1871: Imminent Departure

In a few short hours, I’m catching a flight to Dublin… and then on to Boston, Massachusetts (or however you spell it) to attend video game expo and general nerd convention PAX East.

I’m really looking forward to it. Last time I attended, as I’ve mentioned previously on here, was back in 2010, when I was going through a bit of a shitty time in my life. Once again, it seems, my trip to the States has coincided with a somewhat shitty time in my life, albeit for different (and slightly less horrible, though not by a huge amount) reasons than last time around. Once again, I am looking to the trip to take my mind off things for a few days and to remind myself that yes, I do have friends, not everything in life is terrible and that sometimes, occasionally, it is possible to have a good time and be happy.

I’m not sure what I’m going to see at PAX. In some ways, I’m not even sure I care too much; I’m going more for the overall experience, to have the opportunity to see some things I might not normally have the opportunity to see, and to hang out with friends who have become an important part of my life. It’s not the first time I’ve met a group of “Internet friends” and made their real-life acquaintance, but it is the first time I’ve done so with a single game we all play together as a basis.

I ended up having a somewhat heartfelt discussion with my Free Company-mates in Final Fantasy XIV the other night, and I admitted that the game had been something of a “lifeline” for me through some difficult times. I was unsurprised to discover that I was far from the only person who felt that way; the frequency with which I see my virtual comrades online makes it abundantly clear how important the experience is to them, for various reasons — be it the opportunity to hang out with virtual friends, to go on virtual adventures, to try and be the best at a challenging game or any other reason people might have to log in day after day.

The “friends” part is important, though. We’ve all “known” one another for a good proportion of time now; some of us have been playing the game since beta, which means we’ve been playing for coming up on two full years. Others joined more recently but integrated themselves into the overall group without too much trouble; other people left and went their own way; others took a break and came back, hopefully to stay. Being a cooperative game, it’s a game that is, at least in part, about trust: everyone has a role to play. People trust the tanks to keep the rest of the party from being punched in the face. People trust the healers to keep them alive. People trust the damage-dealers to kill things as quickly and effectively as possible. Together, it’s a wonderfully satisfying feeling, and the more we’ve played together — because most of us will partner up with one another rather than strangers by preference — the more we’ve come to know each other, trust one another and have fun together.

This is why I’m looking forward to PAX. It’s an opportunity to hang out in the flesh with these people I’ve come to regard as real friends. Even if very few of us are as pretty (or, indeed, as female!) as our in-game characters. :)

Updates may be sporadic over the next few days as I’ll be reliant on public/hotel Internet, but expect something from me… hopefully! If not, I’ll write stuff anyway and publish in a big splurge when I get back. :)

1870: Cards, Cards, Cards

Spent a bit of time playing Triple Triad in Final Fantasy XIV this evening, and had a lot of fun.

Triple Triad, for the uninitiated, was a card game introduced in Final Fantasy VIII. It’s a very simple game, although optional advanced rules can make it surprisingly brain-melting, particularly when they’re used in combination. And it’s a flexible enough game that, by playing around with these rules, a player with a “better” deck of cards isn’t necessarily always going to beat someone with “bad” cards.

For those who have never encountered the game, here’s how it works: There’s a 3×3 grid onto which you and your opponent take it in turns playing cards from a hand of five. (This means there will be one card left over at the end.) Cards have four numbers on them, corresponding to the four edges of the card. When you lay a card down and it “touches” the edge of another card (for example, you played a card in the middle-left space while there was already a card in the central space, meaning the right side of your card is touching the left side of the card already there) you compare the numbers. Under the normal rules, if the number you laid down is bigger than the number that was already there, you flip the card and claim it as your own. (For example, using the situation above, if the card in the middle had a “4” on its left edge, and the card you laid had a “5” or higher on its right edge, you’d claim the middle card.) Whoever has the most cards under their control when the board is filled wins. Simple.

The advanced rules fall into several different categories. Variations on “Open” mean that you and your opponent reveal either three or all of your cards from the outset, allowing for a degree of forward planning. “Random” disallows you from using the five-card decks you’ve built yourself, instead pulling five random cards from your complete collection. “Order” forces you to play the cards from your deck in the order you put them in there. “Chaos” forces you to play the cards from your deck in a random order. “Reverse” flips the normal rules on their head, meaning smaller numbers now beat larger numbers — this rule makes a “bad” deck suddenly very good. “Ascension” causes cards of the same type to inflate in value the more of them that are placed on the board. “Same” allows you to claim cards if you put down a card and the numbers on two of its sides match two cards already on the table. “Plus” is a similar rule, only instead of matching numbers, the two sides must add up to the same value. Both “Same” and “Plus” can set off combos, too, allowing you to potentially take the whole board in one go with a lucky or well-planned move.

