PS2 HDD and Final Fantasy XI Impressions [04/06/04]

After two weeks with this $100 investment, we have some comments and information regarding Sony's new peripheral and the first MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role playing game) in the Final Fantasy series.

HDD

Once you get this package home, you'll be presented with more than enough reading material between the manuals for the HDD and the sizeable manual (160+ pages) for Final Fantasy XI. I'd suggest you at least give them a look over so as to not mess anything up while setting up both your hardware and registering everything. The package also comes with 3 discs - the Final Fantasy XI game disc (DVD), the supplemental disc which includes the PlayOnline Browser and Tetra Master (CD) and a disc for the HDD software (CD). If you have an older PS2, you may run into problems with the CDs. If you're having trouble with your discs or harddrive, try these FAQs on GameFAQs.com. Since most of the software is already pre-installed, you may never have to break out more than one disc for the sake of "confirmation".

Before I get too far, it must be known that you need to have a Network Adapter to install the HDD. Yep. Because that's what you use to secure the HDD into the PS2. Before you ask "Why wouldn't you...", just know that some people may be buying this for the HDD itself. You'll also find that you need to download an update already available, which will take a little bit of time on broadband and roughly an hour on 56K dial-up, depending on your provider. Note: There is also an update for Final Fantasy XI, which only took around 30-35 minutes to download on dial-up. Currently, the HDD supports storing your game saves from your memory card, but this only acts as an archive. There aren't any games, to date, that will allow you to save your game save directly to the HDD. The HDD software will allow you to move your saves without the need to copy then delete the saves and you can rename your saves.

Outside of Final Fantasy XI, I have managed to install Resident Evil Outbreak on the HDD, which allows for better load times. But, before you think "I can install Resident Evil and then sell it back", you need to understand that Capcom already thought of that. If you go into the HDD through the Browser and select the Resident Evil data without the game disc in the tray, you'll be asked to place the disc into the console.

While the HDD currently is limited in what it can do, there have already been reports that the HDD will be used for Content Downloads (not unlike the Xbox) for new levels and missions. Current comments hint that both SOCOM II: U.S. Navy SEALs and Syphon Filter: The Omega Strain may use this feature. There will also be a media player or "personal jukebox" and a photo manager that are sure to come in an update at some point, although these were originally promised as features that were to launch with the HDD but never materialized.

Final Fantasy XI

I won't lie to you - Final Fantasy XI will probably overwhelm you right off the bat. Even after two weeks and well over 24 hours of in-game time, there's still a lot I haven't done and I STILL have to look at the map. To really get the most out of this game, be sure to find some people to party with or even try to get on a server with some of your friends so you can always have a ready-made party. For myself, I and a couple of the other reviewers (Bluezero, Grand Admiral, Miss Tiger, Chris Rivera) and a few of our other online friends set up camp on the Phoenix server in Windurst.

When you start the game, you'll find yourself making a lot of registration and handle IDs. You have access to a chat, PlayOnline email and even the ability to set up a Friend List, which is nice if you want to find a friend and haven't become part of a Linkshell yet (Linkshells are a tool that allow you to speak with other friends even if they aren't in the same area or even region as you). Once you get into the game, you'll need to create your character (yes, you can make more than one character, but you'll have to buy extra Content IDs for each character). At the character creation menu, you can choose from different races (Hume, Tarutaru, Galka, Mithra and Elvaan). Each of these races have a series of different faces and hairstyles. Though you won't have a ton of options on this, there is enough to fit most player's tastes. When it comes to character race, you may need to take into consideration what classes you want to play as each race favors certain traits (For example: Tarutarus are strong on magic, while Galkas are better at taking physical damage).

Once you mold your character, you get to give them a name and then you'll be randomly placed on a server. That is, unless you have a friend who's already gotten a World Pass. If so, they'll give you a server name and password to punch in, which will let you start on that server. Note: You can not transfer an already created character to another server. Once you've gotten this far, you'll need to select which country to start in. Where you start in relation to your race can affect how the opening story sequence plays out for you. Depending on your race, you may choose to start in that race's preferred nation (Elvaans are from San d'Oria, Humes and Galka are from Bastok, and Mithra and Tarutaru are from Windurst).

Once you get going, you'll find yourself in a pretty large town with multiple locations to visit. You may spend hours in town running around before you actually go outside of town to start fighting. In town, you'll find places to buy equipment, armor, and other assorted materials. Before too long, you'll want to check out the Auction House, which is kind of like eBay in that it's supplied by in-game players and the prices fluctuate depending on supply and demand. If you play the market right, you can turn the Auction House into a highly profitable means of making gil.

Of course, I'm sure you're wondering what combat is like. When you see an enemy roaming around outside of town, you'll need to select the beast and chose the attack option. Of course, you may want to check the creature to be sure it's not too powerful for you, unless you enjoy dying and returning back to your home point. Once you start attacking, you'll automatically swing based on the speed of your weapon. You can also cast spells and use abilities learned along the way. Since the game uses the class system, each class will learn different skills and spells. New classes become available when you complete quests later in the game and you can even have a subjob to augment your main job. As you use them, you'll level up your weapon and magical skills, making yourself proficient in them.

And, before you think that you can run around doing anything you like, you need to understand the mechanics of building parties to complete quests or just to go experience hunting. While you can get away with going solo for the first ten levels, later on you'll want to party up with other classes. White Mages are great for healing your melee players, who should be on the front line, taking all the attention and damage from monsters. One of the better combinations is to get a Warrior to Provoke enemies to attack him/her while you have Black Mages casting a series of spells to wear the beast down before it can make too much of a dent in the Warrior's hitpoints.

There's a lot more that can be gone into, but I'll save that for the upcoming review, including your Mog House, joining guilds, fishing and even getting involved in a number of trades that you can learn. To be honest, Square-Enix has done a lot to give every player something to do besides running around killing things.

For more info on finding your way around Final Fantasy XI, try:
http://www.playonline.com/ff11us/index.shtml
http://ffvault.ign.com/
http://ffxi.allakhazam.com/

If you want to see some good in-game footage, check out these homemade trailers:
http://www.phank.com/images/tarutarutaru/tarutarutaru.html
http://vnfiles.ign.com/finalfantasy/FF.wmv

- - Kinderfeld

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