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With a market full of Massively Multiplayer games these days, it can be quite difficult to really sift through the mess to find something interesting - much less shed some light on the stuff that's been around for what feels like ages. Grandfathered into the older market, Final Fantasy XI was one of the earliest MMORPGs to really go all out and develop a functional, breathing world. But over the years that world has underwent so many changes that it's pretty hard to keep track.
From a personal prospective, Final Fantasy XI has been a roller coaster of emotion: sometimes it's fun, sometimes it's not. This and the bad reputation of 'being a Japanese grinder' never quite appealed well to the broader audience. But quietly, Final Fantasy XI has undergone some extremely universally altering changes that has shattered the entire perception of what the game actually is. The Final Fantasy XI that was released and thrived throughout the audies is gone - a memory in the past.
So radical are these changes, Final Fantasy XI is now fundamentally a new MMORPG that was released in May of 2010. The past year has seen the introduction of the new game element known as Abyssea and a vast change in balance through the upping of the level cap to the current 90, and inevitable level 99 that has already been announced. While people will give mixed reviews on whether or not this element made or broke the game, let us break down what exactly has changed within Final Fantasy XI and why even new players should actually consider giving it a reasonable shot.
We'll go over the ups and down, and try to come to a conclusion that will be up front. Final Fantasy XI deserves a second, perhaps third, fourth, fifth, even sixth look again for you folks seeking a new MMO to call home for a while.
Love it or hate it, throughout the years Final Fantasy XI has been known for its appeal to the "hard core" crowd. It was very close to EverQuest in that the death penalty was harsh and the journey to the end game was so time consuming that it might as well have been an excuse to ignore real life altogether. The brutal difficulty levels of many bosses required weeks if not months of planning and training, and the dungeons weren't any easier. The horror stories from this game could publish a second Library of Congress from all the player of testimonies of blood, sweat, tears, and pain it took to developed a character. This was the Final Fantasy XI we knew, and in ways does still remain - but largely doesn't exist anymore.
Is this a good thing? Perhaps, perhaps not. Different players will tell you different things. As a matter of fact , many players who loved the hard core element have stopped playing altogether as they feel their game has betrayed them. But time will truly tell, as Final Fantasy XI is actually still a work in progress. This game is not at all finished, not by any means - despite being perhaps once of the more insanely over-produced MMOs on the market that has literally too much content for any one person to actually do.
Many MMOs don't even make it 9-years, much less still make content. But SquareEnix is still trucking through, building and developing a final resolution to their game that will allow players to be introduced to a level 99 level cap and something that will finally put a cap on Abyssea since that has already reached its conclusion with the celestial Shinyru Wyrm God at level 90. Right now though, it is important that the preconceptions of Final Fantasy XI actually be forgotten entirely. Like many other MMOs these days, Final Fantasy XI deserves a revisiting and a re-review.
One harsh reality about the game as it once was was the leveling. The Japanese seemed to greatly enjoy punishment, as the first journey from level 1 to 75 would take roughly a year to complete. The game forced you to work together a team with other players after level 10, and from then on it was a slow crawl to 75 fighting the same monsters over and over and over again while only taking a pause to unlock access to your next batch of levels.
So Final Fantay XI got a bad reputation from this alone, and it turned off a lot of people from wanting to give it a go. Also, the early levels in the game give you a bad taste in your mouth as they are slow and largely uneventful - perhaps too sharp of contrast to the manic end game. Uninformed players who were giving the game a shot were potentially driven away because they'd be yawning themselves to death while waiting for the cool down timer on their one and only ability. So people thinking ill of the game is really no surprise at all. FFXI was there before the trend of (!) Markers for quests and various other things, not to mention it lacks fundamental User Interface tools that have to come from 3rd party sources while other games provide them as standard issue.
So how is this any different now? Well for starters, levels are utterly and completely meaningless in the new face of Final Fantasy XI. Being Level 1 or being Level 90 really has no difference in the core of it, because a person joining the game can easily attain level 90 within roughly 3 days. Allow me to rephrase that. A new player can start the game and then become the highest level possible within 75 hours of purchasing and installing the game. While you will need some foreknowledge of the where-to-goes and the what-to-needs, it is possible and has been put to the test by this author before the writing of this overview.
So it's easy to say that levels are only a measure of unlocked content, rather than a measure of ones strength in the game. Because people can so quickly attain the level cap now, it's has become brutally clear just how much the game has always been, and still remains predominantly based on a skill system. Also, players who utilize the PC platform have infinitely more capabilities than the XBOX360 and PS2/PS3 users to a degree that's right-out unfair. Like Ultima Online and other games before it, the true measure of your character is not the level; but the amount of time you devote to an action.
The more you swing a Sword, the higher your Sword rating will become.
The more you cast a Black Magic spell, the greater your Elemental Magic will become.
So Final Fantasy XI boils down to, the more time you invest into the game the better you will be at the game. Getting to Level 90 and not have a clue about what to do next is not at all uncommon these days in Final Fantasy XI. But the bonus is that now new players will be given a very decent free set of armor and a very decent free set of weapons upon reaching level 75+. Also, with the inevitable time spent within the new areas called Abyssea, new players will also have a large amount of money to spend and burn on pretty much any kind of provisions they will need to get started in the game. So really, it's never been easier to start your life in Final Fantasy XI. They practically give you armor, weapon, money, and high-level access right out of the box.