As you can imagine, combining these rules can make for a game with a surprising amount of flexibility, and change the feel of it altogether. But even in its basic form, Triple Triad is a surprisingly compelling little diversion, and the more you play it, the more cunning little strategies you’ll spot and be able to adopt. Final Fantasy XIV allows you to challenge various non-player characters around the game world to a game — who may potentially give up some rare cards if you beat them — and also to play other players. In the latter case, you have the option of customising the rules to your liking, or throwing caution to the wind and having a “Roulette” match in which the rules are determined randomly. There are also regular tournaments — the first one started today — in which you have a set period of time in which to complete (and hopefully win!) as many games as you possibly can in order to score points and get yourself on the leaderboard.

It’s an extremely well fleshed-out version of a game that was a lot of fun to play against the computer in Final Fantasy VIII; it’s even more fun to be able to challenge friends to a game thanks to Final Fantasy XIV’s massively multiplayer nature.

And if nothing else, it’s something to do while waiting in a queue for a dungeon…

1869: Back at the Chalkface

I’m doing something tomorrow that I’ve sworn a number of times I’d never do: I’m going back into a Music classroom in a school.

Things are a little different this time around, though. For starters, I’m not there as a regular teacher; I’m instead doing some work (my first, in fact) for the local music service covering an illness absence. It’s also only for a couple of hours, so even if it ends up being an absolutely hellish experience (which I sincerely hope it won’t!) then it won’t be long before I can escape.

But let’s be positive. I’m actually quite curious to see how this school is doing things, because it’s the first time I’ve come across a school giving instrumental lessons to a whole class at once — in this case, year 3 and 4 children playing clarinet. My past experience in the Music classroom has been limited to schools with a budget of about £5 a year for the arts, and an equipment cupboard full of little more than horrible ’90s keyboards, broken percussion instruments and perhaps a couple of recorders if you’re lucky. 30 kids having the opportunity to learn a “proper” (for want of a better word) instrument like the clarinet is a new one on me, and I’m all for it.

Music was one of my defining “things” growing up. I started learning the piano from an early age and did pretty well. I got through exams without too much difficulty, often performed in public, participated in local music festivals (including the unusual experiences of piano duets and trios, which I kind of miss the bizarreness of) and eventually started teaching before I left for university. I picked up the clarinet and the saxophone while I was at secondary school, and these opened the door to more social music-making occasions such as the school orchestra and bands, and the county concert band (which, although fun, was one of my first real experiences with social anxiety, particularly when I overheard someone I thought was my friend taking the piss out of me behind my back). It was often hard work, but it was enjoyable, and I made a lot of good friends at university through music, too.

It was something that, as I was growing up, you had to make a specific effort to do, though. Music to me was “special” — something a bit outside of the norm — and I liked it for that. I liked that it gave me a skill that a lot of other people around me didn’t have. I liked being able to play a piece on the piano and people who normally wouldn’t give me the time of day would suddenly (and, usually, temporarily) think I was cool and talented. I find myself wondering whether I’d feel the same way if I’d “had” to study my instruments, rather than wanting to.

This is why I’m intrigued to see this whole-class approach to instrumental teaching. I’m not convinced it’s going to be ideal, since an instrument like the clarinet in particular isn’t suited to everyone. It’s an opportunity for these kids to make music together, though, and using an instrument that’s eminently more relatable than the usual “school music” mainstays of tambourines, tambours and guiros. And a bit more practical than getting everyone playing the piano — although I do know of some schools that take similar approaches with keyboard tuition.

Anyway. That’s my day tomorrow; hopefully it will lead on to new and exciting things.

1868: A Relic Reborn, Again (and Again)

I am finally on the final step of one of Final Fantasy XIV’s most lengthy, gruelling challenges: the “Relic” quest, which can begin the moment you hit level 50 and will keep you going right up into top-tier endgame play. It was designed as an alternative for more “casual” players to be able to get better weapons over time without having to jump into super-difficult raids — a process which requires organisation and commitment from people in order to make any meaningful progress. The intention was to give these “casual” players something that would take about as long to complete as it would for a raider to be able to master top-level content and score the sweetest possible loot from them, but somewhere along the line the Relic questline became all but obligatory for everyone to complete, if only as a matter of pride.

