Daigaku Z: Under The Weather

Daigaku Z:

Daigaku Z is a weekly column describing Z’s journey to learn the Japanese language while at the University of Pittsburgh. She impressed the East Asian Language and Literature department with her first-year performance, but she stumbled over the summer semester’s Accelerated Program course. Still, she is nothing if not persistent, and now she faces the second year of the program once more. This is (the continuation of) her story.

Illness is something that every college student has to deal with at some point. It can be extremely scary to be sick and away from home for the first time. In my case, however, it’s repeatedly been noted that this isn’t my first rodeo, so you’d think I’d be able to handle it better. As you have no doubt guessed, however, that hasn’t been the case this past week.

The reason that fall is the worst season for getting sick, oddly enough, is primarily related to school. After the summer vacations and travels, a lot of people from a lot of different places are all congregating in a small area. Immunities gained are not universal. That little cold that someone picked up on the flight back from home can do a real number on people. It’s con plague on an academically large scale.

There’s also the fact that, as the summer season ends and autumn begins, temperatures vary wildly on a day-to-day basis. The mornings are chilly and damp, but bringing a jacket or dressing warmly are bad ideas because the sun heats the day up back to uncomfortable levels by noon. It’s hard to gauge effectively because the weather can be very volatile, even without rain or wind factored into the mix. And so, people get sicker faster.

So it’s probably for the best that we’re about to learn all of the vocabulary and grammar needed to explain exactly where it hurts.

Daigaku Z: Life In The Slow Lane

Daigaku Z:

Daigaku Z is a weekly column describing Z’s journey to learn the Japanese language while at the University of Pittsburgh. She impressed the East Asian Language and Literature department with her first-year performance, but she stumbled over the summer semester’s Accelerated Program course. Still, she is nothing if not persistent, and now she faces the second year of the program once more. This is (the continuation of) her story.

We’re moving into Week 4 of the semester, and looking at how grades have shaken out between the same material’s time frame from the Accelerated Program, I have to say that things are progressing much better. Having a scientific background, though, I am not entirely sure as to why that is. Having a writing background, too, means I’m probably going to meander for a few paragraphs before I get to the real point.

The most obvious answer could be that I’ve experienced this material before. After all, we’re still working on telephone etiquette, and re-cementing the use of the extended predicate; more than that, though, the use of cause-and-effect language like kara and no de is finally clicking within my understanding. But I’ve been sadly not as dedicated to my studies throughout July and August as I expected I would be, and the material was mostly gone from me by the time the fall semester started again.

The material itself hasn’t changed, either. What has changed is the pace– from a certain point of view. During the Accelerated Program course, we had four hours of interactive work to every one hour of lecture; the standard pace is five hours of exercise to two hours of lecture. A minor difference in the ratio, granted, but the span of time encompassing the two cycles– a day and a week, respectively– makes a world of difference. There’s also the fact that the time in between sessions is dramatically different, as well; from an hour of preparation time to almost 24 hours (not counting weekends).

As we’re all well aware, I’m not exactly your typical collegian. I was the first time around, but now I fall squarely into the “non-traditional” sector. But even though my first year back was a rather smashing success, I quickly learned that my limits for capability were not where they had been fifteen years ago. I had to drop a course my first semester back because I didn’t think I could perform up to my usual standards in it. My struggle over the summer was due in no small part to that same sentiment, and to say that I had reservations about blaming it entirely on the pace would have been accurate.

But if nothing else, these first three weeks back have proven to me that taking my time is exactly what I needed in order to get back on track. Having time to absorb the material and understand it has been vital and necessary for retaining it, which may seem obvious or counter-intuitive, but it does work. Most everyone in school now is starting to notice the gold paint flaking off the new school year. That’s perfectly fine. But don’t give up. Just take your time.

Daigaku Z: Ainu You Are But What Am I?

