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In my previous article, Final Fantasy XI: Easy Mode Overview, How FFXI Changed, the rough elements of FFXI's new frontiers were touched upon lightly to give reader's an idea of what's happening within the long-time subscription-based MMO. This gained the curiosity of many readers, so now I'm expanding that conversation to the next level. In this article, I'll break down the elements of Final Fantasy XI's Abyssea and the journey to acquire the widely desired Empyrean gear and what you'd expect along the way.
Empyrean gear is a non-tradable set of equipment at the core of it. There are quite a few reasons why this equipment is so special and highly desired, and often times anything worth having in Final Fantasy XI requires you practically sell your soul to gain it. Some people called it Empy, others call it AF3; Artifact Gear Level Three, but no matter what it is called exactly it's the mechanic attached to the gear that matters. Unlike older equipment which has largely become obsolete since the level cap beyond 75, Empyrean gear grows and becomes more powerful with each level cap increase.
Originally introduced with the second Abyssea Expansion, Empyrean Equipment is level 80 and up and the base materials to obtain the gear itself isn't that difficult actually. Mainly because the base gear itself is next to worthless, but simply 'looks' good. Every class has their own unique look for each Empyrean set, so no – everyone is not running around in the exact same set of armor. As Artifact gear, it retains the classic look of what people expect a Final Fantasy class to look like.
This armor can only be acquired within Abyssea, and there are no alternatives to this. By spending time within Abyssea, you gain a currency called Curor that can be spent within Abyssea zones. This currently can be exchanged for Gil; the game's normal currency at a rate of 1 Curor = 2.17 Gil. In the second Tier of Abyssea Zones; the second expansion, players can purchase pieces of Empyrean, find them in chests, or do Bastion; a Campaign-like defend-the-fortress mini-game to acquire yet another type of Abyssea currency called Resistance Points, to buy Empyrean as well.
But that's not even half of it, the meat and potatoes comes from upgrading Empyrean. The feature seems like it's in the spirit of games like Monster Hunter, but it's much more watered down and not at all as enjoyable. While in Monster Hunter you hunt down bigger beasts and enjoy the greater challenge of fighting a difficult creature to then get better armor to fight even more difficult creatures --- Final Fantasy is more like, fight difficult creatures so you can no longer fight those difficult creatures ever again. The reward isn't exactly as fulfilling, and the sense of accomplishment feels a bit diluted.
Often times a feeling of frustration seems like the real reward for hunting Empyrean, and that is where the game manages to sink its rusty hooks deep into its own player base in order to entrap them in one of the most sadistic processes of end game armor grind I've yet to witness. For starters, Abyssea is not a fantastic place, nor is it the best addition that Final Fantasy XI has ever seen. Each Abyssea zone is just a recycled Wings of the Goddess zone with remarkably different rules that flip the game on its head. Abyssea is cruel place, and not because it's restricted by time limits and full of powerful bosses – it's cruel because it's full of other players who want exactly what you want too!
Perhaps it would have been better if Abyssea was instanced, but it's not – so one cannot reside in the what-ifs of the hypothetical. We must deal with the facts, and the fact is Abyssea is a kill-or-be-killed cut-throat collection of zones. The limited time duration of each entry to Abyssea can guarantee two things: One, everyone who enters Abyssea has a max of 120 minutes they can freely burn, and two, people will want to work fast get everything done in two hours. So check your patience at the door, Abyssea is for the I-Want-It-Now ADD crowd, and if you're not willing to run with the herd you're going to have issues.
Since a lot of people want to avoid this fast-paced crowd, smaller isolated pockets of more experienced Abyssea goers have formed Linkshells (Guilds) and static groups with the soul purpose of farming Empyrean. Mostly though, they just farm time. That's right, Time. These groups will spend probably at the very least three to four hours slaughtering a large collection of creatures for the express purpose of earning treasure chests that yield Stone Fragments, better known as Time-Extensions or TE. Each fragment will net your team/alliance an additional 10 minutes when the chest is opened.
But to make matters even more delightful, chests are not completely random. While in Abyssea you gain Lights, and each action you perform upon a monster can yield different lights up to a certain maximum depending on the light itself. So let's say your team wants Time-Extensions, they'll have to spend roughly thirty minutes last-hitting monsters with magic which will give them Azure light. Azure light influence the chest's color, so if a chest is to drop it will have a large chance to be an Azure chest. Then your party would have to kill monsters by last hitting them with normal melee attacks, this will gain you Pearl light that will increase the rate in which chests drop.
