Why Play Final Fantasy XI

Throughout all the history of the Final Fantasy series, none have been so controversial as Final Fantasy XI. You can hear it anywhere you look among the fandom - 11 is not a real entry in the series. Skip it. It has nothing to do with Final Fantasy, it's just an online game with the Final Fantasy tag slapped on it. And most of all - it costs money to play it, you have to keep paying through the nose.
Well, the last part might be true, if exaggerated. But this is one person's attempt to convince you that the other points are wrong, and that Final Fantasy XI is just as much - if not more - a traditional Final Fantasy as other parts in the series.

On Final Fantasies

To get through this matter, don't we first have to define what makes a Final Fantasy a Final Fantasy? Is it just moogles and chocobos? Throughout Chrysalis, there are attempts to answer this question. There are similarities everywhere in the games, from plot to characters to jobs and battle system. My personal conclusion is that a Final Fantasy is a Final Fantasy because it includes enough of the common points, and that there is no rigid rule as to which of them it must contain to be a Final Fantasy. Sure, some points are more commonly used, but none of them are in every title except perhaps the Final Fantasy label itself, and even that can be contested with the recent release of Crystal Defenders.

Battles

We will start, then, from the most often heard complaint of the battle system. This complaint FF11 shares with the next title in the main series, Final Fantasy XII. People used to having a battle screen with enemies on one side and heroes on the other are confounded by this system where you can - horror of horrors - walk around during the battle, and even physically run away from the monsters. This attitude has one serious problem with it. It is an attitude that refuses to see that the underlying system is still the same…the battles are still turn-based, although now many characters can act at once, providing their 'ATB' has filled up.

In Final Fantasy XI, the 'ATB' is the delay inherent in weapons and spells. You cannot execute them instantly, it always takes a certain amount of time to make these actions. Different spells will require different amounts of time to cast, and that feature has been present in the series since the advent of the ATB system. Different weapons will have different delays when used to attack, and although this hasn't been present in the series before FF11, it is a logical continuation of the spellcasting time. You can even increase or decrease the times required to take action with Haste and Slow!

So why is this system said to be entirely different from the previous games? Because it doesn't display the ATB gauge? Is that really enough to call it a different system? If this bothers you, I have good news. While no kind of gauge is shown for normal attacks, you still have your 'ATB' gauge for spells and items.

Story

Maybe your complaint is the story then. After all, MMORPGs cannot have stories, that's a widely known fact. The response that immediately rises to mind is..'are you sure about that?' An MMORPG of the Final Fantasy kind can have just as good a story as the single-player kind, after all, story is what the series is known for. Play FF11, and you will have your share of long conversations with NPCs and epic cutscenes and fights. Among MMORPGs, Final Fantasy XI is known as the one with the stories, and many players rate the Chains of Promathia story especially as surpassing those of most other main-series stories.

Naturally, not all the players you encounter will be at the same point in the stories as you are. Your progression on a story will have no impact on the stories of others - although the downside of this is, it will not have any particularly lasting impact on the world either. The same NPCs will still be standing around at the same places, and although they might tell you different things at different parts of the story, they will after their point in the story revert back to their default lines. This naturally places restrictions on how much the stories can affect the world, but seeing as most your epic adventures will take place somewhere the common citizens might not even be aware of, this doesn't often present a big problem.

The evolving nature of an MMORPG does give an advantage, too. while single-player games have traditionally required a sequel to expand on the world or tell a new story in it, an MMORPG will have an expansion that serves the same thing. Thus, the world will grow to have many different stories in it, and you will have the option to go through them or not.

The conclusion on the story front is somewhat mixed. While NPCs won't change around the town in FF11, do they really do that much in other games either? You can still have your events about town and fields and dungeons, just like any other game in the series. You can still have your cutscenes, just like any other game in the series. You can still be the protagonist of your own story, just like any other series. Is sharing the world really that bad a thing?

Other Players

My third point then would be the other players in the world. It cannot be gotten around, Final Fantasy XI is a multi-player story. Just like any other game in the series, you must have a party to defeat those final bosses. The difference is that you do not control all the characters in your party, but each will have a real person behind them. Of course, should you desire extreme challenge, you can solo your way through at least a good portion of the stories, but this will require dedication to the game unlike any previous solo challenge you might have attempted in the Final Fantasy series.

Naturally, each player will have their own style of playing, their own time restrictions on playing the game and their own goals. To gather a group of friends (or strangers) to complete the stories requires communication with others and occasionally some compromises. Approaching a fight with the intention to get killed will quite quickly get you a bad reputation if the other players in your party are intending to win. This is a complication that doesn't exist in single-player games, in those you can always do what you wish when you wish, within the limits of the game mechanics and the story.

But does this really change the game that much? Naturally there might be some aversion to playing with others, but is this really a reason for decrying the game, going so far as to say it isn't a Final Fantasy? Hasn't Final Fantasy at its roots always been about a group of heroes taking down the bad guy?

In the End

What remains at this point are the more superficial markers of a Final Fantasy - the moogles and chocobos, so to say. Some feel that these have been slapped on to FF11 to justify using the Final Fantasy label on it. But is this really so? Let us consider the other games in the series. If you take away these superficial markers, what would remain? The battle system, the basis of the stories, the group of heroes taking down the bad guys. And these are exactly what we've gone through in this essay, and connected them firmly with the other games of the series. Is it not so that the moogles and chocobos are simply add-ons in any Final Fantasy game if you think about it long enough?

Should you play FF11, you would surely discover that these elements are just as firmly rooted in the game as they are in the other Final Fantasies. You travel by foot, chocobo, airship and other assorted vehicles. You change your job between the traditional ones found in the series. You're aided by the ever-present friendly moogles, and you fight the malboros, cactuars, coeurls and ochus. You talk to the airship-connected Cid, play around with Caith Sith, defeat the corrupted godly beings, you discover the truths behind the recent wars. What is so different with this in Final Fantasy XI compared to the others in the series?

The final conclusion will of course be yours. But as with so many other things in life, it isn't good to dismiss something without ever even trying. You might never know what you miss.

JGwinters


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