The year was 2006, and I wasn’t in a good place. I had temporarily dropped out of high school because my girlfriend cheated on me, and I struggled at my job at GameStop. I was supposed to graduate with all of my friends, but instead, I had to go to summer school to finish my diploma. I lost any collegiate aspirations I had because I let my social life take precedence over my academics. I even lost my best friend through high school because I tried ruining his relationship with his girlfriend so he could spend more time hanging out with me. I was in a bad place mentally, and nothing was going right for me in 2006.
I Was In A Dark Place
When I was stocking games at GameStop, I noticed a Final Fantasy title I hadn’t heard of before. For the Xbox 360.
The game was called Final Fantasy XI Online, and it already had three expansion packs. I was already a fan of the Final Fantasy series, but the last one I played was Final Fantasy X, and that was before high school. I wasn’t much of a gamer through high school. I played a few games here and there, but I focused more on hanging out with friends and after school activities than sitting around with my Xbox.
However, at that moment, standing there in the GameStop with this game in my hand, I was promised epic adventures in a beautiful world along with thousands of other people. While I was at one of my worst at the moment, I had the opportunity to be so much more in a virtual world. After my shift, I rang up my purchase and went home.
I Almost Never Made It In With The PlayOnline Menu
My adventure in Vana’diel almost never came to be because of the PlayOnline menu. The catchy menu music quickly drove me to despair as I tried to figure out how to set up an account through the game itself, then through my computer. I was still living with my parents at the time, so I had a hard time explaining to my father why I needed his credit card to play a video game (since the game has a monthly subscription).
I Was Already Familiar With Final Fantasy Titles
I knew about the Final Fantasy series already. I played the first disc of Final Fantasy VII, the entirety of Final Fantasy VIII, and Final Fantasy X. However, my high school life took a big chunk out of my gaming life, so I have to admit, when I was finally able to log in, I had no idea what I was doing.
I was a new player who, like most gamers, didn’t read any guide. To be fair, there wasn’t a comprehensive tutorial to the game when you start. They plop you into the city of your choice after you create your character and the first mission starts.
The Kingdom of San d’Oria
I started in Southern San d’Oria on the Carbuncle server. I knew no one and did no research on the servers. This would be my home server for the first year or so of my time there. I chose San d’Oria because I always liked elves, knights, castles, and a medieval aesthetic in general. The other starting cities didn’t appeal to me much. I started as the generic male human (or humes, as they’re called in the game), and ran around until I accidentally zoned outside into Ronfaure.
When I stepped out into Ronfaure for the first time, I was captivated by the music. While the graphics are a bit aged now, at the time, it felt like I was in a sprawling forest. My eyes were glued to the television as I took a couple of steps forward and ran into a worm.
I started as a Red Mage, so I assumed I could attack this worm and defeat it with powerful magic. However, I didn’t know I needed a weapon or had to learn magic in the first place. This worm would be my first death in Final Fantasy XI.
When I hit the home point button to go back to San d’Oria, I was excited. I was a fresh-faced adventurer with a whole world to explore. There was no sadness over my real-life situations. Whenever I booted up the game, I had an escape from the real world.
This led to years worth of ups and downs as I adventured through Vana’diel. From punishing parties in Valkurm Dunes to crying when I saw Al’Taieu for the first time after a painful six months of clearing Chains of Promathia missions, I have years of stories to tell. Unfortunately, my time came to an end when I tried going to college almost six years later. I would sporadically try to go back between 2012-2018, but real-life always got in the way.
At the end of 2021, life will change for me for the better. I will return to my childhood home in Japan. Unfortunately, that means my window is closing to find closure in the game by finishing all the stories and finally saying, “I’ve finished it.”
“Returning To Vana’diel: One Last Trip Home” will chronicle my last adventure through Vana’diel as I create an entirely new character and bring him to the end. However, before I start this adventure, I need to know there are those interested in reading it. Final Fantasy XI won’t be around much longer, and neither will I, so I need to be able to say I’ve finally found closure with a game that’s been a huge part of my life.
Let me know if this is something you would be interested in reading.