At this point, your party would then find a location to Fell Cleave or FC. This is the cooperative efforts of a level 90 Red Mage and a 90 Warrior performing the repetitive and mind-numbing task of collecting a large horde of weak, easy to kill monsters in Abyssea and gathering them into a crowd. The Warrior then spams Fell Cleave; an area of effect weapon skill, to kill the large batch of twenty to thirty little critters at once. Now keep in mind there are only a handful of really good locations to this depending on the zone.
Many Fell Cleave spots are determined by the kind of lights the monsters can or cannot yield. People will often focus on FCing creatures that do not yield Ruby Light; light gained upon killing a creature via a non-elemental based weapon skill like Fell Cleave. Ruby light yields Ruby chests, and well a group building up Time doesn't want Ruby chests because Ruby chests only have light inside of them. So because of this fact, popular Fell Cleave locations become a center of competition. One party will likely try to steal another parties pull, kills, and perhaps do something even more serious; PK.
Wait, what? Final Fantasy XI has Player Killing? In short, yes. The game had largely done away with general PKing for several years because it was not an intended element of the game's design. But Abyssea has never exactly been an example of the games 'intended' design. The official term for Final Fantasy's form of PK is called MPK, which stands for Monster Player Killing. Death is meaningless in Abyssea, mainly because of Auto-Reraise III latent buffs that never die off like Atma of the Apocalypse. This problem become a normal occurrence in Abyssea because there are many powerful bosses who just roam around do not despawn if they've killed their original target.
So players will run out and locate one or many of these bosses, pull it to the opposing camp during one of their Fell Cleave pulls – allowing the boss the kill them. Then once the boss becomes aggressive to the opposing team, they just Reraise and proceed to laugh and then make an attempt to steal the pack of monsters with their own Fell Cleaver since the boss likely killed the other team's Fell Cleaver. This problem persists with not just Fell Cleaving either. Once a party has time, they will then begin seeking upgrades for their Empyrean gear.
Upgrades come in the form of Seals, Stones, Jewels, Gems, Cards, and a plethora of things that certain bosses will rarely drop. The bosses that drop these rare items used for Empyrean upgrades spawn every ten minutes, are force spawned by trading items to a location, or spawned by looking at a location with a Key Item in your log book. The most brutal of these three is perhaps the force spawned type of monsters which require trading. The reason why this is because there is always only one location to trade identified by a '???' marker.
Only one of these '???' markers exist at a time, and if the monster is spawned the marker vanishes and will not reappear until two minutes after the monster has perished. Many of these markers are over camped by many groups who all want to fight the same boss for their Empyrean upgrades. So people will often battle to claim the spawn first, which results in more player bloodshed and aggressive competition. There is no kindness or courtesy here, no desire to be patient and wait-in-line – no. In Abyssea you're on a time limit, so fighting for something can often get extremely ridiculous.
For starters, players who are seasoned to the fight will bring auto-scripts, macros, and 3rd party programs to automatically alarm them of a marker, find it, trade to it, and claim the monsters in a fraction of the time it would normally take. Also, items which force spawn monster are tradable and available in the game's Auction House for outrageous prices. The more highly sought after the boss, the more expensive the pop item. So it is not uncommon for a team to come into Abyssea with each person packing a spawn item.
So for instance, it is perfectly acceptable to want to hunt a specific monster for its rare drops for about two or three hours. Almost always there are other people farming it as well, so you then must assign someone with a 3rd party program and macros to pop the monster. Once killed, team mates trade to the popper, and repeat. By out-claiming the other team, you force them to eventually leave because they are wasting their time watching your party kill what they came to kill! To really rub in the salt, you send a person back to town continuously to buy pop item for your team. Or if they are just as good at popping bosses, bring in a boss to kill off the opposing group to steal their claim.
What makes matters worse, is that just out-right killing the monster is not recommended. Why? Because you want it to actually drop stuff, and these Abyssea bosses are very stubborn creatures. The party is required to land Treasure Hunter via a Thief and activate special Staggers which force the boss to yield something upon its defeat. For instance, a Red Stagger is inflicted by elemental weapon skills and will freeze the boss – allowing you to gain a Key Item and/or Atma upon its defeat. Blue Staggers increase odds of equipment drops, and yellow increases the odds of it dropping items related to Empyrean progression such as Seals. Treasure Hunter will increase the odds of more loot dropping in the first place, and requires a Thief to be in the party.
