Final Fantasy XI: Diary 1 (3/23/2024)

I have a longtime fascination with fantasy MMORPGs that betrays how little time I've gotten to spend with them. I recently decided to start playing Final Fantasy XI. How on earth did I get here, diving into a 20+ year old MMO that is still online and subscription-based? The short version would be "I used to love World of Warcraft", but allow me to expound.


As a kid and preteen, I was very interested in the world of Final Fantasy. They had mythical reputations of being some of the best games ever made. Frequently, I would see Final Fantasy mentioned in gaming magazines, and especially online parodies and videos. One of the most charming of those was Final Fantasy A+, a Flash cartoon where students are in school to grow into their Jobs. Pensuke the Warrior, Atticus the Black Mage, and the final exam Bahamut. This had a big influence on me, I was probably 9 or 10 when I first saw this. The idea of being adventurers with my friends (not that I had any!!) where we all had unique skills and specialized abilities just tickles me pink. It's kind of ahead of its time when you think about the massive amounts of MMO/isekai/RPG manga & anime out there today. Oh, and I wanted to be a Summoner most of all. This was getting towards the peak of my Godzilla childhood fandom, and honestly, aren't monsters the greatest thing in games?

That animation, trying to play Final Fantasy 4 on emulators, and just the general culture got me absorbed of the idea of Final Fantasy as a world to play in. Around middle school, I had seen videos of XI and probably saw it in magazines, but I knew I could never convince my parents to get me such a game. So, it just quietly stayed in my head, as I grew into more Final Fantasy games like IX, V (my beloved), and the PSP versions of I & II. In high school, age 15, my friend introduced me to World of Warcraft.

I thought it was a riot. This was during the 2nd expansion, Wrath of the Lich King, not that it really mattered because I never made it to the fabled endgame. I settled into being a (female!) Blood Elf Warlock, coming right back to the fantasy I had of summoning monster allies. And being beautiful, probably! My friend swore that the Alliance was cringe and where all the bad players went.

We had a lot of fun. When you get absorbed in these kinds of games, you really feel like your Class/role out there in the world. Mages made food and drink for people, Shadow Priests were the ultimate heroes (to us, the Warlock and my friend the Druid), and dungeoning against bosses and becoming a better player was invigorating. I believe I tagged along for one raid, and so, so much questing and so many dungeons. I only wished I had one or two more friends. My druid friend was and is amazing (we went to school together, obviously), and we still reminisce about this period with both heartache and smiles.

In the end, I would only play WoW for a few months. I was extremely excited about Cataclysm just around the corner, but one day my family and I were simply too broke to afford another few months of subscription time. It's insane to think about now, but having no money that one renewal day was probably one of those butterfly-effect moments. What would have happened to me if I kept playing WoW? When would I have quit? Would I have quit?

I've had flirtations with other games since then. Final Fantasy XIV was one of them. I got to the end of Heavensward and just couldn't take the MSQ slog anymore. XIV is a great game, but the way it is designed simply does not gel with my expectations and desires. I do not come to MMOs for the story. MMOs are about me, my friends, the freaks standing around the auction house, and all the memories we make as a party of heroes. It's about being ourselves through classes and party roles. In this way, XIV simply can't interest me. It does indeed feel like you are playing a single player game with other people around, and it's not that fun for me. It also bugged the shit out of me that you would 'de-level' in dungeons to maintain design balance. I can appreciate that XIV is designed so tightly, but come on, how am I supposed to have fun growing stronger and more skilled if I get downgraded to a previous version? I did overall enjoy my time with the game, and wouldn't dare say it's trash or anything crazy like that, but I didn't love it so much as to keep going.

World of Warcraft, meanwhile, changed a shitload since 2010. Every so often, I do sincerely miss the game. To me, gameplay wise, it's still king, something I confirmed when I played Shadowlands during pandemic times. To be honest though, Blizzard sucks and I was still kind of broke back then. I've gotten over the latter (hopefully), but Blizzard-Activision's numerous evil antics make me feel guilty about even the idea of coming back and handing over sub money. Someday, I may concede, but not today.

That brings us back to Final Fantasy XI. Infrequently, I would look at videos, modern and vintage, and sigh wistfully. XI looks so much like my little platonic ideal of an MMORPG that it almost hurts. It was originally a PlayStation 2 game, and the graphics and environment design are gorgeous for it. You had to party up for everything, even safely killing mobs and leveling. There are plenty of Jobs and things to experiment with. Years of expansions, updates, and people still playing. It's a beautiful thing that the game is still online after all this time. The fact it's running with its successor, XIV, is insane. I had played a free trial at some earlier point and had no idea what was going on. I think I made it maybe 30 minutes.

This time, though, I was determined. The wistful sighing blossomed into full desire. This little miracle of a game, a relic and legend, was still there. It will be gone someday. I would surely be kicking myself in the pants later, whenever that sunset comes. "Agh, I would have hopped on if I knew...!", or something like that. I started a new free trial, and 4 days later decided I was having enough fun to just fucking do it already!

I've been hyperfixating on the game since then. How long that fixation will last, we'll see, but I imagine this as a series of sorts. More of a diary or journal than articles about the game design and history, or any particular subject matter. Instead, my authentic experiences, reactions, and thoughts as a brand-new player to Final Fantasy XI in 2024. Will my final fantasy be fulfilled?

