It was the early morning of May 16th, 2002, and I was one of the few westerners standing in line in front of a store in Akihabara, Tokyo.
As many of the local gamers patiently waiting for the opening time, I was there for the chance of purchasing a copy of the brand new Final Fantasy XI, together with a Japanese PS2 that would allow me to play the game at launch.
Back then, my knowledge of Japanese was nearly non-existent: but, it didn’t matter. As a nearly-addicted MMORPG player who spent most of his time in Dark Age of Camelot, and who absolutely loved Final Fantasy, I wanted to be among the first playing the game that brought the two together.
While western players weren’t affected when the title finally launched in North America a year after, the PS2 launch in Japan was far from smooth. Lack of content and several issues plagued the game, forcing Square Enix to offer apologies and free game time in compensation.
Yet, the game survived and eventually thrived, becoming the most profitable Final Fantasy game ever. Back then, MMORPG gamers were much less demanding, and pioneering times meant that glitches and problems were par for the course instead of a deal breaker.
With hindsight, this probably contributed to the ruinous launch of the first version of Final Fantasy XIV, handled pretty much by the same leadership. Their prior experience encouraged them to launch an incomplete product and patch later, thinking that the franchise’s hitting power would keep things running. That was a radical mistake, and only through an enormous expense of effort and resources, the second Final Fantasy MMORPG managed to be reborn and to thrive.
While most fans have now abandoned Vana’diel for Eorzea or other online lands, or simply left the MMORPG genre during its deflation in the past decade, it’s hard to forget our adventures in Final Fantasy XI.
Back then, many MMORPGs did not hold your hand, and adventuring out of the beaten path (or even on the beaten path) was truly dangerous and scary. Who doesn’t remember the nightmarish first trip to Jeuno across swamps infested by monsters, followed by undead-haunted plains littered with ancient catacombs?
How to forget the thrill of exploring a decidedly dangerous Orc-filled encampment to finally unlock the Paladin job?
MMORPGs are extremely conducive to creating fond memories of fantastic and perilous adventures, and Final Fantasy XI definitely excelled in that.
Final Fantasy XI was revolutionary in quite a few ways, but the most relevant is probably the fact that it was the first MMORPG that put PC and console gamers together on the same servers, bringing two radically different communities together. Following the launch on Xbox 360 in 2006, it even placed PlayStation and Xbox fans side by side on the same battlefield, instead seeing them in the usual opposing camps.
The innovative cross-platform nature created a legacy that transferred into Final Fantasy XIV, and while multiplatform MMORPGs are almost the norm nowadays, having console and PC adventurers together on the same worlds is a feat that even many modern MMORPGs don’t manage (or don’t try) to pull.
After fifteen years, Final Fantasy XI is still alive, and even if support for the console versions has been discontinued, while the game’s population has shrinked considerably, it remains a precious gem in the memory of many. You can check out one of these memories below, with a video that I contributed to making all the way back in 2004.
Fifteen years after that morning in Tokyo, I can smile fondly and say: happy birthday Final Fantasy XI, and thank you.