Daigaku Z:

Daigaku Z is a weekly column describing Z’s journey to learn the Japanese language while at the University of Pittsburgh. She impressed the East Asian Language and Literature department with her first-year performance, but she stumbled over the summer semester’s Accelerated Program course. Still, she is nothing if not persistent, and now she faces the second year of the program once more. This is (the continuation of) her story.

One of the major themes that should have been obvious in this column by now is the fact that regardless of our individual circumstances, none of us are ever truly alone. We exist on this planet as a part of something greater, interconnected in ways we never understand or even notice. Faced with this fact, I have ever asserted that hate is an irrational choice: that in denying someone else their fundamental rights to existence and happiness we rob those same things from ourselves, as well. Xenophobia can be deadly if not countered by discovery.

Nowhere else in my studies has this ever been hammered home as hard as it was this past week, where in the starting lessons of Aspects of the Japanese Language we discussed and examined the Ainu language and its relation to ancient Japanese. This lesson, which started off rather clinical, quickly became heart-wrenching when it was revealed that the Ainu language is moribund– not yet dead, but in a terminal state nonetheless. When the last few native Ainu speakers die, which will be soon, the language will be effectively extinct in its original state. See, despite efforts to learn the language, anyone speaking it as an acquired language (that is, not their first language) will inject accents and mutations from their native language.

As time goes on, these mutations will add up, until the language would be completely unintelligible to the people who spoke it as their birth-tongue. It’s like that scene in Stargate where Dr. Jackson’s attempts to speak ancient Egyptian to the people on the other side of the gate come across as comically awful. And actually, we see that in a more real-world circumstance. After all, what the Vatican speaks as Latin has become Italian outside of the Holy See.

With the Ainu, however, the situation is a bit more troublesome. Japan has a notorious history of attempting to forcibly assimilate Ainu into Japanese culture, not entirely dissimilar from the United States’ treatment of its native populations. There is a strange self-exoticization effect going on with the Japanese and the Ainu; the culture is appreciated and highly valued, but the people born into it are increasingly forced to abandon that culture. There are exceptions, of course– a group known as the Ainu Rebels sought to preserve some Ainu traditional dance and song while also modernizing it– but it is a losing battle.

I want to stress that this problem could have been avoided, but now cannot be un-done. We cannot restore the Ainu culture to its former glory, just as the Seneca Nation cannot be brought back to its dominance of the Northeast. The sins of humanity are indelibly carved into our history. But what we can do is to prevent it in the future. Already we are seeing historical sites and artifacts destroyed by fanatics and madmen intent on not creating nations, but rather on brutish domination.

We must preserve our past, because without it we have no future.

Daigaku Z: Aletheia

Daigaku Z:

Daigaku Z is a weekly column describing Z’s journey to learn the Japanese language while at the University of Pittsburgh. She impressed the East Asian Language and Literature department with her first-year performance, but she stumbled over the summer semester’s Accelerated Program course. Still, she is nothing if not persistent, and now she faces the second year of the program once more. This is (the continuation of) her story.

Welcome back to the second year. I feel I owe you all an apology for dropping off the face of the earth so suddenly after the third week of the summer, but unfortunately a rather dramatic health issue forced my hand into doing something I would not have preferred to do. Thus, I had to withdraw from the accelerated program. I would really rather not dwell on why that is, and I trust I will not be pressed for further information on it. Besides, everyone who needs to know, already knows.

So here we are again, at the beginning of a fresh year in college. Things are certainly different for me this time: for one thing, I’m already out, and I no longer have to fear the secret of my gender being a Damoclean blade over my head. Also, I know where the better food is on campus, and I have been able to give directions when asked. Those last two are in my opinion better indicators of my comfort at being back at my second alma mater– at least, for all intents and purposes.

