After much deliberation and contemplation, I made the decision to break my streak and quit before finishing a game. With less than ten hours played over the course of 18 days, I gave up on Final Fantasy XI. I am disappointed that it had to come to that, but hopefully my explanation will be worthwhile and fair. In happier news, I also started playing Final Fantasy XII a few days back, and I’m already nearly four hours in. The difference in feel between the two games is truly staggering. Let’s get to it then, shall we?
I stopped playing Final Fantasy XI on Day 283: October 10, 2015.
Last week I said that it wouldn’t be fair of me to give up on Final Fantasy XI after just a few hours, and now I feel like it’s not fair of the game to make me keep playing when it’s so boring and dull. After nearly ten hours of gameplay I never received a more meaningful quest than “go kill X amount of Y creature” or “deliver this to someone across town”. I never even found a boss fight to attempt, for goodness sake. How can you play a Final Fantasy game for almost ten hours and NOT have a boss to fight? I don’t understand at all.
While wandering around I found a cave that I thought may have been my destination for a particular quest, so I searched around a bit, taking out the weakling monsters I bumped into. After finding a cave system behind a hidden door, I immediately had to avoid all enemies I found, as they were capable of – and indeed they did – killing me in a single hit. How is that even remotely fun? On one side of the wall the enemies are pitiful, on the other side they’re unbeatable. They’re in a hidden area, so sure, of course they should be more of a challenge. But they shouldn’t be impossible.
Maybe I could have taken them down with help, but I don’t like playing Final Fantasy with people. To me, that’s not what Final Fantasy is, and I’ve come away from my time with the game wishing Squaresoft hadn’t made it a numbered title. This game could have been called Final Fantasy Online, and it would have been equally as successful, if not more-so.
The Final Fantasy series is well known for trying new things and integrating other genres in spin-off titles, and often Square Enix will learn from those spin-offs and implement certain successful elements into the bigger, better, more polished numbered titles. Even in Final Fantasy XI, elements and ideas from it were pulled and utilized in Final Fantasy XII (more on that later). But had they called it Final Fantasy Online, they would be forgiven for eventually shutting it down as bigger and better things came along, such as Final Fantasy XIV/Final Fantasy Online 2.
One of the best things about the franchise is that anyone can go pick up the old games and have a go at them, much like I’ve been doing this year. They can experience the legacy firsthand, and get a proper feel for each individual title just like millions of players before them. Final Fantasy XI (and eventually Final Fantasy XIV), however, does not hold that lasting effect. I think I have sufficiently proven that through these last two to three weeks.
Part of the sour taste in my mouth comes from my dislike for MMOs, but the bigger problem is most definitely the fact that MMOs are an ever-changing experience. If I had a lackluster time with FFXI now, in 2015, what kind of experience will my kids have when they try to play it in 2030, or my grandkids in 2050? They’ll still be able to play Final Fantasy II on their smart watch or dig up an SNES and play Final Fantasy VI, but they’ll never be able to experience Final Fantasy XI like those who played in 2006, if they can even play it in any form at all. That fact alone – the fact that Final Fantasy XI is not a timeless experience – makes it so much less of a Final Fantasy in my eyes, and that bums me out so hard.
I wanted to enjoy my time with it. I really, truly did. And to everyone who told me how many hundreds of hours they spent with it over the years, I am not downplaying the quality it once held. At the end of the day, however, I did not have any fun when I played Final Fantasy XI. It did not engage me, it did not excite me, and it did not move me. All it did was disappoint me.
Time played: ~8-9 hours total
Notable series firsts: First MMORPG
1) Final Fantasy IX
2) Final Fantasy VII
3) Final Fantasy V
4) Final Fantasy X
5) Final Fantasy VI
6) Final Fantasy IV
7) Final Fantasy VIII
8) Final Fantasy III
9) Final Fantasy
10) Final Fantasy II
11) Final Fantasy XI
Final Fantasy XII
Enough of that doom and gloom – on to the good stuff! I’m a good handful of hours into Final Fantasy XII already, and each time I sit down with it I don’t want to turn it off. I played the game to completion once before, back when it originally released, but haven’t had a good chance to go back through it in its entirety since. Playing it again now makes me kind of regret not making time for a replay sooner, because I’m enjoying it so much.
The gameplay is a real shake-up from traditional Final Fantasy fare, and seems most inspired by – and this is pretty rich – Final Fantasy XI. Instead of your standard turn-based random battles a là Final Fantasy through Final Fantasy X, you control just one character primarily, and set up your allies to fend for themselves with the Gambit system. In addition, the creatures and enemies are all visible as you wander, so if you’d rather not fight anything just now, you can steer clear of danger. Super helpful when you’re just feeling fatigued by all the fighting.
If you’re really well versed and comfortable with the Gambit system you can actually set all three members of your party to attack automatically when you encounter enemies, which has been a pretty major point of contention with fans in the past. Lots of people don’t like a game that you can legitimately set up to play by itself.
It’s a fair argument, but the way I see it, if you don’t want the game to play itself then don’t set it up to. You can keep control of your party leader the entire game, and if you don’t like the Gambits you can always ignore them entirely and control your teammates individually. There’s a lot of versatility in the battle system to suit several different play styles, which I think is just great.
I’ve often heard that Final Fantasy XII plays like an MMO but “without all the fun elements of an MMO”. As it came directly after the first Final Fantasy MMO, it makes sense that some bits and pieces came over to it (as I mentioned before), but in my eyes this is a game that plays like an MMO “without all the crappy elements of an MMO”. The story moves along as a decent pace, and if you want to take a break to grind, that option is there from the beginning. At the same time, you’re not required to grind to a certain level in order to meet new people or carry on with the game.
After FFXI, this game is most definitely a step – rather, a gigantic leap – back in the right direction. Sure, Vaan is a whiny little brat, but for all the good Final Fantasy XII does I’m more than happy to forgive that. I mean, I just got Fran and Balthier in my party yesterday, and they’re as cool as they come.
So far I’ve got just one complaint about FFXII, and it’s something I recall not being fond of ten years ago either. My issue is that the entire game looks like it was filmed through an Instagram filter. It’s not the fact that I’m playing it on PS2 (because that’s the only platform the game is available on… where are you, HD Remaster?) and it’s a bit grainy. It’s more the fact that everything seems to be brown or tan or beige or some blend of the three. It certainly isn’t a colorful game, at least not yet. It’s not a huge complaint, but good aesthetics can really make a game pop, whereas Final Fantasy XII looks decidedly drab.
So with that I’ll call this week’s write-up complete. I’m sorry once again to anyone disappointed that I didn’t have a good time with Final Fantasy XI, but it is what it is. I’m still looking forward to having another go at an MMO when I reach Final Fantasy XIV, what with its much more active audience. For now I’ll just enjoy my time in Ivalice. Maybe once this year and marathon are wrapped up I’ll delve into the world a bit more with some Final Fantasy Tactics or Vagrant Story.