Playing a video game also means giving yourself sometimes crazy goals. Chaining as many MOABs as possible like Gotaga was able to do on Modern Warfare 3, finishing a title as quickly as possible like the speedrunners or with amazing constraints like Miss Mikkaa with Elden Ring… Others set themselves the challenge of finishing all the episodes of a saga, however long it may be, and this is the category I belong to, which brings its share of problems.
- An experience from another time
- “Impossible” you say?
- A desire for accessibility, but…
- One question: why inflict this on yourself?
On December 18, the Final Fantasy saga celebrated its 35th anniversary. To celebrate the event, the year 2023 will be marked by the launch of two very important episodes for the series, namely the new numbered episode, Final Fantasy XVI, a first since Final Fantasy XV released six years ago, but also Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, the highly anticipated sequel to Final Fantasy VII Remake. And as you can see from my profile picture, but also from the articles and tests I write for the site, I’m a huge Final Fantasy fan. Obviously, I’ve played all the games in the saga and my goal is to finish the two or three episodes I’m missing before the FFXVI release.. Unfortunately, by setting myself such a challenge, I realized that I was going to come up against a major obstacle.
An experience from another time
Today more than ever, it’s never been easier to play all numbered Final Fantasy. If the episodes between FFVII and FFXII have been ported to almost all platforms for a few years, it is the turn of the first six games released on NES and SNES to be entitled to an updated version with the Pixel Remaster. After a launch on PC and mobiles in 2021, they land on PS4 and Switch next year. Thus, if you have a PS4 or a Switch, you will be able to play almost all the episodes of the saga until XII in 2023. Better, if you have a PC, you can access absolutely all Final Fantasy games today numbered releases to date, although you’ll need a PS5 to get your hands on the next episodes.
With these releases, all episodes of the saga have received comfort options to adapt to current game modes. In all updated versions, there are improved graphics or the possibility of accelerating the speed of combat, for example. Thanks to this, playing titles like Final Fantasy or Final Fantasy II is much less of a problem than before. Unfortunately, there is a game in the saga that escapes everything I have just told you: Final Fantasy XI Online.
When you look at a Final Fantasy retrospective, you often notice that FFXI is an episode overflown and for good reason, it is the very first multiplayer game of the main saga since it is an MMORPG, a massively multiplayer role-playing game. Released in 2002 on PC and PS2, it is the very first title in the history of video games to offer crossplay, that is to say the possibility for two players to be together even if they play on a different platform. Normally, if we tell you about an MMORPG that has been around for 20 years, you already see all the problems it poses to finish it in 2023, but we will still go into more detail on what makes this task so difficult.
“Impossible” you say?
First of all, it is not impossible to complete Final Fantasy XI today in the sense that the game would no longer be accessible. On the contrary, the title has recently celebrated its twentieth anniversary and still welcomes players, especially on the Asura server where we find most Western players. But you are not at the end of your surprises. In addition to being always online, FFXI continues to receive new content updates regularly and maintains the same business model as at the beginning, namely that of a monthly subscription à la World of Warcraft, which is crazy for a game of such longevity. For all these reasons, the game is not literally impossible to complete today, like certain titles presented by Le Joueur du Grenier, for example, where we realize that the developers had clearly not planned for us to go so far into the game. In reality, it is not impossible for its difficulty, but for its accessibility.
More precisely, Final Fantasy XI is above all a game incompatible with the times, which therefore makes it impossible to finish it “normally”. First of all, it should be noted that we are dealing with an MMORPG, which is not the most accessible kind of game in the world. In addition, it is a type of experience known to be time-consuming and which offers hundreds of hours of play. But where the problem hurts even more is that we are in front of a MMO from 2002, that is to say released before World of Warcraft, and this means that a large number of ideas and game comfort options brought by the Blizzard title are not in FFXI. For you to come to terms with it, we are still talking about an experience that does not offer a mini-map, no shortcuts for spells and skills, without quest indicators with NPCs, or even a real quest log, all with a rigid gameplay that goes entirely through a menu system that is not very ergonomic. Suffice to say a gaming experience that is not at all in the current standards.
