Final Fantasy 11 might have a small and passionate playerbase, but there's no denying that its best days are far behind it. Just because it's old, though, doesn't mean Final Fantasy 11 has to look ugly. Earlier this week, a player by the name of Amelila released a stunning trailer for their in-progress HD overhaul mod that replaces a good portion of the 16-year-old old textures from the original game. It works on both the official servers and private servers too, so no matter where you choose to play, this mod will work for you.
I love Final Fantasy 11, but I was stunned that this late into its life someone was putting in this much effort to update its visuals. When I last logged on a few years ago, my server still had 2,000 people playing—and I'm sure the others weren't too far behind. But it's exactly those people that inspired Amelila to work on this mod. "Final Fantasy 11 has always held a special place in my heart," he told me in an email. "So the FFXI HD Overhaul project really just fit right as something I had the skills to do for the enjoyment of others."
Amelila is in his 30s and works as the head of media production at a successful Canadian business. Drawing from his background in visual effects and digital animation, he started working on the project in earnest late last year. It's come a long way since then. "Initially, I used the game assets to make a Ronfaure mod for Skyrim, but it wasn't long before I realized, wait, I have the knowledge and the tools, why not just mod FF11 itself?" Amelila explained.
This isn't a simple project, however. Amelila told me that balancing his job, time with the kids and wife, and working on the project has "been a real struggle." He's used up a lot of his vacation time this year working on the mod and said it's common to be up until two in the morning working.
Part of that is due to the fact that Final Fantasy 11 has no official mod tools—not all that surprising for an 16-year-old MMO. What small mod community Final Fantasy 11 had died years ago, so Amelila had to scour through archived forum posts and countless dead links trying to find the information and tools to necessary to begin working on his mod. Community-made tools like ChangeTex allowed him to begin swapping texture files, while an old guide by a player named Nomido helped Amelila understand how to HEX edit the game's .dat files to increase the supported texture resolution. "This was an incredibly time consuming process and often led to breaking an entire zone, at which point I would have to start all over again," Amelila said.
Thankfully, members of Final Fantasy 11's small community stepped up to help. One player, KorithXI, coded an original suite of tools called TexHammer that made texture swapping a much simpler process. "It's really thanks to the community that I am able to do what I do," Amelila said. "Other people who have made a real impact on this project are Atom0s, who helped me from the start, and '_tnr' for hosting an entire test server for me to do my work on."
But the question remains, why put forth all this effort for game that might not exist in a few years? If you never played, it might be hard to comprehend, but Final Fantasy 11 was a very special kind of MMO. Final Fantasy 11 existed long before World of Warcraft established the template for what an MMO should be, making it a wholly unique kind of experience. "Final Fantasy 11 is a special place for a lot of people, myself included," Amelila said. "It's one of the few games that don't take you by the hand and walk you through, step by step. It was and is up to the player to figure this out for themselves."
Unlike modern MMOs, Final Fantasy 11 had no accessible fast travel system to help traverse it's massive world. Quests had involved, fleshed out stories that required you to think instead of just follow a quest marker. And monsters were so deadly that you needed a group to do any serious adventuring. Final Fantasy 11 was, by today's standards, brutal. And that's exactly why it's community became so tightly knit—they had no other choice. "The game has far fewer people playing it but those who do are keen to help others, so I would say it's the community that has me invested," Amelila said. "Even in the twilight days of Final Fantasy 11, we adventurers still burn strong with the spirit of the game."
If you have the time and money for a subscription fee, I'd absolutely recommend giving Final Fantasy 11 a go. It's aging, yes, but it's such an interesting relic of gaming's past. What's more, recent updates have made it significantly easier to play solo, so you don't have to fret about not having a group of people to play with.
Amelila's HD overhaul has completed 22 zones, most of them being the main areas that players spend their time in. There's dozens more to go, but he plans to keep chugging along as long as he have time and the community remains interested. You can check out more videos breaking down the work done in each zone on his YouTube channel. You can download the current version of the HD overhaul mod here.