Final Fantasy XI
Game Info
Platform(s)
PS2
Publisher
Square Enix
Developer
Square Enix
Genre
MMORPG
Official Website
ESRB Rating
Animated Blood, Violence
 
Grade
The Good

• Massive world with tons of things to do and lots of places to visit
• Lots of customization when it comes to equipment
• Combat and party aspects require strategy
• Great artistic style

The Bad

• Too many menus to go through just to get into the game
• Graphics could use more polish

 
Grade
A-

Final Fantasy. It's a series that has become extremely popular ever since Final Fantasy VII came out on the Playstation (yes, it was big before, but not as mainstream big as it was afterwards). So, when Squaresoft (now Square Enix) decided to make its eleventh edition a massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG), some of the standard fan-set were caught off guard. Instead of getting another story-heavy single player epic, they were faced with an online title that would allow them to play with thousands of others in what would amount to an almost living world. Considering how much grief Squaresoft was taking for not making a noticeable change in the series (whether a founded argument or not), it was almost an obvious choice to make one of the Final Fantasies online.

In Final Fantasy XI, you take on the role of an adventurer starting out in the world of Vana'diel. The land is broken up into three competing nations, Windurst, Bastok and San d'Oria, all of which are trying to fight back the uprising of beastmen, who threaten war. To do this, players partake in the campaign to fight the beasts. This campaign requires you to pick a nation, acquire the nation's magical signet and go out and kill monsters under your nation's signet. Of course, this isn't the only thing available to you, but it is the overlying story arc of the game. Along the way, as you do missions, you'll get in-game story sequences that add enough flavor to your experience to keep you moving along.

When you get into the game, you'll be faced with the character creation screen, which, honestly seems a bit limited, but will do for most. You have multiple races to choose from and each race has benefits and drawbacks to consider. Tarutarus are great with magic but take some effort to be good with melee, while Elvaans are strong melee but have poor accuracy. After picking your race, you can pick gender, except for the all-male Galka and all-female Mithra, and then choose from a group of hair and face styles. After choosing your nation and starting job, you'll unleashed onto the massive world that will easily overwhelm you for the first few hours, and maybe even days. From this point, you're given pretty much a landslide of things you could do, including taking on quests from NPCs, most of which are item fetching, missions for your country which improve your rank and standing, take part in one of the many guilds, or just run out into the nearby wild to fight anything and everything.

Once you get into a fight, you'll find combat proves to require some strategy. Melee combat is all about selecting an enemy and attacking. Your character will automatically attack in timed intervals based on the delay speed of the equipped weapon. While you can maneuver around during melee combat, it doesn't have much affect on the outcome. Where strategy comes in is in the use of job/class skills learned as your character levels up. While mages can learn magic to use as attacking, healing, or status-inducing, each job/class has special abilities (both active and innate) that aid them in battle. Along with your job/class skills, players will level up a lot of combat skills to improve their proficiency in weapons, magic, dodging and even using a shield as they progress through the game. While combat may have the look of real-time, it is very menu-driven, where you select from lists of options, including attack, item, magic, abilities and even the option to call for help from other players when faced with an enemy who's too powerful for you. All of these menu options play out in a similarly timed fashion, each with their own casting/recasting intervals.

While fighting on your own may be a good way to get started, the strength of Final Fantasy XI is in working in parties of up to six players (or in multiple party Alliances later on). In a good party, players can gain excellent experience and even finish most quests in the game. In fact, most players will want to get into good parties to get some of the better things in the game. The chemistry of a party is essential in it's success - you'll want a dedicated healer, someone to cast heavy-damage spells, someone to "pull" monsters to where you're camped and at least one person to act as the "tank", usually a Warrior or Paladin who keeps the focus of the monster on himself. One of the elements in battle that must be considered is the amount of "hate", or attention that actions performed create, that your party makes. If you have a White Mage casts a lot of high-end Cure spells, your tank is going to have a hard time keeping the monster's focus on himself and away from the weaker mages.

