There are a few classic MMORPGs which players hold near and dear to their hearts — if they got into them at a certain point. Since modern MMORPGs have made things easier and easier for players to get into and stay into, classic style RPGs have relied almost exclusively on their hardcore veteran player base to stay afloat. Yet they have stayed afloat. Games like Everquest, Final Fantasy XI, and even something like Runescape. All of these are surprisingly still alive today, but they might not be the games you remember spending your youth on. With dwindling playerbases, though, that’s a good thing.
There was a time in Final Fantasy XI when you would spend five or six hours hanging around the hub city of Jeuno with your Searching For Party flag active while you occasionally shouted for members to go accomplish any number of tasks. Sometimes storyline progression, sometimes farming for EXP or items, sometimes for one of the many many systems that I frankly never got to experience my first time around. It’s the classic experience of the game and anyone who played it before a certain point can relate to that feeling. The game now is a different beast.
With a decline in the number of active players in the game, the Final Fantasy XI development team has had to constantly innovate in order to make it so players could actually continue to actively play. With a much smaller playerbase on each server, it’s much harder to form an EXP party. Especially when veteran players with all their jobs capped don’t farm the same stuff as leveling players anymore. So they changed the process.
While Final Fantasy XI is a game that was built almost solely on the party experience, the game now is so solo friendly that a player from 2006 might not recognize the 2016 version of the game. At the very least, the game feels very different now than it did back then. The game has committed to the solo experience more and more as time has worn on because it had to. Players can now summon full parties of NPC characters to help them out. The NPCs vary in class and power and you can build essentially any sort of party you need, whether or not you’re playing solo.
Actually gaining EXP and leveling has been made easier than ever thanks to the Trust system and thanks to the Rhapsodies of Vana’Diel questlines. The Rhapsodies questline is an extensive tying up of the game’s storylines which includes granting the player several key items which greatly boost EXP gain. Tying it all together are the new travel options which make actually getting around to EXP or do Missions and Quests easier than ever.
Over the last few years the game has been adding additional travel options. Starting with warping between Home Point crystals after you visit them once, devs have since added teleporting to Survival Guides (often found next to Grounds Tomes in areas), and even summonable mounts. Yes, really. There’s no more planning your travel routes around where you can rent Chocobos from. What’s more is there’s no more planning your travel around if you can hook up with a White Mage to teleport you somewhere.
All these quality of life changes and there’s a lot that I haven’t touched on. The inventory has been expanded over and over again to a point where, currently, I have more space than I could possibly need. Even the equipment system allows me to equip things directly from one of my four Mog Wardrobe inventories. And in terms of filling those inventories there are Rhapsodies NPCs which sell you loads of normally more difficult to obtain crafted items. They sell huge swaths of stuff which would either be difficult or nigh impossible to obtain with a less active player base. The bottom line is: everything is more convenient than it used to be.
It’s always a little bit sad to see a game you grew up with and spent a lot of time with slowly fading into obscurity. Final Fantasy XI is one of those games for me. Eventually I don’t doubt that Square-Enix will be unable to sustain the cost of the servers versus the playerbase and I expect that they will have little choice but to shut down the servers. Maybe by that time the upcoming mobile version of the game will have supplanted the experience successfully. Yet there will always be something about XI for me that I’ll miss. It’s such a large, full world with a seemingly neverending amount of content. It’s not like modern MMOs, even as it modernizes to make things easier for players the way modern MMOs do.
Through a masterful development process of horizontal progression the game keeps so much of its content relevant in a way that a modern MMO can not. Beyond that, the modernization process the game has undergone over the last few years is perfect. Every aspect of it has served solely to make the game easier to play for players of all stripes. There will always be some who will long for the days of old, but it’s just not feasible. The days of old typically included school or part time jobs, which allow people a bit more time to actually sit down with the game. Now as the playerbase ages, have full-time jobs, kids, and all the responsibilities of being an older person, modernization only helps.
Gone are the days of waiting five hours for a party, but so too are the days of progressing at a snail’s pace because you never found that party or you couldn’t complete that Mission. Vana’diel is a far more forgiving place than it ever was before, and it’s all the better for it.