A Final Fantasy XIV fanatic tries Final Fantasy XI

If you’ve paid attention to my work here, you’ll know I love Final Fantasy XIV. Its RPG first and MMO second philosophy got me hooked with the first half, then actually got me to enjoy socializing online with the second. Before when I’d try MMOs it would mostly be for the character creators, but now after hundreds of hours in XIV I’ve formed a very special connection with my Warrior of Light, Selulu Le’lu. She’s as much a part of me as anything else in my life. Recently though, I’ve felt like something has been missing from the game. My Free Company hasn’t been very active during this expansion, sure, but there’s something beyond that. I started to miss the exploration and less guided adventure from the 1.0 days. Unfortunately, 1.0 isn’t around anymore (and Square Enix really should make it available in some form for both story and game preservation, but that’s a topic for another day), so I turned to Final Fantasy’s first MMORPG: Final Fantasy XI.

First, a history lesson! Final Fantasy XI originally released for the PlayStation 2 in 2002, then a few months later for Windows. That’s 2 years before World of Warcraft, but of course far from being the first MMO. The game would make its way to the West only for Windows a year later, then to NA PS2s in 2004, and finally worldwide on the Xbox 360 in 2006. While service on consoles has been discontinued, the game is still going strong on PC to this day. In fact, it received an update literally as I write this. It’s not exactly bursting with players, but it’s somewhere between small yet active and in maintenance mode.

Before you can actually jump into the game, you need to contend with the aging Play Online service that’s essentially the game’s launcher. After downloading the installer in the form of several .zip files, extracting those, then running the installer, you’ll need to enter your Play Online account information generated by the current Square Enix account system. While you’re on the SE account site, don’t forget to create a character slot, that’s crucial for later. Once you’ve entered your Play Online ID, created a local profile, entered your SE login information, you’ll be taken to the login screen where the program will forget most of that and you’ll have to enter it again. With PoL finally updated, you can now download what we’re actually here for: FFXI. Once THAT’s all updated, we can finally start the game.

But wait, there’s more! Remember that character slot we made earlier? I hope you opened that up, because hitting create character on the main menu without a slot open won’t let you create a character. You’ll need to make more slots if you want more characters too. Finally, we get to actually making a character. There are five species to choose from: the human-like Hume; the elven-ish Elvaan; the tiny Tataru; the feline Mithra; and the burly Galka. The Mithra and Galka are sadly gender locked to female and male respectively, though technically the Galka are a mono-gender species.

There aren’t many character creation options no matter what you choose, only a few faces and two hair colors attached to each face. There is also only one skin color and it is orange. I went with a Mithra since they’re cute and not so small that it would turn every cutscene into a comedy like the Tataru – the tail also makes looking at your character’s back for dozens of hours slightly more interesting. Finally, you need to choose your starting class and homeland. Just like 14, you can play every job and there are more to unlock once you hit certain milestones, but I went with Red Mage as it seemed like it would give a taste of just about every side of combat. As for my starting zone, I picked Bastok because it’s always interesting when an RPG starts you in a desert. (Also I’ve been replaying Rogue Galaxy recently, but the point still stands.) With that, I was ready to start my adventures in Vana’diel with Selulu, the Mithra Red Mage.

Or at least I thought I was ready. You see, 11 comes from a time where playing online in a massive world was still a novelty. People didn’t need a story or main quest to guide them from the get go, the most important thing was meeting up with your friends ASAP and killing some mobs while you hang out. Kinda like how kids treat games like Fortnite and Minecraft today. As a more story focused person, however, this is less than ideal. The game does technically have a storyline to follow right off the bat, called Rhapsodies of Vana’diel which was introduced in 2015, but even that doesn’t give you much direction. So the first thing you really want to do is grind a few levels, then begin your city’s series of missions by speaking to a guard.

Alongside that, there is a hidden tutorial that will get you acquainted with many of the game’s systems. These are located in two places. More helpful is another NPC in town who will give you a series of tasks, and the other is actually already in your quest menu. Under Objective List, you’ll find a ton of tutorial missions to accept that will make your journey smoother and faster. They’re not great at teaching you things, but they give a lot of helpful items and experience points. Meanwhile, the tutorial NPC will teach you about things like trusts, summonable NPC allies who are invaluable if you’re playing solo. Anything but the lowest level monsters will kill you easily if you’re not in a party, and with fewer players willing to help newbies you need a full party of trusts to get anywhere.

