Final Fantasy XIV continues to be a major contender in the MMORPG genre even after its unfathomably rocky start, which was so catastrophic that the developers decided to annihilate much of the game’s world through a literal in-game catastrophe that cleared the way for them to construct something grand atop the original’s scorched remains. This destruction occurred seven years ago, three years after the game’s original release in 2013. That is a very long time. The incredibly dissimilar MMORPG, Final Fantasy XI, launched in 2002 before Blizzard’s World of Warcraft came about to reconfigure player expectations of the genre at large. That was nineteen years ago and, unlike its younger sibling, Final Fantasy XI was never annihilated. It didn’t need to be, even with Blizzard’s new, imposing standard in place. Even today, the game boasts a passionate base of loyal subscribers large enough for Square Enix to justify keeping the game around. In fact, the company still develops new content for it on a fairly regular basis. But how is it that these two games can coexist? Why haven’t the Final Fantasy XI players moved on? Why do some people, like me, play both?
It would make a degree of sense to switch over completely to Final Fantasy XIV. It’s an extremely polished game with a design that fits well into virtually any adult schedule. It has a healthy community, an amazing story, an eclectic selection of content, and the momentum to continue to grow. Hell, it even pays homage to Final Fantasy XI, through references, crossover events, and entire areas meant to emulate the older MMO’s gameplay. It comes very close to being true that you can find anything you could ever think to want from an MMO offered somewhere within Final Fantasy XIV’s theme park of activities. It’s super thoughtful in its design and around every bend is something demonstrative of the time and consideration the developers invested in entertaining and accommodating the full spectrum of potential players.
Ironically, this isn’t necessarily what every player craves. On some level, it’s a matter of mood and atmosphere. Final Fantasy XI can be unforgiving and that fact on its own can convey the game’s appeal to anybody who already understands how Dark Souls and its ilk appeals to a certain type of player. But Final Fantasy XI being difficult isn’t a direct parallel with the rewarding challenges of a Soulsborne type game.
Friendships Forged in Fire
Final Fantasy XI’s magic isn’t conjured by a manufactured “git gud” sort of mindset, which is a mindset that can often manifest in toxic ways. The magic comes from the interesting effect difficulty casts over the game’s community. Namely, it brings people together in a very organic way. Commonly, the game itself is at the heart of first interactions between players, as it tends to forge friendships through shared, sometimes perilous, experiences. A memorable moment seems to be a good foundation to build a friendship.
Meanwhile, Final Fantasy XIV more or less brings people together through private messaging and players shouting invites in crowded zones like carnival barkers without a circus. This isn’t a bad thing by any means, and players wandering about on their own will find plenty of opportunities to make friends if they want to. There are various channels for chatting and plenty of mediums for finding groups in Final Fantasy XIV, which means you never have to spend a day alone if you don’t want to. I’ve seen genuine love among some of these groups, too. That sense of camaraderie can be powerful, regardless of which game provided the soil in which it grew.
Final Fantasy XI was just made differently, and I think a lot of players have a nostalgia for the days they spent grinding away in the game. Sunk cost fallacy? Maybe in some cases, but I think it’s more about the game’s overall structure. For starters, an overwhelming majority of the game’s encounters occur out in the wild, rather than within the unobservable confines of an instanced event. This means a few things. First, players compete over the same resources, of which there is only a limited amount at any given time. Back in the day, this was most apparent in the case of notorious monsters. These rare creatures were tougher than your average mob and often dropped something of value. Also, a substantial portion of them would only appear within certain windows of time, which would open a certain amount of hours after the creature’s previous death. Sometimes these windows would take a day or three to appear. Other times the window could open in as few as two hours. Whatever the case, people would stand around as friends or foes and wait, which is a lot of time to get to know one another. In the case of some of the game’s strongest monsters, other players would gather about to simply watch a fight play out. Every so often, there was the very real sense that you were watching something legendary play out and the fact that it all happened out in the shared world created this sense of community. It all felt so alive. It also meant that you’d see players over and over. Consequently, people could and often would build a reputation for themselves. If it was a bad reputation they built, they’d feel the effects of it from other players.
Leveling up also meant gathering in groups and sitting around at a “camp” killing monster after monster. You’d recruit a group of six, ideally party for a couple of hours, and switch people in when someone had to leave. “Level 60 experience party. Do you need it?” was something a party leader would probably tire of typing by the end of a night, but the fact that they needed someone and hoped someone would need them too is sort of magical. Final Fantasy XIV has a matchmaking system where players can see one another as disposable, because reputation doesn’t matter so much when players from different servers are being paired together by a computer just because they happened to need the same thing at the same time. And the fact that players are whisked away after an instance to their respective servers after about 30 minutes of interaction makes it hard to nurture a friendship. They’re single serving acquaintances, and it isn’t uncommon for them to be absolutely silent the entire time you’re playing with them. That said, Final Fantasy XIV has made it possible to befriend people across servers and that has alleviated these concerns a bit.
