Anti-Aliased: Gentlemen! Behold! Chocobos & Static Parties!

Final Fantasy XI

Anti-Aliased is a weekly column written by Colin Brennan that's all about MMO culture and getting the most out of your gaming subscription. Otherwise it would be joining the nearest non sequitur club and be promoted to president... or treasurer.

Look at the pretty chocobo in the picture above! Wark! Wark! Come on, wark with me! I don't care if you're at work or in a computer lab, just let out a nice good wark and I'm sure you'll feel better. Now, I'm sure you're wondering why you're warking. Well, this week we're covering how to bring life back into Final Fantasy XI using a few gullible friends and their PCs. Believe it or not, FFXI can be a MMORPG that rivals World of Warcraft for you and your friends.

With FFXI you can pull in more friends than with any other MMO currently on the market. Not only are the PC version's system requirements quite low, but you can also sucker your friends on the Xbox 360 and PS2 to jump on board as well. Friends are important to FFXI for reasons I will get to further along in this column, but let's begin at the source. Why does FFXI turn so many people off?

One of FFXI's main strengths is the level of complexity it presents. A starting player has many hurdles to leap over, like getting access to sub-jobs, completing quests after level 30 for advanced jobs, and a lack of convenient yellow exclamation points. However, that same complexity is the downfall of the old MMO - it was designed for an era when pointless grinding was the "in-thing" in game design.

When you jump into FFXI, it's intimidating. The quests you take give you very few benefits (except in some cases where you can only find certain items through quests) and the difficulty of the them is usually very high. Because of this, you need a group for most quests, and most groups aren't willing to do that - they'd rather sit and grind monsters. Also, you can't solo anything past level 10, forcing you to go find a group whether you like it or not. Now you're trusting your life into someone else's hands.

Upon death, you will lose a whopping 10% of the experience you need to level. No, that's not the experience you possess, it's the experience required for the level. So if you needed 1,000 exp to level up, you're losing 100 exp upon death if you don't get resurrected by another player. What happens if you do

Final Fantasy XI Orc Boss

n't have 100 experience? Well, you get a nice comfy level down thrown in your face - the single most recognized part (and least liked) of FFXI.

So why should you bother? If you have all of these hurdles to overcome, why play?

Analyzing these problems, it becomes clear where the source of frustration of FFXI comes from - the people who play it. When you don't know your group, you don't know what you're getting into. You might be getting into a group only to basically waste an hour of your life and end up below the point where you started.

This is why the static party in FFXI is so powerful. When you sit down with people you know, you'll mesh together much more effectively and become a better group. When you have a great group, FFXI becomes less of a chore and more of a unique gaming experience. You'll see the story, the areas, and the changes to Vana'diel together. It truly becomes a version of Final Fantasy, except put online. Sure, great groups can be pick up groups, but how many pick up groups are failures compared to the great ones?

If you run out to your local game store, they might have some two dollar copies of the Final Fantasy XI base pack (which comes with Rise of the Zilart, the first expansion, as well). These cheap discs actually give you a full 30 days of game play, so if you don't already play FFXI or are willing to start a new account, this is the way to go.

Now that you have the demo, pick up six for your friends or direct them to spend a few bucks to buy one for themselves. Coordinate which server you want to play on, coordinate which country you're going to represent (it's best if you and your friends all are from the same country), and then start the party up. In Final Fantasy XI, your character is a citizen of one of the three main countries of Vana'diel - Bastok, Windurst, or San d'Oria. These three countries fight over territory every week via points they earn by killing beastmen. Each Sunday, the Grand Duchy of Jeuno tallies all of the points for each region and declares a winner. The winning country gets the right to station their guards there (giving you free resurrection points, much like WoW's graveyards) and if you're a member of that country you can get a signet (which allows your kills to be added to the region's score and the ability to retrieve crystals from dead monsters) from your region's guards. However, beastmen also participate in this game and gain points when they kill players. If the beastmen win the area, Jeuno declares the region under beastmen control and state it is too dangerous for any country to station guards in the area.

Static parties are ruled by their members, so you can choose to do whatever you want to do. Not only was Final Fantasy XI made in the day of the MMO grind, but it was also made with the Final Fantasy legacy in mind. FFXI presents a very large and complex story told through missions, and most of these missions require a group. If you and the rest of your group are always on the same mission, you get to experience the story of Vana'diel together and still gain experience along the way! It's like playing a Final Fantasy game with your friends along for the ride!

A dancer shows off her moves on a stage in Vana'diel.

This type of complex storytelling hasn't been performed in any other game to the degree that FFXI does it. The story is epic. The cutscenes are well done, you'll see your character side by side with the NPC elite, and you'll enjoy graphics that still look pretty darn good for a six year old game.

Final Fantasy XI also has an extremely restrictive party system. If anyone is two levels above or below the middle level of the party, your experience will be dropped for your kills. However, the static party idea already combats this problem - you should all be close to the same level. Now you don't have to worry about finding the "perfect party" because every time you log in you'll already have one.

The other upside to all being close to the same level is worrying about sub-jobs. A sub-job is a class you attach to your main job after you complete the sub-job quest. This allows you to add in some of the abilities and traits of another job into your main one, giving you more options or complementing your main class. If you're all grouping together, you can become more lax on keeping your sub-job up-to-date. Your friends know you're a good player, and will forgive you for not having your sub-job at the perfect max level. Also, because you're all in the same group all the time, you can go out and level your sub-jobs together and still get the main benefit of all having levels close to one another.

You also now get to play like you want to. Together you can determine the make up of your team and finally get to play the job you've always wanted to play. Now you can play that Dark Knight/Thief combo you always wanted to play - as long as your friends don't mind, of course.

Also, most of the main content is geared to the six man party. You'll go on quests to open up classes for your friends, you'll fight the good fight against the Beastmen, and you'll find political intrigue in Jeuno. You'll be doing epic things throughout the entire game, instead of just doing epic things at the ending of the game or stuck doing the quest, quest, quest, quest, raid combination of WoW. Simply put, you'll never experience a game's jaw dropping main content alone again - you'll have your friends along for the ride.

So no more sitting in the Valkurm Dunes and killing crabs forever. Get your friends and explore some of the places of the game people have never touched! You'll get to see cut-scenes, meet new characters, and "experience the fantasy" like you were unable to in previous Final Fantasy games.