FFXIV: Massaging an oily Hildibrand

Well, it had to happen sooner or later in Final Fantasy XIV: I met Hildibrand.

I didn’t go into this completely unwary and uninformed; I had heard of the legend of this bizarre character for a couple of years now and had made a mental note to do his quests if I ever came back to the game. Well, I’m back and am giving myself a break from the elves and dragons of Heavensward by running through some of his quest lines.

I wasn’t unwary. But I wasn’t fully prepared, either.

To those who haven’t played FFXIV, Hildibrand might charitably be described as a private detective who serves as comedic relief. More accurately, he might be described as some sort of LSD-injected Scooby Doo dream that will pretty much leave your jaw unhinged and your eyebrows permanently raised during any encounters. I mean, I thought I was inoculated against Japanese weirdness, but that country keeps on surprising me.

I ran through the first four quests (Patch 2.1) last week, meeting up with Hildibrand (or “Hildy,” as my guildies are wont to call him) as he begins the series dead in a grave but not really dead because he’s a zombie but not a normal zombie no he’s a GENTLEMAN zombie who is influencing all of the other zombies to dress and act well. Also, he’s not a zombie, he just thinks he is. He also has an ADD assistant who is, for some reason, obsessed with pumpkins and explosives.

During this introduction, I found myself absolutely flabbergasted and unable to fully process how I should feel about this. I mean, half of me felt like this was the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen in an MMO. The other half was strangely amused and even laughed on occasion. It’s just so… so… cheesy and cartoonish as it breaks the fourth wall of the game and embraces slapstick comedy with wanton abandon. I was kind of impressed at all of the expressions and actions that the devs worked into these cutscenes.

The running joke is that Hildy is a buffoon and a completely ineffectual investigator even as he somehow stumbles into success time and again. It’s not new territory (see: Pink Panther, Inspector Gadget, etc.) but it does give a different approach to this fantasy world. And the player is allowed in on the joke by enjoying the comments of everyone around this character who keeps calling him out on his inanity.

Although I really, really, really could have done without the quest during which I had to keep rubbing oil onto Hildibrand’s semi-naked body so that he could go for a dip in a one-foot-deep pond. Could have done without his comments, too.

Probably the weirdest thing about him is that he keeps striking these two muscle flex poses that are used over and over again (if nothing else, this game does love reusing poses). I asked a friend why he does this, and I was told, “If you got it, flaunt it.” OK then.

The rewards aren’t great, at least not so far, but I’m willing to forgo monetary compensation if I’m given a good story. And so far, at least I’m not bored with this jackanape.


FFXIV: Back and looking fabulous

If nothing else, Final Fantasy sure loves its gigantic beasties of doom (GBOD). They usually get the right-of-way in an airship traffic situation.

So yeah, this weird Final Fantasy kick that I’ve been on this past week or two has led me sauntering back to XIV. It wasn’t that far away; I had eyed it as a possibility for a 2018 experience, although I originally thought it would be later this year. But I’ve found that when there’s interest, there’s no reason to wait with games. Figured it couldn’t hurt to sub up for a month, see if there’s some stickiness there, and if there are still oversized Moogle loveseats.

Oh good. I needn’t have worried.

Even though it’s been, oh, 10 months or so, it probably took me about 15 minutes before I slipped back into XIV’s controls like I never left. The mission I logged in to find myself staring in the face was a combat-escort deal, so I had to get reacquainted with my fighting skills quickly. It helped that there weren’t too, too many of them.

I treated the first night back like a mini-reunion tour, hitting up the buffet of FFXIV’s offerings. I ran a few quests. I quickly healed a hard mode dungeon (without a single casualty, thankyouverymuch). I teleported over to my Free Company’s new guild hall, which was quite cozy and decked out.

Yeah, I think I’ll be hanging out here for the duration of the game’s existence. Lots of books to read, you know. You all have fun putting yourself in mortal peril for a handful of gil.

I even went back to my personal room, which was… not as bad as I remembered, but definitely not up to Syp’s standards of personal housing coziness. I’ll have to work on that.

