Remembering FFXI and: Why I’m not playing FFXIV A Realm Reborn. Yet.

Square-Enix have officially halted digital sales for FFXIV:ARR due to an “overwhelming demand” and unlike for Guild Wars 2 one year ago, nobody can say they’re surprised. The blogosphere is abuzz with FFXIV impressions and even those who wouldn’t touch Final Fantasy with a stick in the past, are willing to have a look at A Realm Reborn which is quite remarkable to say the least. I always hoped that this title would be given a second chance; to see it appeal to the western market way more than its predecessor, which launched in a time pre-WoW, is pretty amazing. The fact that I have to be careful about how I criticize the game in my usual circles these days, is funny.

FFXI was my very serious introduction to the genre back in 2002. My love for this franchise is no secret and is frequently highlighted during Battle Bards podcast episodes. I will defend Chocobos to death if I have to and tell the world why Square deserve all current fandom for being consistent, faithful and shamelessly magical on so many levels. There are not many franchises out there that have not only seen as many years, but bested cross-platform and cross-genre hurdles the way the Final Fantasy series have. FFXI is one of the most successful subscription MMOs to date.

So really, nobody wanted ARR to be awesome and great more than me. I signed up for the beta the moment I was able to. I spent time on the character customization, questing and exploring the starting areas, playing different classes. Yet all things considered, I’m sad to say that FFXIV isn’t on my list of current MMOs. I was even tempted to write that final “why I’m not playing…”-post the way I usually do, but then decided against it. Despite the fact that I was majorly disappointed by the beta and that ARR has had a rather horrendous launch, I’m willing to give it another go in a couple of weeks or months, when SE have had time to address the biggest issues. Why is that? Because of FFXI memories and my hopes to see some of that return one day.

My very personal ARR (beta) impressions

Before jumping into retrospective, let me explain briefly why my ARR beta impressions can only be summarized as “an exercise in datedness”. Maybe I’m applying higher standards to this relaunch – in any case I have zero tolerance for its particular shortcomings. From the very beginning, SE’s communication in terms of beta dates, feedbacking / NDA and actual DOWNLOAD LINK were beyond abysmal. Polish in this regard, be it customer info or smooth account and payment management, were never this company’s forte. FFXI veterans shiver in fear thinking back on Play Online account management. Still….because it is 11 years later and because this is a relaunch, I expected better. This is poor guys. Poor!

After discovering the download link for ARR in some forum thread (…), successfully installing and finishing a somewhat strangely organized character customization where all the female voices sounded like pornstars before climax, my Lalafell Conjurer was thrown into Gridania. Instantly I was critted for 500k of wearisome tiny speech-bubble exposition. I get it…this is the uhhh “tutorial phase” for all the complete MMO newcomers out there (so many of them!). So, after clicking away what seemed like an eternity in Lalafell years, I did my best to navigate the horribly designed starting area with help of the equally horrible town map. Oh and teleport thingies….which didn’t seem to have names on the map – yet the beautifully long dropdown menu for picking destinations required me to know. Trial & error, said I!

What’s with all the double confirmations, by the way? Do I really want to – really really? Is this game developed by Microsoft Windows? …

All of this wouldn’t have been so horrible if ARR didn’t send you all around town for the most lazily designed and unimaginative fetch&delivery quests since kill ten rats. First I wasn’t sure if they were kidding when asking me to pick up 6 sparkling vegetables lying around right before my nose. Then it turned out this quest wasn’t the exception. That’s when cold desperation took hold of me.

There was also a “do this emote”-quest for variety. It was my absolute highlight.

eorz2

Outside town the world was a beautiful as ever. Yeah, they know how to do that stuff. Pulling mobs was weird in a group, what really irritated me however was how combat was still slow and formulaic. Also, SE have apparently not caught up with the whole shared tapping and nodes concept that makes newer MMOs so enjoyable. Sigh.

