add-on Scenarios – Abyssea Scenarios –  Seekers of Adoulin –  Rhapsodies of Vana’diel **

Final Fantasy XI: Treasures of Aht Urhgan

3703_front

Spring of 2006 brought the third expansion to Final Fantasy XI; Treasures of Aht Urhgan. This release added a whole new continent to explore, along with the addition of three new Advanced Jobs: Corsair, PuppetMaster and Blue Mage. The new areas included in ToAU all had an Arabian flair to them which was a vast departure from the standard “high fantasy” feel of the rest of the game. This certainly helped to give the expansion a feeling of something new and original.

In the weeks leading up to the release of the expansion, three new NPCs appeared in the city states. These NPCs served as a bit of a hook to help set the stage for the storyline in the upcoming expansion. Each NPC was a recruiting officer for a mercenary guild in the mid-eastern Empire of Aht Urhgan. The quest offered by them provided a reward that the player could cash in for some perks upon reaching the Aht Urhgan city of Whitegate.

On the day the expansion went live, I firmly remember standing on the docks of one of the lesser outpost towns in the game, with about 100 other people, waiting for the boat to arrive that would usher us to the new wondrous city. Sure, we had all seen the promotional artwork, but none of us really knew what to expect when arrived.

6923_1135369542060_7584261_n[1]

The main storyline included with ToAU involved the struggles of the Aht Urghan Empire against new races of beastmen. Within walls of the empire resides a national treasure: The Astral Candescence. The beastment vie to capture this artifact. As a result, the Empire has recently come under attack and has enlisted companies of mercenaries to help defend against the recent onslaughts. The new storyline missions in the game involve the player joining up with one of these rather shady companies and uncovering the secrets of the Empire as a result.

Unlike the Chains of Promathia expansion, which only really catered to the endgame community, the content in Aht Urhgan became accessible for even mid-level adventurers. This resulted in many changes. The population shifted from hanging out mostly in the hub-town of Jeuno, to the new city of Al Zahbi/Whitegate. This became the hotspot of the game. Along with this, players soon discovered new areas in which to set up camp for experience parties. Several of the older stomping grounds became largely neglected as a result.

With the addition of new storyline missions, ToAU also featured two new popular activities: Assaults and Besieged. Assaults were short quest based objectives that saw players invading and ransacking beastmen outposts in the new areas. Completion of these assaults grants the player both points and over time helps increase their rank within mercenary company. Points can be redeemed for a variety of goods. Besieged is very much the opposite or assaults. This is when the beastmen invade Al Zahbi and players must participate in the defense of the city.

ffxi_naja_001

Along with these activities came a number of other changes to the game. A chocobo raising and racing system was added, several new battlefield systems: Salvage, Einherjar, and Pankration. New “mythic weapons” and other special armor sets were also added.

Much like the previous expansion, ToAU also features another Super Boss: Pandemonium Warden. Again infamous for nearly 20 hour fights, this battle placed SE under the media spotlight for encouraging “unhealthy playing practices”. These days, PW is still considered to be quite a challenge to defeat, but the difficulty has been reduced significantly.

All in all, ToAU is a good expansion and certainly worth the original price tag. It offered plenty of new content and gave the players a new story and new areas to explore. But compared with the epic scope of the first two expansions, I feel that it overall falls just a little short in comparison. That being said, it has become an integral part of the game and no player should go without it.

6923_1135378902294_3520922_n[1]

 ** POL Viewer Final Fantasy XI – The Rise of Zilart    –   Chains of Promathia   –   Treasures of Aht Urhgan –  Wings of the Goddess  –  Add-on Scenarios – Abyssea Scenarios –  Seekers of Adoulin –  Rhapsodies of Vana’diel **

Final Fantasy XI: The Chains of Promathia

3698_front

About a year after Final Fantasy XI reached the shores of the USA, the Chains of Promathia expansion pack was released. In between the time that I first played the game and CoP became available, my personal life had undergone quite a few changes. I changed careers, bought a house, and had a child. But by this time, things were starting to settle down. CoP was released in September 2004, and after several months of seeing the box on the shelf at my local store, I decided to purchase it and see what the world of FFXI was like these days. This second experience with the game is when I became a full blown FFXI Junkie.

Chains of Promathia is an Expansion Pack in the most literal sense of the phrase. This package did exactly that, it expanded upon the original game without making too many core changes. CoP, as it is often called, added new areas and an epic-scale storyline that wove tightly in with that from Rise of the Zilart. In fact, the two expansions actually tie into each other at the very end.

