Final Fantasy XI
Developer: Square-Enix
Publisher: Square-Enix - Distributed by Ubisoft
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1-Loads
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The ironically named Final Fantasy series makes a welcome return to our screens in its 11th instalment… Yes, ELEVENTH – and I’ve played all of ‘em. Taking the action online for the first time, Squaresoft have acquired the talents of Enix (creators of popular Japanese RPG Dragon Quest) to bring us a new flavour of RPG goodness. With 20 years of experience between them, expectations were high for FFXI, but can it possibly live up to all the hype?

After waiting what seemed like several light years for the game to install, and messing around for a further forty minutes getting it to display properly and move at more than ten frames per second, I was ready to create my online alter ego. You’re given the choice of five races; the standard Humes, regularly proportioned and clearly the beginner’s choice, the typically light-footed and pointy-eared Elvaan, the tiny and strangely cute TaruTaru, the large, hulking and ugly Galka and the mischievous and cat-like Mithra.

The second choice you’re required to make is your class or job, and although this’ll influence pretty much every aspect of your gaming experience, if you do happen to pick one that doesn’t suit you, thankfully you can change it in-game. Warriors are the basic meat-shield, not particularly difficult to play but with high defence and minimal abilities. Monks are pure melee damage, able to inflict lots of pain at the expense of any sort of defensive skill. Black Mages are easily the best damage dealers in the game, with a wide variety of frying, zapping and frazzling spells at their disposal. White Mages are an essential part of any group, unrivalled in their abilities to cure and protect their allies. Red Mages are masters of support; they bring a wide variety of abilities to a group and have reasonably rounded stats, making them a very versatile class to play. Thieves, surprisingly, are reliant on their stealth and cunning to make their way, but if all else fails, they’ll just nick your wallet!

As you progress in the game you earn the ability to allocate a support job, allowing you to gain abilities from another class to complement and improve your main. Although there’s no wrong way to develop your character, the choice of support job can prove very important in later levels.

You’re then given the choice of 3 starting cities; Bastok is the industrial capital, home of the Humes and Galkas, and all very brown and grey. San D’Oria is the Elvaan city, bursting with intricate architecture and very nice to look at. Windhurst has a more natural appearance, full of trees, streams and lakes and populated by TaruTaru and Mithra tribes. The world of Vana’ diel is a vast one; between the 3 main continents are literally hundreds of zones crawling with nasties for you to hack, slash, bash and prod your way through. At first travelling is difficult, as you’re hampered not only by the sheer size of the world, but also by the numerous baddies that chew your arse as you run by. At later levels you’re able to rent Chocobos (big, yellow birds that seem to appear in every Final Fantasy game) to speed up the process, or travel instantly by airship, but the easiest way of getting around is to pay a kind Mage for his teleportation services.

Your foes are a varied bunch, consisting of anything from flies and beetles to giants and dragons. Each and every one of them looks the part, and although early fights are slow and cumbersome, later in the game they become epic battles where each and every member of the party must play their part to ensure a victory. Grouping with other players is essential to make any progress beyond around level 10, and with a maximum of 6 in your party these can often become thoroughly tactical and enjoyable adventures. To take down the larger and more impressive baddies, it’ll often be necessary to join with one or more other parties and form an Alliance. These teaming options improve the game greatly, but you’ll be hunting alone for a while before you get to experience them.

The game’s system requirements aren’t too excessive, and you’ll find that as long as you meet them FFXI will look and move rather well. As with a lot of online games, lag and frame rate are often an issue, but looking at the amount of textures on screen its clear to see why there would be the occasional bit of slow-down. The character models are superb, and although facial features are a bit generic I can’t fault the detail and movement, clearly a lot of work has gone into them. Areas look varied and realistic, with excellent wood, grass and stone textures covering beautiful rolling landscapes. One gripe I have is the fog effect, standing still it looks great but as soon as you move the slow-down is terrible, and I get the feeling if it had been left out, nobody would miss it.

Once you’re out in the wilderness, battles can be an awkward affair; initiated by locking onto an enemy, running towards it and giving it a slap, from then on your character auto attacks until the end of the fight. Although abilities provide a little bit extra, and handling additional baddies that might decide to join the fight is fun, the general feeling of combat is a bit detached, and I’d like to be in more control of what’s going on.

Progression through the levels is pretty typical of the series; kill stuff to gain experience, gain enough experience to reach the next level. Missions and quests are given by the various NPCs dotted around the world, and you’ll find very early on that to finish some of them you’ll need to make some friends, as they’ll be too tough to do on your own. You’ll also find plenty of shops in the cities to spend your hard-earned Gil (your currency) in, either to tart up your character with some fancy new armour or buy maps and spells to aid you on your quests.

Unlike a lot of online RPGs, FFXI has an excellent support network, and although downtime can be a drag servers are updated almost daily to fix bugs and add new features. Overall I enjoyed playing the game - Initially it’s difficult to get into, and often seems too complicated for its own good, but as with most of the Final Fantasy series, you’ll have to persevere in order to see the best of what’s on offer.

Best Bits

- Huge worlds and a primarily friendly online community.
- Great scenery textures and character models.
- Incredibly in-depth – FFXI has more menus and options than you’ll know what to do with.
Worst Bits

- Occasional slow-down, especially in foggy regions.
- Requires a lot of time and perseverance.
- Almost too complicated for its own good.
- Requires that you devote huge amounts of time.

by: Hario

Copyright © Gamecell 2004