Probably the most of my time was spent trying to catch up with the updates to the glamour system since last I was in the game. I heard about this new dresser thing that let you make templates of cosmetic sets, and since I had about three vintage Final Fantasy wardrobe sets sent to me as veteran rewards, I wanted to start fresh with a makeover.

But that was much easier to conceptualize than to execute. The thing about Final Fantasy XIV is that while it’s very robust in its feature set, it doesn’t do anything the “normal” way that you might see in most other MMOs. Sometimes that’s fine, it’s just different, and you get used to it. But I’m not going to make that concession with the glamour system. It’s restricting, frustrating, and way too awkward to use.

I spent too much time (during which my anger spiked) as I tried to get this cosmetic set applied. I had to look up where to go for the glamour prisms now (Grand Company) and I bought 20 that I ultimately did not need. But my pieces wouldn’t show up in the dresser options, and Google searches didn’t help in that regard. Eventually, my guildies helped me out by telling me to try adding these pieces to the armoire (!?) and then the dresser would recognize them.

And because that makes no sense whatsoever, of course it worked.

Anyway, since I’m also playing through Final Fantasy IX right now, I went with the Tantalus outfit. I won’t lie — this set pleased me. No cat tail, at least on this character, but it’s spot on. And now I’m ready to dig back into the main storyline and see what dopey elves need help with this year.

Missing Final Fantasy

As I’ve talked about many times before, I have this weird love/hate thing going with the whole Final Fantasy franchise. It wasn’t a defining series for my childhood or anything; I only got into it with Final Fantasy VII back when I was in college and continued on until X. I lost interest in the console versions past that, and the MMOs have been a hit-and-miss affair with me.

Yet I will confess to some affection for the series. I recently fell into a playlist of Final Fantasy restrospective videos that I found fascinating, especially since they contained a detailed look at the earlier games that I never touched. The videos stirred in me a bit of nostalgia as they reminded me of some of the elements that I liked — the music, the atmosphere, the 400-pound swords — in addition to the weirdness and the more frustrating aspects of the series. FF7, in particular, made such an imprint on my gaming history that to this day it’s the title that I associate with the original PlayStation.

There really should be an accessible term for a person who is somewhat less than a “fan” of something but more than a very casual acquaintance. Or a fan in the past tense, maybe? That’s how I’ve been with Star Trek for decades now (although I think that fandom was just about quashed thanks to Discovery) and it’s what links me to Final Fantasy.

You know how it goes. Nostalgia and awareness is raised, and the next thing you know, you’re diving headfirst into games of the past. I finally got around to starting Final Fantasy IX on my iPad (which I purchased a long time ago for a promised second playthrough and never did it), and my SNES Classic keeps reminding me that I have a date with the sixth game, which I’ve never played but probably should just to shut up people whose eyes bug out when I tell them that. And there’s always the lurking through of Final Fantasy XIV, which should totally appeal to me on paper and only partially does in play.

To scratch at this itch, I’ve started to play the two Final Fantasies that I purchased for mobile way back when with the intention to enjoy. There’s FF6, which I’ve never played all of the way through, and FF9, which I adored on PlayStation but only did a single playthrough on that console. I’ll have deeper reports in weeks to come, hopefully, but so far both have been surprisingly enjoyable, hitting the spot.

It’s probably only a passing fad. Something to indulge for a little while, to scratch that itch, and then forget about once more. But it’s harmless fun, so why not? My college self would be giving me a thumbs up in approval, and at the very least, I can enjoy these soundtracks all over again as I listen to them on loop a billion times in a row.

6 MMOs that shaped my gaming in 2017

2017 was an interesting year for my MMO gaming career. It wasn’t really marked by any super-huge new releases; in fact, the year was pretty anemic for new MMOs, period. We’re still seeing lots in development, but only a handful of big budget, big studio projects, and most of those are for the future. Instead, this year was mostly about returning to old favorites and continuing on in my adventures.