Since that’s what we’re doing first, let’s talk about the combat. Battles in 11 are menu-based just like the classics and go off of a pseudo-turn-based system. After engaging an enemy, your character will auto-attack in intervals determined by their weapon. Swords hit quicker and more often, while Cesti or other fist weapons have a longer delay but hit twice. Auto-attacks deal a lot of damage, but you’ll still want to be proactive about using magic, items, and abilities. As a Red Mage, I can use both black and white magic for damage and healing respectively. MP regenerates very slowly outside of battle, however, so you don’t want to go overboard with spells. It’s a bit of a balancing act.

Your other resource in combat is TP, which you can spend on Weapon or Job Skills. TP works differently from MP, as you can only use a Skill when your TP is above 1000 and using a skill will reduce it to 0. Going above 1000 to a maximum of 3000 will increase the power of the skill accordingly, but it’s rarely worth it in the early game. If you’ve played Xenoblade Chronicles X of all things you’ll be very familiar with this system.

As you fight, you’ll slowly level up your combat skills like Hand-to-Hand, Marksmanship, Sword, Elemental, Enfeebling, and more. It’s a bit like Final Fantasy II, but actually fun and rewarding. Despite mostly relying on auto-attacks even after 20 hours, varying up my Skill and Spell usage to make sure I was up to snuff for tougher encounters really felt like I was building a unique character, and I got attached to kitty Selulu much quicker as a result. It doesn’t feel like there’s an optimal strategy to learn for each job, and instead I’m forging my own playstyle from the game’s systems. I appreciate this amount of freedom even if combat is much slower as a result.

You can further customize things with the Sub Job system. 14 dabbled with something akin to this in the past but has since been removed. You can choose any job from those you’ve unlocked to be your Sub Job, and you’ll gain just about everything that entails up to half of the level of your current job. So, even if I swap to Thief and set Red Mage as my sub job, I would only gain the abilities of a level 5 Red Mage if Thief was at level 10. Once I get far enough, I plan on dual wielding swords as a Red Mage, so that means I need to unlock and level the Dancer job to at least level 20 and be at least level 40 as a Red Mage. It’s an incredibly cool system, and I think 14 should consider adding something like this back into the game. It would make leveling every job more worthwhile outside of having different playstyles to use at max. The playerbase for 14 does have a habit of optimizing the living daylights out of everything, so I would hope that any like system would be minor enough to allow for player choice, while still offering enough benefits to make it worthwhile.

After leveling up and completing the series of Bastok missions, it’s time to head off into the wider world and reach the other cities. This involves a lot of walking. I imagine this is the second drop off point for a lot of players (the first being Play Online), as your movement speed is incredibly slow and every area is absolutely massive. It can take hours to walk somewhere, but I actually find that to be part of the game’s charm. With just about every game being open world these days, it’s shocking how few of them actually make you feel like you’re traveling a vast world. It’s part of why I fell off of Horizon Forbidden West, the game feels more like a theme park made for you than a hostile world to be explored and discovered. Death Stranding and Breath of the Wild managed to capture this feeling, but it was somewhat diminished in Tears of the Kingdom, with only glimpses found in the depths and the sky islands. Final Fantasy XI may be very slow and it can be incredibly frustrating even in this aspect, but I never lost that feeling of adventure, of blazing my own trail even in this well traveled world.

Despite the many, many frustrations and inconveniences like playing for three days waiting for a single quest item to drop or getting killed right in front of my destination, losing a level, and having to make the trek all the way back, there’s a magic to Final Fantasy XI that gaming has lost in the 20 years since its release. I don’t think I’ll play it religiously like I do with XIV, but I may come back to Vana’diel occasionally. It has friction in its play that creates an experience certainly not for everyone in this modern day, but well worth taking notes from if you want to deliver on that feeling of adventure. Its freedom can be daunting, but surmounting it makes all the effort worth the journey.

David is the kind of person to wear his heart on his sleeve. He can find positives in anything, like this is a person who loved Star Fox Zero to death. You’ll see him playing all kinds of games: AAAs, Indies, game jam games, games of all genres, and writing about them! Here. On this website. When not writing or playing games, you can find David making music, games, or enjoying a good book.
David’s favorite games include NieR: Automata, Mother 3, and Gravity Rush.

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