Finally after weeks of poking and prodding by friends, I decided to reactivate my FFXI account and see how the game has evolved. What follows may not be pretty, but its a somewhat accurate description of my first few days back in Vana'diel.
Part One: Content ID Pitfalls
My friends that still play finally convinced me to come back to the game due to the fact that Square Enix had instituted a “Character Reactivation Service” that could recover my lost characters. “Awesome!” I thought to myself, I'd be able to hop right back into the swing of things with my friends and not have to do all the old content that I wasted hours of my life on back when I was in school. I headed over to the FFXI main page and attempted to reactivate my old character Faucius. Here is where I hit my first snag, I had completely forgotten my Play Online account information! I could remember most of it except for one number which drove me crazy. Then an enormous sense of woe flowed through me, it looked like I was going to have to contact the dreaded, Play Online support team.
Having come from a customer service background I am a very easy going person when it comes to dealing with my fellow customer support brethren. This all is stipulated on the quality of service however; my customer support department had a very high standard of service, so I expect that from all support teams that I encounter. Play Online had always been a thorn in my side with iffy support, so I was reluctant at first to contact them and tried to solve the problem on my own. After a few hours of cursing, frustration, and a few headaches I finally gave up and decided to reach out to them. One problem however, it was a Sunday and their support hours are only Monday through Friday during set hours.
After waiting a day, I attempted to contact their support team through the chat support on their website. I waited in the queue for about an hour before I was connected to a Customer Support “Agent”. I stated my issue clearly and concisely and asked if they could provide me with the account information that I so desperately sought. The Agent fired off a series of automated responses at me asking me for old information, some of which like the original credit card on the account. This seemed a bit silly being that I made the account years ago (and after many nights of losing your card at the bar, that number can change quite a few times). I provided them with all the information that I could and was met with a very abrupt, “You have not provided us with enough information, please locate said information and contact us once again.” I was then cut off from the conversation and left blinking at my screen with anger building in my belly. After contacting them again and asking for a supervisor (which was of course “unavailable at the time”), I finally received my account information and was ready to reactivate my old characters.
The character reactivation was immediate which was fantastic I must say, so I happily logged onto the ever popular Play Online Viewer (heavy sarcasm on that last part). I logged in and listened to the contemporary jazz music that still haunts my dreams; I then realized that I had to go and reactivate my old content ID's in order to log in and play the game. After a bevy of menus and sub-menus, I finally had my content ID reactivated and ready to go; I was finally ready to play the game again.
Part Two: Back in the Saddle
I logged in to see the familiar sights and sounds of San d'Oria; the players running back and forth from the Mog house area, the bagpipe music that makes you want to rip your ears off and place them under your chair after a while. The memories were all flooding back to me and I was happy to be back in the game world. I met up with my friends and they gave me a shiny new link pearl so I could talk to everyone with ease. I was amazed at how friendly and welcoming everyone was, being that in most MMOs now adays, new or returning players are shunned as “Noobs” and are cast out as lepers of civilized game play.
I was filled in about the new level sync system and that when I made it to level ten again on one of my jobs, we would be able to all party together, regardless of level. This was music to my ears; FFXI was long plagued by hours of waiting around for a group if you didn't have a “static party” to play with, (a “static party” is a party comprised of players that will only group and level together, mostly at set times during their day). I was also informed of the “Fields of Valor” event that was taking place; this allowed players to use these little floating books that provided them with mini kill quests out in their zone of choice. Completing these quests granted players with bonus EXP and Gil, as well as “Tabs” that could be used to purchase temporary buffs and food from the book as well. This, might I add, is a fantastic system that Square Enix has put into place. It allows returning players to quickly grind through those annoying starter levels, and it allows new players to have an easier and more guided “starter area” experience.
I quickly burned through my levels and was out into the Valkurm Dunes within a matter of hours. “This is where the game is really going to pick up!” I thought to myself; I was extremely eager to group with my friends again and enjoy the wonderfully complex combat system. I waited at the outpost for my friends to arrive and talked over our voice chat program about where we were going to go and what we were going to do. Once everyone arrived we all grouped up and the group leader set the level sync down to my characters level. We then proceeded to wreak havoc on the monsters in the zone for the next few hours, laughing and telling stories along the way.
Looking back on that night, that was exactly the gaming experience that I've missed so much over the past few years. Games in this genre have become incredibly stagnant in their communities as of late and that's due to the overall design of the games in my opinion. It's always refreshing to come back to a niche game and be reminded of why we still play the games that we play. We, as a community of gamers need more small MMO projects to keep us firmly planted to the ground. Big name projects that try to get millions of subscribers are all well and good and I can appreciate them for what they are. Every once and a while however, we as gamers need to be reminded of what MMO's are at heart, a game that you play with other people. Granted, we take this with its good and its bad, but in the end MMO's are about community and game play, not just grinding for hours to reach end game. For me at least, it's all about the journey and the friends that you make along the way. After all, you can always tell when you've had fun in a game when later that night at the bar you can say, “Dude, you should have been there! This is what happened..” Ultimately I urge everyone to take a vacation back to their gamer roots and explore what brought you into this genera of gaming.
I'd like to end by asking you the players, have you returned to the world of Vana'diel lately? If not, what other old MMO have you recently returned to and what brought you back?