…There’s more and Jewel did a good job rounding things up elsewhere, so I’ll stop here. I know some of these issues were fixed since beta, the biggest offenders however remain and have me worried for the game’s future. To clarify, it’s great so many players are enjoying the current state of ARR, and if you happen to enjoy the more traditional or oldschool approach to all things MMO mechanics, more power to you! Still, I feel let down by the lack of polish and creativity in many areas, considering how a re-launch of an already once-failed title will have much to prove in the long run.

Remembering FFXI

This is where the ranting ends because there is much to love about the FF Online franchise. When I think back on my days in FFXI, many things stand out in my memory – things that made it worth my time and that may similarly change my opinion of ARR. To list just a few highlights:

  • FFXI was one of the first MMOs to introduce multi-guilding via linkshells. I loved the idea, I still think it’s a good one.
  • There was the insanely well-designed and flexible class system, with added hero classes. I was a Red Mage / Bard and up to date no cooler implementation for an MMO bard class exists to my knowledge.
  • As bad as auction houses were, as great was the simplicity of individual player shops via public inventory bag.
  • SE have always understood the importance of player housing.
  • Beautiful character, animations, spell effects and gear design. A beautiful world to play in, full of nostalgia and the most wonderful music.
  • Party combos actually mattered

My main reason for stopping FFXI was mostly twofold: the money and exp grind was insane for the average player – and FFXI was a game of merciless forced grouping after lvl 16ish with no soloability and setup flexibility whatsoever. I could’ve lived with much of its other imperfections and overall punishment but these main factors proved too detrimental to my longterm enjoyment and acceptance.

Needless to say, much got fixed and balanced as the game progressed. However, by that time there was another MMO called World of Warcraft demanding all of my attention. Which is where my worries for FFXIV come in: what’s gonna happen to subscriber numbers early 2014, when all novelty has worn off and the game will have to put up with some serious competition? It’s easy to love things when they are new. Which is why I do have my hopes up that ARR will see some much required fixing and polishing during the coming months, as more players engage with it and leave vital feedback. One can only hope for Eorzea because right now, things just aren’t “good enough” – yet.

23 comments

  1. I love the quests. They are beautifully written, they tell you an enormous amount about the culture and history of the place you are in and especially about the ordinary lives of the ordinary people who live there. I’ve read every word of every one and the huge majority are right at the top end of MMO quest writing (yes, faint praise, I accept that).

    Moreover, after a whole year in GW2 of not doing any quests qua quests at all I’m finding the very process fresh and compelling. I *want* to do quests, which was something I would never have imagined saying two years ago.

    I was going to write a piece on FFXIV Quests, how good they are and how inaccurate much of the criticism of them is, but I’ve spent the entire day questing and I don’t have time, nor will I until next weekend, most likely. I will get to it eventually.

    As for the combat, it’s relaxing and fun, I find. I did the first three dungeons today and it got moderately intense at times. Being able to heal out-of-group again is WONDERFUL. Indeed, being able to heal again is wonderful.

    I’m not raving about FFXIV though. I’m by no means sure I’ll even go on playing it after the free month. I think it’s a really strong MMO but it would require a degree of commitment I’m no sure I want to give, not with GW2 still going strong and unfinished business in half a dozen other MMOs. If I don’t subscribe, though, it definitely won’t be because of either the questing or the combat.

    It might be because of the voice-acting, which is awful!

    1. I also like quests. In the end, you’re still killing things to get stuff no matter what spin or fluff a MMORPG puts on it. At 20+ the small party dungeons start getting more fun, and I just have to admit I guess I have old-school tastes because FFXIV is just doing it for me atm. The perpetual decades-long yearning for ‘revolutionary change’ and ‘innovation’ in RPGs hasn’t panned out yet, and I’d rather enjoy what we have rather than say it’s not good enough or different enough compared to games that have yet to be made. FFXIV is a game that knows exactly what it is and isn’t ashamed of that, and is attempting to be really good at the niche it’s chosen. I wish SE the best in their endeavor.

