Choose My Adventure: For the short folks of Final Fantasy XI

You wouldn’t think this was something that would frequently slip one’s mind, but somehow I manage to repeatedly forget that Dancer was made in no small part as a job to settle people tired of dealing with Final Fantasy XI’s nonsense. It seriously has a bit of everything. Want to dual-wield? Great, it gets that slower than Ninja but it’s still perfectly capable of handling it. Curative magic? Yes, and it doesn’t cost MP. Movement speed boosts? Naturally. Sneak and Invisible in one ability so you can stealth without items? By all means.

This comes up as a relevant fact whilst doing missions because FFXI has a weird approach to handling missions. It has no level requirements for any mission, just progress requirements… but it also barely needs level requirements, as several of them will absolutely murder you below a certain level. And that’s just in the process of getting to where you need to go for those missions, much less the challenges involved in the missions themselves.

Yes, it feels weird that this isn't a chocobo.Parts of this are the result of the game’s changes post-Wings of the Goddess. When that expansion bumped the level cap to 99 after it had sat at 75 for ages, it also went back and bumped some enemy levels up accordingly. But a good chunk of that is just how the game has always been; you have level 10 enemies on either side of the passage, but inside of the passage are level 85 aggressive bees that will sting you to death as soon as you attempt to get from one spot to another. You need to carefully apply the game’s ubiquitous stealth statuses just to get where you’re going.

Dodging aggro in general is a skill in the game, especially since there are various enemies with “true sight” or “true hearing” that will bypass any of your stealth tricks. And I’m left wondering always how much of this was intentional, whether you were supposed to level up and fight past these things or if the developers always wanted this to be a game in which characters either formed overpowered alliances or stealthed past half of the things in a given dungeon.

Neither one works very well, and it speaks to a certain issue that the game has in general, one that’s come up a lot. There’s great stuff, but the game doesn’t point you to it at all, and even now that you can do a lot of it easily things like the quest log are of no help whatsoever.

For example, the first mission for Windurst tells you that the Orastery minister is conducting an experiment and needs your help. You’re supposed to stop by the Orastery first and talk to someone. Who? The game doesn’t say, there are several people there, and there’s no guidance within. But that’s fine, you chat with a few people, no big deal.

Then, you’re told to go to the Horutoto Ruins. This is a problem because there are a lot of possible entrances to there, and there’s one specific one you need to use. But before you use that entrance, you have to speak with a mithra outside of the entrance. Does the game tell you this? No. There’s no flagging or tracking whatsoever. The description of the mission remains static from when you accept it, so you have to remember everything from start to finish… and heaven help you if you logged off in the middle.

Stuff like this feels like the developers wanted to do stuff similar to the classic games but weren’t really sure how to adapt it to an online structure with lots of moving parts. The result is that you can sort of stumble and bounce off of things without having any idea what you’re doing or why.

This is more of a shame because the story, true to form, is not just decent but actually good. All three nations have their own storylines, but the Windurst story specifically concerns Ajido-Marujido (aforementioned minister of the Orastery) and his quest for forbidden magic to deal with the Yagudo.

The Yagudo are the beast tribe in residence around Windurst, and rather than an openly hostile relationship, Windurst has brokered peace with the bird-men. The problem is that this peace is… strained, at best, by Yagudo aggression. There’s a clear push by the Yagudo to claim more than their agreement would allow, but Windurst loves its peace and its ability to defend itself is being steadily eroded. Which means that Ajido-Marujido is seen as an aggressive warmonger (which he is) while he sees himself as the one person willing to fight back before the Yagudo move to take over from a weakened Windurst (which is also correct).

I can't decide whether I like him or not.For stuff being done in a fairly simple engine, it’s all handled quite well and carries an appropriate amount of weight. Much like Final Fantasy XIV, you have a cast of characters who aren’t necessarily your allies without being villains, either (Nanaa Mhigo stands particularly tall as someone whose friendliness varies based on the time of day). It’s got personality and it’s worth following.

Of course, the flip side is that it’s much easier to follow it when you are doing the missions in short order. Playing the game as it’s designed or as it used to be, you’re stuck maybe doing one or two new missions every other week at most, and then it’s really easy to lose track of the moving pieces. Again.

The other problem that hits this particular segment of the game, and it’s one I’m talking about as much from memory as anything, is that the story has to serve two masters. In essence, the “base” game had two stories going at once: the revival of the Zilaart machinery and the Shadowlord, and the various nation stories. Unfortunately, neither story actually concluded until the game’s first expansion, which means that somewhere in the middle of the nation stories it’s time to run off and do the same things for every country which have nothing to do with the story up to that point.

For that matter, they don’t even have a lot to do with the Zilaart, arguably. The showdown with the Shadowlord served as the first “final boss,” but it feels more like a bookend to the setting than an actual climax of any sort.

But all of that is far in the future for this particular character. I made my way up to the Rank 2 nodes, mostly because I didn’t feel like all of the travel involved for the Rank 3 mission, and also pressed up to level 30 for the aforementioned (very useful) Sneak/Invisible dance. Level 50 should not be an insurmountable goal by the time my final column rolls around, which is about where I expected to get in a month.

The tedium and the awkwardness of these components is wearing on me a bit, though, which is sort of a problem that the game still hasn’t found a way to solve. You really need to have a guide open while you do the missions; there’s no way to naturally stumble across the stuff you’re supposed to do, which feels counterintuitive to me. It’s sort of a shame.

Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments below or via mail to eliot@massivelyop.com. Next week is the final week, so let’s see how much playtime I managed to rack up, what milestones I hit, and what things still need to be done.

Welcome to Choose My Adventure, the column in which you join Eliot each week as he journeys through mystical lands on fantastic adventures — and you get to decide his fate. Is he going to finish this particular run through and then go back to playing the exact same game on his main character? You decide! But probably yes.
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