I consider myself a well-rounded gaming nerd. And proudly so. But recently I realized that an incredibly important branch of nerd-dom was completely outside of my realm of understanding: MMO’s. Growing up on console rpg’s, I have for a long time been completely convinced that story and character driven role playing was the cream of the crop. Games like Final Fantasy VII, which tell the story of a spiky haired hero flashing his massive sword at katana wielding demigods was, in my opinion, the only reason to sit down and experience an interactive form of entertainment. But on the back of my mind, there has always been this small part of me that suspected there was something about MMO’s that I didn’t completely understand. (For the uninitiated, MMO’s are role playing games in which you create an Avatar and basically live in the world, interacting with all the other people who made Avatars. The most successful of which is arguably World of Warcraft, a game so addicting it has actually killed people. You do all the other rpg things like gain levels, find equipment and conquer enemies and quests, but you do it with other human beings existing on the other end of the digital Avatar.) So why have MMO’s been on my mind, when for years I couldn’t even stand the thought of them?
1. The ONLY Final Fantasy game I had never played was FFXI, the first Final Fantasy MMO.
2. FFXIV is coming to the PS3 in March of this year. I love FF games. The intrigue began to build.
3. The hightest grossing Final Fantasy game of all time is FFXI. When I discovered this I really began to think…it can’t be that terrible if it’s still making money after over 10 years, right?
So as my interest in the upcoming FFXIV built, I decided to go a much cheaper and retro route to discovering what was really behind all this MMO business. I loaded up my Steam account, and for a measly $20 purchased FFXI, Ultimate Edition-Abyssea, basically the final addition of the game that includes all (I think seven or eight?) expansion packs. Great deal! For the curious out there, the first month cost of FFXI is free, and after that it is $12 per month, as long as you only have one character.
Before I share my experience in Vana’diel, (which has been a blast by the way) I have to get this off my chest:
SETTING UP AN ACCOUNT WITH SQUARE ENIX/PLAY ONLINE IS THE MOST IGNORANT THING YOU WILL EVER TRY TO DO IN THE ENTIRE DIGITAL ENTERTAINMENT WORLD!!!
Ah….sorry about that. But seriously. It’s really stupid. Once it’s done it works great, but that was actually the most difficult part of the entire process. And once you boot up there is NO information about how to complete the process. You are completely on your own.
After all the online paperwork part is finished, all you have to do is wait about 4-5 hours for the game to download, adjust your settings and your in!
I logged into my playonline account and fired up FFXI for the first time. The graphics looked kind of grainy, so I backed out and upped the resolution of the game, menus and backgrounds. This was a huge success. On loading up the game the second time it looked beautiful. I would best describe it as sitting between a PS2 and a PS3 game. Very crisp and clean, but lacking the details you will find in newer titles. (I should comment too, that this was on a cheap workhorse laptop.)
I decide to create a Hume race character, male. I am boring like that. I named him Valeris a word play on a character in a series of books by Jim Butcher that I enjoy. I chose to enter the Leviathan server after searching around online to discover where the most people seem to play. And then, I found myself in the world of Vana’diel.
After playing for about two weeks, and logging around 20-30 hours, (which in an MMO is actually pretty slim pickings) I have some MMO discoveries to share. I will title this…
5 Comments On MMO’s by a Guy Who Never Plays Them:
NUMBER 1: In MMO’s, at least in FFXI anyway, everything moves in slow motion. And no I don’t mean that the gameplay is slow, although it can be. I mean that doing just about anything eats up clock like slices of pizza at a fat kids birthday party. To get anywhere, before around say level 35, you pretty much just run. Yes you can get a Chocobo, but that takes time too. Then there are the multiple systems that I won’t go into detail about, but basically when you die you go all the way back to your home point (which means lots more running to get to a decent area with good exp), when you want to heal you just sort of squat down and wait (more boring waiting bleh), and until you are partying regularly battles just seem to drag on. If you’re looking for a speedy title, this just isn’t it. This game plods. Everything takes way to long, and for an impatient console gamer like me, it genuinely hurts the game.
NUMBER 2: People are fun! I always thought that the other people I would meet out there in the MMO world would be nerdy jerks or something. I don’t know why, but it may be because that’s the kind of person I am. In any case, the other people I have met, total strangers mind you, have been so friendly and helpful its almost stupid. I mean they give me important items, they say hi anytime I log on, like we are old friends. They patiently wait for me to gain a few levels, helping me grind while they receive NO exp in the process. I can honestly say the kindness and generosity of the gaming community has been wonderful.
NUMBER 3: These games are addictive time vampires. Did I already mention how everything takes tons of time? Well, you do make great progress, but you should basically give up sleeping if you play this kind of game. I know this is true because I ask the other players what time it is for them. 3,4, and 5 am are all regular answers. Yep, it’s unanimous. To play a game that eats this much time in huge chunks you just have to go without sleep. After all, you’re in the middle of a quest to kill some massive beast, so it’s completely inappropriate for your team’s White Mage to leave mid-quest and get that much needed sleep right? Who cares if she is a brain surgeon. Stay up with us and help us kill this thing! MMO’s mean less sleep. Accept it or play something else.
NUMBER 4: After you learn the systems within the game (it will take you a long time to figure this stuff out. Less once you make some friends and they point you in the right directions) the game gets infinitely more fun. I now know how to raise gil really quick using the auction house, I know the exp hotspots, and I know what the expectations are for my job class when I’m in a party. Information is a powerful thing, and because of the massive time investment, you really want every moment to count. Again, making friends is the key to success.
NUMBER 5: Don’t Solo. For two reasons really. The first is that after level 15 it’s just hard to solo without dying. Unless you create a specific soloing class, in which case you are probably generating a build that will serve no purpose in later levels. And seeing as the point of an MMO is to get higher levels, kill bigger things and experience more of the world, you might as well build a character that can do it all in a team, rather than one that can do about a quarter of it alone. The second reason is that it’s just not nearly as much fun! Trust me, the whole point of this is the stupid moments when your friend who is dressed in a moogle suit starts dancing and you are all making fun of her. The constant chatter makes some of the tedious grinding points much more engaging. Making friends shouldn’t just be a path to success; in many ways it’s actually the whole point of the game.
In conclusion I have to say that I have had a blast immersing myself into the world of FFXI. Even ten years after it’s release, there are tons of interesting and helpful players making the game a success. But don’t play it for the wrong reasons. The battles and world take their time becoming something you can grow fond of. But when you start traversing this amazing world dressed as a crazy looking dragoon with a six man party of people from all around the world, you will have an epiphany just like I did: This is a LOT of fun:)