Because of these stagger effects, many advanced jobs are not desired in Abyssea. Basic classes like Warrior, White Mage, Black Mage, and Thief are in high demand. Second to them are Blue Mage and Ninjas which serve more as fillers rather than requirements. In short, if you're not one of these classes you're going to have a lot of trouble finding an Empyrean party within Abyssea, period. What's really problematic though is that not only does it take time to gather items and Key Items to pop monsters: it's also the sheer number of them you have to repetitively kill to get what you want.
The armor is nothing compared to the Empyrean weapons. The weapons are perhaps the most brutal of them all, as they not only require you to hunt repeated Notorious Monsters at different levels throughout the game but force you to kill dozens of the same boss within Abyssea. Often times people will just focus on the upgrading Empyrean weapons because of this fact, as many targets will drop items for armor as well. For instance, one of these Empyrean weapon trials is to collect 50 shells from a zone boss called Glavoid. He has a chance to yield one or two shells upon his defeat.
Glavoid requires you collect three Key Items, which come from three previous bosses, that each require two to three pop items to force spawn. And those pop items, are collected from bosses before those bosses. A party can spend well over six hours collecting enough Key Items for each and every person in their team, these collections are often called 'Pop Sets' or 'KIs'. Even after gaining these items, there is no real guarantee you'll even kill the boss you just claimed. In the case he kills you, he'll roam around until someone else will claim him and you'll gain absolutely nothing but wasted time. So yes, you guessed it – you can MPK a zone boss right out from under someone else and steal it!
In order to prevent people from potentially MPKing powerful bosses, teams will often do what is called Brewing. Brewing utilizes Abyssea's Temp Items, allowing you to purchase an item called Arcane Brew as well a Doom Screen. Brew a very expensive item, costing at first 2,000,000 Curor. After defeating all Zone Bosses, and all secret bosses called the Caturae, players will then have to defeat Shinyru the final boss of Abyssea to get the Arcane Brew reduced to 200,000 Curor. That alone can be gained after roughly four hours of Fell Cleaving.
One person in your team will activate the Brew and gain 9999 HP/MP and 999 to all stats for approximately two minutes. Now if your team knows a few tricks, they can easily Brew down three to four bosses on a single brew making the actual acquisition of the items to spawn the boss the really hard part. Without a Thief in the party, it is rare the boss will drop what you want – so players must plan accordingly. By taking down major raid targets with brew, it reduces the odds of any hiccups or potential foul-play from opposing Abyssea teams.
Inevitably, Final Fantasy XI will have it's level caps increased to 95 and then finally 99, which is another reason why Empyrean gear is so desirable. Currently it can be upgraded into a maximum of a +2 form, which means it has three stages: Basic, +1, and +2. When the addition of 95 and 99, it is highly likely that on top of adding new equipment to the game – they'll also allow players to upgrade Empyrean to +3 and perhaps even +4. The +3 and +4 sets of course may be completely new sets entirely with a new name and a new appearance, but require complete Empyrean pieces to be used as material to upgrade.
All things considered, when the game progressed to 95, many pieces of Empyrean will likely be converted into AF4. Basing my assumption off the current Empyrean AF3 set, all pieces require a different level to wear maxing out at 89. Come the next level increase, AF4 may be available as a head piece, pants, and boots, which leaves the body and hands for the 99 increase.
Players might then upgrade their complete AF3 +2 into AF4, and then AF4 +1 during the 99 increase. Because SquareEnix is currently trying to push a new game type called Voidwatch, they'll either make players obtain the upgrades they need via Voidwatch or introduce a new game play mode entirely. All due respect of course, this author would very much prefer it if the 95 – 99 upgrades to the game did not add content that was like Abyssea. While it is acceptable and passable in its current state, Abyssea isn't an overall delightful gameplay experience.
What it does, it does well. And what it does is frustrate you. This is mainly due to the players who share Abyssea with you as many of them are low down, dirty, selfish, violent jerks who will use anyone and everyone to get a complete set of Empyrean. So I write this article not as praise, but more as an informative warning. If you want to play Final Fantasy XI, know what you're getting into and come prepared. Abyssea is not like the Final Fantasy XI of old, and it feels very World of Warcraft-ish. If SquareEnix wanted to appeal to the World of Warcraft crowd, they've certainly succeeded.
Whether that's a good or bad thing, is purely up to the reader's discretion.