The storyline in this expansion plays heavily off the fictional religious lore in FFXI, and takes players to a weird alien-like plane called Promyvion. It is also in this expansion that players finally get to visit areas of the game only previously seen in the opening cutscene. The amount of content in CoP was unlike anything else at the time. MMO games simply did not contain storyline content of this caliber. Upon the addition of all of the Promathia content, Final Fantasy XI had become legendary with online gamers.

34461_1366268874399_5244325_n[1]

The content added in Chains of Promathia was infamous for being expert-only level content. This missions and battles added with this scenario were brutal and required a group of players to be at the top of their game. These days, many changes to the game have made completing Chains of Promathia much easier. But in it’s prime, CoP was the reason that Final Fantasy XI was often hailed as the most hardcore MMO on the market.

In a way, you can look at Chains of Promathia as the “optional dungeon” from any given Final Fantasy title. Most FF games contain optional areas and bosses that are more challenging than the rest of the game. A good example of this is the CoP battle with a monster called Absolute Virtue. This monster was notoriously difficult to defeat. In fact, many players believed that the boss was added to the game as a unbeatable challenge. Battles against AV required an alliance of players, and it was not unheard of for teams to battle this monster for upwards of 10+ hours, often sharing accounts and taking shifts in combat. The first few times the monster was defeated, it was discovered that players had exploited the game in one way or another. Then, some rather ingenious players managed to legitimately defeat the monster by thinking outside of the box – ( for those in the know: using an alliance of Dark Knights all wielding a special weapon that enabled them to hit 8 times per turn). Since SE apparently had a specific strategy in mind when designing this monster, they applied a fix to nix this Dark Knight zerg, and would continue to do so for most kill-strats that popped up.

Eventually, the hype behind this monster became so great that Square Enix had to address it publicly. In one instance, a group of players flailed away at the monster for over 18 hours, some of the them becoming physically ill during the marathon session. When pressed for an response, SE explained that players had simply not discovered the secret to defeating the monster. To resolve this, they released a hint video on YouTube and placed a 2 hour time-limit on the fight. They also slightly lowered the difficulty of the encounter. Despite this, victory against Absolute Virtue was still hailed as one of the greatest achievements in MMO gaming for several years to come.  – These days, the battle is much much easier thanks to an increased level cap and several other changes to the overall game design. For the record: To this day, I personally, have never defeated this monster.

Final-Fantasy-XI-Screenshot

As I mentioned at the beginning, it was during this time in the game’s history that Final Fantasy XI changed to from simply being a video game that I enjoyed to an actual full-time hobby. I would play this game for an average of 2-3 hours a night, usually 4-5 days a week. While that may seem vigorous to many,  this schedule still left me in the category of the casual player. The “elite” playerbase would often play for 8+ hours a day, seven days a week. Their lives would be scheduled around the game, and not the other way around. I enjoy Final Fantasy and I can totally understand having a minor obsession with a game. Heck, I loved FFXI so much that I would listen to the game soundtrack or podcasts dedicated to discussing the game, while I worked at my job. But, I would never allow a game to take over my life like some people. I had often heard about people becoming addicted to MMOs, and I saw it firsthand with FFXI. On top of that, many of these elitest players carry very negative attitudes. To them, if you’re not on their level, you are worthless. On more than one occasion, I was excluded from participating in certain events because I was a “filthy casual”. Sadly, elitist attitudes tend to thrive in online environments. MMO games are no exception.

On the other side of the coin, I met people in Final Fantasy XI that were truly amazing. Teaming up to conquer the content in Chains of Promathia formed bonds with people I had never met in person, but yet still communicate with today in some form or another. I owed my progress in Chains of Promathia to the many friends that made during those months after picking up that box and re-installing the game on my PC. After experiencing the content CoP had to throw at us, we were all looking forward to exploring the future of the game together.

30461_1361894485042_7468554_n[1]

 ** POL Viewer Final Fantasy XI – The Rise of Zilart    –   Chains of Promathia   –   Treasures of Aht Urhgan –  Wings of the Goddess  –  Add-on Scenarios – Abyssea Scenarios –  Seekers of Adoulin –  Rhapsodies of Vana’diel **

Final Fantasy XI: FFXI Beta and Rise of the Zilart

44334_front

So, in the last post I talked a bit about Square’s online ambitions with the PlayOnline Service, so now let’s actually discuss the game that PlayOnline was really designed for, Squaresoft’s first MMO entry in the Final Fantasy series: Final Fantasy XI.