As previously noted, it’s a long and gruelling — though not especially difficult – process.

First you have the quest to acquire the weapon in the first place. This is an involved, multi-part affair that involves tracking its timeworn and weathered form down — usually from the depths of a monster-infested area — and then setting about finding the materials that master weaponsmith Gerolt needs to restore it to its former glory. Rather inconveniently, these materials can only be found in the somewhat uninviting lairs of Eorzea’s Primals Ifrit, Garuda and Titan, so having already floored these massive enemies once during the course of the main story, you’re now tasked with killing them again. This used to be a genuinely challenging task, back when the base Relic was pretty much the best weapon you could get in the game, but it’s become almost trivial now thanks to how well-geared the vast majority of the level 50 population is now. There’s also a dungeon to run (Amdapor Keep, which was the hardest four-player dungeon in the game when it launched, but which again has now become somewhat trivial) and two more boss fights against a Chimera and a Hydra that are new to the Relic questline.

After all this — and a bit of testing out the unfinished form of the weapon on unsuspecting members of Eorzea’s beast tribes — you’re finally blessed with an item level 80 weapon, which can be upgraded to item level 90 and made to glow in a rather fetching “this is special!” manner through the judicious application of Thavnairian Mist, a rare concoction that can only be acquired by exchanging Allagan Tomestones with collectors of rarities. Tomestones are a special currency rewarded for completing content at level 50 — since you no longer get experience points at this level, having reached the level cap, they form the basis for progression beyond this point. Pretty much anything that involves other people will reward you with Tomestones, be it four-player dungeons, eight-player Trials, twenty-four player raids or the extremely tough challenges of the Binding Coils of Bahamut.

This form of the weapon, known as Zenith, used to be pretty much the best weapon you could get outside of downing Turn 5 of the Binding Coil of Bahamut — a tall order even for well-geared players even today — and acquiring one of the Allagan weapons. But as time went on and the game gradually expanded with each new patch, so too did the Relic quest.

It began with Atmas, a step which, for many, proves an insurmountable obstacle, but which sets the pace for the amount of commitment required to finish this lengthy process. Atmas are small crystals containing the souls of fallen warriors, and can be acquired randomly by participating in FATEs — public events that occur every so often in each of the game’s zones — and completing them successfully. There are twelve Atma in total to collect, meaning you’ll have to visit twelve different zones to participate in FATEs. In game terms, this step was designed to get level 50 players helping out with low-level FATEs, since a tweak to how experience points were awarded in the game’s early days saw people turning to instanced dungeons for quick experience points rather than wandering around out in the open world helping one another.

The cruel twist in the Atma step was that once you’d acquired all twelve Atma, all that happened when you “upgraded” your weapon was that it lost its cool glow from the Zenith step. Its stats didn’t change at all. But it was still an important step, because it made your weapon ready for the gradual upgrade process that came next.

By exchanging further Allagan Tomestones with a collector in Mor Dhona, you could acquire books telling tales of the “Zodiac Braves”, and you’re told that by recreating these tales of derring-do using your Atma Relic, you can improve it considerably. What this boils down to is a set of objectives — 100 specific monsters to kill, three specific dungeons to complete (or, more accurately, three specific bosses to beat), three specific FATEs to participate in and three specific levequests (short, repeatable quests) to complete. You had to do this nine times in total; each completed book rewarded you with a small increase to the stats on your Atma weapon, so it gradually improved over time. When all the books were completed, your Atma weapon regained its glow — a more substantial one this time — and became its Animus form.

Next up, you’re told that you can improve the weapon further — and, crucially for this step, customise it — by infusing materia into a “sphere scroll”. In order to do this, you need the sphere scroll itself (which costs yet more Tomestones), seventy-five pieces of Alexandrite as a catalyst to infuse the materia into the scroll, and at least seventy-five pieces of materia of the appropriate types to give your weapon the stats you want. Alexandrite can be acquired by participating in FATEs, bought with Allied Seals acquired by beating the giant monsters of The Hunt, or by digging it up using Mysterious Maps acquired from a strange old lady in Mor Dhona who appears to have been using them to clean her kitchen. The more materia you attach to the scroll, the higher the chance that the infusion will fail; fortunately, you only lose the materia if this happens, while the Alexandrite remains in your possession. Your reward for successfully infusing seventy-five points’ worth of stats into the sphere scroll? Your Relic’s Novus form, which has a somewhat more imposing glow.

