When discussions about MMO’s come up, there’s usually one particular concern brought to the table: the community. And there’s a lot of them out there to compare. Some good, some bad, some toxic AF and some that are barely there. We’re talking empty servers that sometimes lead to sad goodbyes. Communities are important to MMO’s to help keep them alive. Players want the best during their experiences online and won’t stick around if it leaves a sour taste in their mouth. I’ve only a short list of MMO’s under my belt, but there was one in particular that was sweet, long-lasting and memorable. I was introduced to the Final Fantasy XIV Online community during a time I needed a distraction from some IRL problems I was dealing with. But this MMO went from solely being a gaming experience to a social interaction I would look forward to every time I logged on.
Final Fantasy XIV Online has been, I guess you could say, my life for the majority of the last 7 years. For me it wasn’t only a game. It was part social network, part support group and part family. What I would eventually take out of this game is something I never expected when I first started playing. The community at large have to be the best interactions I’ve ever had in-game. That’s not to say I’ve never had a nice interaction in other online communities. I became a member of a guild in one particular community who were some of the funniest people I’ve met. And they were Australian too. Unfortunately, that guild collapsed and I didn’t have the best experience afterwards either. There was too much of a competitive feel, not against each but more so progression. Nor did I feel overly welcomed, I was the new guy who they’d only known for 5 seconds. I felt like I wasn’t important enough for the same interactions they had with one another or help for that matter.
However I’ve never felt this way in any Free Companies (FF XIV’s version of guilds), Link Shells (outer FC social groups) or even the general community in Final Fantasy XIV Online though. Instead I’ve met so many positive people from different walks of life from all over the world. There are people to this day who no longer play that I still keep in touch with too. And I was even lucky enough to meet a couple of them on the opposite side of the world last year. This game has a very special place in my heart with so many fond memories during, to put it bluntly, my addiction. But after playing nothing but Final Fantasy XIV Online while my backlog pile was forever growing, I stepped away from the game after the last Heavensward expansion raids were released. Although I was more focused on single player games, I briefly came back for Stormblood to continue the story and level up my main. This was before I became a games writer and constantly had different games to review. These days, I don’t exactly have huge amounts of free time to grind for gear or level up multiple classes. However I was recently able to find the time to come back. Not just to catch up with the latest expansion, Shadowbringers, but also catch up with some old friends while reflecting on past experiences.
My time with Final Fantasy XIV Online comes in separate parts. While I truly got hooked onto the game back in late 2014, I actually joined in 2013 during the 2.0 beta and then very briefly after its official launch. I’ll be honest, in the beginning I was actually terrible at the game. This was my first MMO experience and it showed. I chose a tank class without really looking into what a tank was nor did I take much notice of what they did. While I was having fun doing quests and binge crafting (which to this day I still question as to why,) the dungeons weren’t my strong suit. Add in the fact I was running them with other players and you have a recipe for anxiety. I had players calling me out and would even jump out of the party, which meant that unless I was able to git gud I had no way of progressing any further. Not wanting to go through that experience again, I put the game back on my shelf thinking I’d never come back to it again.
Fast forward a year later, I was going through a rough patch where I was constantly feeling depressed. My mental state wasn’t the greatest and without some form of distraction I became a giant bottle of emotions busting open. Gaming helped me a lot but there’s only so much in a video game to help calm the madness. A buddy I had met through another online community had brought up Final Fantasy XIV Online and told me I should play it. This brought back a lot of that anxiety and I told them why. However he offered not only help but also a Free Company to join. Alas, after much umming and uhhing, I took up his offer and re-subbed.
I made a new character on his server and was met with open arms by his FC. They became strong pillars for me during my return, or as I like to call it, my second coming. For the first few weeks I was like a scared baby animal in dungeons. However help wasn’t too far away. If I ever asked to run a dungeon because strangers were too scary at the time, the FC wouldn’t hesitate to jump in. With the FC’s guidance as well as the help of a Youtuber named Mizzteq (who I’d later fan girl over when we met in-game on my alt) I was running through dungeons like a pro. When I wasn’t running dungeons with the FC, we were always having a good yarn in chat (both text and voice) while virtually hanging out in our FC house. Eventually I felt comfortable opening up to them and I learned that I wasn’t alone in calling the FC a safe haven. Like myself, there were others going through difficult times IRL and like me, what kept them sane was logging on. Not everyone would elaborate but some were more than happy to open up and talk. It was surprising how comfortable I felt being able to open up to them, even though the most I knew about these people were their display names. Yet we still created the same kind of bonds I’d make with IRL mates. Although there are players I still talk to, I’ve unfortunately lost contact with most of my original FC members and it’s these people I miss the most.
