When this game was first announced there were quite a few jokes cracked about there being a CG cut scene every three minutes, among other wisecracks. The reality is that Final Fantasy XI actually turned out quite well, in spite of some noticeable problems. It looks very nice, there is a small army of character classes to play as, the battle system is tight, and there are plenty of trade skills as well, sure to keep MMORPG and Final Fantasy fans busy for a very long time.
Connecting the PS2 hard drive packaged with Final Fantasy XI is a relatively painless affair. One need only follow the instructions and everything should move along smoothly. What isnít necessarily so painless is the process of installing the game, setting up an account, and downloading/installing the updates for the game, especially for those who are particularly impatient. But once the upward of three hours set-up is complete, players can create their character, pledge allegiance to one of FFXIís nations, and get down to business.
Stepping into Final Fantasy XIís game world can be a tad intimidating at first simply because there is so much one can do. Thankfully everything is arranged so that players can nibble on various gameplay options at their leisure, giving them plenty of time to learn the ropes of how gameplay works. Choosing a character class is a matter of personal taste, and there are several races to choose from: the hulking Galka with their brute strength, the nimble Elvaan who lean toward
close-quartered combat, the Tarutaru and their magic-oriented society, the cat-like Mithra, as well as the well-round (same may call it average) Humes.
Combat starts with players often soloing for their first 10-12 levels, fighting the monsters just outside their hometown. With this they gain experience points and treasure, as well as knowledge as to how the basic play mechanics of FFXIís battles work. Early on enemies strike a comfortable balance between providing a challenge and not becoming too difficult, as players get used to strategizing what to attack and when, when to use a special attack, picking out the appropriate spells to use for specific situations, and so forth. However, once players start to form parties it becomes obvious just how much depth there is to combat in this game.
Playing in a party really changes the dynamics as to how one approaches combat, and really forces all players involved in a party to think about the group, not just themselves. Whether playing as a combat-intensive warrior, or being the party healer, or once one has stepped into the realm of the advance classes like a paladins, ninjas, and summoners there is just that much to consider when playing in a party. There are so many ways one can approach battle and how players can join forces when fighting enemies that itís hard not to have fun when play with a party. Granted you could be stuck in a party full of idiots, but when that happens just leave them for another group. Overall, though, combat is top notch, with so many layers to it that there may very well be debates well into the future as to what the ďbestĒ techniques are.
As mentioned earlier, there are many classes of characters available to players, and thanks to FFXI using the Job System (which has made more than a few appearances in the Final Fantasy franchise) players have the ability to change the job their character is using quite readily. Clocking in at just over a dozen jobs, players will have warriors, red, black, and white mages, paladins, thieves, samurai, ninjas, dragoons, monks, summoners, beast masters, and dark knights at their disposal. When first starting the game, players will only be able to select to be a warrior, monk, thief, or one of the three types of mages. The rest of the classes are advanced jobs that can only be unlocked, first by getting one of the basic jobs up to level 30, then doing a quest to unlock the specific advanced job. Itís a great selection of character classes, providing plenty of play options, while still presenting plenty of challenge to get many of them.
top of this, when players reach level 18 for the first time they can
embark on a quest that unlocks the sub-job feature.
With this players can have two jobs at the same time. For instance a white mage can sub-job as a black mage, as a
result having increased hit points and magic points. However, the sub-job is always at half the level of a playerís
main job, so if that white mage is level 30 their black mage sub-job
will be at level 15. Donít
worry though. If that black
mage is usually level 20, for instance, it wonít de-level when using
it as a sub-job. It only
acts as a level 15 black mage so long as it is a sub-job.
If a player switches back to using their black mage as a main job
it will once again be at level 20. The sub-job is very
helpful in augmenting a character's skills, but while playing FFXI there
seems to be a certain stigma with unconventional class
combinations. Many players treat the game as a grind and expect
their party members to use what many consider the best combination of
character classes, discouraging playing around with combinations more
off the beaten path.
The sub-job is very helpful in augmenting a character's skills, but while playing FFXI there seems to be a certain stigma with unconventional class combinations. Many players treat the game as a grind and expect their party members to use what many consider the best combination of character classes, discouraging playing around with combinations more off the beaten path.
if players donít particularly feel like spending most of their time
crossing swords with enemies, thereís plenty of craft skills to
master. Final Fantasy XI
has blacksmithing, gold smithing, fishing, cooking, alchemy, leather
craft, and bone craft among other skills for players to sink their teeth
into. It does take a lot of
time and gil (the currency of the Final Fantasy world) to hone these
skills, so expect to spend quite a bit of time trying to get better at
the various skills. There
will be a lot of failures, and a lot of lost materials along the way.
Once players start to tackle creating more powerful weapons and
items they will need to have high levels in multiple skills in order to
proficient in the gameís crafting skills takes a lot of time and
patience, but the end results often prove very rewarding.
And what would a role-playing game be without quests? Final Fantasy XI answers this in spades with quests, missions, and conquest. Quests are just what they sound like, as players do tasks for the various inhabitants of the game world. Missions are quests of a more official nature, where players perform tasks for the military and people in government for their respective nation. As far as conquest is concerned, these involve taking control of the various regions of the FFXI world. With this conquest comes the advantage of your nationís stores selling a greater variety of goods since they can import from the regions under your nationís control. One interesting aspect of these quests is the concept of fame and rank. As players complete more quests in a city they become increasingly popular in that town, and it is through this that they unlock more advance quests. A player's rank increases through completing missions, thus unlocking more advanced missions. As such most quests and missions are not free for all to do. Players must work their way up the ladder. Quests and missions are functional, but the major problem they suffer from is that in a lot of ways theyíre still the same old, same old. With Fed Ex quests, fetch quests, and so on, the quests and missions have that same formulaic task completion approach to role-playing that the genre has suffered from for years.
spite of this, there is a very strong sense of community while playing
the game. There are four
major chat options while playing that can allow players to either talk
with people in their immediate vicinity, with anyone in a zone,
one-on-one with someone else, just with their party, or with members of
their link shell. To
clarify what a link shell is, this allows any players to form groups,
kind of like an IRC channel, and talk together. This is done by acquiring a link pearl that can be bought or,
as often is the case, is given to a player by someone else.