I remember the day I first heard that there was going to be an online Final Fantasy. It caught my attention immediately. In those days, I had largely abandoned console gaming. I was a full blown PC gamer at the time who had just only recently purchased a PlayStation 2. I was browsing some of my favorite geek-news sites at when I came across an article announcing that Square (soon to be Square-Enix) was accepting beta testers for the North American version of Final Fantasy XI. Up to this point the game was only available in Japan, but SE was preparing to bring the service to the US. American gamers would be able to share the world with Japanese players in what was to be the largest most epic Final Fantasy title yet.

I did not hesitate to apply for the beta and much to my elation, I was accepted! After a few weeks, I got my beta kit in the mail. This package was complete with the game, a set of beta test instructions and even a hard drive for my existing PlayStation 2.

WP_20150505_09_43_13_Pro

It was on that day I created my first Final Fantasy XI character: Nakijin, the Hume (human) from the industrial city of Bastok. I named the character after a castle that I once visited during my years on Okinawa. I participated on a beta server called Cactuar. If I remember right, the beta ran for maybe a few weeks to a month or more. I remember being so confused at the beginning. I had never had much success with MMOs before. My experiences with Ultima Online and Everquest left me cold. At first, I felt the same way about FFXI. It took me a while to understand the controls to begin with. On the PlayStation, FFXI is played with a controller but it is also recommended that you use USB keyboard so that you can communicate with other players. Your character is controlled as expected using one stick on the controller. The camera is controlled with the other stick. The Crosspad is used to either target objects and enemies, or to navigate the menus. For an example of what the game UI looked like on the ps2, see the image below  (I had to find this one online, since I never thought to save screenshots back in those days):

9f372ead5684fa9b51d5a6982c16d909

It took me a few days to get the feel for the way the game worked, but once I did, it came natural. For the most part, the game was already tested and feature complete. The main focus of the beta test was to look for translation and localization issues and to help stress test the servers. There were a few events where GMs (Game Masters – characters played by SE employees) would spawn a giant monster just outside of town and a mass of players would engage the monster to see if the server would crash under the weight. On one occasion, the producer of the game even made an appearance and showed off some armor and weapons that would be available in the retail version.

Once the game was released, I decided to switch from the PlayStation 2 to play on the PC. So I purchased a PC copy and started my character over again. I played the game for a few more months before I finally cancelled my subscription due to both moving and starting a new job. But make no mistake, I was hooked already.

So, now that I’ve given you my starting experience with the game, let’s talk about the game itself.  Please note, that for the most part, I will be explaining this game from the standpoint of the original release. So many of the modern day changes, etc will not be touched on yet in this post.

When you start Final Fantasy XI for the first time you will be prompted to create a character. The races available are Hume (human like race), Elvaan (elf), Taru Taru (little guys), Galka (big ugly guys – male only) or Mithra (cat girls!). Once this is complete, you choose a starting job: Warrior, Monk, Thief, White Mage, Black Mage, or Red Mage. Finally, you choose a starting city, The options here are: Bastok – an up and coming republic – (think colonial America), Windurst – a mystical forested nation, or San d’Oria (and old-guard style kingdom).

The one thing that sets FFXI apart from most other MMOs, even today, is that no matter what job you select for your character, you are not stuck in that role. Your character has the ability to change their job. Each class is leveled independently. So, while you may start the game as a level 1 Warrior, you can later decide to try your hand as a Black Mage. Switching to a Black Mage for the first time, will find yourself back at level 1 for that job. But, if you switch back to being a warrior again, you’ll find that all of your progress as Warrior was saved. On top of that, a player can also choose a secondary job. They must first reach level 18 on one job. Then, upon completing a special quest, they can equip a second job or “sub-job”. The sub-job will always be limited to half of the main job’s level, but will grant the player access to the skills and abilities up of that job up to it’s max sub-job level. This makes FFXI a very diverse game. You can truly do everything with only one character.

6923_1135358421782_7027730_n[1]

Unlike many MMOs at the time, FFXI was very focused on story. The game actually has a very epic plotline, and your character is the center of it. The first few chapters of the story will vary slightly depending on the starting nation that you select, but eventually these origins converge into one main plot for the main scenario. The story of the game is driven through Missions. As you start out and follow the hints given to you by the game NPCs, you will eventually stumble into these main scenario missions. Once you get started on that path, it is very easy to keep track going forward. The game also has plenty of optional side quests that offer same currency or other rewards, these often also help expand on the lore of the game.