While the the people in this FC were amazing, I had bigger aspirations at the time that I wanted to fulfil. I wanted to get into raiding and be up with the big boys. I was confident but super nervous at the same time. I had raided before but it was the old content, the stuff that almost anyone ran at that stage. The newer raids were where it was at, but to get there I needed to not only find a group but also had to clear content to access the new raids. My FC felt too casual for me when it came to end-game content meaning I had to go rogue. I knew what raiding groups were like too and it was intimidating. It made me wonder, “What if these people aren’t as friendly or helpful as my FC?” Apart from dungeons I was only interacting with fellow FC members at the time. But I trusted my gut and put a message out to the server to which I quickly received one back. A player had offered to help and we soon organized a time to give me some pre-fight education with his girlfriend. Not long after, this couple were teaching me the in’s and outs of this raid I wanted to clear. They weren’t hardcore raiders but they sure knew what they were talking about. They were super friendly and put my mind at ease when going into the fight. And of course, we (partially) nailed it. Some weeks after receiving my clear I ran into them again and hit them up about joining in other fights.
This began new friendships with them and other players outside of my FC as well as a new wave of confidence. I felt like I’d become not so much a new person but a better version of myself. If it wasn’t for such a positive communal experience, I probably would have stuck with casual content for the rest of the time I played. However this also eventually led me to saying goodbye to my FC and the Mateus server and hello to Behemoth, an even larger server with more opportunities. It was very bitter sweet but what I wanted wasn’t in the FC nor the server. Along with more groups to run content with, there was something else I never had on Mateus, fellow Australians! Granted I didn’t exactly click with one particular Aussie group, which became one of the very few negative experiences in Final Fantasy XIV Online I can count on one hand. This was both on their part and mine. Something about them didn’t rub me right and I had joined this raid group during another rough time in my life. This combination wasn’t a good mix and I kind of blame myself more than them. But there were a couple of other Australians outside of this group who I’d semi-frequently run into and were even part of the next raid group I was in.
But later that year, I decided to log off until the launch of the next expansion, Stormblood. A month passed and I was logging off again, but it wasn’t anything personal. I stopped playing Final Fantasy XIV Online for a couple of years while I focused both on single player games as well as a new career path later on in games media. I bought the latest expansion last year but never allowed myself the time to get as acquainted as I would have in the past. But over the last month I’ve come back to see what all the fuss has been about while hopefully getting to see some familiar faces as well.
Unfortunately not all of my friends were there, well at least not in the FC. There were some who had chosen to join other FC’s, but even so, some hadn’t been online in a while. Like with any MMO, some players either choose not to re-sub or they simply can’t afford it. This was understandable and not so bad in some cases. As previously mentioned, there are many I’m still in contact with outside of the game and have recently spoken too. But I was still greeted with a huge sense of joy. My name popped up in the FC chat box in big capital letters from a few people. It was so nice to see these people names again and it instantly put a smile on my face. The majority of the FC are based in the USA, particularly the east coast, so being able to catch up with them regularly is hard since our peak-hours are obviously very different. This meant mornings were my best chance for us to catch up. After a few hours I was instantly reminded why I fell in love with the FC. The remaining members, both old and new, have the same friendly and helpful nature. They’re the sort who drop anything they’re doing in-game to help someone out which is the exact same experience I was offered when I first started playing. It’s a big difference from some communities who will only run content with their friends or are more on the hardcore side whom don’t seem as approachable.
Since I wasn’t able to always log-in of a morning, nights were when I was usually logging on the most. But it lacked so much social interaction since my FC were either fast asleep or at work. The thought of finding a new FC honestly crossed my mind, but I couldn’t bring myself to saying goodbye to another one. Eventually I sent another message out to the server, this time not for raid groups but for friends. Aussie friends. If I didn’t want to find another FC than finding an active Aussie Linkshell to connect and run some casual content with was my best bet. For the most part I just wanted online friends in what’s considered a very social game. Especially after running a plethora of older story content friendless. It’s not like it was a bad experience, even though I went in blind for most of it, caused a slightly large scale blunder here or there and made one player EXTREMELY angry. I just missed the friendly banter and laughs that I experienced back in the day and it’s where many of the fond memories come from. Luckily, after a couple of nights I was successful in finding new friends. They’re a chill group of Aussies from different servers who are good for the dungeon runs as well as the bants. It isn’t the FC but they do help me feel like I’m back at home when I’m online.
Of course, I’m not able to spend all of my time on Final Fantasy XIV Online but I’m going to try and log-in a little more regularly. At least I now know when I do make the occasional appearance there’s always going to be friendly faces in the community, whether they’re familiar or not. The game has definitely changed in some ways during my break but I’m mostly happy that the community has stayed the same. It’s the reason why I fell in love with the game and it’s what shaped my whole experience over the last 7 years.
So to those on Mateus, Behemoth and many others I’ve crossed paths with from other servers, thank you!
Final Fantasy XIV Online is what it is because of all of you.