When not in battle or in a party, there are MASSIVE amounts of things to do. So much so that you may spend weeks not fighting or leveling your character. Players can choose to join any number of guilds, which aids in crafting items, ranging from equipment to food to furniture. Initially, crafting may cost more money that what you can make off of them, but the better you get at it, the more high-end items you can make. These items will usually earn you a nice profit by selling them at the Auction House, which is much like eBay. Before too long, you'll realize that the gameworld economics and product supply is largely hinged on the players on your server, which may lead you to try and find a niche to exploit financially.

One of the best features of the gameplay system that can be used to your benefit is the use of Macros - a series of commands you can create on your own to perform specific commands. While the game comes with some pre-set macros, players are encouraged to create their own. These macros can be used to create quick access to special attacks or skills, call out info to your party, or set a series of timed commands, like initiating a Provoke and then setting off a message when the ability is available to reuse 30 seconds later. Smart players will find ways to make macros for just about every activity they perform on a regular basis.

"But, what goals are there for me?" Square Enix knew that they needed to make players want to keep pushing onward, so they set a series of goals for you to achieve. At level 18, you can perform a quest to unlock the ability to set your sub-job (this allows you to have the benefits of a second job along with your main job). At level 20, you can head to Jeuno to earn the right to rent chocobos, which makes travel so much faster it isn't even funny. At level 30, you'll have to ability to start trying to unlock the advanced jobs, like Ranger, Summoner, Samuari and Beastmaster (to name a few). Beyond that are rare Notorious Monsters (plus Huge Notorious Monsters and Burning Circle Notorious Monsters) to hunt and even quests to unlock the level caps between 50 and 75. Just about everything takes time, but completing these tasks is well worth the effort.

Along with the game is Square Enix's pretty comprehensive PlayOnline service, which comes with it's own mail service, chat boards, friend's list and even the option to play TetraMaster. The service itself is pretty impressive, but at the same time proves to be pretty complicated. So much so that it may take you a couple minutes to get into the game and just about as much time to log out (or at least log out the way they want you to).

When it comes to the visual package, Final Fantasy XI looks good, but fails to be great. There's no denying that it looks better than its Everquest competition. Vastly better. The design of the characters and world are excellent and do wonders to set the world of Vana'diel apart from other RPGs. Character models and the game world shows a good amount of detail and personality. Visual effects during battle and the animations of both monsters, NPC and PCs are all pretty good. While there is a limited variety of available character models, you can dress up your character with equipment and get "instant gratification" from buying new equipment. Of course, some equipment groups tend to have a similar "color palette-swapped" look to them, so you may have to change your equipment type to change your look. This same "color palette-swapped" effect shows up with the monsters as most beasts boil down to harder versions of the same creatures you were killing 20 hours ago. On top of this, the PS2 version does have some blurry textures, noticeable jaggies, and some draw-distance issues. Also, when you're in a heavily populated area, expect noticeable slowdown. One might thing this is an awful lot of nagging, but to be honest, the overall package is still pretty damn good and will keep the average MMORPGer pretty happy.

Audiowise, the game presents a nice range of sound effects and musical scores. While the soundtrack from the game feels different than previous titles, it does a good job at aiding the tone and look of the game world. By the nature of the game though, you may find most tracks very repetitive, especially if you're spending hours upon hours playing in one area. But, even with some repetitiveness, a lot of the tracks and themes are really excellent. Sound effects prove to be an important feature, especially when some monsters will key off that they are attacking you with a growl or similar noise. In battle effects have a great weight to them, making each battle feel vital and important, even if you're killing low-level scrubs for dropped items.

Square Enix is obviously spending a lot of time to make changes to the game in forms of updates. These occasional updates add new elements to the game and a future expansion will promise new areas in an already huge world. If you've never taken the MMORPG plunge before, this game may prove to be overwhelming, but if you stick with it, the sense of community and playing with other gamers proves to be an all-absorbing juggernaut. I do suggest you get on a server with some of your friends and make sure to buy a USB keyboard to make your enjoyment much better. If FFXI gets its hooks into you, you may find yourself not buying any other games for a long time.

- - Kinderfeld

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