The first time I was in college, at Gannon University in Erie, I was not what one could consider an extrovert. I still am not, of course, but compared to my current demeanor it is night and day. In 1999, I did not have any great swelling of emotion upon returning to classes; seeing my friends was good, yes, but it was hardly what I had been looking forward to all summer. The start of the semester was a rather ordinary affair, and I didn’t really have any strong feelings one way or the other.

This past week, though, I have looked forward to seeing again every one of my friends, all those who I met for the first time last year and spent a summer away from. I met up with one of them on Monday, explicitly to catch up ahead of when we would be meeting in the next day’s class anyway; on Tuesday I found even more of the people I had been looking to reconnect with. It wasn’t something I had really thought too much about during the break, but as August ended and the first bells approached it was such a strong feeling.

It’s easy to think that college is the first time that we are “on our own”. Several of our safety nets are stripped from us as we leave home and move into our dorms. But what we learn at university isn’t limited to just the facts and methods of our trades. College’s lessons, like most schooling, are as much social as they are academic. We learn how to do our jobs in the wider world, but we also learn to build our own safety nets. We create the web that catches us by making connections to others– and to ourselves.

The Japanese word for coming to a place, kuru (来る), is different from the word for returning home, kaeru (帰る). 15 years ago, it felt more like I was coming to Erie. This week, though, I was home again. ただいま.

Daigaku Z: A Change Is Gonna Come

Daigaku Z:

Daigaku Z is a weekly column describing Z’s journey to learn the Japanese language while at the University of Pittsburgh. She passed the first year with flying colors, but the East Asian Language and Literature department decided to give her a new challenge– the Accelerated Program. The entirety of second year in just ten weeks. Will she manage to stay the course? Read on to find out.

先週は、ちょっとわるかった。でも、今週は大丈夫だと思います。もっと勉強したい。それから、Let’s Daigaku Z!

We had our first “mid-term” this past week, and the results were not pretty. For any of us. Of the six of us who started this journey, all are still with us, but I’d be lying if I said there hadn’t been serious talk from more than one of us about cutting bait and trying again at the normal pace. This mid-term came after two and a half weeks, where in the normal flow of things it would be closer to six weeks in. Given that we’re all pretty much the same in terms of wanting to do better regardless of how well we actually did, the stress levels on Thursday morning were through the roof.

The biggest problem for us isn’t the material, but ironically the breakneck pace at which it’s being presented. We’re scarcely able to get one lesson through our heads before we’re pushed on to the next one. In the case of the very lengthy Core Conversations that we have to memorize and recite flawlessly, we sometimes stumble more than is really good for us. The real crux of the issue isn’t that we’re not learning… it’s that we’re not learning the way the book– and by extension, the faculty– expects us to.

Jorden and Noda’s instructional series, Japanese the Spoken Language (and the accompanying The Written Language), are based around an almost automatic learning mechanism: reciting conversations so that even if we don’t understand the grammar underlying the syllables we’re speaking, sheer muscle memory will ensure we say something at least coherent. In the 1990s, when the books were written, that might have worked out. But our teachers are giving us enough exceptions and changes to lead us to believe that the language has evolved in the intervening 25 years– subtly, of course, but enough that there will be some funny looks from anyone we speak to once we get off the plane in Narita.

The issue, then, isn’t that we’re not picking up on the phrases we’re given, it’s that all of us– each of the six class members, without exception– are more interested in the mechanics of why what we say is wrong, and not merely that it is wrong. We are highly analytical minds, to a fault in this case, and as a result being told “that’s later on” or “it just is that way” frustrates us to no end. After three weeks, we’ve come to understand that how we learn isn’t likely to happen in the normal course of this program. If we want the meat, we’re gonna have to hunt it ourselves. And that means putting even more time into this study than we already devote.

I mentioned last year that studying was something I found particularly difficult to do when self-directed. It’s looking increasingly like I will have to get over that pretty damn quick.