I am really glad that I’ve been doing a monthly “gaming goals” article, because it helps me track what I was playing over the course of the year. This was the first year where I fully did that, and it is neat to look back at my aspirations vs. realities while also following the threads of my gaming life. So with that in mind, here are the six MMOs that dominated my gaming time this year:

1. World of Warcraft

This past spring, I felt the need for a break following a nearly two-year run in the game. I was feeling listless and in need of variety and direction, and I am glad I took the time off. But sandwiched around that break were my continuing journeys in Legion, my endless experimentation with alts, my progress as an Undead Warlock (the highest I’ve ever leveled one to date!), and some excitement over Battle for Azeroth and Classic. I’m ending this year mostly focusing on bringing my Gnome Hunter up to speed while giving equal time to other titles.

2. Dungeons and Dragons Online

DDO was really the surprise experience this year for me. When I went back to dabble a little bit in it, little did I know that the DDO bug would bite me hard once more. I should have remembered how much I was in love with this game back in the day, and it’s only grown since then. I’ve had some amazing quests so far with my Gnome Artificer, although I still haven’t really found a guild that’s very active or involved. Hoping to change that in the new year, and also to see the game’s expansions as I start to get up into the double digits.

3. Lord of the Rings Online

This was pretty much a steadfast experience, taking my Lore-master through the remainder of Gondor and then finally into Mordor with the fall’s expansion. While I did try out some alts (Minstrel, Hunter), most all of my time was given to the LM. Mordor proved to be a tough slog with only a handful of interesting and engaging moments, and my enthusiasm for playing started to sap away by the end of the year. Still, I’m excited about Northern Mirkwood for 2018, so there’s hope left!

4. Secret World Legends

I had to say farewell to The Secret World and my character of five years this spring, and while that definitely was a hard blow, at least Legends injected some new life into this faltering title. Taking a new character through the game and getting her back up to where I had left off pretty much consumed my attention for the remainder of 2017, and hopefully by the time the new year clicks over, I’ll be ready for season two.

5. Star Trek Online

I think I had about a two- or three-month run back in STO, doing some of the newer content while dusting off my carrier and fleshing out missions I hadn’t run yet. It was… fine, I guess, but definitely not as memorable as I was hoping nor as long-lasting as trips back to the game in the past.

6. Guild Wars 2

Guild Wars 2 edges out FFXIV on this list by virtue of time, if nothing else. I put in about two months in this game vs. one in FFXIV, but both ultimately conveyed to me that I just wasn’t in the mindset to come back to either. There are so many things that I enjoy about GW2 but also so many things that really drive me nuts about this game that I can’t settle back into what used to be an MMO gaming mainstay for me.

Honorable mention: Elder Scrolls Online

Tossing this into this list because I should mention ESO for a few reasons. I really did want to get more into this game than I did, at one point vowing to make this my main summer title (which worked out as well as my plans usually do). But the allure of housing and the new expansion did get me to put in a few sessions, and it remains very, very high on my list of games to come back to soon.

FFXIV: Housing blues

FFXIV honestly surprised me the other night when I saw a cozy fireplace and thought about taking a picture next to it. I used the /sit command, and instead of my character plopping down in some sort of default sitting animation, she actually took a seat on the couch. This made me blink hard. Not many MMOs yank you into a seat when you go to sit, oddly enough. So good for this game.

I had a slightly unusual weekend, now that I’m into the realm of Heavensward. I didn’t really follow that expansion closely when it first came out, so I don’t think it ever registered that this was a snowy realm that we’d be adventuring through (which is a good thing, at least in my book). All I remembered was “dragons something elves something Catholic church substitute something.

I jumped over to join Aywren’s guild, because they certainly seemed like a lively and engaged group of players. And sure enough, they were quite welcoming and helped buoy my spirits in the game. A quiet or non-existent guild hampers my play experience in ways that are kind of difficult to articulate. Conversely, a great guild can make logging in a joy and add deeper dimension to the game.

I met her! I’m in the presence of internet fame! I think her plumage was happy to see me too.

With a free company established, my thoughts turned to exploring one feature of the game that has yet escaped me, which was player housing. Let me say that first off, I’m glad that FFXIV saw that housing was important enough to include, and it does seem like the community gets into it. I’m always a housing nut in MMOs that allow for it, so it felt like my play experience was incomplete in FFXIV until I got to check this out.