For a while, again, Novus was the pinnacle of what you could have in terms of weaponry, and it was particularly powerful due to the fact that you could customise it. The materia to do this — particularly for popular stats like Determination (which increases damage) and Critical Hit Rate (which increases the likelihood an attack will deal considerably more damage than usual) — didn’t come cheap, and the only other alternative was to “Spiritbond” equipment by using it to defeat monsters either in the world or in dungeons, then turn this equipment into materia, with random chance determining whether you’d get the kind of materia you wanted or a useless alternative. Thus, Novus was a long, difficult and expensive process for many, but taking the time to complete it would give you a strong weapon that would see you through pretty much anything the game could throw at you.

Then came another step. By “soulglazing” your relic and using it to collect soul energy — known colloquially as “light” owing to the fact your weapon glows with varying levels of intensity when it acquires this energy — you could make it more powerful still, improving the stats you’d infused into the Novus by a set amount according to the combinations and amounts you put in. In order to acquire light, you simply had to do pretty much anything that involved other people — dungeons, trials, even FATEs. Light was acquired at a very slow rate, however, and many resorted to running the same things over and over again for hours at a time in order to gain light most effectively. In practice, however, you could gain light at a good rate simply by playing the game as you normally would, attempting to acquire Tomestones to gear up your armour to match your increasingly powerful weapon. Upon filling your Novus with light, you’d be able to turn it into its Nexus form, the ultimate incarnation of the Relic you found all that time ago, and a weapon that you’ve truly helped to make your own.

But your efforts don’t end there. Through this whole process, you’ve been developing a relationship with both a scholar of these ancient weapons and a local master blacksmith, and it eventually becomes clear that it’s possible to recreate the legendary weapons of the Zodiac Braves themselves — but in order to do so there is, unsurprisingly, a somewhat convoluted process involved that requires you to do the dirty work of four separate individuals who have what you need to complete the weapon, but who aren’t about to give their prizes up quickly.

By far the most gruelling part of this phase is acquiring specific items from specific dungeons. These are drops similar to the Atma in that there’s only a random chance of you acquiring them when you complete a dungeon, and no guarantees. Consequently, you may find yourself running one dungeon lots and lots of times in order to acquire one specific item; at the other end of the spectrum, however, sometimes you get lucky and acquire it straight away. It’s unpredictable and, at times, infuriating, but oh so satisfying when you get what you need.

After completing this epic slog, you’re rewarded with a brand new weapon, recreating the form of one of the Zodiac Braves’ weapons and infused with the soul energy you collected using your Relic. (These Zodiac weapons take the form of iconic weapons from past Final Fantasy games such as Excalibur for a Paladin, Kaiser Knuckles for a Monk, Yoichi Bow for a Bard and so on.) This is the stage I got to tonight: I now have Excalibur and its companion Aegis Shield.

But there’s one final step to go: embracing the weapon’s apparent sentience and sense of will, and forging an unbreakable bond between the two of you. In order to do this, it’s another light grind similar to that for the Nexus, but this time instead of having to collect it all in one weapon, you gradually fill up twelve “mahatma” with soul energy, and the process is considerably quicker than before. This is the final step of a quest that’s been in the game since launch, and your reward is a weapon that is likely to be the absolute best piece of equipment you can get until the expansion Heavensward arrives later this year and makes all this work irrelevant. (Actually, that’s not quite true; producer Naoki Yoshida has said that those who put in the work to complete this questline will have a leg-up on whatever comes next come Heavensward time. Thankfully.)

It’s a slog, to be sure, and it’s even something that a lot of players will find offputting and want nothing to do with — thankfully, there are numerous alternative means of acquiring weapons, so even if you’re playing multiple classes you don’t have to go through this epic grind for all of them — but by God it’s satisfying to reach a milestone in. I’ve likened it before to the idea of “building your own lightsaber” in a Star Wars game — something which has never been given the gravity it deserves, even in the Star Wars MMO The Old Republic – and it’s true. By the end of this process, your weapon, even though it’s just a collection of numbers, is part of you and your play style, and an important part of your character as a whole; the unbreakable bond between character and weapon isn’t just for lore reasons — you’ll feel it yourself as a player, too.

So wish me luck as I proceed on the final chapter of the Relic quest; I’m hoping to have Excalibur’s “Zeta” form before I head off to PAX later this week. We’ll see if I’m successful!

