Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Memoria de Eorzea

During the first two weeks of October 2011, I was possessed by the spirit of battle. I was presented with a daunting challenge, and I decided to step up and pursue it with everything I could muster. I gathered my friends and allies around me. I took volunteers willing to fight. I took anyone who would stand with me in battle to throw ourselves against fate. From these allies and volunteers, I forged a team I was sure would win and one after another they faltered, but each failure was bringing me closer and closer to victory. The time I spent out of battle was spent in deep thought, or in deep conversation with my trusted council of strategists. The thoughts of immanent victory consumed me. I ate and slept very little. I would see this beast fall. I would slay this being that shackled my spirit, imprisoned my mind and tested my sanity. I would defeat Ifrit.

The introduction of the Ifrit battle was a big deal, not just to Final Fantasy XIV, but to me personally. He is a recurring creature in the series, and most notably an early summon spell for summoner class characters, which have always been my favorite since my introduction to them in FinalFantasy IV, 1991. I believe part of my affection for the class (as well as “Final Fantasy” in general) is because it draws on a wealth of mythology to fuel its imagery. The summon Ifrit is based on Ifrit/Efreet from Arabian mythology, which is a type of djinn or genie that is an embodiment of fire. As a mythology enthusiast, I was drawn to these allusions within the “Final Fantasy” series. It was exciting for me to be able to summon Odin into battle, and equip Mjolnir or Excalibur. It set the series apart for me at a very early age, and since then I have had quite a strong connection with its summoners over the years. Unfortunately, Final Fantasy XIV does not have a summoning class at the time of this writing, so being able to stand toe-to-talon with this monster is the next best thing. It’s also worth pointing out that in order to summon these monsters, one often has to best them in combat to prove one’s worth, so if they ever did decide to add a summoner to Final Fantasy XIV, I would be ready.

Ifrit, via Final Fantasy XIV
Ifrit also fire-breathed new life into a very stagnant game. Due to a very poor launch state, Final Fantasy XIV is undergoing a continuous revision aiming for a re-launch as “Version 2.0” later in 2012. Players were allowed to continue playing and all understood that the game was undergoing some massive overhauls so we would have to be patient while waiting for a new battle system, class reforms, crafting reforms, and especially content which would require all these reforms to have a foundation at the least. So when Ifrit finally erupted into the game, it was a very momentous occasion. There was finally something to do and something worthy to fight. I am not understating this when I say that Ifrit is the most challenging content I’ve ever faced in a Massive Multiplayer Online game. He is a worthy adversary by no stretch of the imagination.

"Ifrit Bleeds We Can Kill It"
The first time I stood inside that burning circle facing Ifrit, I was bewitched. Never before had a “Final Fantasy” game required so much of me. My various defeats on that inauspicious day drove me into a frenzy. If I was awake, I was fighting against Ifrit. Day after day, defeat after defeat, I vaguely realized how I was becoming monomaniacal. I forged a team of players who I thought could defeat Ifrit, and though we came close, we hit a proverbial wall. We threw ourselves at it for days without making any progress and so I disbanded that team and formed another. Feelings were perhaps hurt, egos wounded, but I pressed on, blinded by my own ambition. A Japanese team was now consistently defeating Ifrit, and I threw myself at their mercy to train me, and teach me their ways. They shared with me in broken English their tips and techniques. They created a video for me and me alone to watch. Finally they took me and my strategist companion, Shin, with them to show us how it was done and everything fell into place. We had become the first North American and European on our server to see the monster bested in combat, but it was not enough.

Despite how badly I wanted to kill this monster, to see it done by a team I had not trained was surprisingly unsatisfying. Armed with new knowledge, a new team was forged from the ashes of the old and we progressed ever closer to victory. It was on one fateful night that I made the alliances with people whom I considered inferior moral quality, but superior playing ability (a decision I came to regret). Together with members of the new team, we managed to slay the beast and as a result my wife was the first North American to claim an Ifrit-themed prize. This was the victory I craved, though it came with cost. I had sold my soul and played with players I knew to be liars and cheats. I had done everything with single-minded purpose to defeat my White Whale in the form of a red, fiery demon. I swore next time would be different; next time I would be different.

Shai, Shin & Nimla, Heroes of Their Time
As far as I know, there will not be a next time, though. I’m still quite torn up about leaving Final Fantasy XIV behind me. I was looking forward to playing it since it was announced mid-2009. I was loyal and faithful to it for over a year beyond its botched launch. I really appreciated the original freedom to play how you wanted to play, and build your own class. Your character was a blank slate that you could fill up with abilities as you leveled new classes, and while there was no sword-wielding mage class, you could make one if you wanted by leveling two jobs and combining them. Much of the game orbited around the idea of creating the kind of character that you wanted to play in any way you could think to play it. However, this was too unstructured for people, according to player polls and responses, and all these interesting, creative features have been thrown out for a nearly identical job-system that the predecessor, FinalFantasy XI, features. The original systems of Final Fantasy XIV were bland and lacked a certain amount of flash, but I think the core ideas were truly impressive and I simply would have liked to see the idea fleshed out and added upon. However, due to the failed launch, the developer decided to redesign the entire game. They are currently aiming for a re-launch later in 2012 under the name “Final Fantasy XIV version 2.0.”

I miss Shai & Nimla very much.

There is a part of me that is still attached to my character, attached to the story the game was building and the lore of Eorzea. That part of me is curious about how version 2.0 will turn out. It whispers the evil thoughts to me that I may want to log in when it launches and see what kind of game this has actually become. I am, in a sense, heart-broken, though. It is an unpleasant experience to watch something you like wither and die and get replaced by something proven to be more financially successful. I remember people telling me that this is all for the good of the game, that it needs more people playing in order to generate enough revenue to keep it going and updating. I understand all that, but it’s simply not good for me, if I’m not even going to play it anymore. The game may go on and be successful, but if I’m not going to enjoy it, what difference does it make to me? I held the unpopular opinion that Final Fantasy XIV was at its core a great game, released before it was ready, and not allowed to blossom before they brought in the heavy machinery to tear it down and plant new seeds. I may see what grows in its place, but it mostly feels to be a worse version of Final Fantasy XI now, a game that I was done and tired of in 2009. I fear that despite my curiosity I won’t be heading back to Eorzea, but thanks again for Ifrit and the other fond memories.


Related Links
 The Blog I Kept for Shai Hulud of Mysidia - http://kirushai.blogspot.com/
(discontinued, of course)

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