Daigaku Z: More Writing About Buildings and Food

Daigaku Z:

Daigaku Z is a weekly column describing Z’s journey to learn the Japanese language while at the University of Pittsburgh. She passed the first year with flying colors, but the East Asian Language and Literature department decided to give her a new challenge– the Accelerated Program. The entirety of second year in just ten weeks. Will she manage to stay the course? Read on to find out.

今日は、悟飯をたべましたか?お飲物は?では、Let’s 大学 Z!

When I was learning French in high school, (and Louis XIV was the King of France, not coincidentally), food was not one of the early lessons. It was only after a few of the more basics were in place that we began learning about le fromage, l’eau, and le pain (which is exactly what it sounded like). Japanese has been more or less on the same track, and it was this past week that we began looking at some of the more edible aspects of the world.

Half of this week was also going over directions, because what good is knowing what to order if you can’t figure out how to get to the restaurant? We went a little more in-depth into how to sequence and order directions, so that we didn’t run into the horrible kind of situations as the mythical GPS that tells people to turn left off of the bridge. But the most interesting thing about this confluence of lessons has been the fact that we’ve started asking the teachers about their favorite recipes. Amazingly enough, they’ve actually given us them.

It’s a virtue of the accelerated pace that we’re able to take a few moments here and there asking about such things. The intensity of the remainder of our work gives us a liberty to have a little bit more fun with the topic than we would otherwise. Depending on the teacher, too, we can relax and work in a more free-form fashion, without risking spending precious focus time on something we won’t need in the immediate.

It’s not foolproof, of course. And the pace is starting to catch up to me; you probably noticed this was late on Sunday. That said, things are heating up. Let’s see what cooks.

Daigaku Z: Levels

Daigaku Z: Levels

Daigaku Z is a weekly column describing Z’s journey to learn the Japanese language while at the University of Pittsburgh. She passed the first year with flying colors, but the East Asian Language and Literature department decided to give her a new challenge– the Accelerated Program. The entirety of second year in just ten weeks. Will she manage to stay the course? Read on to find out.

今日は!久しぶりですねえ。では、授業がはじめましたんので大学Zがもう一度きてますよ。じゃ、英語で言って:”Let’s Daigaku Z!”

I don’t expect many of you to be able to read that, and I also have my doubts as to the grammar within it. Nevertheless, as Sega would say: welcome to the next level.

The accelerated program for Japanese Year 2 was hyped up to me as being unattainably difficult: instead of learning 5 kanji a week, we were now learning 5 a day; lessons would be blasted through in the span of a week rather than more or less at a leisurely pace; the emphasis on the student’s effort was greatly increased; and so on and so on. This first week, though, has not been quite as bad as advertised (aside from coming down with a horrible cold on Thursday and Friday). Truth be told, the accelerated pace has done wonders for my ability to stay focused and concentrate on what needs to be improved upon, and as it turns out my grades for the week have maintained more or less the same levels that they did at the end of first year. That said, I harbor no doubt in my mind that everyone was going easy on us this week, and that things are going to very rapidly become difficult very quickly.

The differences between the standard program and the accelerated program couldn’t be more stark. Class sizes are dramatically reduced; whereas in first year we had 40-50 students in lecture and roughly 10 students in each recital, there are only six of us in the summer semester (counting myself). This means each of us have a lot more focus time in recitation, and consequently a lot more time under the gun. The seven hours on-campus are staggered into three hours of recitation, one hour of lecture, two hours of on-our-own practice, and a one-hour lunch somewhere in there; we never have two hours “on stage” in a row. The overall effect becomes a 30-hour a week meat grinder that is proving to be more difficult than I had anticipated, but not more difficult than I prepared for.

