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A Fond Farewell to Final Fantasy XI

With the console servers shutting down, Julian says goodbye to his first MMORPG.

Now that we are firmly entrenched in the 8th console generation and PC gaming is back on the rise, you would be forgiven for not hearing about the server shut down of the final game from the 6th generation: Final Fantasy XI. Even though the PC version released first and remains active to this day, the game began as an ambitious project for the PlayStation 2, and finally closed its PS2 and Xbox 360 doors on March 31, 2016. While it wasn’t the first massively multiplayer online role playing game to make its way to consoles (Everquest Adventures on the PS2 has that distinction), it was the entry point for many gamers into the world of the MMORPG. I was there for the final days of Final Fantasy XI on the console (I had been playing it on the Xbox 360 in recent years), and it was a bittersweet farewell, indeed.

UPDATE: Listen to Julian and his best friend in and out of game on a special Nerds Without Pants!

                                               Random and Yamika, circa 2006.

I have been playing Final Fantasy XI on and off (okay, mostly off) since the PS2 launch way back in 2004. It captured me in a way that few games ever have. I was instantly taken with the vastness of Vana’diel, as well as the now legendary learning curve that the game had back then. Early FF XI knew nothing of hand holding, and although it came with a massive tome of an instruction manual there was little in the way of assistance once you had created a character and set foot in your starting kingdom for the first time.

In recent years, Square Enix has made great strides to make the early parts of the game friendlier, to new and old players alike. Many additions have been made to the core gameplay, including a very handy set of in-game achievements (quite separate from the infamously difficult to obtain Xbox achievements) that reward players with experience points upon completion. Some of these tasks are quite simple and help new players learn the ropes by talking to certain NPCs, fighting for the first time, obtaining certain common loot items, etc. Others are repeatable quests that can be activated when leveling in specific areas, granting huge XP bonuses for normal level grinding.

                                                  Final Fantasy high fashion.

Getting around the world, something which used to routinely eat up large chunks of time, is also much easier. It is now possible to teleport between any home point (places you respawn when you die) in the world for a nominal fee. The number of home points has been dramatically increased, and getting from point A to point B is no longer the multiple hour affair that it once was. While an argument can be made that Square Enix may have gone a bit too far in making Final Fantasy XI more accessible, few would make a case for wanting to take longer traversing well-worn areas simply because there aren’t any other options.

With these and other improvements to the hour by hour gameplay, it is frustrating that, not only did Square Enix choose to shut down all console servers, but did little to advertise these many enhancements. That may be in large part to the company wanting to put a lot of muscle behind the embattled Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, but it is a poor sendoff for what the company has reported as being the most successful game in the franchise’s storied history. With a little bit of marketing it’s entirely possible that Final Fantasy XI could have had a resurgence on the home console.

Dark Knight and Paladin. Ebony and ivory.

Knowing that the sun was setting on my Xbox 360 version a year ago I had planned to make a dedicated push to try and wrap up a lot of stuff that I had always wanted to do. For the nearly two thousand hours that I have played this game over the past twelve years I am sadly lacking in completion of much of the content. Unfortunately, multiple personal issues kept me away, and I was only able to return for the last week of the console servers.

Those were long nights, playing until the wee hours with my best friend Shanna, who I had brought into the game ten years ago. We set out on getting my Dark Knight to level 99, and finally finishing the kingdom missions, which is the closest thing to a main storyline the game has. It was a fun time, tinged with that melancholy feeling in the back of the mind that we were traversing through these locales together for the last time.

Going through older content at this late stage in FF XI’s life was sobering and sad. Long-running MMOs have to keep the aging player base happy by giving them new places to explore, and this will cause beginning areas to thin out as the number of players shrinks. Indeed, as we trekked around the Federation of Windurst and the outlying areas of Sarutabaruta and the Horutoto Ruins we didn’t see a soul that wasn’t a non-player character. It was eerie and haunting, like walking through an abandoned theme park that had once been the source of so many fond memories and fun hijinks with our online friends.

                                              Saying goodbye for the last time.

The other side of that coin was a look into the MMO game design of fifteen years ago. Final Fantasy XI is not “respectful of your time”, which is a phrase I have only recently heard used for the hobby of video games. Even with the faster travel options we still spent multiple hours completing the final seven or eight missions for Windurst. I was reminded of the obtuse information given to players by NPCs. In one instance, had we not had a guide open on our laptops we would have missed talking to one character that would have prevented us from completing the mission. Keep in mind that, had I not talked to this character (that was not mentioned in any of the story conversation), we would have had to basically do an entire leg of the journey over. Such was the early design of FF XI.

                                                You always remember the great parties.