These link pearl acts like a magic walkie-talkie allowing players
to chat in the shell. Itís the link shell where the greatest sense of community
can be found. Some shells
may be populated by idiots and not worth oneís time, but once players
get on one with kind people who know what theyíre doing it becomes
easy to create parties for various missions, ask questions, or just talk
about the weather while doing some fishing.
Community can also be felt just from random acts of kindness.
Every so often a player may cross paths with someone of a
happy-go-lucky who is more than happy to lend a hand, give directions,
or cast a quick spell to help another player out.
There will always be jerks to contend with when playing games
online, but the bozo quotient appears quite low in FFXI thus far,
helping to keep the community a somewhat bigger, happier family.
course if players have a beef with someone else, they can always take it
up in Ballista, the newly added PvP feature in FFXI.
There are requirements to enter the battles, firstly that the
player must be of Rank 3 or higher.
After that other a level requirement will also come into play,
but this often depends on the battle and changes with each Ballista.
It gives players a chance to have at each other without the fear
of penalties when they die. It
may feel half-assed to ardent supporters of the PvP lifestyle, but those
who donít like being randomly whacked by another player will certainly
welcome the controlled environment of PvP in this game.
On other semi-community related feature in FFXI that deserves mention is the game's economy. In most MMORPGs players can't walk two steps without being inundated with people shouting that they have this or that item for sale. This still happens to a degree here, but players have alternatives in the Bazaar and the Auction House. The auction house allows players to put items up for sale for a certain asking price then over the course of a few days other players may bid on that item. If the bid is higher than the asking price the item is sold. The bazaar is like a mobile shop run by players where they can sell goods in their inventory. If someone is curious, they can just walk up, take a peak, and buy something. It's a handy way to do business and at this point is regulating itself well.
not everything about FFXI is fabulous.
One aspect of the game that is an absolute pain is getting around
the various regions of the game world.
Early on players are forced to run most everywhere, which can
take forever. Itís slow;
itís frustrating, and in the end proves to be a big waste of time. Not until level 20 do players have a chance at faster travel
when the quest that allows them to use a Chocobo is open to them.
Even then if players start to level up a different job, they must
get that job to a certain level before they can ride their big yellow
bird again. Thereís also
the option to ride on boats and airship, but there is a certain amount
of waiting to be at the right level to do these as well. For the first two weeks to a month on FFXI players can expect
to have long walks ahead of them before they can get around in a more
convenient manner. Thereís
an off chance a kind mage will offer to magically teleport players, but
they usually charge a fee and not many do it for free these days.
problem the game suffers from is that it doesnít allow players to
choose which server they would like to play on.
Instead they are randomly assigned to one of the dozens of Final
Fantasy XI servers. This
can prove very problematic for gamers who would like to play FFXI with
their friends. However,
there is a remedy to this. There
is something called a World Pass that players can buy with gil in the
game. What this does is
gives a password that the player can give to a handful of friends.
These friends use the password when registering their Final
Fantasy XI account, allowing them to play on the same server as the
person who gave them the World Pass.
On the one side this is an understandable step for Square to take
because it helps prevent servers from being flooded with players while
others are left barren, but on the other hand it still presents quite a
few inconvenient hoops for players to jump through.
terms of presentation, Final Fantasy XI is as pretty as one would expect
from a Square title. The
image quality isnít as colourful or crisp as that found on the PC
version of the game, but thatís to be expected.
Nonetheless, the art right from the character and monster designs
to the layout of the various environments are beautiful.
The game really brings a sense of whimsy and pulls the player
into a different world through its graphics.
The animations are equally satisfying, only really stuttering in
areas with lots of people in them, such as in the marketplaces of major
speaking the tunes are far sparser in this game than in past Final
Fantasy titles. In terms of
quality they donít jump out as much as some of the more anthemic
pieces to grace the franchise, which is a disappointment.
However, there are the requisite appearances of traditional
ditties like the Chocobo theme and the arpeggio harp piece.
What is particularly annoying is that yet again players are
subjected to that low quality pseudo-midi sound quality for the
instrumentation. It just
boggles the mind. Here we
have Square pouring in money by the truckload to bring us unparalleled
graphics, yet they just canít seem to give us top-notch instrument
quality. Itís doubly
disappointing after playing through the Lineage II beta recently and
hearing music of an extremely high calibre both in terms of composition
and quality of instrumentation.
the sound effects pick up the slack for their ailing audio counterpart.
The clashing of weapons, the whooshing and swooshing of spells,
the grunts and roars of monsters, wind passing through a valley, the
sound of crashing waves on the shore, they all bring the game to life.
Fantasy XI is by no means the be-all-end-all, shining example of what a
MMORPG should be. It still
has its faults, but itís good points far outweigh them.
Despite the cost of the game and its packed-in hard drive FFXI is
well worth the time of MMORPG fans looking for a game that will keep
them busy for a very long time.
(May 22, 2004)
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