At a time when a majority of players do not finish their game even though they are perfectly calibrated, finishing an MMORPG from 20 years ago like Final Fantasy XI seems like an aberration. As proof, in the case of Final Fantasy XIV, the other online game in the saga which is so successful as to be neck and neck with WoW, many are those who complain about the game interface and the duration impressive life while the experience is designed to take the player as much as possible so that he can enjoy the adventure and the story in an ideal way. On that side, I had no complaints, because I was able to “take advantage” of the confinement to catch up on all FFXIV and be able to offer you on the site the test of the latest extension, Endwalker . But Final Fantasy XI is nowhere near as accessible as its successor, despite numerous additions from developers over the years.
A desire for accessibility, but…
Initially, Final Fantasy XI was an experience deeply thought out for multiplayer. For example, to level up, the easiest way was to defeat monsters in the wild. To do so, it was strongly recommended, if not mandatory, to form a group with other players to fight together. The game really pushed in this direction because in case of death, you could lose experience, even lower levels. Well aware that there are fewer players today than in the 2000s, the developers have set up a system of Trusts which makes it possible to summon companions managed by artificial intelligence. In this way, we can build an ideal group with a tank, a DPS or a healer, which offers the possibility to the player to embody the class he wants without asking questions.
As far as content goes, the developers are well aware that 20 years of expansions is overwhelming and daunting for new players. To compensate for this problem, the latest major game update titled Rhapsodies of Vana’diel traces the events of all expansions by proposing an intelligent frame that serves as a common thread to link all these stories together. An excellent idea to bring both a conclusion to the main plot and to allow beginners to get involved in the game by not being less lost.
Despite everything I just told you, Final Fantasy XI remains a game that is not very accessible for a simple reason: it is impossible to play it without a guide.. Since very little is indicated in-game, if only knowing who to talk to at the start of the adventure, it is very difficult to enjoy the experience without having recourse to outside help. By the way, if you’re crazy enough to get into the project like me, here’s the essential guide. It’s obvious in English, but since the whole game is too, you won’t be surprised. To realize this, tell yourself that playing FFXI without it is exactly like playing Minecraft when the title was still in alpha without consulting a tutorial video on YouTube.
One question: why inflict this on yourself?
If you have reached this point of reading, already, congratulations, but then you are probably wondering: why inflict such a gaming experience on yourself? And you ask yourself the question even more firmly when I inform you that there is a channel on YouTube of a player who has recorded all the cutscenes of the game to enjoy the story without having to play it or pay a monthly subscription . The latter even made a Director’s Cut playlist to watch only the most important passages. Well first of all, I can tell you that I was counting a lot on the release of the mobile version of the title which took the form of a reboot to enjoy the experience in better conditions and that I was disappointed to see that the project was canceled in 2021.
Then, despite the fact that he is finally not very highlighted in the series, Final Fantasy XI remains an important title. For a long time it was the most profitable game in the saga, a symbol of his success, until FFXIV overtook him. Besides, the latter wouldn’t exist if FFXI hadn’t initiated the move first. In addition, there are a lot of common elements between the two games, whether enemies or races of playable characters. Nothing very surprising since initially, for version 1.0, it was the FFXI team who was in charge of the project… which didn’t go very well.
And then, as for all the other episodes of the series, Final Fantasy XI offers a unique universe, all the more unique as it is a team that has not worked on many opuses in the saga which is at the origin of it. In the realization, we find Koichi Ishii who was present at Square since the very first Final Fantasy and who then took care of the series of Mana / Seiken Densetsu, Secret of Mana in mind. Same thing for production since it was Hiromichi Tanaka who was in charge of this part, he who was game designer on the first three Final Fantasy and who also participated in the Mana saga, before making cult games for the PS1 like Xenogears and Chrono Cross. Finally, the last argument that pushes me to embark on this project is that the story of the title seems really good, at least, from what I have been able to read so far on the internet.
Despite all the difficulties mentioned above, it is for all these reasons that I set myself the goal of finishing the main story of Final Fantasy XI in 2023. And maybe by writing these lines, it will push me more to invest myself in the game to tell you about my experience at the same time next year.
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