Different Routes to Feelings of Heroism and Validation
World of Warcraft’s staggering influence is easy to detect in Final Fantasy XIV, and this is mostly a good thing. There is so much accessibility built right in and the “theme park” design means there is always something to do. It doesn’t much matter what you do, either, so long as you are enjoying it. In Final Fantasy XIV, it’s very easy to find a sense of purpose in crafting or gathering materials for your friends, who can then go on to use those items in raids. It’s difficult to find some part of it that isn’t connected to the rest of the game through story or economy, and that interconnected nature is an impressive accomplishment. This is one of the ways Final Fantasy XIV evokes the idea of a living, breathing world. Player-driven economy is at the heart of this game and is one of the chambers giving the game its pulse.
While the ability for players to carve out names for themselves and gain some sort of status on their server does exist in Final Fantasy XIV, it isn’t as common. There is very much a feeling that everybody is a hero in the game’s story but not so much to one another. There are no wandering strangers around to rescue you if you find yourself in the jaws of a random creature somewhere in Eorzea’s gorgeous and sprawling landscape. Besides, trouble doesn’t mean much anyway, because the stakes are so consistently low. Travel is easy and there’s no real penalty for dying, which is not a claim that Final Fantasy XI could have made during its more popular days. But feeling like a hero in the game’s story does have value and the writing is on par with some of the best games and television shows out there. Its narrative and lore is virtually everywhere you look. With rare exception, I can’t say I was ever as attached to the characters in Final Fantasy XI as I was in Final Fantasy XIV. The rare exception, in case you’re wondering, is Shantotto. Obviously.
The differences between the games make sense, of course. It’s hard to imagine a game like Final Fantasy XI releasing to any sort of acclaim today, so it’s probably fair to say that its enduring community and a sense of nostalgia from the players who gave it a chance early on are a contributing factor to its sustained success. It came out in a time where dial-up internet was still common and the battle system reflects that, as it isn’t meant to require rapid input from the players. There is a lot of planning to it, but that was different from any sort of planning that groups might do in Final Fantasy XIV. There’s an element of repetition in the newer game’s toughest encounters, and victory is contingent on memorizing patterns and executing on them with varying degrees of precision.
Final Fantasy XI had chaos built into the fights to offset the redundancy that could arise from its more limited movesets. To avoid redundancy, players were also encouraged to acquire a wide range of gear suited for different abilities and situations which they could swap out in the middle of battle. The unknowns meant players had to react to changing battles, and party composition felt like an extremely important thing to pay attention to. If a big important fight was in a heavily trafficked area, then some of the encounter’s chaos might come from menacing players and their sinister arsenals of underhanded tricks that could help them steal a hard claimed mob. It was frustrating when this happened, but there was an understanding between players that this was all part of the social contract. It certainly heightened the drama, too.
Because so much happened out in the game, players had to trek long distances between locations. This was as perilous as the target monster from time to time, as a long journey could mean sneaking by dangerous monsters, and each monster each person creeps past is an opportunity for swift disaster to strike. The more people you bring into a maze, cave, or temple, the larger the middle finger you hold out to fickle fate. And if you somehow missed the landmarks that mark the way, you might end up in a situation where you’re lost and running for your life which is exciting in its own right.
Final Fantasy XI Exists in Final Fantasy XIV‘s Enormous, High Resolution Shadow
Final Fantasy XIV is gorgeous and its scenery is something spectacular to behold. But outside of some achievements, it doesn’t do much to encourage players to see most of it. Once the story is done, players teleport about, queue up for instanced content, and soar past or far above the terrain with flying mounts. The monsters that roam the landscape are of little consequence. A lot of time in it might be spent in a single town waiting to be matched with people. Each expansion typically has a new town in it where players will congregate. At the very least, this does mean you’ll see familiar faces and those faces often crop up around certain times of day because of the game’s ability to accommodate a busy schedule. Saying hi is a good way to make this time pass in a more meaningful fashion. You can also listen to player-controlled bards play songs, note by note, or just revel in the cacophony of shouted memes and pop culture references.
Largely, Final Fantasy XI has changed, though. It has, by necessity, grown with the times and this takes shape in several different ways. The most palpable way is that most of the community I have been championing is gone, having moved onto other things like raising families or, say, playing Final Fantasy XIV. The players who remain are, largely, at the maximum level. When participating in endgame content, it is tricky to find help in earlier levels. Back in 2007, that wasn’t the case – leveling took ages and ages, for better or worse. The compromise Square Enix had to make in order to keep the game going was to introduce a system of recruitable NPC allies called trusts so players could play old content by themselves. It’s fun to collect them and I appreciate the ability to travel all around with them in tow. They’re also not as likely to cause any trouble as a real player might be due to the fact that enemies take a fairly cavalier attitude to their presence. I still prefer actual human players acting in the role of adventuring fellows, though.
Final Fantasy XIV, on the other hand, was built to accommodate a single player approach, only occasionally forcing players to team up. In the last expansion pack, Square Enix introduced a trust system and, as with Final Fantasy XI, it is nice to fight alongside familiar, lovable NPCs. It also makes a lot of sense for XIV. The game’s producer, Naoki Yoshida, stated that there are players who want to take things at their own pace and immerse themselves in the story without other players. I sympathize with those players, too. I can see how some people might not want a monstrous looking player character dressed in a Halloween costume appearing in the cutscene before a dramatic story encounter. Yoshida has also said that there are players who use the game like a chatroom. The developers have built a brilliant place for all types of people.
