“No… NO! He’s casting Ultima!” “Stop him, everyone stop him! Hit him with everything you’ve got!”
Eight voices scream in unison, summoning the powers that give them strength. A paladin finds the light within him to draw his blade down harder, threatening to shatter it with each swing. A mage, empowered by the family she’s protecting cuts her healing short, shifting all her mana forward to stone the enormous machine to rubble. Servants of a dark god abandon their goals for just a moment – there is no profit in ruling over a decimated world. Spellcasters, swordsmen, and spear-wielders unite, striking hard at the heart of a weapon designed to kill gods.
When the crystal shatters and the magical power within fades to naught, all of them breathe a sigh of relief. They’ve one more fight to deal with, a fight to save a friend, but the Ultima Weapon has fallen, Gaius van Baelsar is defeated, and the Seventh Umbral Era has come to a close with their actions. The future will not bring true peace, but this is something worth holding dear. That, they will do.
Roleplayers carry an unusual place within the MMO community. While everyone enjoys the progress and gameplay of an MMORPG, roleplayers instead seek to create a deeper world within it. They look for interactions in much the same way as an actor looks for his next line. They’re a tiny community to each MMO, generally only occupying a few servers. However, they tend to become some of the more close-knit communities in said MMOs, developing a sense of community that is both welcoming, encouraging and a little bit quirky. While they have their share of reputations – both positive and negative – none can say that the roleplaying communities of MMOs do not do things differently than the rest of the game.
A few weeks prior I had an engaging experience in Final Fantasy XIV. The “final boss” of the game is found in one of the first eight-man dungeons, an area called The Praetorium. Within the Praetorium is a unique experience for this game. The dungeon has upwards of thirty minutes of cutscene time. The story of Final Fantasy XIV is worthy of the legendary title “Final Fantasy” and the Praetorium finishes that initial story well, offering the player a confrontation against the Imperial Legatus, Gaius van Baelsar, who has been the primary antagonist thus far.
The player will then fight through multiple waves of enemies, until he finally faces down against the unfathomly powerful Ultima Weapon. This weapon has proven capable of destroying Primals, near-god like creatures which threaten all the land before them, and even as it decimates them it absorbs them. This weapon is the greatest threat Eorzea has faced since its land was burned by Bahamut, and its defeat is a final moment of hope in the story.
However, many players will not experience this within the dungeon.
The Praetorium takes approximately thirty minutes to complete. The cutscenes double this time to around an hour. The dungeon is queued for via the game’s dungeon finder, and as such it is drawn from the many players of the many servers within a server’s block. Significant rewards are offered for the queue, and many players join the trial simply to move through it as fast as they can, get the rewards, and leave. Thus, a problem arises whenever a player who is new wishes to experience the story of the game. They are often left behind and abandoned by their group as a whole, as the group skips cutscenes in order to move faster. Often, the group encourages them to do the same, forcing them to skip in order to keep up and miss out on the storyline as a whole. One can return to their inn to view the cutscenes, but to a traditional RPG player this is effectively the same as skipping the fight against Sephiroth’s cutscenes, only to reload the game later to see what he was talking about.
Of course, having to queue the first time, this left a horrible taste in my mouth. This isn’t how a final boss is supposed to end, is it? Having to skip the entire climax of a story in order to move as fast as one possibly can? I was extremely dissatisfied with the entire experience of the Praetorium, and disappointed in my fellow players. I decided to give it one last go, to try to get a team pre-made to redo the Praetorium and see if I could experience the story the way it was meant to be told.
What I received was instead a reaffirmation that the only place to be is on a roleplaying server.
It started with the couple of players close to me, who were interested in a cutscene-heavy run. However, the interests swiftly changed to a roleplay-styled run. What was supposed to be a one hour run nearly hit the two hour limit. The eight of us marched into the Praetorium unknowns to each other. We played it off as if we were all assigned by the head of a major military organization, the Immortal Flames, to deal with this threat along with others. Two of the players were non-roleplayers, tagging along because it was presumably an easy enough run.
By the end of the run, they had become roleplayers.
We faced off against Gaius van Baelsar, and defeated his minions. A disconnect caused us to talk to each other as we moved to the next area. We took control of the Empire’s reapers, and screamed in joy as we ran through our foes with cannon fire and determination.
We faced off against Gaius’ second in command, Nero tol Scaeva, and broke him in two on the path to face down the Ultima Weapon. As we took down an elevator to the gigantic war machine, Gaius decided to engage us then and there to determine our strength. Finding it satisfactory as we arrived at the holding bay for Ultima, he left us to pilot the weapon. Another disconnect caused us to remain in place for a time. This was when we got to know each other. As characters, we formed bonds and exchanged contact information. Occasionally someone brought up Gaius, but we played it off that the man was waiting for us. He wished to test his newfound weapon, and he was a patient sort.
Finally, our disconnect returned and we stepped into the room. Our attacks had no effect until finally, the guardian deity of Eorzea decided to step in.
This was an interesting moment. A couple of the players slowed down their DPS for just a few moments, stunned by the effects of the Light of Hydaelyn. These players were earlier established as “enemies of enemies”, not true allies but instead convenient alliances against a common enemy. This was entirely in character for them, and it was remarkable that they did so. Yes, it slowed down the fight, but at the end of it I walked out of that room completely satisfied, and with another seven people on my friends list.
Too often we get caught up in the grind of MMORPGs. We follow our friends and shove ourselves forward in order to increase our gear, so that we can do the next set of raids, which gives us more gear to do more raids, and so on and so forth. It’s an intentionally created cycle, and we all appreciate it. However, MMOs are slowly changing from the World of Warcraft formula. Companies have realized that you do not beat WoW, you fight on a different plane. Final Fantasy XIV fights with the legacy of the games that came before it, and seeks to offer both an engaging MMORPG experience as well as a story that can compete with that of its predecessors. While I understand that others sometimes just wish to be done with what they view as “required work” for the day, it isn’t necessary to ruin the experiences of others to do so. Sometimes, a bit of patience to give someone else a better experience is a better reward than a few more points for your next piece of gear.
On Balmung, I found friends who wanted to experience the Ultima Weapon fight the way roleplayers do. They wanted to feel the oppression of doing barely any damage, they wanted to feel the enlightenment of being uplifted by Hydaelyn. The DPS race against the second casting of Ultima was a chance for all of us to be heroes, in that moment.
That is what a shared roleplaying game experience is, to me. Every player’s experience is different. However, as a storyteller, knowing that I can add a new chapter to the experiences of my character is what I live for. I look for the RPG part of that acronym, and as we faced off against Eorzea’s ultimate threat, I found it and more.
Enjoy your time in a game, because it won’t be the mindless raids you remember five years from now. It will be the moments that were anything but ordinary. That phoenix mount is beautiful, but the story of how you got it is moreso. Tell that, my friends, and you have yourself a tale.Related: Column, Community, Final Fantasy XIV, MMORPG, Roleplaying, Square Enix