Even with the rather grueling pace, morale is still high. We quickly became acclimated to each others’ presence– relaxing and interacting much more than the first few weeks of recitation in the standard program– and we’re able to more quickly understand each others’ quirks and foibles, such that communication amongst ourselves has become a rather amusing mishmash of English and Japanese. I am definitely bringing up the middle of the class ranks, mostly due to being sick, but even with that I feel strongly that I can put in the extra effort needed to bring myself up to code quickly enough (assuming I stay healthy, which is in fact looking more likely this morning than it was last night). Probably the most important thing, though, is that we’re finally moving out of what the rest of the class considers boring and uninteresting material (phone conversation discussions) and into something that everyone can enjoy: food. To say we’ve been looking forward to this is a bit of an understatement.

From this perspective, having just dipped our toes into the maelstrom, we all feel reasonably confident about our abilities and capabilities. We’re not overestimating ourselves, but neither are we selling ourselves short. All in all it’s probably the best possible outcome for the first week. But, like baseball, football, and the League of Legends professional splits, trying to judge season performance based solely on the first week’s showing is a recipe for unmitigated disaster (just ask Team Coast). Time will tell if I’m headed for the Big Dance, or if I’m about to be busted back to the minors.

Don’t tell anyone this, but I’m betting big on myself to go all the way.

Life Is Strange

If you have ever made a choice that you regret, what would you do if you could try that choice again? If you’re a fan of adventure games, you already know the answer: you save before you make any and every choice. But reality doesn’t work that way, and most of us simply live with the consequences of our choices. Then again… what if it did?

Dontnod Entertainment’s second game, Life Is Strange, follows a young woman Max Caulfield as she endures her senior year at a prestigious high school on the Oregon coast. It’s been a month since she came to Blackwell Academy, and already she’s disillusioned with her surroundings; her classmates are hostile, she’s targetted by the local snotty girl posse, and the teacher she most admires seems to be putting way too much pressure on her. For Max, the only bright spots are her photography– the reason she’s at Blackwell– and the thought of reuniting with her friend Chloe, who she hasn’t seen in five years– and hasn’t had the guts to make contact with almost a month into school.

All this changes when Max happens to encounter a butterfly in the ladies’ room one late October day. The butterfly’s arrival coincides with a maniac with a gun shooting someone else in the bathroom… and then Max wakes up in the classroom, minutes before the butterfly’s arrival. She has somehow acquired the means to turn back time in a limited fashion, allowing her to undo choices and re-live moments. This blessing comes with a curse: a premonition of the city being destroyed in a massive tornado in less than a week. And by saving that girl in the bathroom, Max has put herself in the crosshairs of forces she doesn’t yet understand.

Playing out as a very relaxed-pace adventure game in the vein of Telltale Games’ chaptered tales, Life Is Strange‘s first chapter (released this past week on PS4 and Steam) is a short introduction to both the mechanics and world of the game. It probably won’t take more than about an hour or two to play “Chrysalis” to its completion, which is a little disappointing because the storytelling does such a wonderful job of drawing the player in. Between the excellent voice acting, the wonderfully-curated music selections, and the strong scriptwriting, the rather abrupt end will most likely leave you counting the days until the next chapter’s release.

The game does suffer from a few minor flaws, of course. In keeping with the moderate pacing, Max moves maddeningly slowly, and the offered acceleration button doesn’t really give her too much more speed. The game’s Unreal Engine-powered graphics experience texture pop-in and some rather frank ugliness on occasion. And, while Max’s actress does a good job expressing Max’s disaffectedness, it’s sometimes easy to mistake that for a flat tone and wooden acting. Still, these are exceedingly overlookable in the larger picture of the great story being told.

Without a doubt this is going to be a strong contender for awards when 2015 is said and done. More, Life Is Strange is the next evolution of “interactive movies”, a form of game storytelling that had its origins in the old Don Bluth laserdisc games and has been refined, with varying success, ever since. Titles like Heavy Rain, L.A. Noire, and The Longest Journey have all brought us closer to the ideal posited with the advent of full motion video, and Life Is Strange is simply the next step. As a game, it’s a true breakthrough, simply because of the massive amount of choices being tracked and affecting the story. As a story, it’s enthralling and intriguing that something this well-crafted is being directed by the player in real-time. This game hits fifth gear from the very first moments and is not going to let up anytime soon.

