Final Fantasy XI - PC - Preview 2
As any fan of the series (or any gamer who hasn’t been living under a rock for the past ten years) can tell you, no two Final Fantasy games are exactly alike. Each addition to the series brings a brand new storyline set in a completely different universe (well, excluding the upcoming Final Fantasy X-2, but that one’s a little different) with a different set of gameplay elements. In fact each sequel in the series has featured a different combat system, new character classes, and unique weapons. The latest entry to the Final Fantasy universe brings the most radical element to the series to date: massively multiplayer online gameplay. Final Fantasy XI brings the series into the world of MMORPGs, introducing things like player commerce and team-based missions to the previously completely single-player RPG series. However, the game remains very true to the series as a whole, and retains much of the overall feel that Final Fantasy has become famous for.
Final Fantasy XI takes place in the world of Vana’diel. Twenty years have passed since a great war between Orcish hordes and the other races of the world. The Orcs lost the war, and have been put into submission by the other dominant races and resort to raids and guerrilla tactics outside of towns. However, their presence has been on the rise in recent times, and many cities have been on edge due to the rising threat.
In creating your character, you can choose from one of five races: Humes, Elvaan, Galka, Tarutaru, and Mithra. Each race has unique traits that affect your chosen job. For example, the Tarutaru are very small and physically weak, but they possess a lot of magical power and make great mages. The Galka, on the other hand, are very large and strong and make great monks, but they lack in magical ability.
In addition to choosing a race for your character, you must also choose an allegiance to one of the three countries of Vana’diel. While a character of any race can pledge allegiance to any country, each nation leans in a certain direction in terms of general populace. The industrial nation of Bastok in primarily inhabited by Humes and the Galka, the lush floral continent of Windurst is home to mostly Tarutaru and Mithra, and the medieval city of San d’Oria is the homeland of the Elvaan race. Vana’diel is a pretty huge place, but luckily you can employ the use of a few different modes of transportation to get you around, including a certain giant bird familiar to the series (cough*Chocobo*cough).
Final Fantasy XI brings back the job system, which was last used in Final Fantasy V. The job system allows you to actively shift your character’s job class whenever you see fit. You can begin your quest as a Warrior and then shift to a White Mage if you want to. All you have to do to change your job is simply go to your Mog House (yes, the very same Mogs that have been a staple in many Final Fantasy games) in the residential district of whichever city you have allegiance to. At your Mog House you can not only change jobs, but also store surplus items, place furniture and other things. Changing your job is an important part of building your character as it unlocks the ability to create support jobs (which allows you to essentially have two jobs at once and mix their abilities) or even become a special job class, like a Ninja, Bard or Summoner.
Final Fantasy XI is an MMORPG, meaning that a good majority of the game focuses on teamwork and interacting with your fellow players. The game has several key features to help facilitate this interaction, like an easy to navigate chat system and the ability to search out any player currently logged into the game at anytime. Another cool chat device within the game is the linkshell system, in which you and your friends purchase a linkshell and can then use linkpearls to communicate with each other from any location in Vana’diel. Commerce is another means of interaction with your fellow players. While the commerce system isn’t as deep or involving as the one in Star Wars Galaxies (which basically has players running the economy), you can still trade items with each other or put items up for sale at an auction house.
Although the game has already been out in Japan for over a year, the graphics look fantastic. The character and enemy models are unique and brimming with personality and rival even those of Star Wars Galaxies. The game also has a plethora of excellent special effects, like when a character casts a spell, levels up or even scores a critical hit. The environments are huge, sprawling, and very well detailed. Each one is very unique, for example the giant city of San d’Oria looks great with its medieval atmosphere, huge stone walls, and expansive courtyards. You can tell a ton of attention went into making each environment unique and detailed.
The sound and music is also great, and does a fine job of keeping up with other titles in the Final Fantasy series. The score is orchestral, and sounds great and really builds an atmosphere for the game. The music will change when you become engaged in a battle and will become more intense. Series loyals will also hear a nice little surprise every time they level up. The sound effects are also quite good, as swords will make a slashing sound, staves will make a blunt sound, and footfalls change with the terrain appropriately, etc.
Final Fantasy XI is indeed a brave endeavor as it dares to mix two near polar opposites: Final Fantasy (a series known for a focus on an excellent single-player experience with a focus on storytelling) and MMORPGS (a genre focused on a solid multiplayer element with little attention to story). However, I think that Final Fantasy XI does an excellent job of mixing the two, and fans of both should find something to love here. It’s a great starting point for MMORPG newbies (read: Final Fantasy fans) to get their feet wet in the genre, and the solid friend-based multiplayer element and easy to use chat interface should appeal to hardcore MMORPG fans.
Final Fantasy XI releases this November on the PC and early 2004 on the PS2.