01 March 2010

FFXI, Reborn...

Ok.. anyone who knows me well will know that I play Final Fantasy XI. I've been playing it for about 6 years now. Yeah.. that long.. but thats what MMORPGs are like.

Anyway, I thought that this would be a good year to wind down playing the game since FFXIV is coming out and theres nothing much to do in XI anymore anyway (given last years track record). It's like a dying game.

How wrong was I.


Just yesterday evening, developers Square Enix announced the future of FFXI at a live event in Japan, and it pretty much took everyone by surprise. I really don't think anyone seriously expected them to drop the bomb this way. But I can totally see why they're doing it.

They intend to raise the level cap from 75 to 99. some 6 years since the last cap of 75 was set. Its a puzzling move to many, but after thinking about it the move makes complete sense to me. And heres why.

FFXI has been getting pretty stale over the years. Ever since the conclusion of ToAU and the lacklustre start of WotG, there hasn't been much new to FFXI to rejuvenate the game. In fact, the way I see it, they'd always been trying to avoid raising the level cap in the game since it was set around the end of the Zilart era in the game.

Let me explain what raising the level cap brings to the table.
- new skills for every job
- higher stats for each character
- higher level mobs and designated exp areas/camps for the players to level
- higher level endgame content since most hard mobs will be comparatively weaker
- higher level gear.
- rebalancing the game's battle mechanics for the higher levels
..which is actually a lot for just a 'simple' level cap raise.

Level caps are good for players in a sense, because it means there is more for them to 'grind', and greater challenges ahead to take on, more abilities to use, more gear to wear. There are more ways to customize your character and make yourself pimp.

Its 'negative' effects also include the perception of instability, since level progression entails equipment progression and means that equipment and abilities, even jobs may be rendered obsolete past certain levels. This in turn affects the games economy as well as the balance of the games jobs with one another. Since gear may become obsolete, the mobs that drop them or the quests/battle systems that deliver such content will in turn become obsolete.

I believe that FFXI intially capped the game at 75 because it wanted to give itself some form of stability, so that content could be designed and delivered in a way that it wouldn't quickly become redundant the moment a level cap increase occured (because it wouldn't). This was a pretty successful move for a while, and it did manage to stabilize the game, both in terms of its economy, job balance and so on.

But stability isn't necessarily a good thing in MMORPGs. In fact, I think both stability and extreme instability are unfavorable in MMORPGs. I've already explained instability, but I feel that stability makes people feel too comfortable with themselves in the game, and makes it harder for them to be adventurous, which is the entire point of the game.

To inject life into the game subsequently, they have often used everything but the level cap thing to do so.
This came in the form of..
- new areas
- new jobs
- new equipment
- merits
- new events
- new missions
- new NMs and HNMs
and so on.

Unfortunately, in the most recent years, FFXI has come to the point where none of these have been able to shake the game up quite as much anymore. Or perhaps they haven't really been trying hard enough. Last year was an abysmally stale year for FFXI. The add-on scenarios were fairly interesting and so were the story missions, but there was nothing really there to entertain the majority of the gaming population in the long run.

And so it seemed that SE had only one choice left in leveling the playing field.
They had to raise the level cap.

At this point, I think doing so is a really smart move, because XI has gotten too stable and too boring for its own good. Raising the level cap may be a bitch to balance, but it definitely shakes things up and keeps everyone on their toes since the world is pretty much reinvented. The game will no longer be the same. The status quo has changed.

That little bit of uncertainty is now very welcome, as players have long since lost that adventurer wanderlust, thinking that they're at the top of their game. And having done everything. Not true anymore.

Thankfully, new monsters, new areas and new challenges come along with the new level cap. It'll be exciting to see all that they have to offer with the new cap of 99, which will be introduced in 3 stages (Jun, Sept, Dec).

They definitely have their work cut out for them, since raising the level cap is an arduous task in terms of planning how everything plays out. How they're going to revamp the games equipment caps and battle mechanic caps from this point will also be worth watching.

One thing I do know for sure, is that FFXI was reborn with this announcement. The level cap raise might have just been the new lease of life it needed to go on even further. I was really taken aback by the huge changes, which also include a host of new monsters, 3 new add-on expansions as well as new equipment.
Thats a lot to devote to a 'dying game'.

At first, I thought that the Vanafest announcement was going to be about how FFXI would either be going out with a bang or passing the torch to its younger flagship brethren FFXIV which will be released this year. But I was wrong. The way things have been announced, it seems like FFXI is telling us that its not going anywhere at all. In fact, its staking its place in the hearts of its players, against FFXIV itself. And what a glorious show it's putting.
Long live FFXI.

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