      1. Bhag, you can switch voices to a different language under the options if you like. I’m playing mine in Japanese with subtitles and no complaints so far. ๐Ÿ™‚

      2. It’s more than just ‘fluff’ to me. whether I get to choose my steps and destinations freely and whether I have up to 3 ways of solving a task = big difference. already in terms of playstyle variety. I feel completely chained by traditional quests.

    2. @both
      I think there’s much to be said for how often we currently hear the words “refreshing” (refreshingly oldschool…lol!) and “is just doing it for me atm” in this context. the way MMOs are perceived has so much to do with what the current trend is and when we approach a stage of saturation. FFXIV benefits from this situation right now but unfortunately this kind of hype doesn’t last. in the long run, a game needs to have the full package and polish, especially if it’s supposed to pull off the sub. and that worries me in FFXIV’s case. A lot.

      1. Well, there are quest hubs with sidequests (which you can ignore), the main story quest chain, class quests leves, guildhests, FATEs, and dungeons. All are ways to level up your battle classes, the only ‘required’ ones are your class and Main Story quests. Seems like a variety to me. =P

  2. Oh that’s a shame. A friend gifted me a copy today so I have a month to play around with and I plan to when they get off their arses and fix the log in issues. But always sad when things don’t meet hopeful expectations. Doubt I’ll stick with it long if it’s all kill ten rats, but the gorgeous environment will be enough to give me a little while of enjoyment. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Traveling some beautiful landscapes is always a good enough reason for me too. ๐Ÿ™‚ it’s just not gonna last very long.

  3. A couple of quick points. First, FFXIV ARR does indeed have open tap mobs; you just need to do 15-20% of the damage on a standard mob to get credit. Furthermore, gathering nodes aren’t even shared; they’re private.

    The early quests are quite rudimentary. Later quests are a bit more interesting and a lot better written. Most importantly though, quests are a tiny part of the game. People are getting the lion’s share of their XP through the events, not quests. Dungeons and hunting logs also take up a significant share of game time; quests can be 15% or less of the overall experience.

    That said, it is true that this game keeps its secrets for a bit; the early game is narrow but also totally unrepresentative.

    1. Thanks, these are good clarifications. I was mostly irritated during the beta how often I was told “this target is part of someone else’s fate” when attacking mobs. this is just a tiresome concept to me.

      And that last line of yours fills me with hope, at least. ๐Ÿ™‚ we have much yet to hear about ‘endgame’, anyway.

  4. I am in a similar boat. In my case it was the first Final Fantasy XIV that made me hopeful for this. Yes, it had a lot of things wrong with it, things that would drive me crazy even. But there was still a lot of neat things on it that made me fall in love with the game and made me wish I played more of it when I could.

    When Yoshida took over as producer it seemed like things would go for the better. He did improve in a lot of the areas that drove me bonkers. He always showed a pragmatic attitude which seemed to be exactly what the game needed. And when the announcement came that the game would be rebooted and relaunched, I was hopeful all the stuff I loved would be kept while the stuff I hated, if it couldn’t be improved it wouldn’t get worse either. I can’t say he didn’t do that but A Realm Reborn is definitely not the type of game I am really interested in any more. So as much as I would hate to I will have to skip on this one.

    Despite that I wish all the best for the game and for Yoshida. The guy did work a lot to make this happen and I always liked his attitude.

    1. Yep. I can see myself pottering around Eorzea at some point but overall the slowish combat and quest grind just aren’t my thing anymore. so unless that changes to some extent, it won’t be a longterm gig for me, either.

      That said, I don’t have to like every MMO out there and I don’t need to be its target audience; it’s just a shame that in FF’s case they didn’t exactly modernize as much as initially claimed. this just isn’t an up-to-date title.

      1. Oh, I agree with you on that. It is just that Final Fantasy XIV: ARR was a game that I actually wanted to like, that I wanted to play. But things didn’t turn out like that so it feels a bit sad. That is all there is to it, in my case. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Yes, by all means leave up to me for the ranting =p it’s kind of funny just how much certain people Looove Final Fantasy.. I constant make fun of it because of that.

