Final Fantasy XI Online, the always-online one

Did anyone or does anyone still play this game? I have fond memories of playing it on its US launch (apparently this game is 15 years old???) but didn’t end up sticking with it for more than a year. That said, most of my guildies in FFXIV played it for years, including one who is still subbed to this day.

Playing FFXI today, in the year of our lord two thousand and seventeen, two things jump out at me. First is a point I made in the FFXIV thread: “old-school” MMOs have this amazing ability to provoke a ‘sense of wonder’. Even reading walkthroughs on FFXIclopedia to figure out what to do for the next mission, I get this unwavering sense of awe at the enormousness of the possibility space in this game. The virtual world in this game is positively littered with ambiguously named interaction points, many of which are simply ‘???’, that all hint at some greater inscrutable design. Obviously, the game had 15 years of development to get to this saturation point, but I also think the quest design encouraged it on some level. There are no objective markers. The quest log consists of two sentences at best, and doesn’t update ever. NPCs with quest relevant information can be halfway across the world and are not distinguishable at all. Hell, there’s not a single NPC with a glowing ! on their heads in the entire game. Figuring out what to do based on sly, obscure hints and a healthy dose of online searching is an undertaking in itself. In a world in which FFXI is the only thing I had to worry about, this would be amazing. Alas, I am an adult and as such, very time-poor.

Which brings me to my second point: they’ve actually streamlined a lot of the tedious elements of the game! The two major timesinks of the game, leveling and travel, have both been virtually eliminated, leaving behind the sandbox MMO wonder I’ve been looking for (mostly). Leveling in this game used to be an old-school grind—earning just one level was considered an accomplishment for a day’s worth of work and don’t even get me started on making a relic weapon. Now, leveling with Trusts is a breeze. I started a new character and hit level 99 in a matter of a few days, including limit breaks. I hear it’s even faster with a party, a couple of hours even. The other unnecessary timesink was the travel, which used to be agonizing. In vanilla FFXI, there were only 3 teleport points in the entire game. An airship allowed you to go between the major cities, but it only ran once every 24 minutes and it took 24 real minutes to get to its destination. There were entire webpages dedicated to finding faster ways to get around. Now, there are no less than 3 teleportation networks which cover the game world to varying degrees of saturation. It really makes those missions where you have to talk to an NPC in one city, deliver something in another city, and then come back again a lot less frustrating.

There are other areas that the game has improved that I won’t get in to. I came back last year during a free weekend to check out the Rhapsodies of Vana’diel missions, ostensibly the “send-off” for the game, but apparently there’s still new content being developed every month? And now I’ve been playing on and off to see some of the stuff I missed. To wit, Wings of the Goddess has some of the best writing in the game and it really ties into the original story in some fascinating ways that I struggle to believe it wasn’t planned like this from the start.

And finally, it behooves me to point out that there’s a free login campaign going on right now for another week, until May 29. These usually happen about once or twice a year so it’s worth checking out!

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I played FFXI quite a long time ago, around the time when Treasures of Aht Urghan was the most recent expansion. To this day, it remains the only MMO I’ve ever played as I decided that the weren’t for me after finishing my time with it. However, I did spend a pretty substantial amount of time with it, enough to see the game expand and evolve in a way that most other games at the time never did. I mostly played Black Mage and Summoner, though at the time Summoners were considered kind of useless in parties until late game. I only ever got to level 40 or so before quitting, partly because I decided it would be more fun to just level every job up to at least level 15.

Hearing about all of the quality of life changes they’ve introduced in the past few years seems really surprising given how the game used to be. Even after 4 expansions, the developers refused to push the level cap beyond 75, and some of the equipment from the vanilla game remained top tier alongside newer releases. Also, one of my favorite memories of that game is making your first trip on foot from your starting area to Jeuno through areas with monsters that you couldn’t possibly solo, and really just traveling through new areas in general. I hope that the teleporting doesn’t get in the way of that.

Ultimately, the reasons I quit at level 40 were because of the old school grind that you mentioned and the game’s economy. The sluggish leveling curve made it so that you couldn’t really get anything done outside of a party. Because you needed to get into parties all the time, you also needed to have good equipment and spells, which could cost quite a bit of money from the auction house. If you didn’t have a good source of income, then the game became even more of a grind to get the gil you need. This was the situation I found myself in, and so I eventually just stopped playing after a while. All in all, I had some pretty good times in the game, but it eventually lost my interest. It sounds like the game is drastically different now though, so maybe this won’t happen to current players.

I’ve often felt like most people i met in MMOs (aside from people a tad older than me) either came from XI or WoW. I came from WoW which is in terms of design principles in many ways different than XI.

I never really had much desire to go back to XI and try it out. Partly because WoW kept overhauling itself and XI kept itself in its original state while making additions to never ever change fundamentally, which to me was very admirable because I really wish certain periods in WoW that are now more or less lost to history.
But what came with those overhauls was that the less obtrusive parts were ironed out.

All this said, last year I met a guy i was utterly enamored with and he spent his teenage years in XI so in an attempt to understand him better I picked XI up.
I’m glad to say that XI isn’t as impenetrable as I thought. The combat is a bit on the ‘classic’ side but it sports a timeless aesthetic and it is quite a joy to just run around say San D’oria and enjoy the gorgeous score. Getting involved with all the npcs and just drink in the atmosphere.
I kept playing along and was enjoying myself though it still felt like the game wasn’t necessarily explaining itself in a convenient matter. It felt to me like a game you had to have figured out in the past or figure out now but with great effort to really understand fully.
Me and the guy I mentioned eventually split and I didn’t have it in me to boot the game up again. Bit personal I guess but at least of no fault of the game.

Yeah, I hated searching for exp parties back in the day. It was agony for a shy pre-teen like myself. Luckily, you no longer have to do that to level, and the only people who are still playing the game are the super dedicated who really truly love it, so it’s not too hard to get these types of people to help you out with whatever.

With teleportation, you still have to reach the area first on foot to unlock that point for teleportation. It cuts out the backtracking without removing the danger and excitement of exploring a new area. On my new character, I did the Jeuno trek at around level 25 and it’s just as exhilarating as ever, but then I got to warp back to my home nation for the next mission. And even with the new lv 99 cap, they actually included a lot of paths to upgrade old gear to stay relevant.

I’m really interested to see how FFXI is now but I don’t have time to skim through the dizzying amount of content. I kinda want to live through the atmosphere that the game brings, the story and the music most of all. Wish there was a rollercoaster path where you would just enjoy the story and the new expansion areas fast enough to see how far the game has come.

I decided to finally check out the game around when Rhapsodies came out shortly after the cross over event in XIV. I enjoyed it a whole lot before I eventually went back to XIV. I had gotten my Dancer up to 75 believe I was having trouble with one of the limit breaks. The last thing I did was complete the original XI story.

I have the thing about revisiting old MMOs. It’s mostly a yearly revisit to MapleStory. Where I get to blaze through leveling that took years of my youth in a single day. There is some real great catharsis to be had in doing years in years worth of content in a month. Those numbers go up really fast. Old MMOs are the best clicker experience.

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It’s kind of like that right now! With Windower and a guide pulled up, you can breeze through all of the expansion packs in a matter of a few days.