At that point, how you approach the game is up to you as the player. You can either choose to invest more time into Abyssea, which is nothing short of the game's new Easy Mode.. or play the game vanilla. The latter is pretty much impossible for a new player to do upon reaching level 90 without some equipment, so they'll likely be stuck doing Abyssea or back tracking through lower level content using Level Sync; a feature which allows players of all level ranges to play together reguardless of equipment post level 10.
So how Easy Mode is this Abyssea anyway? First of all, it goes by the new restrictions of Casual Gaming - apply time restrictions of how often people can utilize the content. Time extensions can be unlocked, earned, and even build up over time - the less you play, the more time you can burn in Abyssea. This is Square Enix's 'rested' feature basically. After signing up for Abyssea in the game's captical city Jueno, you'll begin earning Traverser Stones which grant you 30 minutes of Abyssea time per stone. While within Abyssea, you can turn in stones for a max of 120 stock minutes that can then be increased to no limit while you are in that zone; however, it will reset to a max of 120 when you leave it the zone.
When inside Abyssea, all players have their stats and attributes increased more than double and their job abilities are more potent. Also they can unlocked special abilities called Atmas which offer extremely powerful latent effects while within Abyssea like a 10+/MP tick refresh that never dies off. This allows summoners to keep their extremely mana hungry Avatars out and about at all times, without risk of ever losing MP at all.
Abyssea is a self contained game-within a game. This Easy Mode allows players to get a taste of what the game can offer, instantly putting you up into groups of varied sizes going up against monsters of all shapes and breeds ranging from tiny to super-boss size. While this has caused some issues with long time players, who feel betrayed that many of their hard earned jobs and equipment feels useless in Abyssea and that too many players abuse it - it is clear to this author that Abyssea is a mechanism to get people into the game, rather than change it altogether.
The reasoning is clear too. For if Square Enix wanted the entire game to be Easy Mode like Abyssea, all new content would have been generated much like it. But the newest feature, Voidwatch, is very much in the spirit of the classic game and will be expanded even further in future updates. Players who find their lovely Paladin class useless in Abyssea, will find great joy when the level cap is increase to 95 and more people begin doing Voidwatch since that is the next branch of content following Abyssea in both story and equipment value.
Players who desire Final Fantasy XI to be more casual and time-constrant friendly will find Abyssea very welcoming. There are always large amounts of people doing it, and many of them welcome to new players too. Since you need to work at unlocking the more difficult elements of Abyssea through time and team work, it will give new players a good education on workings of FFXI and that the spirit of the game is still very much intact in even that alternative world.
So people who have missed out on FFXI over the years because it was too challenging, will now have a chance to see what they've been missing. Also, have a chance to put themselves into groups with more experienced players who can help them out. But this is a pretty ideal situation though. Abyssea has largely been used to abuse new players too. Older players exploit new players as a fodder to acquire large amounts of money and precious equipment, mainly because new players just don't know any better.
That alone proves that capitalism is a live and well within FFXI.
The real core of the game shines when you work with familiar people. Final Fantasy XI is not a solo game, never has been. Always it has been designed for group play, despite the fact you can now pretty much solo throughout most of the game if you choose to. When you put together a party of six people, six people you meet up with very often and do things together - then you find out what FFXI is truly about. Helping each other.
PC players out there need to also embrace that Final Fantasy XI is nearly impossible play without Windower and ApRadar - two 3rd party programs which give you all the things the game should have had in the first place. Not to mention the ability to track those god awful annoying monsters who you have to kill to upgrade you weapons. The worst of which are Void Walkers, whom are invisible and can be spawned using special stones you grow and develop with repeated use in combat.
Without the Experience Points barrier holding back players from enjoying the game now, there is little excuse to not play. Of course people will find that signing up to the old fashioned PlayOnline program to be a little bit of a pain at first, but the effort is well worth it. The game does require a lot of time and research to understand and control. Harnessing the true people of your role and class comes with practice, 3rd party tools, and program scripts that you can get from other players. While it seems complicated, there are good people in the game who can and will share and teach you how to play if you really want to take the game seriously.
When you do decide to get serious, you'll find yourself blazing through tough content quickly and rapidly gaining hard to find gear. All it takes is time and effort, as nothing but the basics are easily earned. But the game has come a long way from its harsh start. All you have to do now is join up, find someone who has been playing for a little while to set you up, deck you out, and get you to 90 in a week and you'll be ready enjoy the game.
Nothing about any game is all roads of chocolate and fields of sweet smelling roses. Despite having an Easy Mode, Final Fantasy XI is still a tough game. Abyssea may be the dominant element right now, but it won't be that way forever. The game has come a long way, and right now Square Enix is allowing a lot of players to jump in and catch up to everyone whose been playings for years. The game still looks very solid on the PC, and often times looks better than most games out on the market. In the end it's an MMO, but FFXI has changed so much that it's nothing like it once was difficulty wise.
One must be social though, and quick to learn. Else you may find yourself exploited and pushed around. Jueno is a crowded city, with everyone stuffed into one zone. Often times the game can appear like a ghost town, but all you really have to do is stop and let people load... then you'll see just how little room there is to truly move. So in a fashion, that is how the game is as a whole. You can quickly move through it, but you won't see what's happening until you actually stop to let all the content catch up to you.
This Article is continued in: Final Fantasy XI: Battle for Empyrean; PK in FFXI?