By audioBusting 17 Comments
It's been almost two months since I complained a bunch about trying to get Final Fantasy XI to start on my blog, and believe it or not, I did finally play the game. My free 30-day subscription ran out a month ago, and I've been meaning to follow that blog post up with my first impressions. It sounded like some people were interested in what I'd think of it. I even prepared screenshots and stuff. Obviously, I ended up never actually finishing that follow-up. Sorry for jumping straight to the end of the story here, but it might partly because I just could not care any less about the game afterwards. One, two weeks later, I felt like it was too late to post this anyway. Who cares anymore? (Also, I'm a lazy garbage, but that's a whole other story.)
Right now, I'm just sitting here with not much to do, having played too much Rocket League for the day. I thought, forget it, I might as well just get it all out there while I still could. Killer Cuts just came on shuffle, so I'm super feeling it. Without further ado, here is the rest of my Final Fantasy XI experience, told in three parts because that's how many times I sat down and played the game. (Note: there's just as much complaining in this one as the last one!)
Continuing where I left off last time, it may not surprise you that the game setup was far from over. I tried launching the game and it immediately froze my whole computer. To be more accurate, it froze Windows Explorer and Task Manager, which made it practically impossible to do anything.
It took some searching, but I figured out that this is a problem that anyone with newer versions of Windows or DirectX, I'm not sure which, would have. The Final Fantasy XI engine uses a DirectX networking API called DirectPlay, which has been deprecated since at least DirectX 9.0. If you don't have this on your PC, everything will all go to crap. So, pro tip: You have to go to your Windows Features setting to enable the DirectPlay legacy component before starting the game. I had to restart my PC three times before figuring this all out.
(This video is not mine, it's the only one of the main menu I could find on YouTube.)
After finally solving The Puzzle once and for all, the game started! A flythrough of the world is in the background while sweeping orchestral music plays. I hadn't felt such excitement over starting a game since I tricked Knights of the Old Republic into thinking that my PC had a better graphics card than it did, so that it will let me play the game at all. Don't worry though, it did not last very long, as my gamepad was not working at all. I was warned of this, so it did not came as a surprise, but the control options are nowhere to be found on the main menu.
The process of setting up the gamepad was so annoying that I don't even want to recall it. It all came down to the separate configuration program that is stored within the PlayOnline installation directory. It was then when I realized how incredibly frustrating the PlayOnline experience is, as it takes forever to exit the game, log out of PlayOnline, exit the program, and then start it back up, log into PlayOnline (with the whole One Time Passwords process), and get into the game just to test out my gamepad configuration. By the way, in case any of you want to play this (for some inexplicable reason) and play it with a gamepad, I figured out that the DualShock 4 works better on its own without any DS4Tool/DS4Windows turned on. The game accepts it as a generic gamepad. The configuration program also comprises of some other esoteric game settings, and most importantly the resolution settings! Good thing I found it. Oh, by the way, there is also a different setting for aspect ratios, but that can only be changed in-game. Yeah...
I finally was able to see the main menu at a good resolution, controlling it with my gamepad, and I was too exhausted to play the game already. I guess this was enough of the game for the day. The main menu was pretty cool, though.
Character creation is probably my favorite part of playing an MMORPG. I really like morphing a character into existence, testing the limits of the systems, imagining the sorts of adventures these weirdos I am making will have. I always spend a lot of time doing this, so I've gotten quite particular with character creators. I am saying this because I want to emphasise that FFXI probably has the dumbest character creation I've ever seen. Just look at this:
FIrst of all, I could barely see the text for the character attributes 20 centimeters away from the monitor. What kind of a typeface is that?! That looks the font my mom would have chosen to write a restaurant menu with (just kidding, I love my mom.) Second of all, that's not zoomed in because I zoomed it in. The camera cannot even be controlled. What was happening is that for every race/gender option up there, they will play this custom-made cinematic to show off the character. In this screenshot, the camera zoomed in by itself as that Male Hume looked over his shoulder, anime-style. The Tarutaru character skips around and trips like cute child or something. It's like the dumbest fashion show I've ever witnessed. I'm not entirely sure if I really hate this, or really love it. Anyway, third of all is the most legitimate, but understandable issue. There simply isn't enough customizable options. I struggled to make someone resembling my FFXIV character, Jajaboy Mamaboy, though I'm not too disappointed with the final result.
I chose to start in the castle area, San Antonio or whatever it's called. A lot of what I encountered screams PS2-era JRPG. The graphics is definitely outdated, but I found it comfortably nostalgic. The character movement is also enjoyable in a weird way. Most jarringly, everyone speaks only in the small text box on the bottom of the screen.
There was something about the writing in this game that reminds me of FFXIV. It's some combination of strong characterisation and endearing dialogue that left a really good impression on me. I genuinely enjoyed the character interactions, as wooden as the actors themselves were on the game screen. I actually laughed when I was given the dialogue option, "I want to go shopping," to start my adventure. I included some of my favorite dialogues at the end of this section.
I goofed around in the city for some time, while learning the basic controls to the game. Everything about the interface felt so bizarre. The camera was inverted by default. Menu options are really difficult to navigate, and it wasn't immediately obvious that some of them have multiple pages. A lot of the UI elements just have no explanation to them, there are no tooltips or anything. I guess UX has gone a long way since 2002.