    In saying that I think I’m going to be playing it on and off.. After gw it’s a nice change of pace although I have been thinking about heading back into Rift instead.

    Their service is abysmal though. Had to cancel my Amazon order because it just wouldn’t work at all and I am actually concerned about ordering through square Enix.. Enough that I may not buy again

    1. Well…there’s a lot to love about Final Fantasy. if you’re a fan of the franchise, there’s just no way around paying tribute to that. my reviews will always turn out milder for this reason – but plain bad or dated stuff is well, bad. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  6. I did not played FFxi but I love FFxiv. Finally we get a worthy subscription pve MMO. The gave have tons of quality and depth and the fact that they will never go f2p is vital for me to invest time and effort without the doubt that this game will turn into a big shop. It has a very traditional feeling, it reminds me vanilla wow days in every corner (I am not saying the game is the same, I am talking about the traditional MMO rpg feeling). I had years to read quest text..the story is surprisingly good

  7. Also combat is not slow, is strategic…try to play a healer or a tank and you will understand..knowing that you cannot cast a spell for the next 2,5-3 sec make the spell choice vital. Some people prefer the guitar hero style of play, press buttons as fast as possible without Decision/anticipation and this is fine..I also like it from time to time..but to name the rest combat styles as “slow” because you cannot understand them is wrong.

    1. I’ve had my ample share of holy trinity MMOs in the past and the “strategic part” is overhyped, sorry. I’ve played a healer for 6+ years in raidguilds. in the end, people perform role motions without thinking much in trinity games – it doesn’t mean combat is automatically more strategic. maybe it feels that way to you right now, but wait a few months in when people understand their classes fully. then you can start the synchronised swimming we know so well from WoW. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Faster combat can still be strategic, in fact strategy has less to do with combat speed – it has to do with combat and encounter design. and I simply prefer faster, non-CD and more area-based combat. when FFXIV launched the first time, it was pretty much round-based lol….now it’s marginally better.

      1. if something is overhyped is the chicken run – corpse run “action” combat with no trinity and the batman style action for 8 years old super heroes…

        I know my class very well in ffxiv and I never encounter a pull that I use the same spells in the same order..strategic means strategic…yes, some things over time may be no-brain, as it happens in all games..even in civilization some things are “standard moves” but that does not make the game less strategic or “overhyped strategic”.

        If someone want to get rid of trinity, be my guest, but if the alternative is the gw2 corpse run, circle running batman style then I prefer the old traditional way, sorry

      2. Hmm..in combat corpse-running was removed from GW2 shortly after launch? so not sure what you mean, but you definitely can’t res at WPs anymore in dungeons or elsewhere while IC. only battleres exists – which tangentially also existed in FFXI.

        And the point about strategic combat is, that it has nothing to do with being slow or not. strategic combat CAN still be slow or it can be faster. FFXIV’s combat is slow compared to many other MMOs. that doesn’t mean it’s not strategic – just like it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is. for me, I prefer things more action-centric.

  8. I’m glad other people are trying out the game and sharing their impressions!

    I dabbled with FF11 once when it was already long established and a box was going for cheap. PlayOnline account management nearly broke me before entering the game (how many times do I have to sign up? Higher sub fee the more character spaces you own, wut?) and I struggled with controls until I finally threw up my hands and plugged in a gamepad, after which it played like a really slow Japanese RPG with the constant thought in my mind that there was no future besides forced grouping and raids later on.

    Suffice to say, I concluded I’d probably have a better time playing singleplayer jRPGs for the same amount of time and stopped.

    Haven’t been able to bring myself to even consider FF14 yet. Doesn’t look like I will if the consensus seems to be “looks gorgeously pretty, but highly traditional quests and ye olde holy trinity.”

    1. Yeah. that is my bottom line too and it’s not likely going to change much. that said, AthieV further up comments that especially the starting areas and quests are not representative. no way around the trinity and classic MMO combat though. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I am also totally uninterested in dungeons and endgame in this game.

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