In Final Fantasy XI, you play as character who resides in the world of Vana’diel. The game is set in a time of fragile peace. Approximately twenty years prior to the start of the game, the three nations were united in an ongoing battle against the various Beastmen Tribes of Vana’diel. This was known as the Crystal War. Much of the game’s storyline focuses on the aftermath of this war and fragile truce between the city-states. As the player’s progress through the game they will learn more than a few deep secrets about the true origins of this conflict and the fabled leader of the Beastmen: The Shadow Lord.

As you play the game and experience the storyline, your character will need to grow. Like many RPGs, your character earns levels by gaining experience. Experience points are earned through combat. Your character’s stats are increased automatically as you level up. Beware however, if you die, you will actually LOSE a small amount of experience points. So yes, it is possible to de-level. Harsh! Not to mention, if no-one is around to resurrect you from the dead, you will have to start back from your “home point”. Which may be nearby or far far away from your current location, depending on how diligent are with updating it.

After a while, it will soon become obvious that  to get anywhere in this game, you’re going to need to team up with others. This is the core of the very game itself: playing with others and making friends. The entire game was originally designed around the mechanic of forcing you to have to play with others. To earn any meaningful experience, you will need to fight monsters in parties with other adventurers. To complete special events or progress in the missions, you will HAVE TO team up. This can sometimes lead to drama, but more often than not, it results in forming bonds with other players. To help with this, players can communicate with each other over long distances using a “linkshell”   (glorified chat channel). During my time in Final Fantasy XI, I made friends in-game that carried over to the real world. Many of these people I still in touch with today through social media. This is the best thing about Final Fantasy XI in my opinion.

6923_1135358301779_1671983_n[1]

It is important to note, that when Final Fantasy XI was released in the USA, it actually included both the original game AND it’s first expansion: The Rise of Zilart. In the minds of many players, there is no difference between the two. The Zilart missions and the main scenario go hand in hand for a large part, and the areas added to the game by the expansion also seem to fit in seamlessly. Shortly after the North American release, the level cap for players was increased to 75 where it remained for a very long time. It is also important to recognize that RoZ did bring about the inclusion of several new advanced jobs to the game. At North American launch, the game contained the following Advanced Jobs that players could strive to unlock and master:

Paladin, Dark Knight, Beastmaster, Ranger, Dragoon, Summoner, Samurai, Ninja and Bard.

To unlock advanced jobs, a players must complete a quest and meet certain job-based requirements. Each job has its own specialized role. This mechanic is finely tuned as needed through patches and game adjustments, but largely remains unchanged. When factoring all of the skills and abilities afforded by the various jobs in the game, players are able to better define their roles in a multi-player party situation.

This is the world in which American players found themselves in after the game was brought to North Amercia. There was a lot already to explore, and plenty of ground to cover. Most players had barely gotten started when the next expansion to the game was announced.

I’ll touch on that and the further evolutions of Final Fantasy XI in the next post!

0071171972662_500X500

  ** POL Viewer Final Fantasy XI – The Rise of Zilart    –   Chains of Promathia –   Treasures of Aht Urhgan  –  Wings of the Goddess –  Add-on Scenarios – Abyssea Scenarios –  Seekers of Adoulin –  Rhapsodies of Vana’diel **

Hub Post: Final Fantasy XI

3682_front

Continuing with my Final Fantasy series playthrough, we are brought to an interesting entry. Final Fantasy XI. The first online massive multiplayer game in the franchise. I’ve mentioned before, that I don’t like to “review” MMO games. This is because the content of the game itself changes rapidly and, as a player, your overall experience can often be influenced by other players, not just the game itself. Therefore, I will not be offering a proper review of the game, but rather I will provide information and share my personal experiences with the title.

At the time of this writing, Final Fantasy XI is already thirteen years old and thus, has a vast and complicated history. There is much to write about and no way to fit it all into one post. So, over the next few weeks I’ll be making multiple posts, all of them will linked here to this master “hub post”. Stay tuned!