Installing The Damn Thing & Then Some

Often lauded as one of the biggest hurdles to starting XI is actually installing it. Square Enix does have a "modern installer" where you must manually download 5 .rar files (seems old school to me!) and extract them to get the setup program. That's fine, but it doesn't change the fact that the game's launcher, PlayOnline, still has to update a bunch of shit and can only download one file at a time. It could take around 2 hours regardless of your internet setup. On the bright side though, PlayOnline is absolute gold in terms of aesthetics and vibes. We just don't have this Web 1.5 (I don't know what to call it, truthfully) type of stuff in modern games that aren't an intentional throwback. The idea of updating this on 00's internet, or on my PlayStation 2 makes me sick, but also giddy. Grab your favorite beverage and anime, be patient. Don't you miss the kind of breaks you got from updating computers when the process wasn't so fast?

You're not totally done though. Square Enix's account management site is shockingly unintuitive. I don't quite recall, but I have a feeling XIV players aren't terribly fond of it either. If you buy the game, you'll receive a code via email and some instructions that don't quite match up with the site demands. I had to search engine "Upgrading FFXI free trial to full" just to make sure I was inputting everything in the right place, right accounts, and right character. You'll feel like a hacker by the time you get everything settled. But settled you shall be, eventually.

Entering Vana'diel

After creating a character, whom I named Croconaw, I dropped myself in the city of Bastok, from a selection of three starting cities. I chose to start with the Warrior job, I've become very fond of this archetype in games. They're always very good and fun to play, the Warrior is my favorite WoW class now, by far. I should note that character customization is pretty darned limited here compared to more modern ones. You have a very small combination of faces and hairstyles to go along with your choice of race. This doesn't particularly bother me, I like to cover up with armor and robes if I can. It's all about what you wear and how you wear it! ✨

There are two fan-maintained guides and wikis out there for new adventurers. BG-wiki's Quickstart 1-110 has a weirdly snarky and defensive tone for no reason, but it works. FFXIcyclopedia also has some great beginner information. I also liked this video and ESPECIALLY this video, which rather accurately reflects what I ended up doing. I pulled from these and various other sources for every random question and confusion I had.

Getting my bearings on the interface took time. It's mostly menu-based, you have to remember this game was originally designed around controller play first. If you struggle with this, and the UI in general, I would say be patient. You'll get a grip on it before too long. Also, you type /map in the log window to bring up the map. Please learn this faster than I did. After touching crystals and talking to some NPCs, I went outside to South Gustaberg. This is the most pleasing thing about the game to me thus far, the main way to gather EXP is to go outside and fight monsters. Yes!!! It feels so good to run around and smack Hornets and Worms. There are also multiple methods of accepting objectives so that you are rewarded for doing this many times over. Leveling is quite fast if you stick to doing this.

Story quests tend to reward other kinds of important perks and sometimes gil, which you will of course need plenty of. One of the NPCs outside of your first monster-zone will help teach you about things like Weapon Skill, Job Abilities, and generally help push you along for the first ten levels or so. I was pleasantly surprised by how helpful they were in-game at explaining the current state of the game and how to get you going. I think you'd have a hard time getting started if you didn't have any external guide, but once you get your foot in the ground, it feels great and simple!

I did get a bit lost navigating to the Kondstat Highlands. It seems like the only way to get there from Gustaberg is to go southwest, then North through North Gustaberg. If you try to get there from the main entry points to the North, it seemed like you can't climb down the mountain to get to the Highlands. I wasted probably an hour screwing around with this navigation, as walking is fairly slow.

Get The Warp Ring

After I found myself exhausted by the prospect of going back to the Highlands repeatedly on foot, I learned that there are a few ways of teleporting around. The floating books called Survival Guides can teleport you between places. And of course, there are major cities that have Home Points (they look like save crystals from FFXII) that let you teleport to every one of them. Between those things, you should hopefully have to walk to most major areas once, maybe twice accounting for clumsiness like me.

After you save up enough Conquest Points (one of a few currencies you will build by doing what you already want to do), you can get a Hearthstone like item called a Warp Ring. Get this thing asap! It may take a little while depending on your exact activities, but please be aware this item exists! It's a life-saver! Be also aware that to Use an item like the Warp Ring, you have to have it equipped on your character. A little inconvenient, but worth a quick opening of the inventory.

Another fun thing to be aware of is the Style Lock feature! This is the best thing ever if you're a fashionista like me. By typing "/lockstyle on" in the chat, your character will maintain the appearance of whatever you're currently wearing. Yep, this feature isn't gated behind any weird progression. Get out of those starter clothes and into something that suits your job!

Last quick tip, use /check on enemies that look dangerous or otherwise suggested by any questing guides. As parodied in "Decline of Video Gaming 2", sometimes there are high level enemies in otherwise low level places. Twice have I been killed by this, once by a Level 75 crab in Zeruhn Mines, and again by some rabbit in the Highlands. I find this hilarious enough to keep it a fond memory, but don't let it happen to you too often.

Level 20

Once I got the hang of running around, fighting monsters, and using Trusts to simulate a party, I end this diary in the town of Selbina. If you make it here and complete a fairly simple quest, you will unlock the ability to use a Support Job (commonly called a Subjob). This is a milestone feature of FF11, it's kind of like multiclassing in D&D, where some combinations are amazing and most don't mesh super well together. Still, it's up to you to play around. I ended up leveling Thief to 10, so that my level 20 Warrior can use the Steal command. Another fun button for me to push! Thief was fun though, so maybe I'll switch it around? I have no idea what I'll do for endgame yet.

Landing in Selbina will conclude the first diary entry. I apologize for all the set-up and glancing over certain elements! Originally, I was going to do this diary by level, but because leveling can be so fast if you want it to, we'll drop that angle for now. If you have FFXI and somehow want to play with me, I am on the Bahamut server! As I grow into the game and learn more about it, I will happily report it to you here. I have a feeling things will not be so simple down the line...!

Current Play Time: 11 hours, 9 minutes, 55 seconds.

See you next time! Logging out...

- James