To an outsider, Final Fantasy XI looked like it had one foot in the coffin back in 2015 when Rhapsodies of Vana’diel was announced and support for the PS2 and Xbox 360 versions of the game came to an end.
The monthly subscription was still active, and it was fair to assume that Square Enix was perhaps trying to squeeze a little more profit out of the old MMORPG and deliver a proper send-off for the loyal fans that were still playing on PC at least.
In the five years since, though, rather than slowly back away from Final Fantasy XI, Square Enix has appeared to be investing even more time and resources to making Final Fantasy XI an appealing game not only to current players but also returning and new players too.
It’s tough to teach an old dog new tricks, and that can be said of Final Fantasy XI. It has nearly two decades worth of content, much of which is still relevant. This is incredible for the active player but can be extremely overwhelming for a new player.
Final Fantasy is too entrenched to completely overhaul the way it onboards new players but, it has evolved considerably for better or worse to try and get first-time players up to speed on this incredibly dense game.
First, the development team needed to acknowledge that the player base is now weighted extremely heavily towards older players that rarely have a need to level new jobs from 1-99.
Although gathering experience points was a pastime for lots of players, it’s an appendage that needed to get cut off for the game to survive in 2020.
It’s much easier now to quickly get a job up to level 99 with the help of NPC trusts that can fill party slots and do a lot of the heavy lifting for you in the easy content.
Even a brand new player can manage having at least one job max level within a few weeks or less; even quicker if there’s an active experience point campaign which have grown frequent over the years to entice new and returning players.
In fact, veteran players that know what they are doing can max out a job in an afternoon with a campaign active.
Old-school fans can attest that it could take months or even over a year to get a job to level 75 back in the day. So to say that Final Fantasy XI is more accessible now is an understatement.
Records of Eminence, a new quest system that gives players some direction on what they should be doing was added during the “twilight years” of Final Fantasy XI, rewarding players for doing the critical things they need to do to advance their character to the end game.
While this might seem basic there was a time where Final Fantasy XI gave you little to zero direction other than leveling up. It still isn’t great at it, but it’s better than it was for sure.
Also, the developers have upped the importance of clearing the story, similar to how vital clearing the story is in Final Fantasy XIV. At times during Final Fantasy XI’s lifespan, the story was optional unless there was a key reward you wanted.
Now, better rewards for all story content that are tied to Rhapsodies of Vana’diel and Records of Eminence gives new players a definite “thing” they should be doing. Play all of the story, and by the time you’re done, you should have a somewhat decent understanding of how to play Final Fantasy XI at a fundamental level.
Returning players benefit significantly from all of the above. While there’s a period of shock for lots of players as they come to grips with how much Final Fantasy XI has changed, those that appreciate Final Fantasy XI’s core gameplay and appeal, namely its creative job system, should eventually adjust.
For example, while the road to 1-99 has been streamlined, the road from 99 to being a functional end game party member is daunting.
Players that want to engage with the hardcore endgame content will find that all the stuff they used to like: experience point parties (now capacity point parties) and challenging small and large-scale battles still exist alongside other well-received content such as the adaptable monthly Ambuscades that can be done solo or with groups.
Clearly there has been enough of a resurgence in interest in Final Fantasy XI to warrant development on a “ReFriender” which allows players to find and link up with old friends from their previous time in Vana’diel.
Those that stick with Final Fantasy XI are rewarded. Every month job adjustments and content are being added to the game. Sometimes it’s small, but a few times throughout a calendar year significant battle content such as Omen and Odyssey are added.
Although never actually ruled out, new battle content being added consistently into the game was a surprise to many observers that thought Final Fantasy XI was dying off.
New story content, though, which we’re seeing now via recently revealed The Voracious Resurgence scenario is a dramatic development.
Rhapsodies of Vana’diel was supposed to be the end; as the name would imply, it was meant to be the curtain call that tied up all of Final Fantasy XI’s loose ends.
The Voracious Resurgence was completely unexpected, and it appears to be getting special treatment with its own landing page which is usually reserved for major pieces of content.
The developers have already stated that this is not an expansion, nor is it even a piece of premium side content in their eyes. That said, it’s looking to shape up to be the most extensive project they have taken on since Rhapsodies of Vana’diel.
The Voracious Resurgence will take place across many version updates. Considering we’re less than two years away from the big 20th-anniversary surprise, it could very well be that The Voracious Resurgence will tie into that in some way and bridge players over.
I would find it hard to believe that Square Enix would allow the developers to put all this effort into The Voracious Resurgence, whatever the surprise is, and all this new battle content to keep players engaged and then let Final Fantasy XI pitter off shortly after.
Square Enix seems to have faith that Final Fantasy XI has gas left in the tank still, that it may be able to have a second act as an elder statesman within the MMORPG genre.
The MMORPG genre feels stunted. After an explosion of great games in the early part of the last decade, there haven’t been many MMORPGs that have recently released that have risen to a level of popularity capable of killing off the old guard.
As a result, games like World of Warcraft and yes, Final Fantasy XI, have carved out perhaps a semi-permanent spot that may not have seemed likely even five years ago. Final Fantasy XIV, even with all its recent success, isn’t capable of killing Final Fantasy XI.
Rather than waiting around for Final Fantasy XI to get tired enough and put it down, it looks like instead, the developers of the game and the executives at Square Enix appear encouraged.
They seem motivated to try new things and see what they can do with this stable, or dare I say growing, population of fans that aren’t ready to let Final Fantasy XI go.
It feels weird to say, but even at 18 years old, the evidence seems to point that Final Fantasy XI is not only not dying any time soon, but it may also be catching a second wind.