  ** POL Viewer Final Fantasy XI – The Rise of Zilart    –   Chains of Promathia   –   Treasures of Aht Urhgan  –  Wings of the Goddess –  Add-on Scenarios – Abyssea Scenarios –  Seekers of Adoulin –  Rhapsodies of Vana’diel **

Other Reviews In This Series:

IIIIIIIVVVI VIIVIIIIXXX2XIXII XIIIXIII 2XIII Lightning Returns XIV – XV 

IV: After YearsVII: Dirge of CerberusVII: Crisis CoreVII: Advent Children (Movie)XII: Revenant Wings – Type-0 – XV: A King’s TaleXV: Brotherhood (Anime)XV: Kingsglaive (Movie)

World of Final Fantasy – Explorers – Mystic Quest – 4 Heroes of Light 

Tactics – Tactics Advance – Tactics A2

Dissidia – Dissidia 012

Crystal Chronicles – Ring of Fates – My Life as King – My Life as Darklord – Echoes of Time – Crystal Bearers

Dimensions – Record Keeper – Brave Exvius – Mobius Final Fantasy  – Justice Monsters V – King’s Knight 

Rise of the MMOs – Part 1

Ultima_Online_cover

The nineties were a truly epic time for gaming. This decade saw many changes in the home console market. Handheld gaming became mainstream. And of course, PC gaming took off at a rapid pace. With the ever growing popularity of the internet, a new concept in gaming began to rise to the surface: online connectivity.

The first online multiplayer game that I ever played was a text-based adventure game hosted by a local BBS. It was called Legend Of the Red Dragon. The game was quite simple actually, but it totally floored me at time. The BBS in which it was hosted could only handle one or two connections simultaneously. When trying to connect during peak hours I’d have to command my modem to dial over and over until I was finally able to get on. LORD is a hard game to explain these days, but essentially, the first time you played it you made a character and you could perform a certain number of tasks daily. This is includes things like fighting monsters, exploring, flirting with the taverns girls, etc. I don’t believe you could participate with other players in real time, but you could leave notes for other players that they would see when they logged in. Also, a log of player actions and accomplishments were posted so that everyone could see what had gone on during the day. At the time, the whole concept was fascinating to me and I have many fond memories of the title.

Example of the LORD interface courtesy of Moby Games

LORD was a watered down version of what is known as a MUD, or Multi-User-Dungeon. These text-based games allowed multiple players to interact together to one degree or another. MUDs were the first “MMOs” in many ways.

The first full blown Massive Multiplayer Online game that I truly experienced was Ultima Online.  I had been a fan of the Wizardry series for many years, and I had recently came off a binge of playing every RPG game I could find on the PC. as a result, I had just finished a marathon of Ultima games and the franchise was on my mind. I remember seeing the game on the shelf of my local computer store and I recall the fierce debate that raged inside my head; do I really want to pay to buy this game and then pay to play it?

I had a somewhat moral objection to revenue model for this game. I had recently read about it in a magazine and I was appalled to learn that the game was going to have a monthly subscription. In my mind, paying for the purchase of the game was enough. I had all but decided to boycott the product, but yet, actually seeing on the shelf – I couldn’t resist.

 

I played Ultima Online for a couple of weeks, but I wasn’t able to really get a sense of understanding for the title. It looked and played like some of the later titles in the series. But the online element felt rather chaotic. Also, to me, there didn’t seem to be any clear-cut goals to accomplish. Maybe I just missed something, but by the time my free month had expired, I decided that the game wasn’t for me and filed in the back of desk drawer – swearing to ignore these types of “pay to play” games from now on.

Of course, a year or two later I was persuaded into trying the latest and greatest multiplayer title, Everquest. You see, by this time I had moved on from hanging out on BBS forums and I was a full blown Internet user. I used to hang out in an IRC chat room with other local people and all of them were big Everquest fans. They raved about it non-stop. So, I bought the game and indeed, I was impressed by the way the title looked and operated. I was quite ignorant about the inner workings of the game, and I didn’t really understand the community aspect that already formed around the game, but I was enjoying exploring and checking things out.

Everquest

It was only a few days after getting my feet wet with the game that I again decided, this was not the title for me. You see, every time my character would leave town, I would be attacked by a group of players. Being new and inexperienced, I was no match for them. I would literally take one step out of town and BOOM. These guys would kill me. It was my first experience of being griefed by another player. It was all I needed to say “That’s it. I’m done.” Despite this bad experience, the game still intrigued me. I could see the draw behind the game. Everquest reminded me a lot of Dungeons & Dragons. (The tabletop role playing game that I played a lot as a young teen).  I found the setting and most aspects of the game very appealing. But at that time in my life, I had very little patience and being held back by other players was just unacceptable. Today, the game is still active and in fact recently reached its 15th birthday. Since the time of its original release, the game has changed dramatically, 19 expansions and countless updates, the Everquest of today barely resembles the Everquest that I played in 1998. In fact, I believe it is even Free-To-Play now. I’m also sure that the type of player-killing I encountered now has some safeguard in effect, so for the curious, the game might be worth a look. It’s also important to note that Everquest spawned a sequel, Everquest II. A third sequel is also on the way.