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In 2010, a little card game caught my eye. Onirim was a small, pocket-sized box that held one of the most addictive and engaging single-player card games I’ve ever played. I gave away the game to a friend shortly thereafter, encouraging her to play it, and thinking that it would be easy to re-acquire. Well, it wasn’t. It took four years for the game to go back into print, but it was well worth the wait.

Now in a significantly larger box, Onirim’s 2014 rerelease includes the same core set as well as its full slate of seven expansions, making it the definitive edition of the game. Players are tasked with finding and opening the eight Oneiric Doors, gates within the land of dreams. Unlocking a door is as easy as creating a set of three cards of the same color, without having consecutive cards bearing matching symbols. You can also open a door if you draw its card and have a corresponding key in your hand. Beware, though: Nightmare cards also lurk in the deck, threatening to undo your progress. If you open all eight doors before the deck runs out, you win. But if even one remains locked when you must draw a card, you remain trapped forever.

Onirim is relatively unique in that it is designed explicitly as a solitaire challenge. The core game is challenging but still winnable with a little experience and skill. Where the game becomes interesting is in the addition of the expansions, which introduce additional effects and twists. For example, one expansion requires you to open the doors in a specific order. Seems like a pretty simple change, right? Well try saying that when you need to open a green door next and you have a hand full of blue cards. The expansions can be added in any combination, making the game as easy or as difficult as you choose.

The game is not without its drawbacks, of course. First, there is a lot of shuffling involved; it rivals most deck-building games for number of shuffles per minute of gameplay. This makes it slightly prone to damage to the edges of the cards early on; worse, the deck size is not conducive to the use of card sleeves, meaning the only solution is caution. The game also has an annoying tendency to either be too easy or completely unforgiving. While it is a game predominantly based on strategy, player choices can become frustratingly obviated when streaks of Nightmare cards show up. Fortunately, the game’s lightning-fast pace smooths over most of these concerns; if you had a bad deal, you’re only stuck with it for about ten or fifteen minutes.

It might seem a little odd for a solitaire game to be considered a must-own for board game enthusiasts, but Onirim is one of those rare titles that combines challenging gameplay with simple mechanics and fast play. Unfortunately, the game’s popularity in the United States has made it scarce yet again, but with a bit of patience you should be able to track down a copy. I can’t recommend enough that you do so. Onirim is a solid fifth-gear choice.

Final Fantasy XIV: One Year After Rebirth

There are no second acts in politics or MMOs. We’ve seen this come into play with every game that shifts from a subscription model to free-to-play, every game that’s a sequel to a massively successful prior game, every retool of a controversial but workable gameplay mechanic. There are no respawns for MMOs.

Except Final Fantasy XIV.

A Realm Reborn, the 2.0 version of the disastrously bad 2010 MMO, launched in the late summer of 2013. It seemed destined to fail, because it was trying to thwart not only its own history but the rigidly unforgiving marketplace, which to that point brooked no dissent of “da rules”. In the subsequent year, FF14: ARR was responsible for bringing Square-Enix out of the red, launched one of the most generous upgrade plans of all MMOs, and introduced players to an entirely new world that they had thought destroyed forever. It was nothing short of a cast of Raise for a franchise that was succumbing to its own legacy.

But what made ARR such a fascinating success? Fittingly enough, there are fourteen reasons.

14: A Splendid Story.
Each of the major content patches (2.x-level) has included new additions to the main storyline of the game, continuing to unravel the threads of the Ascian plot. While there’s no additional experience to be gained from completing these end-game quests, players will still find lots to do as the Scions of the Seventh Dawn in Vesper Bay become the Crystal Braves of Revenant’s Toll.

