I’ve already written quite a bit about Final Fantasy XI, but I still just had to include it on my list because of just how influential it was to my gaming life. This was my first massively multiplayer game and the sense of community was exhilarating. I actually did not start playing the game until the middle of 2006, when one issue of the Official Xbox Magazine included a demo disc for the game. It was basically a long stress test for the game’s servers. But to me it was an invitation to a whole new world.
You have all heard the stories of my main character Bebond, but these are some of my favorite memories so I will tell them again! Bebond was a Red Mage that almost never left the starting area. Final Fantasy XI was special to me because it lacked many of the modern conventions that dominate the MMO landscape today. I’ve tried and tried again to play Final Fantasy XIV but the reason that I don’t enjoy the newer version are the same reasons that I loved the original 2002 classic.
Modern MMO’s are dominated by a mostly single player leveling experience and then a robust end game raiding scene. Destiny is the perfect example of this. You barely feel the need to play with other people until the end of the game when you are forced to group up in order to accomplish high level raids and dungeons. The same is true of World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV. To create some double jeopardy for the games, the single player leveling system is not very enjoyable. You are forced to complete fetch quest after fetch quest until you reach maximum level. The only selling point that these games have is that you are completing these fetch and kill quests at the same time as other players in a persistent online world. But their presence does not enhance your experience, it usually detracts from the experience because you are all competing for the same resources.
Final Fantasy XI had some of these same problems as one of the first modern day MMO’s, but I played the game differently. To me the game was just a giant chat room with an avatar that I could control and battle with, if I felt so inclined. I used the game as a giant sandbox. For me this game epitomized the freedom that video games could offer someone. I was free to explore the world, talk with other players, and outfit my character as I saw fit. This was a time before large exclamation points filled the screen. In order to go on a quest you actually had to talk to the non-player characters and read their dialogue options. There wasn’t a robust quest tracker and there certainly weren’t any arrows pointing you in a specific direction. I loved the freedom in the game. Nothing told me where to go or what to do.
I felt lost every time I started playing the game. But every time I played I found some new corner of the world that could be mine. Other players felt the same sense of wonder and exploration while playing in the game world. This created such a strong community around the game. People needed to talk to other players in order to figure out what they were supposed to do. We helped each other and traveled together and made plans to play together the next night. Sure I tricked some players out of their hard earned money, but that was part of the fun. I was an outlaw and I used the game’s tools to chart my own path towards a self defined future. Then I traveled to a new town where nobody knew me and did it all again.
I put countless hours into this game. I bought a USB keyboard that I could use with my Xbox 360 just for this game. In the end I never made it past level 15 or 16, but I wasn’t playing it to gain levels. I was playing because it was fun, something that many gamers forget when they boot up a game. Too often my friends talk about only playing a game because they want to beat it, or needed to play tonight in order to get another piece or gear. My question is always the same… are you having fun? Video games are supposed to be fun. And most often the other players in your party or the people that you are playing with create the enjoyment. The game itself is just a tool to be used to create opportunities for you to have fun with friends. Final Fantasy XI was exactly that for me, and I have been chasing that sandbox style freedom ever since.
Tomorrow we will look at a drastically different game: WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgame$! for the Game Boy Advance.
Jake “prettyboyplaid” Fredericks