Return to Vana’Diel (For Ninety Days)

It was the Fall of 2010 when I had made the decision to log off from the popular MMO Final Fantasy 11 forever.

I had started the game early April 2004, as I could play it on the Playstation 2 and I was already tired of Everquest Online Adventures. It would grab me in a way no other game, let alone MMORPG, had up to that point (and perhaps more than any MMO since.) My character was assigned to the Fenrir server. I knew no one who played the game.

In 7 years, I would meet with characters in game which would lead to friends in real life. Meeting up with some of these people would lead to going to the first convention I had ever been to. I accidentally created one of the most notoriously god-awful newbie-friendly Linkshell (PheonixAOI – yes, Phoenix was misspelled.) I would main White Mage, because the class ensured I was always useful and never had to worry about how much DPS I was doing. Also, when playing on the PC, my character could be facing a wall and not face slowdown from all the particle affects.

The game was grindy and counter intuitive, but the world was amazing and the story was catchy and the fact adventurers were forced to party together made the game worth it.

But in 2010, things were falling apart. I as a player had spent a lot of time on the game, but very little time working on my real life. I was in a mid-game linkshell that focused on Dynamis and Sky (at a time most people were focused on Sea and Einherjar). I felt I was good at WHM (and had picked up SCH) but not having multiple 75 jobs limited my usefulness. Further, the level limit had been raised from 75 to 80, and it was understood that eventually the limit would be raised to 99 – a huge change for a number of reasons as the game had been balanced for gear escalation at 75 for literal years.

And in this sea of doubt and confusion, something happened. An individual I had been dating for several years but had a falling out with (in part because it was long distance and in part because I had not got my own life together) was letting their new boyfriend play their character, but neither of them had informed me of this… leading to me talking to someone I thought was a friend and a former lover for over a month before the truth was revealed. The linkshell I was doing events with let it slip that while they were willing to let me continue to tag along, they favored my ex over me. Another linkshell I was a member of had disbanded. A former friend and co-leader of the previous PheonixAOI and I got into an argument.

And so it was that I made the decision to quit playing.

It was like what Kaoru Yamazaki had said in Episode 16 of Welcome to the NHK: “Trying to attain something in a game is fruitless. The ones who make all the money are those who make the games who take advantage of people like you.”

When talking about the game to others, I’d often say “In the end, you can never return home.” And indeed, there’s some truth to that. Seasons change. People, hopefully, grow.

Almost nine years later I decided to revisit the world of Vana’Diel. I heard talk of how accessible it was, and all the expansions were on sale meaning it would be easy to jump in and see what I was missing out on. I made a decision that I would spend just 3 months playing the game, and see where it would take me and how I would feel.

I don’t regret it. In fact, it allowed me to move forward and understand myself a little better. But the world I returned to was not the world I had left.

One of the first things I did upon returning to the game was waiting an entire day for the game to download and install because the installer hadn’t been updated in over 15 years. (This ironically was fixed my second month of playing.) Once in, I had to get used to my macros again (as the game relies heavily on in-game scripts to do multiple things with different button presses) and realize a lot of what I knew about the game had changed.

I had some gear signed by my ex which I quickly threw away. I was rather surprised how quickly and easily that was done, considering what a point of contention this game had been between my wife and I for the connection there. What I didn’t get over as easily was how literally one person out of the hundreds I had known still played on the server… and that one person never once replied to my tells. I’m not sure they remember who I am, or even if the person playing the character is still the same as it was nine years ago.

There’s a focus in the game now to unlocked NPCs called “Trusts” that adventure with the player character, and I spent more time than necessary doing that. I also got used to the daily quests and the achievement quests which encouraged getting to level 99, killing certain monsters, and reaching certain milestones. Online, I asked some questions about the game and was annoyed – players spoke of gaining 6 times the experience I was getting, and made it sound like getting to 99 was trivial, let alone unlocking merit points.

I got White Mage to 99 in the Dangruf Wadi, a side-zone of Bastok which had been changed to have creatures that gave experience at 99. It turns out, this is a very ineffective way to gain experience points.

It was about two weeks into playing that I found a new linkshell to be in, EmpireOFAngels. I met with a gentleman who was a retired member of academia who spent a lot of time just killing things. He helped me with the missions to unlock the zone everyone was going to that had the great experience gains.

The difference was night and day. With his help I quickly had 6 other jobs to 99, and had found myself further mastering White Mage. I was able to get some much needed equipment upgrades. I was able to start story missions I never had before, see parts of the game world I had forgotten about and other parts that were only added towards the game’s end. I had a fondness for Riesenjima, a verdant zone of green bamboo and pleasant water. I made reasonable progress into the Rhapsodies of Vana’diel storyline, a series of quests that tied all of the other game expansions together.

But as I spent time doing this, and feeling the excitement of progression, something happened. I realized that, outside of the assistance of a couple of Linkshell members, a lot of the progress I was making I was making alone. I was worried about gear upgrades and doing things well, but the only individuals I had to impress were NPCS… and to be honest, they could carry their own weight half the time.

There was also a sense of tedium, especially as the end of the Rhapsodies missions game, where the only way to move forward was to do other missions that had requirements that were frankly rather tedious. Some days it felt less like there was a sense of exploration and more of a sense of reading the bullet points of a walkthrough and marking them off so that the next part of the walkthrough could be progressed.

There was some neat, unique moments. My character got his hands on a level 75 relic, for example. Of course, now that is just the start of their adventure, as they are through quests and notorious monster kills taken all the way to level 99 and beyond. But it was not a small feat, even if getting one now was just a matter of time and dedication.

But mostly? It was getting to a point where it was tedium. I, as a player, was spending less time exploring and socializing and more time trying to chase the next +1.

As my 90 days waned, it was become more unfun, even as I had met a few more people through the game (shout out to the Linkshell NoFootRise.)

Over the last couple of weeks, I told myself I was going to log in… and then I didn’t. That I would do certain quests and move things forward… and then I didn’t.

When it came time to decide to renew, I affirmed my decision to let the subscription lapse.

I want to see more of the world, and meet more people. This is difficult to do in real life, where you don’t have time to look at a walkthrough or double check a FAQ before moving forward. This is frustrating and overwhelming when you aren’t a powerful healer or a master of the arcane arts, but rather a broken underachiever with a history of anxiety and mental health concerns trying to stand tall against far more accomplished individuals.

But, in theory at least, it can be a lot more satisfying.

Mostly, though, there’s little point in returning to an old world and trying to re-establish myself. I should find a new world. Or, better yet, create one.

Revisiting the world of FFXI allowed me to bury some negative ties to the game, and also face some fantasies about the world head-on. I was able to take care of some unfinished business and get a feel for what the world had produced without me. More importantly, it allowed me to realize that what I really want can’t be found in the past. That’s an important lesson I feel I’ve forgotten over the last several years.

Thank you, all of you, that I met in the time I explored this game.

Sethimothy – Fenrir Server

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