Final Fantasy XIV's early game makes me feel like a worthless intern
The process of starting a new MMORPG has been relatively the same for the last decade or so. The first time you boot the game up, you're shown the basics and some unique mechanics of whichever title you're playing through a series of relatively boring or grindy starting quests. Go kill a zombie in this village, deliver a weapon to this blacksmith, or slay a mob of rabid animals over here. Pretty standard stuff, really. Whether it's World of Warcraft, Elder Scrolls Online, or even some random Chinese mobile MMO, it's the same process almost every single time.
And then there's Final Fantasy XIV, which takes that practice to an extreme I never knew I needed to experience. It realizes the trope that most MMOs fall back on, openly admits to doing the same thing, and says, "Hey, I'll do you one better." It points out to your character pretty explicitly that you'll be doing random odd jobs for a while to "prove yourself." Then, it lets you know just how worthless you are by showing you over and over again that you aren't even worthy of going to kill that random zombie, or even that mob of rabid animals. Instead, you can go deliver someone's groceries, remind a guard their shift is almost up, or, if you're lucky, you can go fight a squirrel. Perhaps you'll even have the honor of dropping off the tools a local carpenter left behind at his last gig. We're talking top-grade stuff.
When you start your journey in Final Fantasy XIV, your character sets out to become an adventurer. But in this horrible, twisted dark mirror of reality, every adventurer starts out the same way: As Eorzea's intern.
They’re all the same
I've been playing MMORPGs for as long as I can remember. In the 2004-2005 era, I was in late middle school, and all of my friends were playing one of two things, depending on the group I asked: Runescape or World of Warcraft. Naturally, being the sucker to peer pressure that I was, I dove into both. In Runescape, I spent my nights after basketball practice hustling people in the Duel Arena north of Al Kharid, convincing suckers that I must be weak and powerless, as I have no weapons or armor on my person before demolishing them with my high-level spells. I didn't play World of Warcraft as much, but my first toon was a Night Elf hunter. I'm still a hunter today, but I've been converted to the church of Sylvanas Did Nothing Wrong, AKA the Horde.
And after those days, I've spent my years dabbling in other massively multiplayer titles, such as Guild Wars, Lineage, and even a weird platform fighter type of game that can best be described as Brawlhalla fused with Maplestory, called Mini Fighter. Not to brag (totally to brag), but I went onto become the world champion at that game, and there's documented online proof of that fact (I'm bravot). And in every single one of those games, even the strange fighting game, starting quests and leveling zones were all extremely similar.
The one game I had never tried, however, was Final Fantasy. Not only had I never tried XIV, which is today's Final Fantasy online title, but I had never played 11 either, which was the first online entry to the franchise. Still, I had played a hundred other MMOs, and I've played several Final Fantasy games through to completion, so I didn't figure there'd be many surprises. I assumed it'd just be a standard Final Fantasy universe that copied the same old MMORPG tropes the other hundred games had done, too. I was pleasantly (and sometimes not-so-pleasantly) surprised.
It isn’t much, but it’s honest work
The craziest part is that is seems like it did copy those same tropes. But it was the first game out of all those games I played that straight up told me, “Yo, this is gonna suck for a while. But if you wanna be a big hero, you gotta shovel cow poop out back for a while.” Okay, maybe it didn’t say that exactly, but you get the jist of it, and this all came from the very first quest giver in the game.
“Surely, it won’t be that bad,” I told myself before heading off into the city excitedly to pick up all the various side quests I could see sprinkled around on my mini map. “Surely, I’ll just have to kill some nobodies for a minute and then I’ll be off into the world.” Boy was I wrong. I was so wrong, in fact, that I didn’t even get to kill a nobody. Killing nobodies was above my paygrade as a newly-signed member of the Adventurer’s Guild.
No, I had to literally go around doing people’s errands for the first few levels. First, I had to go touch a rock in the middle of town. Then, I went to pick up materials at local shops so that I could deliver them to someone that ordered them. And finally, and this one was my favorite, I had to go dance in front of someone’s friend to cheer them up.
I was a delivery boy, an intern, and whatever someone’s called when their job is to touch rocks. And I was having a blast; I didn’t realize how dire the situation was until my friend, who had been in Discord with me this entire time, asked me, “So how’s the combat?” And I was forced to sheepishly reply, after five hours of running around town, “I don’t know, I haven’t fought anything yet.”
The big fight
And then, finally, the time came. I was given a quest to join the local Archer’s Guild so I could train to be an archer, something I assumed I was already, as it made me select my class when I created the character. And my first job for this Archer’s Guild just so happened to be to kill some stuff. What did I have to kill, you may ask?
No, not giant squirrels. Not rabid squirrels. Just regular, bushy-tailed squirrels. Five of them, to be exact. After all of that interning, the first combat I was able to experience was auto attacking and spamming the only ability I had unlocked on a bunch of regular, boring squirrels. This is what I had been training for. And again, for reasons I can’t fathom, I still enjoyed it. It was tedious, it was grindy, and it was lame, and I enjoyed it more than any starting quest in any MMO I had experienced so far. And still, now that I'm about 15 hours into the game, the only reason I can think for how much I enjoyed it is simply that it was honest with me.
In those other MMOs, which I’ve enjoyed immensely over the years, the starting quests are all treated the same. They’re given the same importance as everything else, and never before had any NPC ever come up to tell me, “Hey, this is the lamest work you’ll ever do, but if you wanna make a name for yourself, you gotta do it.” And in Final Fantasy, they did tell me that, and I did want to make a name for myself. I wanted to delve dungeons and fight gods, and if that meant I had to deliver someones herbs, by gosh, I was going to do it.
So if you’re planning on picking up a new MMORPG soon, or perhaps you’re like me, and you’ve been meaning to get around to trying FFXIV but you haven’t had the time, I encourage you to give it a shot. It’s charming, colorful, and it gives purpose to being a level 1 squirrel-slayer.