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Is Simpler Always Better?

Herbie Grate Posted:
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Final Fantasy XI:  Is Simpler Always Better?

MMORPG.com Correspondent Hebie Grate writes this article discussing recent changes to Square Enix's Final Fantasy XI making it more accessible and less difficult.

Many reviews over the years have often described FFXI as “hardcore” or “time consuming.” Whether they are professional or amateur reviews, the consensus seems to be the same; Final Fantasy XI is demanding. Many players, even I on occasion, view this as a good thing. It is, after all, the FFXI tradition, and gives an individual a great sense of accomplishment upon achieving some sort of goal. Others would disagree, asserting that many in the gaming community are casual gamers, and often cite statistics that show players only sign on for a few hours a day. Regardless, things are changing in Vana’diel.

Well over the past year, Square Enix has implemented a variety of updates, geared primarily at easing the game’s difficulty and time consuming properties. Level sync, Campaign, the Fields of Valor, and some would even argue the jobs of Scholar and Dancer. Each of these things are designed to simplify how people build parties, and reduce the amount of time one finds necessary to spend in the game to advance. In addition to these changes, there have also been tutorial NPCs introduced, which give good rewards to newcomers and experience point boosts for new players as well.

I admit, I am a skeptic and a bit of traditionalist when it comes to gaming. I’m a fan of turn based battles, a supporter of random encounters, and I have a bit of a hardcore streak when it comes to a game’s difficulty. It’s because of all of this that many of these things bother me, at least to some extent. For instance, I dislike Scholar, for its combination of all three starting mages (Red Mage, Black Mage, White Mage) and its equal ability to facilitate those magicks and the unfortunate consequences it had on those jobs.

Fields of Valor is the most recent addition in SE’s ongoing effort to lessen FFXI’s difficulty. Field Manuals, located in a variety of areas from North Gustaberg to Xarcabard, allow you to undergo several training regimens based on your Job’s level. Giving you a number of monsters to eliminate in a certain amount of time, and allowing you to receive a chunk of experience points, gil, and “tabs,” which are used to acquire other rewards specifically from the Fields of Valor.

It is, of course, seemingly harmless. A quaint mini-game designed to be a small distraction from the busy lives of many Vana’dielians, filling up only a short amount of time. The kicker is, these regimens can be completed once every Vana’diel day, which is essentially once an hour, depending on when you begin the training regimen. This is but one thing in a long pattern of updates.

After Wings of the Goddess, a large scale battle system was implemented, called Campaign, allowing you to combat with the Beastmen Confederate’s armies. This also had the potential to net a large amount of experience points, but unlike the Fields of Valor, battles can be participated in whenever you like, and depending on which role you take in a combat situation, well over 1,000 experience points can be gained per battle. Of course, there are some catches, such as different level groups have experience point restrictions on them, assuring that lower level players can’t game the system, but the effect remains the same.

It can potentially allow individuals to level their way up the ladder in a certain job simply by campaigning, which enables certain people to skirt the experiences of learning how to participate in a party properly.

Level Sync, a system introduced earlier in 2008, allowed individuals to form parties, regardless of their level, and ‘sync’ levels (including equipment) to one party member which lets people find parties much more often. Many people hail the system of course, and it does what it does well; allowing people to find parties faster and accumulate experience points more efficiently, without having to worry about those pesky level gaps. Also earlier this year, several monsters were adjusted to reward players with more experience points upon their defeat.

However, not all is perfect with this system of course. Increasing the experience point gain from weaker monsters incentivizes soloing, leading to more competition for monsters at certain camp sites. Scaling down equipment is a good idea on paper, but it makes high level equipment or equipment with a lot of special effects or stat-enhancements almost entirely worthless to wear.

Not only that, but certain areas are simpler to party in and other monsters easier to gain experience points from, leading to overcrowding of these areas. Colibri are notoriously easy to gain experience from, as well as Yhoator Mandragora in Yhoator Jungle, and these areas have become more heavily populated since the release and this has occasionally led to some difficulty in finding a proper camp. While the Level Sync system does make it easier to create parties, it also makes it easier for party leaders to weed out undesirable jobs. Now that every person is a potential party member, you’re no longer forced to use jobs around your level range, meaning that unpopular jobs like Beastmasters or Puppetmasters could have a more difficult time finding a group.

Smaller adjustments have been made in other areas of the game as well. Also in the recent update, new warp NPCs were added, monsters in several areas now occasionally drop a “Treasure Casket” containing random goodies, the product taxes on bazaar items in Jueno were abolished, and earlier this year, costs for entering Limbus and Dynamis were halved.

“What’s the problem here,” some of you might be saying. The controversy is because of many veterans and reactionaries to the popularity of simpler, more casual games such as World of Warcraft. Many Final Fantasy XI players find the charm of FFXI relies precisely in its difficulty and its challenge, and many traditionalists (such as myself from time to time) find the trend of games as a whole to a more casual set of gameplay to be unsettling. Many veterans may also feel as if all their hard work was for naught, and that new players have things far easier than they had to contend with.

On the other hand, according to the most recent Vanadiel Census, the vast majority (75%) log in for only 1-3 hours a day, and only 11% of players log in for 4-6 hours a day. It’s only logical that Square Enix would try to accommodate the majority of its players and draw in players who would be interested in FFXI if they felt they could accomplish more things in less time, not only from a purely gaming standpoint, but as a business decision as well.

I wrote this not so much as “the blessed word” but more of an effort to get a discussion going concerning the overall trend that Square Enix has clearly taken over roughly the past year and a half. Is simpler always better? Is easier always the best way to go? Talk to me, Vana’Diel!


Herbie Grate