1867: Golden Time

Started watching a new (well, new to me) anime a little while back after finally finishing Silver Spoon. It’s called Golden Time, and I’m not entirely sure how I became aware of it, but it was in my Crunchyroll queue and had intrigued me, so I decided now was the time to check it out.

On paper, it’s a fairly straightforward slice-of-life anime. Protagonist Tada Banri is starting his new life at university, and in the process meets a number of new friends, including the obligatory harem of potential romantic interests. Of the main cast, however, the most interesting — and the one highlighted in the show’s opening and ending titles — is Kaga Koko, a strikingly beautiful young woman from a privileged background who has shown up at Banri’s university in pursuit of her childhood friend and supposed love of her life Mitsuo. Mitsuo, meanwhile, wants nothing to do with Koko, having surreptitiously switched universities in an attempt to get away from her, but she wasn’t about to let him escape that easily.

Central to the show is the developing relationship between Banri and Koko as the former tries to help the latter come to terms with the constant rejection she gets from Mitsuo. It’s a troubled and unconventional relationship, and doesn’t follow the usual tropes of anime romance stories, largely because Koko is such an unstable but delightfully fascinating character.

When Koko is alone with Banri, we see what is clearly the “real” her. She’s frank, candid and honest, and willing to open up about her feelings — though she’ll pretend that she’s putting on a front to garner sympathy from others. Occasionally she lets some obvious, genuine feelings slip, however, such as in one of the early episodes where she complains to Banri that no-one will talk to her because she has the reputation of being “that rich, beautiful girl that is out of everyone’s league”. Banri consistently gives her the time of day, however, and quickly falls in love with her; she rejects him, however, and puts him well and truly in the “friend zone” with her constant and emphatic reiteration of What Good Friends They Are.

When Koko comes across Mitsuo, though, her whole personality changes. She becomes obsessive, jealous and irrational. When she sees Mitsuo with the adorably cute Chinami, whom Mitsuo has taken a liking to, she is extremely rude to Chinami; Chinami, however, is a lot stronger than she looks, and brushes off the torrent of abuse she gets, even going so far as to deliberately try and befriend Koko in later episodes. Koko claims to Banri that the person she is when she’s with Mitsuo is the “real her”, but it’s abundantly clear that the complete opposite is true; the only person with whom she can truly be herself is Banri.

The other interesting twist in the tale, aside from the complex and difficult relationship between Banri and Koko, is the fact that Banri is an amnesiac. Prior to the events depicted in the show, Banri was in an accident that cost him all of his memories from before he turned 18 and left for university. He doesn’t remember who he is, what his personality is or what his relationships with others were like. As the show progresses, he starts to uncover things about his past — and I’m only a short way in so far, so I’m not sure how far it goes, but it has a lot of potential to be very intriguing indeed.

Interestingly, Banri’s amnesia is depicted not only by him struggling to recall things, but by a ghostly apparition of his past self that occasionally narrates short sequences. The ghost describes himself as having “died” the day of the accident, and that the current Banri is nothing but an empty shell. Again, things aren’t that simple, though, as amnesiac Banri starts discovering ties to his past — and the fact that people whom he thought were strangers and new friends actually have a lot more to do with him than he initially thought.

There are two big things I like about the show as a whole: one, that it’s constantly raising new questions and drawing the viewer in through Banri’s journey of self-rediscovery; and two, that a lot happens in each episode. So often with slice-of-life anime, things just sort of pootle along for a while and nothing really happens; this is fine, so long as the characters are strong enough to carry this sort of nothing-really-happens story, but Golden Time sidesteps this style of slice-of-life in favour of something that, while obviously the stuff of fiction, is plausible, believable and emotionally engaging.

I literally have no idea how things are going to turn out by the end of the 24-episode run, but I’m looking forward to finding out. I’m enjoying the show a whole lot so far, and cautiously recommend it to anyone looking for a slice-of-life show with a bit more depth than many other offerings.

1866: Going Out, and the Perils Thereof

I’m writing this from our restaurant table. We’re right near the open kitchen and the food smells amazing. My mouth is watering just thinking about eating it, particularly as it’s something a little unusual and different from our norm: it’s Caribbean food, which I have had before, but not for quite some time, and it’s not a cuisine I’d say I know well.

Unfortunately, it’s also 10.30pm and we’ve been here since 8pm. We’ve only just sat down, only just ordered, and God knows how long it will take for the food to actually arrive at our table. This has, as you can probably imagine, soured the experience a little.