13: An Enchanting Eorzea.
The 2.28 patch introduced a new non-combat challenge for players in the form of the Sightseeing Log. By reading cryptic clues to locations, times, and actions, the players search the world of Eorzea far and wide for specific vistas and scenic spots. Of course, you could just look the answers up online, but you’d be robbing yourself of the beauty of the scavenger hunt.

12: An Incorrigible Inspector.
One of the most notorious NPCs in the 1.0 version of the game was Hildibrand Manderville, Gentleman Hero, Agent of Enquiry. Accompanied by his lovely and pyromaniacal assistant Nashu Mhakaracca, Hildibrand returned to Eorzea in Patch 2.1 to usher in a new era of baffling and ridiculous insanity. His storyline continued in each 2.x level patch to follow, chasing a phantom thief and encountering foes with a plethora of arms… and tentacles.

11: A Dungeon Doubled.
Beginning with Patch 2.1 and continuing ever since, the number of Duty Finder dungeons in the game world has fair near doubled. Most of the early-level dungeons received “hard mode” upgrades– not mere reskins of the existing areas, but wholly redesigned areas building upon the lore and history of each of them. In addition, post-game dungeons such as Hullbreaker Isle and Snowcloak were added, giving players new areas to team up and take down.

10: A Prolonged Progression.
The Relic Weapon quest line, a returning feature from Final Fantasy XI, has been extended and expanded in ARR to become Zodiac Weapons. After upgrading their relics to their Zenith forms, players can embark on a quest to transform their signature weapons into ever-higher tiers such as Atma, Animus, Novus, and so on. Rather than rely on clearing Hard Mode Primals as the Relic quest did, however, each step in the process sends players hunting through the world, re-engaging players with content they may have cleared, or may have overlooked.

9: A Coiled Catastrophe.
The show-stopping “End of an Era” trailer that closed out the 1.0 service life featured the Doom of the Allagan, Bahamut himself, laying waste to the land of Eorzea. In-game, this event– the Calamity– had huge repercussions, but none so strong as the discovery of a hellish subterranean labyrinth called the Binding Coil. Patch 2.2 introduced the Second Coil of Bahamut, four more dungeons in which the secret of the dragon’s sleep are further explored; the Final Coil of Bahamut’s turns were added in 2.4. Moreover, 2.3 added the Savage Mode of the Second Coil, a brutally hard version of the already unforgiving dungeon that offered nothing in return but bragging rights.

8. A Dangerous Duel.
In case you thought that Bahamut was the only big baddie still kicking around the world, each of the 2.x level patches introduced new trials (boss raids). In 2.1, Extreme Primals– harder-than-Hard-Mode battles against Ifrit, Garuda, and Titan– were added alongside Good King Moggle Mog XII. Yes, a three-story-tall daemonic Moogle. Later patches introduced Leviathan, Ramuh, Shiva, Gilgamesh, and Ultros, while adding the Relic Weapon battles against the Chimera and the Hydra to the Duty Finder to ease player frustration. Most of these have Extreme counterparts as well.

7. A Blessed Bond.
Certainly a quirkier aspect of the game is the introduction in 2.45 of the Ceremony of Eternal Bond. The Eorzean counterpart to marriage ceremonies is tied to the introduction of an optional-purchase shop where players can spend actual money on in-game cosmetic items such as metallic dyes or wedding bands. The Eternal Bond cutscenes are nice, to be sure, and a no-cost option exists for players who prefer not to drop dough on a virtual engagement. Even with gender and species restrictions being completely absent, though, it’s not going to be to everyone’s tastes. Still, for hard-core role-players out there, it’s nice to have the option open.

6. A Stealthy Servant.
In Patch 2.4 players were treated to something most other games reserve for paid expansions: a new character class. Rogues are a fast-paced melee damage-dealer class that emphasizes getting in a target’s face and stabbing it repeatedly. When they reach level 30, though, they graduate into the Ninja job, adding adaptability through ninjutsu. The class also serves as a preview of the Doman people’s storyline, which is expected to be expanded upon in the paid expansion in 2015.

