How to Make Sure Final Fantasy XIV Doesn't Suck: Part 6

Saturday, June 27, 2009
Shhh. Do you hear something? It's sort of a...scraping, scuffling sound. Maybe it's ghosts.

Oh, silly me. It's just just the other parts of this series. That's right, it's time for part six of Somnambulant Gamer's

Final Fantasy is about teamwork. It has always been about teamwork. Almost never in a Final Fantasy game are you asked to tackle an enemy using a single character; this is because friendship, camaraderie and codependence are major themes in the series. More than that, even; these themes rush like raging rivers as the undercurrent that carries these games to their finale. Final Fantasy's emotional impact on the player is propelled by these themes.

It is for this reason that I wasn't surprised when, shortly after beginning my four-year foray into Final Fantasy XI, I was told that 'soloing wasn't really a viable option for leveling up'. Indeed--but how could I complain? After all, hadn't I signed up for a massively-multiplayer online role-playing game? Why would I do that if I just wanted to sit around and play with myself?*

And it was fine, as I'm sure it was for a lot of players, until one day. That was the first day I wasted an afternoon looking for a party. For hours. And never got one. It was that day that I realized Final Fantasy XI had a major flaw. In this edition, we're tackling what is arguably the most broken aspect of FFXI's game mechanics, and how to fix it in FFXIV.


Now, even back before the days of huge-step-forward Fields of Valor and Campaign, which both enabled small parties or solo players level, you didn't have to sit there and wait for a party. You could make one yourself by inviting other players to join!

(Okay, well, actually, while that was a good way to avoid sitting and waiting for a party, it was incredibly frustrating all on its own. Looking for players could be as frustrating as waiting for someone to ask you to join--even moreso when impatient players drop from the party while they're waiting for you to find more players.)

The point is that a party-centric game isn't a problem as long as you always have other people to play with. When finding those people becomes a chore, the game becomes a chore. It would serve Square-Enix to remember this.

So, what about Final Fantasy XI's party system needs to go? What needs to be kept? How, if they feel so obligated, could they "rev that mofo into overdrive", as the kids say?

What to Toss:

So many things about Final Fantasy XI's party system need to be tossed. So many, that if you put them into a long list, Yakko Warner might fashion them into a catchy, educational song.

First of all, simply searching for people of a certain job requires deep menu-diving or typing a search command into the text box:
"/sea all WHM 55-60" will find all the White Mages in the world who are level 55 through 60--yet, the only place to get the information on how to conduct a search of this nature is through word-of-mouth through other players. The game's 'Find Party Members' mechanism is multifaceted to the point of confusion, with no clear guide on how to make sure you're seeing all of your options--not to mention the dreaded truncated list in which only, for example, A-L of your results are shown because there are too many people to list. And not 'too many' like 1500. "Too many" like 150.

The primary feature of FFXI's party system that needs to be kicked to the curb is the six-person group. For all intents and purposes, FFXI requires a group of six for an effective experience points party.

In no other Final Fantasy game has six people been required, and there is no reason it should be that way in an MMO. The way FFXI's party system is structured, if you lose even one member for any reason, progressing with your remaining five people can be exceedingly difficult, (especially at lower levels), and result in death for the entire squad. Because of this, finding a party and getting started (because no one wants to begin with less than six if they don't have to, and rightly so) can literally take hours. Often, a player spends more time finding a party than they do participating in one. So, no more six-member parties. Please?

Square Enix's soloing systems need to be ready on day one. 'Fields of Valor' and 'Campaign' are great, but 'Fields of Valor' is only a recent addition to the game, and the first to allow a player of any level to solo--it took six years for SE to add this feature. Nations of men have risen and fallen in that time!

Finally, there is something intrinsically wrong with the way FFXI is set up--it is a thread that runs through partying, exploration, and combat. It is the 'camp' mentality. For anyone who doesn't know, a 'camp' system encourages players to find a 'safe spot' and have one member pull monsters back to fight, rather than moving around fighting the monsters in the open. It needs to go. PERIOD. The exact same scenery, (usually a corner or an alcove) the same music, the same one or two monsters, over and's enough to break a man.

What to Keep:

I may make some enemies here, but I actually like the way EXP is distributed in FFXI. It could probably be better, but as it stands, it works. The basic premise is that EXP is split between party members on a per-monster basis. If you kill monsters quickly, (read: if your team is working well together), you get bonuses to the amount of EXP you get, called an 'experience chain'. This all works really nicely, although, to be honest, there's a rumor floating around that Final Fantasy XIV will forgo experience points altogether, so it may be a non-issue.

