Of Vana’diel, Eorzea, and Azeroth…

I’ve played a lot of MMOs over the years, some noteworthy, others not so much. Focusing on the noteworthy side, I’ve chosen to make the first post in nearly two years about what I consider the most noteworthy MMOs I have played: Final Fantasy XI, Final Fantasy XIV, and World of Warcraft.

Why are these three so noteworthy? FFXI was Square Co., Ltd. (now Square Enix)’s first foray into the MMORPG field, WoW is the most successful MMO of all time, and FFXIV had a very successful relaunch when other companies simply would have shelved the game and cut their losses. I’ve played FFXI off and on since February 2004, WoW since July 2006, and played a little bit of the original version of FFXIV and have played its current version off and on since its launch in August 2013.

Why write on these games and their worlds, though? Maybe it’s because I find myself some days wondering if I should log in or not, or if I should deactivate my account yet again and play some other game, or go running or cycling more, or just hit the gym and pump iron? Who really knows?

Back in the wet winter of 2004, I found myself a bit listless, as I was wont to do in those days, so after messing with the overclock settings on my laptop’s video card to make FFXiBench 2 have an acceptable score, I traipsed off to the local Media Play to pick up the Windows version of Final Fantasy XI. I had to run the game at quite minimal settings on that laptop, so I was really unable to take in the game’s beauty until later in that year when I acquired a laptop with a better video card. It was at that point that I started to become engrossed in its world, Vana’diel…

Maybe it was the first time I wandered into the La Theine Plateau after braving the familiar forest of West Ronfaure and seeing the Crag of Holla in the distance, or the first time I made it to the beach of the Valkurm Dunes. Maybe one evening in the latter part of 2004 where I found myself partied up with a couple of friends in Valkurm and were eventually joined by 4 Japanese players that proceeded to drag us through the Konschtat Highlands, Gustaberg, and through Bastok’s Zeruhn Mines to the Korroloka Tunnel that led between the continent of Quon and the island of Kuzotz to its southwest. Both of these events shaped my worldview of Vana’diel and caused me to decide to stay in that world for a while.

It took me nearly two years to hit the level cap the first time, something I attribute to my rather inconsistent playtime for the first year. Once I’d finished college I had far more time, and I played pretty much continually from mid-2005 until mid-2006, reaching endgame, exploring pretty much the entire world, and fighting very large monsters. It was tons of fun, and I wouldn’t trade those days for anything.

Perhaps Vana’diel’s engrossing nature can be attributed to the fact that a significant majority of the game’s content can be considered “open world.” Only a handful of things were locked into an equivalent to later games’ “instance” concept, commonly called “BC” after “Burning Circle” which was the entrance point for the first ones most players would encounter. A player could feasibly walk from his or her starting town to the other side of the world, all on the open world. The zones were quite large too, or at least seemed that way due to the camera’s position and relatively low movement speed, not to mention the very real danger in higher level areas.

The next MMO I played regularly was World of Warcraft. I’d dabbled in it a bit in 2006 and 2007; however, I never really started playing it “full time” until early 2010, around the time SE announced the raising of FFXI’s level cap. I rage quit, I’ll admit, but it was worth it at the time. Azeroth is definitely an engrossing world on a different level than Vana’diel. If one has played the previous Warcraft games, it is highly likely they wanted to visit the places from those games: Lordaeron, Silvermoon, Stormwind, Outland, Northrend, Orgrimmar, and the rest of the Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor. Then there’re the instances, which themselves had fabulous atmosphere. WoW proved that open world and instanced content could give the same immersive environment. Sadly, I’ve not spent nearly as much time in Azeroth as I did Vana’diel, nor do I have as much emotional investment in Warcraft in general. I like the lore, sure, but the game itself and its focus on raids wasn’t my cup of tea, despite the fabulous raids in Wrath of the Lich King.

Moving right along to the current “hot” game: Final Fantasy XIV. This game is set on a world called Hydaelyn in a region called Eorzea, comprised of the continent Aldenard and the island Vylbrand. FFXIV “1.0” had quite expansive seamless zones that had their design flaws. Despite this, I was captivated by the photorealistic textures and recall wandering out of Ul’dah into the desert of Thanalan and being amazed by its scale. As mentioned previously, I didn’t play 1.0 very much. I’d tried it sometime in 2011, then later in early 2012 I started the character I still play today and got to Level 36 in one class before shelving it until the remake was finished.

Thus came A Realm Reborn… and the journey was incredible. The zones were smaller, yet different. I’d played in the ARR Beta and been drawn in. The first two beta phases were centered on the city-state of Gridania and its surrounding area, The Black Shroud. I’m not sure why…there was something special about the first beta phase. I can’t quite place my finger on it, but it was there. Beta 3 solidified the game as I was able to log in with my existing character as well as take one up from scratch. As official service started, I ended up grinding pretty hardcore to finish the story because my name is in the credits as a Legacy player. I didn’t stop to “smell the roses” as that would detract from the grind. Did I do myself a disservice? Perhaps. Maybe the 2.x world was “cramped” to me: all the interesting stuff was locked behind instances, and it was quite easy to see the whole world quickly.

The game’s first expansion, Heavensward, somewhat alleviated the claustrophobic feeling the “old world” has by introducing flying mounts and far larger zones. The journey through this expansion’s story wasn’t nearly as incredible as ARR’s, though it was quite good in its own right, in spite of a certain quest series in one particular zone.

Though, for all its praise, I can’t get super engrossed in Eorzea, despite my best efforts. Maybe it’s the changes in my personal life these days, or maybe it’s because the game is, at its heart, a WoW clone. Do dungeons, get loot, raid for more loot, lather, rinse, repeat with every patch.

Perhaps there is hope, however. Last weekend at PAX East, Yoshi-P teased a forthcoming bit of content called “The Deep Dungeon” and “Palace of the Dead.” Both of these names are references to Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre, respectively. I spent many hours in FFT’s Deep Dungeon in my youth, and from what he said, this will be similar to Lufia 2’s Ancient Cave where characters will start at Level 1 and gain strength from items and such in the dungeon itself. Quite interesting, and maybe just the thing to scratch the NetHack itch…

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