Another thing I noticed in the city: it felt very dead. NPC's are just standing around like statues, existing just for the sake of players. There is a lot of empty space everywhere. I saw only a couple player characters, and even said hi to them, but none of them responded in any way. They looked like they knew what they were doing. It felt lonely.
In the previous thread, @leegillespie kindly offered to restart from scratch and play with me, so I tried to add him to my friends list. The interface for the friends list is as confusing as ever, so that did not work out. I think I have to add friends from PlayOnline, but through some PlayOnline ID or something? Anyway, I gave up pretty quickly on that front. Sorry, @leegillespie.
Enough goofing around, let's fight something!
Some guy in the city gave me some basic tasks to do as a beginner, and one of them was to go out and level my weapon skill up to 5. The combat system was immediately familiar to me, as it's not too far off from how the combat works in FFXIV when you lock on with a gamepad. You move around the targeted enemy, and the character auto-attacks when in range. Using a menu to use abilities is new to me, but I kinda like the idea. What's also similar, unfortunately, was how mindbogglingly boring the combat is at low levels, as there wasn't much to do at my level. Jaboy had one skill, which apparently takes a whole hour to cool down, and I accidentally cast it back in the city. The combat was literally just watching each other's health meters going down until someone wins. My weapon skill level was taking forever to increase, so I gave up pretty quickly and returned to the city. In retrospect, the rate at which I was giving up on things at that point is alarmingly high.
I kept hearing about this Records of Eminence thing being very important for beginners, so I went ahead and looked into it. I took the first objective and met this Rolandienne guy. He gladly explained the ins and outs of the Records of Eminence in a deliciously meta one-way conversation. According to him, this whole system works by having some kind of floating, invisible creepy voodoo doll following behind me, watching everything I do and writing it into a journal. It's so dumb. I love it.
I started to go on the basic tutorial quests, which gave a nice themepark-like structure to this whole mess. It gave me an incentive to trek further away from the city walls to look for training from this Field Manual, and so I did. The world outside the walls was kind of a bummer, to be quite frank. It felt even more dead outside than inside the city. The fog—which I reckon is either a weather effect or, as PS2 games are wont to do, hiding the draw distance—felt suffocating and depressing. Like in the city, there seemed to be stretches of empty space everywhere. The wildlife is very sparse, so I had to chase them around from far away. It felt like another forever until I reached the Field Manual. From what I can tell, it's a literal manual that gives me repeatable quests. I took the quest that told me to hunt five of a specific type of worms, and I could not even find any of them.
Something about having books and invisible floating voodoo dolls giving me quests bothered me. The things I were doing: they were not in service of any story or anything. They're explicitly made in service of me, the player, to level up and learn how to play. It felt self-indulgent. It felt pointless.
Two unrelated but equally bewildering things happened during and after this, and I guess they serve as an ending to my adventures in Vana'diel. The first thing that happened is treasure chests. Some monsters dropped treasure chests, which I like, but what's this?
They had a freaking lock picking mini-game. I liked the novelty of the first one, but wow, it just keeps happening. If you haven't figured it out from the screenshot, the mini-game is to guess a two-digit number within a limited number of guesses. One attempt can be spent to ask for a random clue about the number. It sucks so bad. Even navigating the menu and entering the numbers sucks, especially with the latency that I had. What purpose does this mini-game serve? Am I supposed to have fun wishing for a good clue and executing a binary search in my head? It confuses me even more when I open a treasure chest that fortunately had no lock to pick, to find items marked as temporary. I think they just disappear when I leave the area, and unlocked treasure chests only store temporary items. I just.... I don't understand why any of this is a thing.
The second thing happened after I finished all basic tutorial quests. It seemed like I'm a little way off from doing the other Records of Eminence tutorial quests, so I went back to the city in hopes of continuing the main storyline, the other tutorial quests, anything really. I walked through the city gate and the game was suddenly cut to elsewhere. It was an important looking cutscene featuring characters I don't know, talking about events I've never heard of, in a location I've never seen. I was so stunned, I forgot to take any screenshots to prove that this actually happened. The cutscene ended and the game returned to Jaboy, in the city, as if nothing had happened. I thought I was going crazy. I tried to look it up online, and the best explanation I could find was that it was a cutscene meant to introduce players to one of the expansion packs. It made no sense at all.
I honestly thought I was going to play more of this. A lot of it was really weird and annoying, but it definitely had heart. I tried to play it again, but it felt like my apathy towards the game beats the charm it had just so. I definitely had some more free time I could have spared, but there's always something I'd rather do than to play this game. I think the biggest problem is just that it takes so long to do anything in the game. There's too much blank space in playing the game. When I got the 5-day warning for my free trial, I could not be bothered to even think about it. I had so much spirit going into this game, refusing to let the convoluted setup to stop me, yet I was then defeated.
The warning signs were definitely all there since the beginning, but I'm still glad I gave this a shot. It makes me sad that games like these are just going to die off in the future, and it's good that I saw that much of whatever transient state the game was in. I wish I could see more of it, but this is where I give up one last time. Time to head back to Eorzea, I guess!
(Edit: I changed the title because it was meant as a placeholder and I forgot to change it, oops haha.)