Design Mockument: Mocking up Final Fantasy XI-2

    
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Dance Dance San d'Orialution

“Wait just one cotton-picking minute,” you say. “Square-Enix is not hurting for another MMO after Final Fantasy XI. It has one. It’s called Final Fantasy XIV, and I know you are very familiar with it, Mr. Column Author. This is supposed to be a column about plausible sequels or new projects, isn’t it?”

For one thing? Yes, it is. But I have never – not once – claimed it was going to be for sequels that were actually in talks or in development. Heck, I’ve pretty clearly said the exact opposite. And for another, you’re only partially right because FFXIV isn’t really a sequel to FFXI beyond continuing the larger Final Fantasy series.

You see, for better or for worse, Final Fantasy does actually have a distinguishing mark to separate direct sequels from just new installments in the overarching franchise. Final Fantasy X-2 is the direct sequel to Final Fantasy X, despite the fact that in North America it only came out a month after FFXI. (This was before Square-Enix tended toward global simultaneous releases.) We’re not talking about another MMO in the Final Fantasy series. We’re talking about Final Fantasy XI-2.

So what would this game even look like? Well, we have something of a template already thanks to Rhapsodies of Vana’diel. It’s clear that Iroha was one of many students of the main character years after the game “canonically” ended, and it can be assumed that those students went out and accomplished great things. And one of those students was… not the new player character.

But one of those students is menacing all of Vana’diel from a perch high above the continent.

Let’s step back a moment. It’s been a century since the Adventurer was laid to rest, leaving behind a legacy of great deeds and heroic accomplishments across time, space, and realities. But this legendary figure most certainly taught new people how to ensure that the world remained safe, both martial techniques and patterns of behavior, and their proteges were known to the world as the Warriors of Light. Over time, some of them fell, some of them died, some of them went missing. And now… from the ruins of Tavnazia, something stirs. New buildings are erected. Strange arsenals are gathered. New minions spread across the landscape.

The Emperor of Shadow has taken the throne. The Emperor’s name, gender, and history are all unclear, but what is clear is the one thing this self-proclaimed Emperor has let be known: The Emperor studied at the feet of the Adventurer and intends to save Vana’diel from something even worse over the horizon. Whatever that may be.

Sometimes the game hates you trying to understand it.

Not that the player character is going to be rushing off to stop the Emperor. Indeed, the new player character starts as part of a small cluster of adventurers, a group of fresh graduates from the adventurer programs started in Bastok, Windurst, and San d’Oria by the Warriors of Light. Before the group starts off into the world, of course, they’re sure to exchange their Trusts with one another, and thus starts the adventure… which is notably different from FFXI classic because right from the beginning you’re managing a party.

In FFXI-2, you are managing Trusts from an early point, and not just to the extent of getting major lore characters to join with you. No, much more as in a classic Final Fantasy title, you’re picking up Trusts along the way… and also managing the rest of your party’s jobs along the way, allowing you to choose who among your companions fulfills which roles. Your initial selection of trusts is small, but you gain more as you go through the story, albeit fewer than you have in FFXI simply because… well, you don’t need seven different characters who can all incidentally be healers. Anyone can be set up as a White Mage.

This is a good thing because the game’s combat system and mechanics are far more similar to FFXI than FFXIV or indeed most modern MMOs. The biggest difference from how FFXI works is twofold. First of all, you don’t need to unlock a subjob; that’s present from the start of the game. Second of all, you equip abilities and spells from both your main job and subjob using a system similar to how Blue Mages work in the game now, right down to gaining certain job traits by equipping certain combinations of abilities on your character.

While quests are more obvious and marked, the game still follows a system more akin to itself in many places. Your primary means of leveling is still via hunting enemies in the open world or in dungeons, with each zone having auto-repeating list of objectives you can pull up at any time via the Book of Valor (a specific menu, not a hovering book near the zone entrance) that encourages you to go seek out various enemies and test yourself and your party against them. Dungeons, as usual, are not inherently all that different from field areas, just regions that have different enemies.

“But what about grouping up?” Oh, that’s still a thing. See, players all have their trust parties of four NPCs. So why not make group content focused on keeping that large-scale feel?

Not scary any more.

At least to begin with, players can queue up for what are called Circle Encounters (group fights of four players with trusts against several enemies in a special format) or Group Assaults (six players with their trust entourages moving through a special instanced area, accomplishing objectives and exploring a dangerous map). Players can also group in the open world if they want to, mostly for taking on certain Valor objectives and also if you just want to give your Trusts a break. The mechanics are not terribly different, but if you want to level as a pair or a trio or whatever, that’s totally supported.

My goal here with this specific exercise was to make a game that still preserved some of the feel of FFXI while still having a design that had been updated for a more modern audience… and in the process also create something that didn’t really throw away how the game has changed and improved over time. It’s not that the current version isn’t playable or fun (disregarding what a pain in the tailbone it is to get PlayOnline configured), but I wouldn’t want this to just feel like… you know, FFXIV all over again.

For some people, I’m sure it’s not going to be what they really want because it’s FFXI but without the punishing social dependency of the original. And make no mistake, that was a definite part of the original, but it was also something that worked to its detriment, an aspect of the game that has been stepped away from because it genuinely didn’t work within the modern design space. I definitely like the idea of having reasons to group up, but sitting in Jeuno with your party flag up waiting for a group to invite you is not something we need to go back to by any means.

It sounds fun to me, at least. Maybe an inherently lower-rent venture than FFXIV at this point, but I wouldn’t be sad about getting new adventures in Vana’diel. Even if that seems pretty unlikely now… aside from the stream of content that keeps going in FFXI all the same.

Designing an MMO is hard. But writing about some top level ideas for designing one? That’s… also remarkably hard. But sometimes it’s fun to do just the same. Join Eliot Lefebvre in Design Mockument as he brainstorms elevator pitches for MMO sequels, spinoffs, and the like for games that haven’t yet happened and most likely never will!
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