Choose My Adventure: Final Fantasy XI makes me feel like dancing
Some weeks you have more time or less to do stuff. I managed to get a fair chunk of time in for Final Fantasy XI for my first week with the game, but circumstances conspired that I just didn’t have as much time for my second. So I had to reluctantly admit that I would only be able to get up to around level 20 on dancer after I unlocked it.
It would have been higher, but you know, there was some rigamarole that had to be done ahead of time to unlock the job; you understand, I’m sure.
There’s a very different feeling to the game at this point just because of the differences in leveling process, because historically FFXI has often been a game in which progress was slow and laborious. It was reliable past a certain point, yes, but it always carried a certain risk with it. Nowhere is that more evident than when you’re dealing with the advanced job quests, which could sometimes feel like balancing on the edge of a knife back in the day.
See, the nice thing about the advanced jobs wasn’t necessarily that they were better than the normal jobs; they were all, at least theoretically, all balanced by the high end. (This unfortunately is using a system of balance that allows for now-useless Red Mages to coexist with the better-physical-fighters-than-most-dedicated-physical-fighters Blue Mages, but that’s a talk for another day.) No, the point was that these advanced jobs were, well, cooler. You weren’t just a Warrior, you were a Paladin, or you were a Ranger, or you got even neater classes like Dragoon or Blue Mage or Rune Fencer.
You could also unlock Beastmaster in about four seconds, so people usually did that.
However, these jobs required quests to unlock them, and most of these quests were meant to be difficult. Completing them required a group, a much higher level, or very careful knowledge to avoid getting murdered… and getting murdered meant leveling down and not being able to finish the quest.
By contrast, you lose less experience now and have a lot of extra tools to deal with avoiding stuff you can’t fight. There was no need for me to use Sneak or Invisible as I made my way to the Dancer quest objective; I just mounted up my raptor, ran over to it for the cutscene, then whistled to myself as I ran back. None too difficult.
Of course, the conceit for the quest there – and for Scholar – is that you can’t do what’s required for the job in the present and must travel back to that past. That means doing the first bit of the Wings of the Goddess expansion, which actually takes the most time; you have to travel into the past of Vana’diel and watch the accompanying cutscenes, which means struggling and failing to feel invested in a storyline that had to work overtime at convincing players (and me) that all of this was relevant.
I could go on a rant, but no one really wants to hear me complain about writers misusing how infinite parallel universes work. Probably. (If someone does, sound off in the comments.)
The actual quest is fairly straightforward; stop by a few places, talk with a few people, watch some cutscenes and unlock the job. It has the usual fun grounding in the world’s history, which is something that I’ve praised about FFXI in the past. Of course, it also suffers from the same awful waypointing that everything else in the game suffers from, making much of the “difficulty” a matter of knowing where everything is and what to click.
You can, of course, say that this is part of the point. Gods forbid you have to actually know something about the game, right? But the problem is that you have no organic way to find any of this information out. There’s no logical chain of events that would suddenly make it clear “ah, what I need to do for this quest is travel into the past, which means of course that I should click one of the worn-looking Cavernous Maw things near Jeuno despite no indication that these things will send me anywhere.”
This gets even more fun when you realize that clicking on lots of things without having done the quest beforehand will do almost nothing, training most players to never click anything without knowing exactly what they’re clicking upon. You can’t find this out organically.
For the record, if you’re following along at home and have just clicked on the maw, bear in mind that the first one you click can send you to one of three zones randomly, and you need to pay attention if it sends you to Sauromugue Champaign. You can only “unlock” maws by traveling through them in the past, but if you just click the Sauromugue maw and head back to the present, you’re stuck. That’s the only one you can travel back through, and in order to get there in the present, you have to pass through the banishing gates in Garliage Citadel which require multiple people to open.
What can be done? Well, if that happens and you get unlucky, you can travel back to the present, then back to the past again. Then just do the minor scrounging necessary to unlock another one before leaving the past. The banishing gates in past-Garliage can be opened with one person, although you’ll want Sneak and Invisible on demand there.
Fortunately for me, my trips into the past have luckily dropped me into convenient territory. So I just warped back and everything was fine. It also helps that, again, you can now mount in the past, allowing you to just saunter past enemies without a care in the world.
That stirs some mixed feelings in me. On the one hand, hey, it removes a lot of tedious garbage from the game that definitely did not make the game better, just more annoying. On the other hand, it means that you’re by nature playing a very different game from the one lots of old-school fans (like myself) remember. I’m not furtively darting hither and yon just to get to leveling spots, and while I can’t say that’s not an improvement, it is different.
And the game doesn’t do a good job about telling you that any of this stuff exists, so you have to either already know or guess about it. That’s a pretty big problem, and it’s something that really could stand to be addressed at this point.
Still, though, the game has passed a major test by being not horrible to play as someone who does know all of this stuff, thus showing that the big problems here are guidance-based. More to the point, it still does have lots of weirdly fun aspects such as, well, Dancer. It may not surprise you to learn that I enjoy this job quite a bit. There’s a fun flow to the various steps and such, a sort of remix on the dual-wielding stabber archetype that has generally been so well mined-out.
By this point, I’m well on my way to hitting level 30 on Dancer and proceed on from there. I’d go so far as to say it’s a certainty, which means that 43% of the people voting in the initial betting pool lowballed their estimates. It does mean, however, that I have a bit of an interesting question. While continuing to level is going to happen no matter what, I wonder how many people want to see this as a race or just search for completion.
So, today’s poll. Should I be focused primarily on leveling right now? Or should I start working my way through the various rank missions to advance on that side?
CMA: Focus on leveling or missions?
- Missions, but you ought to still hit 50 at least (63%, 20 Votes)
- Leveling, but at least rank up a little (38%, 12 Votes)
Total Voters: 32
Polls will end at 6:00 p.m. EDT, so you’ll want to make your decision in the near future. Feedback is welcome in the comments below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org; I’ll be back next week telling you of the latest elements of the climb from nothing.