I reckon that the announcement of Final Fantasy XIV’s impending release sounded like Final Fantasy XI’s death knell in the ears of its players. That was certainly how I felt. This resulted in my interest in the game diminishing as I wasn’t sure I wanted to invest any further in a game that would be ending soon. Others wanted to see things through and clear the content they’ve been trying to clear for ages. Some just stuck by their friends. I reckon few of us had any idea that the game had more than a decade of life left in it, even as we watched the first version of Final Fantasy XIV explode on the runway.
The New Era of Vana’diel Draws from Past, Present and Future
The game changed almost immediately, though. Before long, it felt like Square Enix had given the players the keys to the kingdom, and all of a sudden everybody was stronger and able to accomplish things that would have been Herculean tasks months prior. Seemingly with the flick of a switch players could ascend to max level in days rather than months. And the end game content got harder and more ridiculous to match. One early example of the shift towards the absurd was a questline that sees players fighting a dragon of the Supreme Beings family of monsters on the moon with nothing but their weapons, wits, and, perhaps, a potion that increases all of their stats by an unfathomable amount. And even with that potion, it was still very possible to lose the fight.
The developers handing over the keys wasn’t enough for a sizable portion of players. So far as I can tell, the use of third party tools is almost expected between players now that the game has outlived every platform its launched on save the PC. These tools make the game friendlier in some ways and in other cases more fun. Square Enix can work around latency issues and allow players to play with higher degrees of precision. Other tools allow them to change the music, improve the graphics, unlock the framerate, alter the overlay, or automate monotonous tasks. Oh, and there are, as you’d expect, mods in use that give players the freedom to walk around naked. This mentality isn’t shared by the greater Final Fantasy XIV userbase, but in XI, the players I speak to are cool with mods in practically all instances, so long as they aren’t being used to cheat other players out of a quality experience. That aspect of community and adherence to a social contract is still there, even with a proclivity amongst the player base to routinely make use of what could technically be considers exploits. It’s not like most of them are using bots to claim NPCs the way in-game currency sellers were doing in the game’s prime, so it’s easy to forgive.
Final Fantasy XIV is, at the moment, moderately competitive in a way that Final Fantasy XI isn’t. Players want to perfect their abilities, raid groups want to have server first and world first clears. Being good can give you and edge up on the market boards. In this sort of climate, cheating is heavily frowned upon and with good reason. You will see some third party tools that parse battle information but, beyond that, they are a rare sight. Final Fantasy XIV doesn’t need to be patched up and polished. Final Fantasy XI benefits from it. Also, it isn’t clear if the developers are really keeping an eye on Final Fantasy XI players in this regard. People are having fun, the game’s alive, might as well let them be, I say.
Their Coexistence Has Been Perfect, but Time Takes Everything, Eventually
The game won’t always be alive, though. One day, the virtual world of Vana’diel will disappear in an official capacity, along with its story, characters, treasures, and notorious monsters. One can hope that Final Fantasy XI will be ported to a single player experience somehow, although news on that front has been lacking since the mobile version was announced in the first place. But I don’t think we have to worry about a world where the stories we tell of Final Fantasy XI in memoriam are the only way we experience it. The game does well enough on the Square Enix servers for the developers to continue to support it with regular content. But that doesn’t account for the entire player base. There are private servers running the game as it was when it had a maximum level of 75 and seem to host a sizable community of passionate fans.
I have no doubt that Final Fantasy XIV will one day be a fond memory for most of its players, and I cannot fully express how heartening it is to see the diverse array of people who play it. Accessibility is important, and it’s arguably one of the more profound and admirable goals that developers strive to achieve. It’s easy to sell someone on the game, and I consciously exercise restraint whenever I suspect I am about to get too carried away talking about the story of the Shadowbringers expansion. It’s a game that I can play with gaming veterans and newcomers alike and somehow enjoy myself alongside either group. Final Fantasy XIV checks so many boxes and the nigh boundless expanse of content offers a selection of flavors that can satiate an assortment of distinct appetites. One of the appetites it can’t abate, however, is an appetite for the inimitable morsel that is Final Fantasy XI, even if it does occasionally try to borrow from the game’s concepts on behalf of players who are fans of both. If such players are anything like me, though, they don’t want Final Fantasy XI in their Final Fantasy XIV. At the risk of sounding hungry with the continuing food metaphor, this isn’t a peanut butter and chocolate type scenario. I am more than happy to consume a full course of Final Fantasy XIV before having a little bit of Final Fantasy XI as a treat. The two can coexist the same way Paper Mario: The Origami King and Super Mario Odyssey can coexist. In short, they can’t really be compared to one another, which is strange because you would expect there to be more overlap between two different Final Fantasy MMORPGs.
Final Fantasy XI is available for PCs. Final Fantasy XIV is available for the PlayStation 4 and PC.