But that was really easier thought than done. Unlike some other MMOs I could name — RIFT, WildStar come quickly to mind — FFXIV puts as many obstacles between you and owning your own slice of space as possible. Again, props that the game has housing, but it doesn’t excuse it for being, quite frankly, a prohibitive and restrictive system.

Buying a real house was far outside of my budget. I had about 650K gil, whereas houses (if you could even find ones available to purchase) were in the millions. The most economical option was a 300K single-room apartment in the free company house, which I felt was fine. I wouldn’t have a yard or outside decorations, but oh well. It was something, it was a one-time fee, and I could afford it.

But I couldn’t access it, not yet, not even with the money in my pocket. Oh no. That would be too EASY. The game informed me that I also, for some reason, had to be second lieutenant in my grand company, which was a game feature that I had stopped paying attention to a long time ago.

Sigh, fine. So I plodded over there, saw that I had a lot of seals for the promotion, but that there were additional hoops through which to jump. Company hunting logs to complete! Two fun dungeon trials to run! It took the better part of an evening to get all of this sorted out and meet the requirements, but eventually I was allowed the privilege of sinking half of my wallet into this system.

People informed me that most furnishings either came from the marketboard or by making them, so I did a little shopping to spend a large chunk of my remaining funds on various fixtures. I would have appreciated a preview picture for these items, but such is life.

The whole “functional but not necessarily user friendly” theme continued as I went to my room for the first time and then felt like a fool trying to figure out how to actually decorate it. Apparently you have to access housing options from one of the little sub-menus to open up that interface, which I can’t recall the game every informing me about. Thank you, internet.

And while I was able to cobble together a room without too much difficulty, in truth, I was pretty underwhelmed. The interface to move items is incredibly clunky (a casualty of console controls?) and I couldn’t figure out how to rotate items and then make them stay rotated without resetting. I’ve seen much, much better systems in other games, but this is only the start of my working on this, so here’s hoping that there’s more going on here.

I did like the guild house and what they did there. It was pretty cute ‘n’ cozy, although we’re reportedly moving to bigger digs in the near future.

Did FFXIV’s story finally get good for me?

So there’s like this… adage, this maxim that you often hear from FFXIV players that goes like, “Just stick with the game, the story gets good! It gets amazing! It’s just a little slow at first.”

And as I learned, this was akin to saying to ice age dwellers, “Stick with humanity, it gets really good. Internet and vaccines and everything, just hang in there.” Life doesn’t move fast in the FFXIV world is what I’m saying.

When I first played the game last year, I spent four months wondering when this story was going to get good. To be fair, there were moments of interest, charming bits of character studies or some fascinating developments. But by and large, it was… average at best. Lots of backtracking, nods employed in bulk, and characters breaking every two minutes for another cutscene of people talking about world events in an office. By the time I quit, I was about 80% through the 2.5.5 content and had my fill of all of this “good” story.

In what might be a slight stroke of irony, it turns out that I quit right before the story actually did get good. The other night I was a little excited to be plowing through the last few quests prior to Heavensward — the official end of A Realm Reborn — and was hit with one of those notices that you only ever see in FFXIV. Only in this game are you served with a warning that the next 30 to 45 minutes of your life will be spent doing nothing but watching a long, long string of cutscenes. And THEY ARE NOT KIDDING.

I don’t mind these, as long as they’re entertaining, and this one actually was. In fact, the longer it went, the more my eyebrows lifted and my heart raced with excitement. What it felt like was the end of a TV season when the writers have gotten a little sick and tired of their convoluted plotlines and characters… and they just decide to employ a tactical bomb and reset the playfield. Blow things up, wipe out pieces, and reset the story (or at least throw it on a totally different track).

In the space of about 20 minutes, everything I had known about the MSQ changed. Characters died, killed, were framed, fled, sacrificed, got limbs chopped off, betrayed, and performed spectacular fight moves reserved for top-level Final Fantasy summons. I wasn’t dismayed that everything was changing but rejoiced that something was finally happening. Something awesome. Something that felt vastly different than what we had gotten up to this point.