5. A Refreshing Rebalance.
No game gets it right the first time. There’s always massive game-breakers or exploits that keep developers up at night. In the early days of ARR, that headache was Paladins and Warriors. 2.1 rebalanced the two tank classes in order to bring them into alignment, making them equal but not identical in their capabilities, and made it easier for them to capture and keep enemy attention. In Patch 2.45, Dragoons gained a massive overhaul that dropped a lot of their positioning requirements and increased their magic defense, saving them from being the official representatives of the Floor Inspector’s Union in high-level content.

4. An Exceptional Experience.
When folks see the abbreviation “MMO”, the first thing that comes to mind is the word “grind”. Make no mistake, ARR still is a grindy game; you’ll be repeating content for experience, loot, money, or materials. But each patch has eased the pain of the grind somewhat, allowing experience to be gained more rapidly. Dungeons offered increased experience and gil rewards early on, and the introduction of daily Duty Roulette bonuses gave players even faster paths to level to 50. Coupled with the addition of weekly Challenge Log bonuses, as well as boosts to experience gained while crafting and gathering, players can reach maximum level in all classes with a minimum amount of elbow grease.

3. A Customization Cornucopia.
Everybody loves making stuff their own. Be it the color of armor, the stats on weapons, or the appearance of gear they love, players were given a tremendous amount of control over their gear in the past year. Each 2.x level patch added new gear for crafters to produce, and likewise for players to customize through the melding of materia (something not allowed on the highest-tier gear looted from dungeons). Part of the Zodiac Weapon quest requires players to make tough decisions about what stats they want to boost on their personal weapons. And the Glamour system allows players to equip that high-level gear while retaining the appearance of any other compatible piece of clothing, including dresses, swim trunks, or Chocobo costumes.

2. A Hearty Hunt.
This is sort of a mixed bag, but it bears mentioning because it is a major benefit to players. In Patch 2.3, The Hunt was added to the game, challenging players to seek out and defeat notorious Mark monsters in the world. In return, they would be awarded credits towards high-level gear previously made available through dungeon drops or end-game currency. The gear was bargain-basement priced compared to dungeon runs, and for about a month or so every server was overrun with Hunt parties, massive alliances dedicated to rapidly exterminating Marks for the hunt credit. This was because the credits offered per kill were pretty meager on their own, but they added up when run consecutively. As a way to expedite players’ readiness for current end-game content– which was the intention of the system– it worked. As a way to ensure people actually ran end-game content instead of endless Hunt stalking– not so much.

1. A Protector’s Promise.
The land of Eorzea is watched over by the Mother-Crystal, Hydaelyn, and safeguarded by the Twelve, the ancestral gods of the spoken races. In a sense, though, there is another protector of the realm: lead producer Naoki Yoshida. Having taken over the reins of the game in the midst of the disastrous 1.0 launch, Yoshida took great care to foster openness and communications between the staff and the player base, through Letters From the Producer and Live Letter events. These expanded into the Japan-only FATE events, mini-gatherings where fans mingled with the development team, and their international counterparts, the Fan Festival events. Through these, players were heard and answered, alleviating the concerns that the game was helmed by a despot; in the end, Yoshida has enjoyed a level of adulation and appreciation almost unheard of among any game’s community. Doesn’t hurt that his in-game avatar, the Wandering Minstrel, was behind one of the more touching and stirring events over the summer.

Very few online games offer huge swaths of content in their interim patches; even fewer still do so after having recovered from an almost fatal failure in the marketplace. Still, with the end of the 2.x era rapidly approaching, and the Heavensward expansion looking to arrive in the late spring of 2015, Final Fantasy XIV has proven that there are, in fact, second chances. I still contend that this is the best MMO I’ve ever played, and quite possibly the best MMO of all. I’ll catch you folks in-game.

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