Due to these experiences, I stayed away from MMO RPG style games for a long time. My multiplayer experience was restricted to first person shooters almost exclusively. Then, one day I saw an article stating that Square Enix was looking for players to help test a new online game, this game would be Final Fantasy XI. This struck a chord with me. I had enjoyed the Final Fantasy series immensely and for the first time in a while, I found an MMO that interested me.  I’m not going to go into too much detail here now, because one day I will post a whole article about XI. But, this game is the MMO that finally managed to hook me. I played the crap out of this game. I have wasted years of my life… seriously. It’s actually kind of sad.

Final Fantasy XI

In Final Fantasy XI, I found the perfect balance I has always been looking for in a multiplayer game. FFXI has a wonderful storyline. So, you’re not just walking around killing monsters and getting stronger for no apparent reason… you’re doing it so that you can continue experiencing the game itself. In fact, everyone is doing this – as a result, teamwork is encouraged. It finally all made sense. FFXI really opened my eyes to the magic of MMO games. Since that time, I have tried several titles over the years with varying degrees of success.

No discussion about MMO games would be complete without a mention of what is arguably, the most popular of all time, World of Warcraft. WoW is the title that really brought MMO games into the public consciousness. I should go on record as saying that I am not really a big fan of World of Warcraft. I have played it, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. But by the time WoW popped up on my radar, I fully invested in Final Fantasy and WoW did not offer enough compelling gameplay to tear me away from my home. That being said, Warcraft certainly offers a lot for new players and it’s very easy to get into.  One feature that really set WoW apart from the other games at the time was the concept of player alliances. You see, when creating a character in World of Warcraft, you have to choose between creating an Alliance character or Horde character. This represents your character’s allegiance or affiliation. Originally, this had a big impact on gameplay. You could only befriend and talk to other players on your faction, members of the opposition were considered enemies. This has become very watered down over the years, and the concept really doesn’t mean as much as it once did. In many ways, the World of Warcraft has reached the sunset of its lifetime. Over the last couple years, the game population has dwindled as more MMO games have captured the attention of players. Now, players can often even create characters that are instantly granted maximum level in the game. This is a practice I disagree with.

Regardless, WoW really did wonders for the genre. It introduced concepts and practices that were very much needed and still permeate to this day. For example, in Warcraft, when you encounter an NPC that offers a quest, there is an icon floating over the head of that character. This let’s you know that they have something interesting to say. In prior games like Everquest and Final Fantasy, there was no identifier. To uncover quests and assignments you pretty much had to wander around and talk to every NPC that you encountered. WoW also popularized the Quest Tracker. This provided an in-game log of assignments and your character’s progress on them. Until now, these sorts of things had to be kept track of manually on paper by the player.

Character Creation for WoW

After the success of Warcraft, it seemed that there was a new MMO popping up every time you turned around. Conan, Vanguard, Guild Wars, the list goes on and on. For the most part, I managed to ignore most of these games and stuck with Final Fantasy. But occasionally, I ventured off my tried and true path.

I admit being sucked into buying the original Guild Wars and all of it’s expansions. This game intrigued me with its beautiful art-direction and pricing. You see, unlike most other games, Guild Wars does not require a monthly subscription. It functions off a model known as Buy to Play. After paying for the initial boxed software, you can play the game for free. As a result, the content in the game is somewhat limited compared with other MMOs, but there’s certainly no shortage of things to do.

One of other side effects of this sort of pricing I discovered, is the general immaturity of other players. Up until now, I had found MOST other game participants to fairly friendly and mature. This was especially true for Final Fantasy XI. WoW certainly had its number of jerks, but nothing like what I experienced in Guild Wars. I’m not sure how it is today, but back in 2007/2008 you could almost guarantee that the first thing you would see when logging into the game was a line of half-naked women dancing or people arguing in open chat. One time I asked another player if they wanted to team up for a quest and I was told repeatedly to “eat his farts”. So… free to play and buy to play gamers, be prepared to grow some thick skin against this type of nonsense.

The beautiful world of Guild Wars

I’ll be continuing my thoughts on MMO gaming in another post within the next couple of days. If this is a subject that interests you, stay tuned.