Final Fantasy XI
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: Out Now
Players: MMO only
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The Final Fantasy series has had a huge mainstream following ever since the release of the gem that was FVII for the original PlayStation back in 1997, moving from text and turn-based action to a more vocal and real-time format with FFX for the PS2. Four years ago, while UK PS2 owners were still waiting for the promised HDD to follow the release of the network adaptor, Square released FFXI to the US and Asian public, moving the series even further - online. Now, with typical Japanese conversion efficiency FFXI is finally available in the UK, just a few years behind everyone else…

With the usual Xbox Live smarts, you’re greeted with an online interface, which has to be installed before you even start installing FFXI, called PlayOnline. This looks like it will be the hub for future MMORPGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games), as there is a messaging system, account management and game selection (just FFXI at the moment) areas. It’s nice but with the amount that has to be installed, registered and clicked through to even get close to playing the game you’ll wonder why it’s even there. Also, when you log out of FFXI you have to completely log out of PlayOnline too, or like not shutting down a PC you risk losing data! After a marathon session stretching into the early hours of the morning the last thing you want to do is scroll through endless “Are you sure you want to exit the exit confirmation screen” messages!

All complicated installation and registration stuff aside let’s state the (now) obvious for MMORPGs: This game is HUGE. Even a word like huge is too abrupt and restrictive to properly describe how much you can get up to and how far you can go. I could reel off thousands of words about all the different worlds, missions, quests, professions and sub jobs, I’d have to pay you guys a monthly subscription to read the review, and I still wouldn’t get everything in! You’ve got a few different races to play as, from the well-rounded Hume to the more magic-based midget Tarutaru race. You can start practising dark/light magic or direct combat and after that the whole world of stats, upgrades and multiple jobs is open to you…

I chose a Hume character (which looks the most normal) with one of the pre-set faces and hairstyles, which looked a little like Zell Dincht (the guy who uses his fists) from FFVIII. Not many people seemed to notice the resemblance though, and I was constantly hounded by a little Tarutaru white mage called Twot, who kept giving me lip and saying I looked like Ronan Keating! The taunting only got worse when I picked up some new brass armour that made my character look like a cross between a Roman gladiator and an S&M pornstar…

One of the things you notice about FFXI, from the interfaces to the gameplay, is that it doesn’t really feel like a FF game. There’s no trace of the old combat or even inventory systems and if you didn’t see people running past on chocobos and Tarutarus scampering about you’d swear you were playing Everquest…

I chose to swing around big swords, since it was the easiest to pick up; attacking is simply a case of locking onto a target, pressing attack and sitting around until one of you is dead. Sometimes you’ll be able to launch a special attack (the bar fills whenever you attack/take damage and decreases when you rest), more special abilities and weapon skills become available as you level up.

Because you’re always dealing damage, although it gets a bit tedious after a while, being a warrior is one of the easiest jobs to level up with. When I say the easiest to level up with I mean I cheated and got a high level white mage to heal me while I whacked the crap out of stuff that would normally squash a FFXI n00b such as myself! As a warrior, you have no healing power so without a mage you have to kneel and heal after every battle, losing some of your special attack power and wasting valuable time. The amount of work required before you’re at a level at which you can start making reasonable XP (Experience Points) returns from your kills (at least Level 10 when you’ll find it easier to team up with other players) is completely insane if you don’t have someone to help you out. On your own you’ll be slashing Savannah Rarabs (bunny rabbits with evil eyes) and Pikmin-like sprites for days and days, meaning your free trial’s up before you’ve even got to the good stuff! That’s assuming you’ve got the patience to hack ‘n’ slash for 30 days that is…. - The fact is, that despite some clever drop down in-game menus that make a myriad of options and actions possible in seconds, everything - EVERYTHING in FFXI takes a long time to do.

