It was a cold, quiet day in Jeuno.
The time was midday, but I can’t say whether the sun was out. The auction house and most of the concourse stood unusually empty. A few adventurers passed without words or a glance; they just walked by, shoulders sagging, eyes fixed forward.
My linkshell leader, Zarovich, was standing near me. He leaned against a wall, starring down at the concrete between his boots. I asked my leader what was wrong.
The world was ending, he said.
A profound feeling of desperation pressed upon Jeuno like a giant, invisible fist. I watched silently as the remaining, scattered adventurers exited the city for the last time. Even Zarovich left, although I didn’t see him go. My head was swimming. I didn’t want it to end.
I was walking to the chocobo stables when I woke up.
In my five years of playing Final Fantasy XI, only a few times has the game ever occupied my dreams. That one stayed with me though. I was glad it was only a dream, that I wouldn’t have to say goodbye to my virtual world or the real friendships within it.
Now, though, that dream seems more like prophecy.
Count me among the masses of players who are excited over the upcoming release of Final Fantasy XIV, which has long been referred to as "Rapture" by the folks at Square Enix. Based on my experiences in FFXI -- and from what I know of Square Enix -- I believe the new game will be nothing short of spectacular. A new world awaits, and I plan on being there when it goes live.
That said, I also don’t plan on leaving Vana’diel. I wonder, though, what will Vana’diel be like after The Rapture?
With Eorzea on the horizon, what will happen to the virtual world we inhabit now? Square Enix has promised at least one more year of new content, but what happens after that? Will the development team invest in an entirely new expansion to keep the game fresh? How long will Altana’s adventurers remain without significant, new content to experience and overcome? Are we almost at that point when the loathed question “is FFXI dying” is actually a valid question?
It’s too early to know whether the dawn of Eorzea will spell the end of Vana‘diel. There are too many players across too many servers for FFXI to die entirely, at least anytime soon. It wouldn’t surprise me if FFXI lived on for years to come.
Yet I can’t shake the feeling that a storm is coming. It started a few months ago when several in-game friends ended their FFXI careers. Their exodus didn‘t leave many members in our old social linkshell, and nobody left had the time available to lead. Rather than see our linkshell fade into oblivion, we decided to end it while we still had an ounce of strength left.
My Vana’diel experience has suffered without my longtime friends. Gone are the days of long linkshell chats, hilarious inside jokes and random late-night adventures. I still do dynamis, I still do campaign and I still try to help people with quests and missions when I can.
Without my friends, though, I often feel like I’m just going through the motions -- and more than ever I find myself asking why.
The Rapture -- the day when Final Fantasy XIV goes live -- will take many more adventurers from Vana’diel.
Some people will leave Final Fantasy XI to concentrate fully on the new game. Some will try to play both games, limiting the time they can spend with friends in Vana’diel. Others will keep playing until they’ve reached the end of the storyline or accomplished their in-game goals. Some will just stop playing.
Many adventurers who remain in Vana’diel will struggle with the same feelings I’ve faced during the past few months. That will cause more people to quit, which will cause more people to struggle, which will cause more people to quit.
Who knows how deeply this exodus will affect the game. If the cut is deep -- and I think it will be -- then the impact will be felt in all corners of Vana’diel.
What will happen to endgame linkshells as longtime leaders leave for the new game? Will larger groups merge before FFXIV to bolster their numbers to preemptively make up for people leaving?
Will the dawn of Eorzea be the sunset for new players in FFXI? The influx of new players is already at a trickle. Without new blood, will small social linkshells survive?
Veteran crafters who long ago reached their peaks in Vana’diel may migrate to the new game for a fresh start at striking it rich. Who will be left to create needed items and consumables in FFXI? And what will happen to the game’s economy?
Will the day come when you get more /tells from BroGames than you get from your friends?
Nothing quite like this has happened in the MMO world. Yes, I know, a certain 10-year-old game called Everquest is still being played (and updated) years after its sequel, Everquest II, hit game store shelves. The population of Everquest supposedly took a substantial hit once EQII went live, but players who felt more at home in Everquest eventually trickled back to the original title.
However, many Final Fantasy XI players are not hardcore MMO gamers -- they are hardcore Final Fantasy fans.
We have been trained since the 1980s to buy and conquer the next Final Fantasy challenge. Even when given a game we don’t like (as I slog my way through FFXII), we still play through until we reach that ending cutscene. I liken the Final Fantasy series to a series of books. True fans want to read every single page.
Honestly, I don’t think it matters whether FFXIV pales in comparison to Everquest II. What matters is there was only one Everquest game before EQII. Meanwhile, there have been numerous Final Fantasy titles released across several different systems over the past two decades. We have grown up with Final Fantasy, and it seems logical we will continue to do so. To me, that indicates the playerbase shift from FFXI to FFXIV could be far more dramatic than the shift from EQ to EQII.
I’m very eager to experence Final Fantasy XIV. Those of us who are swept away by Rapture will be digitally reborn in a new, vibrant world.
Meanwhile, those left in Vana’diel will face Judgment Day. Many will be forced to make the ultimate decision: leave with their friends, or walk the world alone?
There’s plenty to love about Final Fantasy XI, but the best parts of the game are not dropped by monsters or added in with new expansions. It’s the people, the friendships, the memories and our virtual sense of purpose that compel us to keep logging in.
I won‘t give up on Vana‘diel. There are people who will keep playing until Square Enix literally rips the controls from their hands. That alone might be enough for SE to keep some servers running.
Still, I keep thinking back to that dream I had so long ago. Beyond Rapture and Judgment Day, is that the end that ultimately awaits those who stay? Or will the children of Altana carry on, even though drastic changes seem inevitable?
When the world ends, I plan to be in Valkurm Dunes, in that small cave west of Selbina. That’s where the game began for me, and fittingly, that’s where it will end. In my dream, I suspect that’s where I was going before I woke up.
In reality, I hope I won’t be heading there anytime soon.