Still, I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic for everything that Final Fantasy XI is, and was as we came to the end of our time together. This is no longer the game that fostered a tight knit community due to the absolute need to team up after hitting level ten. Most of the game can be played solo these days, thanks to powerful NPCs that can be summoned to fill empty party roles, and other buffs and tweaks made to the battle system. Oh, there is still a community here, but it doesn’t have that feel of being us against the world that made Final Fantasy XI so thrilling in its heyday.

On the final night it seemed like there wasn't much that we could really do, so I proposed a mini tour of the parts of Vana'diel that I knew the best. We went to Jeuno and took an airship to my home kingdom of San d'Oria. The airship used to be the pinnacle of travel in Final Fantasy XI, and now it was an unused relic. We hopped on a chocobo and rode through the forest of Ronfaure. I realized too late that, because we were listening to the chocobo theme, I missed out on hearing my favorite zone music for the last time. We sat on a beach in the Valkurm Dunes and watched the sun rise over the sands that had been home to so many important parties. Then we took the ferry from Selbina to Mhaura. Not wanting to end on a whimper, Shanna and I trekked far and wide to defeat the dread dragon Fafnir.

And that was the end.

                       A memorial of a friend that passed away who touched us all.

As I said goodbye to my friend Shanna and logged out for the last time, a strong sense of loss and emptiness overtook me. Sure, I own the game on PC and can still hop onto my character there, but she doesn’t have that option, and so many of the friends I made on that game have either moved on to Final Fantasy XIV or other games. It just wouldn’t be the same, and it is with a heavy heart that I say goodbye to my characters, Rikitaru and Random. So much of my life has changed since I logged on to Seraph server on March 23, 2004. So many special people, people that I met in an online world, have come and gone from my life. The memories I have of Final Fantasy XI are sacred, and there will likely never be another game that comes along and grabs hold of me the way that it did.

If you were ever a part of the game on PlayStation 2 or Xbox 360 you were a part of something great. Farewell, Vana’diel. You were my virtual home, even when I wasn’t a regular resident. Somehow, I always thought that you’d be there, waiting for me to return, my faithful moogle tending to my weapons and armor. But all good things come to an end, don’t they?

                                 I will never forget the friends I made and the adventures I had.


 

Comments

KnightDriver

04/18/2016 at 01:46 AM

Wow. I never got into this. For a while I had forgotten it was on Xbox 360 too. I used to think PS2 had the only MMO and that Xbox 360 didn't have one for some reason. I guess that's how far away I steer from MMOs. I don't even want to believe they are on my system of choice. Well, only now am I slowly getting used to real people in my games like Destiny. I still can't bring myself to even have a headset. 

Julian Titus Senior Editor

04/18/2016 at 10:48 PM

It is well documented that I am not a social person, and that goes double in video games. But there was something about the community of Final Fantasy XI that drew me in. I shared so much with the people I became friends with in that game, and I learned so much about them in return. Maybe part of the appeal was the need to use a keyboard to communicate. I am more inclined to interact when I have time to think about what I want to say before I say it.

KnightDriver

04/19/2016 at 12:39 AM

I'm not good at spontaneuous conversation myself except with friends I've known for a long time. Even then. . .

Daniel Iverson Staff Alumnus

04/19/2016 at 03:00 PM

This is a nice tribute, Julian. I've tried to write about my time with the game too, but I always find myself at a loss for words. It's really interesting how everyone played the same game, but their memories are different because of their unique combination of experiences, friends, and even the time period in which they played, given how much the game has changed over time. Unlike any other beloved game you can pick up off the shelf to relive years later, this is one you only get to experience once - not just because of the servers, but because of the inability to fully recreate what made it special the first time. That's a sad thing to realize but also elevates the game even higher in my memory. I'm glad you were able to wrap up a few outstanding goals before the end.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

04/19/2016 at 07:52 PM

It's a weird feeling. I'm moving right now, and I grabbed the 360 case to pack and realized that it is now a completely useless disc. I am only keeping it as part of my comprehensive Final Fantasy collection.

GamerFoxem

04/23/2016 at 11:03 PM

I was a PC player on FFXI but I can sympathize with you. Out of all the MMORPGs I've played this is the one where I have made the most online friends. And I suppose one of the linkshells I belonged to was my clan in a way (though I guess that's how it was suppose to work?).

If I were to ever get back into a subscription MMO and the game is still there I would consider going back.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

04/24/2016 at 12:12 AM

I'm sure I will go back from time to time on the PC, but with so many of my friends gone it won't be the same. With that said, there are definitely some things I'd still like to do in FF XI.

GamerFoxem

04/24/2016 at 12:26 AM

I'm not sure if my linkshell friends moved up to the new one. I may need to check if Dad's can even run that game. But I was a Bastok citizen and determined Mithra. I might go back because that has been a fun part of my life as a gamer. So that's up in the air for now.

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