The Mog Log: A tourist in Final Fantasy XI

The column you never expected to see!

I don't write much about Final Fantasy XI in this column, but those with some knowledge of its history know that wasn't always the case. There are long stretches of the column that have focused on Final Fantasy XI's trials and tribulations. It's just that as I've said many times over, there's not a whole lot of point to talking about FFXI on a regular basis now. While Final Fantasy XIV keeps getting bigger and better, FFXI is slowly and quietly declining.

But that doesn't mean you can't take a trip back.

A few weeks back, my wife and a dear friend floated the idea that the three of us could try heading back to Final Fantasy XI, exploring the game from the start, completely fresh all over again. It would be very different from how it had been before. And true to form, it certainly has been. The game is very different now from the one I remember, and it's interesting to look at why, even from the perspective of someone just about to hit 20 for the first time on a single class.

Still got it.  Some of it, anyway.

The leveling gap is gone...

When I was playing FFXI as my main game, getting two levels in a single night was pretty great once you'd gotten outside of the starting gate. More than that and you were almost superhuman. It was just the way of things. Leveling parties could be a pain to get at all, and even without that irritation, there was simply a lot of experience to be earned and not many ways to earn it. Leveling was slow.

By contrast, leveling now is a chain of "oh, wow, I guess we're level 19 now." It's not just fast by FFXI standards; it's fast by any standards. Between Fields of Valor, Records of Eminence, Rings of Experience Boost (that's not their actual name, no, but I had a theme going), and Increase of Gains (not a thing either), my levels were flying up faster than I could count. It slows down slightly as you get a bit higher, but still.

Even when you are leveling, your life is made significantly easier by virtue of the fact that you have access to Trusts, which let you just bypass the entire procedure of finding a party and just make one to support you. Granted, you can make only a four-person party by your lonesome and can't tackle everything that way, but in a game where parties have traditionally reigned supreme the change is a massive one. Leveling is just... easy.

Not to mention that the addition of things like Records of Eminence make it that much easier to just get gear and keep rolling, in stark contrast to the usual slow crawl of earning gil in the game. The lower levels of the game have always been the most tedious part; having access to higher levels faster makes things much more engaging.

As resistant to change as your average San d'Orian.

...but the roadblocks are still there

For all these positive changes, we still had to go through the same stupid subjob quest that I had to go through back when I first played the game, complete with a grand total of nothing pointing out to you what you need to be doing in order to unlock a basic feature of gameplay.

I'm not going to go quite so far as to say this is irreparably broken, but it sort of highlights the idea that the improvements are meant for existing players, not new players. Sure, a new player can get further faster, but there are still no guideposts pointing him in the right direction. Nothing points you toward Fields of Valor or Records of Eminence, much lest the Trust quest. The game has adapted to the lack of leveling parties but not the lack of community guidance or availability.

Players who are already familiar with the game, of course, need neither. If you know how to get your subjob, you need someone telling you about it like you need a third arm, and if you know that Trusts exist, you're going to seek them out on your own without needing to be told. But it's easy to miss elements of the game (I had no idea Records of Eminence existed, for example), and the fact that the little tutorial quest for the game does nothing to even hint at what's out there is kind of a major hole in the game's attitude toward new players.

Then again, I can sort of understand that for the next reason.

The game is so old now

Age has always been an element of FFXI; even when it was new, something about the game carried the weight of calcifying years. But for a long time between the game's sheer visual style and sheer, dogged persistence, it managed to avoid feeling too old. A relic, sure, but still very much a living one. Some strange high-powered mutant, if you will.

Now, however, the cracks are finally showing. Part of that impression is a result of my having gone over to FFXI after Final Fantasy XIV, of course, but you can still feel the bones of the game's antecedent creak and strain. Those archaic design elements finally have come to the forefront, and you can feel the full weight of history bearing down on the antiquated game.

It's a shame because removing the big leveling barrier is a major change. I can't speak for the endgame yet, obviously, but the world is still broad, well-realized, and engrossing. It's the sort of stuff that might make it well worth the effort to fire an old account back up, pick up the expansions you've missed, and catch up a little.

The game isn't perfect, and it's too old to really mainline any longer. But it's pretty fun to run through as a tourist.

I hope you all enjoyed this little peak back at Vana'diel; feedback can be left down below or sent along to Next time around, hopefully we'll have that wedding discussion.

From Eorzea to Vana'diel, there is a constant: the moogles. And for analysis and opinions about the online portions of the Final Fantasy series, there is also a constant: The Mog Log. Longtime series fan Eliot Lefebvre serves up a new installment of the log every other Monday, covering almost anything related to Square-Enix's vibrant online worlds.