Monday, November 1, 2010

My thoughts on Final Fantasy XI

Yes, you read that right I said Final Fantasy XI, not XIV. Why talk about this now? Well with everyone talking about how bad Final Fantasy XIV is and acting like this completely blindsided them, I figure I midaswell take a trip down memory lane and remind you... XI was never good either!

You may be thinking "What on earth are you talking about? I loved Final Fantasy XI!" and if you are it's also a very strong possibility that you never played an MMO prior to Final Fantasy XI or another one since then. Final Fantasy XI did not garner the success that it did by being a good MMO, the MMO playerbase was actually relatively small when XI launched. Back then Everquest was still the big dog and World of Warcraft was just a work in progress. Final Fantasy XI was successful not by bringing in MMO gamers, but by bringing in Final Fantasy fans who had never played an MMO before and who could not see all the things they were doing wrong. To be blunt, if you played Final Fantasy XI after having played another MMO and you still like Final Fantasy XI you were a rarity.

When it really boils down to it Final Fantasy XI basically took Everquest, magnified it's flaws and surgically removed it's strengths. To start off with let's look at character creation and server selection. Who in their right mind thought it was a good idea to not let you choose your server? You're assigned one at random based off of which servers are crowded and if the one your friends were on was too popular, one of your friends had to spend their hard earned gil to get you a password that would let you select their server. On top of that you had to pay an additional $1 for each character you wanted to make after your first, even though pretty much every other game out there allows you to have 5-8 characters per server. Not per account, per server! Sure you can have one character switch to any class you want, so they can technically feel like multiple characters but your race is stuck in place which may limit your effectiveness at certain class choices.

Oh and this game has one of the worst appearance customization selections I've seen. You get a few face options and two hair color choices (hair style is linked directly to the face you choose). Everquest when it launched had pregenerated face/hair combos for you to choose, but since then they had a graphical upgrade that made it have better customization options better then the ones found in Final Fantasy XI years before Final Fantasy XI was made. And to top it off, EQ also had different armor designs for the same type of armor based off of which race was equipping it. (A design choice EQII threw away but that's a story for another day).

But enough about making your character on to how the game actually plays. Well for starters Square decided to make a game for a genre that is largely geared towards PCs and knowing full well one version of it would be on PCs, yet they decided not to make use of the mouse. Yes you can go into the settings to add the ability to use the mouse, but the way it handles it makes you feel the whole time like you're doing something that you're not supposed to. Instead everything you do pretty much needs to be done through the use of hotkeys and macros.

Once you got the hang of how awkward the controls were compared to literally anything else you've ever played on the PC, you'll do what you did in most MMOs that were out at the time this one was. You'll head out into the field and start killing weak critters to gain exp to get a few levels under you belt. This seems find and standard at first, until you start to take a look around at what else there is to do. You'll realize very quickly that the quests in this are horrible. For starters unlike basicly every other MMO I can name, Quests don't give you experience. To make matters worse... the quest rewards almost all suck. In most cases what you get from the quest will be obsolete by the time you get it or it will be soon after. And since npc vendors don't pay squat for items you sell them, you can't really even make money off the stuff cause no one is going to pay a good amount for it on the auction house. At least in Everquest you could vendor the items from the quests to make money and in that the quests were even usually repeatable. But guess what? You still need to do these quests even though they aren't worth your time because it's the only way to raise your fame level which is needed for things later.

So what else can they screw up? How about grouping with other players? To do basically anything past level 10 you are required to have a party and while it's true that you usually needed to have a party to do things when you started getting to the higher levels in Everquest. At least in Everquest you didn't always need to have a very specific party set up. Granted I'm not talking about end game raid content, there were plenty of times that I was in a group that didn't even have an actual healer and we could still kill things at reasonable enough rate to still keep getting experience. In Final Fantasy XI you have to have not only a full party at all times, but you needed to have both a white mage and a warrior (or a tanking class with warrior as their subjob). If you didn't have both of those you were screwed.

To make the grouping situation even worse, the class balance was all out of whack. There were so many classes that were often deemed not worth having in your party or not worth having more then one of. So unless you were a white mage or a tank, you also never knew if you'd even be able to find a group to be in.

Then there was the fact that the community decided what each class was supposed to do rather then what the classes descriptions said. I know I should really blame the community for this and not the devs. But let's face it, the devs programmed the game this way and if you hate a MMO's community you're gonna hate the MMO. Just a few examples include the fact that Red Mages while dubbed Melee Casters, if you did melee attacks on an enemy your party would boot you. Also Summoners inspite of being one of the hardest classes to unlock and get the summons for aren't allowed to actually operate as a pet class. Keeping your pet out to attack is considered a waste of mp and you would be booted from the party if you did it. How do you make a pet class that isn't allowed to function as a pet class?

The last thing I'm gonna touch on before I wrap this up is the death penalty. Now yes in Everquest you also lost experience when you died, but the big problem in Final Fantasy XI is that every last piece of equipment in the game had level requirements on it. So it was very possible that you could hit level 11, get a bunch of new equipment and since you had very limited storage space sell the old stuff. Go back out and start adventuring, die a couple times and then you delevel. Then all your equipment falls off cause you're not high enough level to equip it and you're screwed. Sure you didn't have to do corpse runs like in Everquest but considering everything else that's wrong with Final Fantasy XI, I'd rather take corpse runs anyday!

Now I didn't even touch upon the horrible crafting system and a few other things, but honestly how horrible everything else is should keep you from even getting far enough to care about those things. To this day, in just about any MMO I play, when I talk to my fellow players they will say FFXI was the worst they've played if they've played it. The only thing this game really had going for it was the Final Fantasy name, the decent auction house set up, and shiny graphics. But as any gamer from any genre will tell you, graphics do not make the game!

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