I also support the notion that this is A) a Final Fantasy game and B) an MMO, so those themes I were talking about earlier need to be threaded into the gameplay. Players should be rewarded for grouping together and establishing bonds, but not forced to-still, Final Fantasy has always been about shedding a lone-wolf mentality and embracing others and FFXIV needs to carry on that tradition. There is a fine line to tread here but I think Final Fantasy XIV is capable.

Finally, Final Fantasy XI's 'Campaign' and 'Fields of Valor' systems are fantastic. They lead to significant gains in EXP while keeping things fast-paced, and are suited to both individual and group play. They are the basis for what Final Fantasy XIV's party system could be.

How to Revolutionize it:

Square Enix has lucked out here--'Parties' can't really be revolutionized because you either have them or you don't. SE also has all the know-how to make Partying intuitive and fun, because they've created that feeling in their single-player ventures.

The idea is that partying needs to be something that happens intuitively. It's really cool in Final Fantasy XI when you find someone with whom you share a common goal and decide to have a go at it together. In FFXI, this happens often in areas which are dangerous to navigate in small groups, and players find strength in numbers.

Bring a Friend

Even more common is the 'Campaign Party'. Campaign is an FFXI scenario in which enemies invade an area and players must defend it. To stay alive and win the day, players often band together in campaign parties so that they can assist each other--each is serving himself, by finding people to watch his back, but is also serving a greater purpose by helping his comrades defeat the enemy. The benefits to this arrangement are the same as they are in an experience party: it facilitates teamwork, it results in greater individual rewards in the form of EXP, and it leads to a sense of accomplishment. However, the difference in Campaign is that it is a natural progression instead of a predetermined arrangement, and it only lasts a short time. This spontaneity leads to a greater reward for the player because it brings the game to life. Adventurers unite against a common enemy, then separate to go on their own adventures. They don't sit in one place for three hours, repeating the same formulaic actions ad nauseum; the fight is mobile and fast-paced, with each player's style taking precedent over automaton efficiency.

I believe that parties should be strongly connected to a player's individual journey and the fate of a players home nation. Furthermore, parties should be composed of no more than four members--but I think three would be a magic number.

{Impossible to Gauge}?

A commenter in a recent article pointed out that it's difficult enough to find a healer when you have a six-man group; finding one for every three-man group would be, obviously, twice as hard. That's true.

Unless, of course, Square Enix makes useful one itsy-bitsy teensy-tiny game mechanic. That mechanic is items.

In previous Final Fantasies, items play a pivotal role in character survival--except in
FFXI. In FFXI, they were largely useless, relatively expensive, and difficult to come by. A 'Potion', something every player might be expected to carry a stash of, is a joke. Simply enable monsters to drop these items with regularity and suddenly adventurers have much greater flexibility of when and how they adventure. Potions can be sold by NPCs for a static price and dropped in the field--and using them opens up so many more options for soloing.

Of course, magic would still play a key role, especially in larger battles and storyline events, but why can't three melee-class adventurers have an EXP party and use items in lieu of magic? If they can find a healer, all the better, but if not, items can create a nice replacement. Used in tandem with the Job System changes I mentioned in Part Three, in which job Abilities could be assigned rather than simply 'subjobs', many more characters might be able to toss out a 'Cure' here and there by equipping the spell. This would offset the problem that most MMOs share--most people just don't want to play a healer, and this makes healers hard to come by. Give the average sword-swinger a way to compensate, even a little.

And hey, when you see someone in need, invite them to join a party--between the two of you, maybe you can get up to something a little more adventurous. Recruit people you meet along the way and align objectives, adventuring for treasure and getting extra EXP through chaining along the way--or go it alone, and reap the benefits for yourself, but run higher risks.

Or hey...maybe this is all moot. Square-Enix has hinted at an all new-battle system, and an all-new party system is likely something that will accompany it. What could it be? What could it have in store? Word is that it has something to do with the way the characters are drawn in the FFXIV emblem. What do they have in store? What are your thoughts? Predictions?

As it has been with all of these entries, these are just humble opinions and perfect-world prophesies . I encourage you to share your own in the comments section, and to bookmark our deviously long URL. Thanks for reading and look for the next entry, "Miscellany", in which everything not addressed so far will be tackled, including Chocobos, PvP, Music, and Crafting. I'll be gathering as much information as possible for these topics from forums at ZAM and Eorzeapedia, but feel free to give your input here, too. Special thanks to all our visitors from those sites, and to the admins of said sites who've kindly linked our little fountain of madness. You are much appreciated, one and all.

Until next time, Final Fantasy-philes.

*Sorry, I couldn't resist.