And I got to see Yda’s eyes! Well, one eye, but still, it’s something I always wanted to see. I actually liked most of the Seven Scions, save for Midriff Barbie, and sure, it was a little dismaying that disaster had unfairly come upon them. But sometimes you need that Long Dark Night of the Soul for stories to get interesting. Being a world-saving hero isn’t so gripping if you’re always surrounded by a team of super-skilled fighters and a personal army. Time to get rid of that and head into the expansion to see what lays in wait there.

I hope this isn’t a fluke. I sincerely hope this isn’t the only good story beat I’m going to get for the next 200 hours. It’s a good start, at least.

Oh, here’s something small to brag about: I used all of my tomestones that I had accumulated to buy a full healer’s outfit. Not only does it boost my healing ability in group, but it’s easily the best I’ve looked in this game to date. The white/black/grey design pops.

Here’s another look of me and my fairy off the shores of Costa del Sol. I guess it’s waterproof, too!

As a total aside, can I say that I’m starting to soften up on my contempt for the Lalafel? Tataru is totally winning me over with her little escapades. And that hat! The flower! Maybe I should change my character to one of these little guys…

FFXIV: Homecoming

Amazing how fast it all comes back

When I get an idea in my head for a project or pursuit, I don’t tend to sit on it very long before taking action. And so I went from mulling over a possible return to FFXIV to making it happen within about a span of a day. I felt like I could justify this, cost-wise, with the elimination of my World of Warcraft subscription, and besides, $13 isn’t that much these days.

For having been gone well over a year, it’s amazing how fast all of this came back to me. The MMO is installed on a new machine, so I had to tweak the keybindings again. A memory cascade flowed down over me and my reentry learning curve wasn’t as steep as I originally anticipated. Plus, there were all of those little pleasant surprises of the kind that one gets when returning to a game after a long absence and rediscovering neat features — the music! the thunderstorms! the class flexibility! — that were once taken for granted.

I spent the first two nights back gradually sorting out everything. There have been some changes to the game since I last played; for instance, I don’t remember seeing the featured quest icons before, so I was running around and snapping those up to unlock various features that I had missed. I took inventory on what I had, reordered my hotbar setup, refamiliarized myself with rotations, picked up my mail, and jumped into a Belghast’s guild.

Full steam munchkin

Of course, one of my big reasons for returning was that I was missing playing as a dungeon healer, so that’s pretty much most of what I’ve been doing for my play sessions (I also needed these runs to clear out some featured quests in my logs). I was a little nervous during the first run, but soon my confidence — and the relatively simple rotation — returned, and we were off like a rocket.

The only dungeon that I had problems with was the Ultima trial. Our group just could not overcome this boss, and after five full wipes, we called it. It probably didn’t help that all of my gear was shattered by about the second wipe, which taught me to make sure I repair before queuing up.

I’ve been reading up on the wiki and news, absorbing a lot of information about the game systems and all of the changes that are in store for the expansion. As of right now, I think I’ll attempt to straddle two jobs: Arcanist and Bard. Good to hear that Bards are getting insta-cast spells and some reworks, because that’s a class I always wanted to play more of. I need to look through my bank and make sure I carry two full sets of gear, probably have to level up the Bard too (my Arcanist is at 53 at the moment).

The long road ahead

Resisting the urge to reroll upon return was definitely the best move in my case. My character is just nearly to the end of 2.5 content, which means that I’ll have all of the new-ish stuff ahead — and a lot of it. I don’t think I’ll be in want of main story quests for a while to come, so I’m settling in and not rushing myself. No way I’m going to catch up with the crowd for an expansion launch in one month anyway, and why would I want to?

Instead, I’m making a list of things that I want to accomplish: get through the MSQ, level up Arcanist to the cap, think about a secondary job, maybe look into a gathering profession for money, and save up to buy an apartment and furnishings.

All in all, I feel like this is a very good decision where I’m at with MMOs. With LOTRO, GW2, and Secret World Legends in my rotation, I’ll definitely be keeping busy this summer.