By the time you’ve got to about LV 13 or so you’ll be ready to do some partying! This doesn’t mean some jocks turn up on chocobos with a keg and a twister mat-partying is where you join with other players and attack bigger enemies and share the XP. I had to leave my hometown of Windurst, run the gauntlet of rock-hard goblins in the canyon and the peninsula leading to the port, taking the ferry across the sea and to the meeting point of most people looking to “party” for the first time, Valkurm Dunes. A party isn’t just a group of players though; you have to pick players with different jobs that compliment each other. A good party will have a white mage to heal the party, red or black mages to backup heal and deal damage, and blue mages or Dark Knights for a bit of both. The warriors will do a mixture of damage-dealing, protection for the mages and “pulling”, which is where the warrior provokes an enemy away from the group and runs back to the group with the enemy following behind. Other basic jobs include Thief and Monk and when you reach level 30 there are advanced jobs like Blue Mage, Dark Knight, Ninja, Beastmaster, Dragoon, Paladin, Summoner, Bard, Corsair, Puppetmaster, Ranger and Samurai that require a qualification quest before you get to use their significantly advanced abilities.

You can solo in FFXI but fighting as a team is by far the best part of the game and whether or not you fight enemies all the time you can easily lose three or four hours partying. No FFXI session I played ended before midnight because every time you party you’re doing something different, be it jointly completing quests or slogging through the harder parts of the world to get some juicy items. You never get the same sinking feeling of tedium that you get when playing on your own and partying helps break up the vastness of the game and give you a vague kind of direction to try and see everything FFXI has to offer. Also, the PlayOnline system means you will be playing with PS2 and PC owners, so you’ll very rarely be lonely if you’re looking for a party and there are plenty of experienced gamers willing to help if you need it - the FFXI community is one of the friendliest you'll ever play in.

The main problems with FFXI arise from Square’s assumption that you’re not going to buy it and play for less than six months, a generous assumption given the attention span of the average gamer these days, and the extra subscription required on top of Xbox Live (although you can play FFXI on only a Silver account). This means that instead of being able to get your teeth into a meaty storyline and stuff you’re presented with hours and hours of tedious low-levelling, attacking the same types of enemies. It feels more like some kind of sick punishment rather than entertainment which is charged for, or perhaps a test of character made by the developers: those who can withstand the first 10 levels without losing heart or falling into a coma are worthy of joining the online community and reaping the rewards. Obviously, by the time you’re high enough a level to be “worthy” your free trial is up and you’re on a £8.99 a month tariff…

Granted, after you’re of a sufficient level the world does open up to nearly endless possibilities but with so many choices and things to do, some irreversible, I found myself unable to actually choose anything and just moped around slashing stuff! There's no real guide to help point things out, like explaining how the auction houses actually work (they're like ebay only more fiddly), and luckily my friend was always on-hand to explain things to me, or I’d still be in my hometown trying to pull my sword out my arse! FFXI is one of the least user-friendly games I’ve played and given its sheer complexity needed to be easier to use, especially if it wanted to attract new gamers to the genre. Too many missions and quests are vague and even illogical, and the only way to figure out what the heck you’re supposed to be doing is visit one of the many well-known dedicated help sites online.

FFXI being released on consoles implies that they’re trying to bring the game to the armchair audience. The problem is that that, as far as I'm concerned, MMORPGs are not suited to console play. The whole point of consoles was to bring a relaxed form of gaming into homes, where endless installation wasn’t needed and you could quickly dip in and out of a game when you felt like it. MMORPGs belong on PCs (the text-only chat implies this) and I seriously doubt many casual gamers will be prepared to try something new, even though it’s great fun and it’s easier to crank out the hours on a sofa or bed than on an office chair in front of the PC…

Best Bits

- HUGE world
- Literally too much to do!
- Party & alliance play
- Superb online community
Worst Bits

- Not really suited to consoles
- Restrictive at the lower levels
- Takes too long to get to the higher levels
- Can be tedious playing alone
- No party voice chat
- Overcomplicated in just about every way
- Feels more like Everquest than Final Fantasy…
- Terrible tearing and lag
- PS2 GTi graphics

by: Crazypunk

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