I should have seen it coming, of course. It’s Friday night in the city centre, and that was a busy time back when I was at university. Over the last few years in particular, the city centre has undergone extensive regeneration — the restaurant we’re currently sitting in is part of one of these new and restored buildings. With new and shiny buildings — and an expanding student population at both of the two city’s universities — come hordes of people, of course. But I hadn’t realised until now quite how ridiculously busy it gets in town.

This is probably nothing new to those of you who live in busy, bustling cities around the globe. But for me it’s quite surprising. Southampton never felt like a particularly big deal, and Going Out used to be something you could do on a whim. It was often quite enjoyable to do so — friends and I would often take impromptu trips to local watering holes like Lennons and Kaos, and we’d always be able to get in and have a good time.

Not any more. Going Out appears to have become something that needs to be planned well in advance, that involves lots of standing around waiting, and that, frankly, just isn’t particularly fun any more.

Perhaps it’s my age. Perhaps it’s the fact I’ve practically been a hikikomori for the past few years (and am largely comfortable with this). Or perhaps it’s the pitiful organisation of this place that saw us waiting for more than two hours to sit down, let alone eat. Whatever it is, I don’t count on myself doing it much more in the future, unless the occasion is very special indeed.

On the plus side, however, between writing the last paragraph and this one I’ve eaten a plateful of whitebait for the first time in about 20 years, and it was every bit as delicious as I remember. So at least the food is good. Worth the wait? Questionable, but at least the tedious and rubbish part of the evening is over.

1865: Virtual Career Choices

One of the more interesting aspects of massively multiplayer online games as they continue to grow and expand is that it becomes harder and harder to “do everything” for various reasons. In some cases, it becomes harder to complete old content because there’s simply no-one else running it any more — Final Fantasy XIV neatly sidesteps this by keeping nearly everything in the game relevant at all times through various sidequests, including the notoriously lengthy Relic questline — and in others, it’s because there is so much to do that in order to max out everything and “complete” the game to “100%” would be a full-time occupation.

We’re starting to reach that point in Final Fantasy XIV now. It’s still eminently possible for players to get from level 1 to level 50 and beyond and complete all the PvE (Player vs Environment, or regular cooperative) content without too much difficulty — though Second Coil and Final Coil are still an insurmountable barrier for all but the most skilled players — but that’s not, by any means, all that there is to the game any more. In fact, there’s been numerous different potential “career paths” in the game since it launched, and these have only continued to grow and expand with their own “endgames” as the game has blossomed over time.

There’s crafting, for example. Serious crafters will have levelled all of the crafting classes from 1-50 to get all of the possible cross-class abilities, and will have worked on their equipment to get it strong enough to create the more difficult crafts. They’ll have worked out a good skill rotation to use for crafting items — much like a high-level PvE player works out a suitable skill rotation to maximise their damage output — and they’ll have their own goals in mind, be it making millions on the market board from producing the most desirable items, or simply being able to make cool stuff for their friends.

Then there’s gathering; much like crafting, gathering has its own endgame with new equipment to acquire and more and more difficult-to-obtain items becoming available over time. There’s less of a “skill rotation” element to this — although skills are still relevant — and these classes act as a good complement to their crafting counterparts.

Then there’s desynthesis, which ties in with crafting: through desynthesis, it becomes possible to turn items back into their component parts, which can sometimes yield rare items which either sell for a decent amount of money or which can be used to produce desirable items. Levelling this skill is its own, separate, convoluted process from crafting, but it pairs well with the crafting classes.

Then there’s PvP (Player vs Player) combat, which takes either the form of small four-on-four battles in a little arena, or large-scale multi-alliance battles on a large map. Opinions vary fairly wildly as to whether PvP is actually any good or not — and the queues to get in to it are frequently hellish — but there are dedicated players out there who know all about the PvP-exclusive abilities and have access to some of the cool-looking PvP-exclusive equipment.

And most recently, the Manderville Gold Saucer provides a couple of career options for adventurers who tire of the XP and Tomestone grinds: Chocobo racing and Triple Triad. Chocobo racing has its own complex metagame that would make an interesting standalone title in its own right, and Triple Triad likewise.

In reality, most Final Fantasy XIV players dabble in most of the above at one point or another, prioritising one thing above all others at any given moment. At present, for example, I’m prioritising getting my “Zodiac” weapon for at least one of my classes; after that, I’m intending on spending some serious time chocobo racing when I’m not attempting to take down Second Coil and, hopefully, subsequently, Final Coil.

There’s a ton to do. And it’s incredibly daunting. And I love it.