Game Design Spotlight #15: The Intricacies Of Level Grinding Prep In FFXI Is Tediously Fulfilling
Eventually, the fruits of your labor will shine when it matters most.
Welcome to the 15th installment of the Game Design Spotlight! This column is your weekly dose of my analysis of game design elements across many multiplayer titles, such as Naraka: Bladepoint's threatening grappling hook and the immersive quest structure in The Lord of the Rings Online. Last week, I discussed how skill gems in Path of Exile make player experimentation actually fun in the short and long term. And as for today, I will guide us through Final Fantasy XI once again, but this time to talk about the intricate preparation required before level grinding.
Since my last discussion covering the Eden classic version of Final Fantasy XI, I've gotten attached to the game through hours of farming for gold, level grinding, and gear progression. From my experience, nothing is ever simple or fast in this game. And as a newcomer, paving my way through dangerous zones in fear of getting one-shot is a familiar reality. These reasons alone keep many away, but those aspects are why I choose to stick around.
For the better part of my time in-game, I spend it level grinding my jobs in various party camps or solo at lower levels. The length of the process is no different than how it was for early 2000s MMORPGs. You'll run pathways burned into your memory after killing who knows how many mobs to score a level or two across hours of game time. Final Fantasy XI has all that jazz, but what I find the most daunting about it is the complications of prepping.
It's not as simple as, "hey, I want to log in and grind a bit," but rather, "what will I need to bring to support my team and myself" so nothing goes wrong? The Eden version - and, by extension, the bygone era of FFXI - expects a lot from players seeking groups to gain levels.
The Auction House will become your best friend as you scour its interface for manageable gear and pivotal food items beforehand. Not to mention, you should increase weapon skills because they're significant to put down enemies faster, and knowing the lay of the land has its benefits when making your way from place to place to grind. Just about every step before the actual grinding feels incredibly tedious, but in the end, you walk away from a great party session that fulfills you and validates your commitment.
Rubbing Two Coins Together
Not having the proper resources to outfit your character properly is a hill you will have to come to terms with early into this prepping process. You know that the chest piece you've been wearing for over ten levels now won't cut it for long, but the armor piece you need in the Auction House runs three times what you got currently. At this point, you can either farm monsters for drops and sell them to other players or use your remaining coins to purchase different equipment if you're lucky.
And don't forget about your food. Yeah, it will clean out your wallet, but I can't tell you how many times food items scored me a juicy critical hit with my axe when I needed it most. Everything and anything you aim to purchase always feels like a do-or-die situation. You never recklessly give it away on fickle things, instead finding ways to build your prowess and survivability because money does not grow on virtual leaves.
What makes the Auction House intricate is that just buying stuff haphazardly is a no-no, even the really great items. It's like a game-within-a-game situation. Players run the Auction House, and most flock to it out of desperation for cheap purchases. However, a quick Google search will show that you can get those same items from a nearby quest or an NPC shop down the road for a much saner price. The financial gymnastics before heading to the battlefield is crucial in the long run to save for future purchases and perform at your best. But then, you might ask...
"Am I Really Ready?"
Probably not. You might get halfway to the zone you need to be in to start level grinding and forgot your food or (like me) a weapon you stowed away until level 20. Even worse, you have no weapon skills, no subjob to strengthen your character's capabilities, and no understanding of monster abilities in your grinding area that you should be wary of.
That phase of heading to a map is a long trek of thinking, visualizing, and researching what you'll be doing in the next few hours. If you're coming from the starting cities to level in Valkrum Dunes for the first time, the crazy long trek across vast maps with enemies raring to destroy you on the spot will be stressful. You got no clue how things work, and you're moving to a far-off land to hit off with people who may or may not teach you the ropes. All of this makes you question how ready you are, and honestly, the feeling never goes away until you brave the dangers ahead.
A Scathing Introduction That Builds Confidence
The introduction to level grinding in Final Fantasy XI's classic years is, without a doubt, a scathing experience. You start from zero and feel like no progress is being made until you make that first kill, that first big gear purchase, or that first step into a new zone. Each leveling session carries the same momentum, but the know-how necessary to face whatever could happen in those long hours builds confidence that makes players into veterans.
At the apex of the level cap, veterans can attest to the memories of slogging through areas and figuring things out the hard way. FFXI has that frustrating charm of making your life harder through its interface and not holding your hand in the slightest. Although, overcoming its nuances never feels like a slap in the face or something given to me. I earned it through trial and error, through my luckiness and unfortunate demise. For me, that makes the time I put in worth it.
That concludes another week of the Game Design Spotlight! Have you played any games recently that feel tedious yet equally fulfilling? And do you think this old era of grinding preparation necessary would attract today's players? Let us know below! Also, feel free to comment on games or features you would like me to cover for future stories if you have any suggestions!
About the Author
Anthony Jones is a gaming journalist and late 90s kid in love with retro games and the evolution of modern gaming. He started at Mega Visions as a news reporter covering the latest announcements, rumors, and fan-made projects. FFXIV has his heart in the MMORPGs scene, but he's always excited to analyze and lose hours to ambitious and ambiguous MMOs that gamers follow.
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