I lost a lot of my life to Final Fantasy XI.
Then again, I lost a lot of my life to every Final Fantasy that came before it, too. I spent much of my childhood and adolescence immersed in RPGs, drinking deep of their narrative draughts to escape the mundanity of my own world. When Final Fantasy XI rolled around, the only real difference was that I no longer had to undertake that journey alone. I went from sharing schoolyard stories of Terra and Kefka to writing my own tale of adventure...right alongside thousands of other people doing the exact same thing. Though we were spatially disconnected, the bonds I forged with my fellow players — over rousing triumph and bitter defeat alike — felt tangible. Back when social media was still in its infancy, Final Fantasy XI was my Facebook. I cared about the game itself, sure. But its mechanics were an elaborate framework for social interaction; my memories were what would linger long after my avatar ceased to be.
That's not to say that Final Fantasy XI is lacking in splendid vistas, beautiful music, or unforgettable narratives. It has all of those things. Vana'diel is a vibrant world that will always hold a special place in my heart simply for being the first online frontier I ever dared to explore. "Explore" is the right word, too; Final Fantasy XI was a punishing game, one rife with danger, full of fearsome monsters that kept vigil to defend its myriad nooks and crannies. I'll never forget how I felt stepping foot in the innermost sanctum of Riverne - Site #A01, or when I (and 63 other players) scored a rare piece of armor deep in the nightmare world of Dynamis - Xarcabard. There was a certain thrill present in Final Fantasy XI — of banding together with like-minded adventurers to contend with its merciless difficulty — that I haven't experienced in any game since.
Asking if Final Fantasy XI is my "favorite" game in the series sort of misses the point. I wasn't happy the entire time I was playing it, but it left a deep impression on me. I'll never forget the thousands of hours I spent lost in that world. I also swore I wouldn't let it happen again.
But would you hang on a minute? I need to run my daily roulette in Final Fantasy XIV.