reviews\ Dec 13, 2003 at 7:00 pm

Final Fantasy XI - PC - Review

Square-Enix’s long-running and extremely successful Final Fantasy franchise has been undergoing many huge changes as of late.  They’ve recently released the first-ever direct sequel to a Final Fantasy game (Final Fantasy X-2), they're gearing up to release a four-player Gauntlet-style game (Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles), and they’ve now released their very first MMORPG set in the Final Fantasy universe, Final Fantasy XI.  There are many people out there who are naysaying the game, saying that it simply couldn’t be Final Fantasy if it’s in a large, multiplayer setting. 


However, after spending a serious amount of time with the game, I can safely say that Final Fantasy XI does, in fact, feel like Final Fantasy.  That’s not to say that the gameplay isn’t extremely different from anything else in the series, just that the Final Fantasy atmosphere is largely intact.  The amount that you enjoy Final Fantasy XI depends on how open-minded you are to the prospect of sharing the experience with other gamers, as teamwork is very necessary to your success in the game.  However, if you can get over the initial hurdle of the MMO experience itself, you should find Final Fantasy XI to be a fantastic and engaging experience that is well worth the monthly fee.


Final Fantasy XI is a huge game, installation-wise.  The game takes up five CDs, and requires a whopping 6 Gig of hard drive space, so make sure you have plenty of room before getting the game.  You begin by registering the PlayOnline service, the Final Fantasy XI, the Rise of the Zilart expansion pack, and (if you want to) the Tetra Master online card game.  In order to play any of the games, you must first purchase a Content ID for each of them.  A Content ID for FF XI costs $12.95 a month, while one for Tetra Master costs an extra dollar a month.  The registration can feel a little convoluted with all the different access numbers you have to enter, but once you get it all taken care of, you won’t have to do it again.  After this point, the game will automatically download updates before allowing you to play.  This can take a very long time, especially over a 56K modem.  I had to leave my dial-up going all night (the download seriously took about seven hours).


Following the downloads, you will be able to enter the massive world of Vana’diel.  You have five different races to choose from: Mithra, Hume, Galka, Tarutaru and Elvaan.  Each of these races build up traits differently, so you will want to choose one that will adapt to your main job.  Or not, if you’d like more of a challenge.  I’ve seen Tarutaru warriors and Galka mages running around (very weird, but cool at the same time).  You must also choose your starting nation.  While all the nations of the game are available for exploration to anyone (though I wouldn’t recommend running off to another country until you are at a pretty high level), you must initially start out from one of three: Windurst, San d’Oria or Bastok.  These three nations are also somewhat divided by race, as the Mithra and Tarutaru primarily live in Windurst, the Elvaan in San d’Oria, and the Humes and Galka in Bastok.  This wouldn’t really matter, although if you start out at the nation to which your character is predisposed, then you get a special ring associated with your nation.


The interface is very easy to navigate.  While I personally prefer playing the game with a two analog stick gamepad, the keyboard and mouse configuration is extremely easy to grasp and feels great.  While you free-roam, the camera is manual.  This can be a bit of a pain for some, but others might not have a problem with it.  The combat system is pretty standard, a mix of turn-based and real-time gameplay similar to most entries in the MMORPG arena.


The job system is extremely versatile.  You have the ability to change your main job at anytime by going to your Mog House in the residential area of your home nation.  When you change jobs, your experience points gained from your first job will not carry over, starting you out at level one, but should you decide to change back at any time, you will be able to pick up right where you left off.


FFXI starts out a little bit slow.  As you work your way through the earlier levels, you may find yourself just running the countryside fighting various enemies. Occasionally, you may run a small mission with a party, but up until level 18, you pretty much go around killing enemies.  Once past level 18, however, things begin to pick up.  You can run a mission which allows you to choose a support job in addition to your main job.  While your support job is limited to about half of your main job, they can help your character’s progress exponentially, allowing you to have a fighter-white mage mix, for example.  At level 20, you can perform a quest that allows you to get a chocobo license, which allows you to rent chocobos at stables.  While you have a chocobo for a limited time (about half an hour) and you cannot ride them in towns, they greatly facilitate your travel throughout the land of Vana’diel.  Finally, at level 30, you will be able to run missions that will enable you to gain access to more main jobs.  In the beginning, you will only have six jobs to choose from: white mage, black mage, red mage, fighter, monk and thief.  However, completing these missions will enable you to change your job to a more advanced class, like summoner, samurai, ninja, paladin, dragoon, bard or ranger.  While it will take you a very long time to gain these extra jobs, the payoff is great.  Once again, each of these extra jobs have different levels of compatibility which each race.


The graphics in Final Fantasy XI, while built for the PS2, still look great at higher resolutions.  The character models have a great amount of personality, and each race has their own little nuances that add a lot to the atmosphere of the game.  The enemies also look great, exuding the same kind of personality that has been a staple in the Final Fantasy series.  The environments are huge and very detailed, although some of the textures can look a little simplistic.


The sound effects are very good.  The music is what you’d expect from Final Fantasy, which means that the score is composed of excellent orchestral tunes that change with the on-screen mood.  There are no voices aside from yells and grunts, but the rest of the sound is clear and sounds good.


The question remains: Is Final Fantasy XI worth your 13 bucks a month (not to mention the initial 50 bones to purchase the game from the store)?  Well, it depends on what you want.  If you want a game similar to any previous Final Fantasy game where you could sit down and complete the game all by yourself and don’t want to get into the teamwork aspect of MMORPGs, then you may not enjoy FFXI very much.  However, if you have an open mind and would like to engage in a deep game, and would like to perform missions and communicate with other players from around the world and you are a Final Fantasy fan to boot, then I couldn’t recommend Final Fantasy XI enough. 



Gameplay: 9.0
FFXI starts out a little slow, but once you get to about level 18 or so, the gameplay really picks up. The job system is extremely versatile, allowing you to change jobs whenever you’d like.  The interface is simple to use whether you use a gamepad or the keyboard and mouse interface.  Completing missions is fun and the boss battles are engaging and very fun.


Graphics: 8.9
While it’s somewhat apparent that the game was developed for the PS2, the graphics still look pretty darn good.  The characters and enemies have great personality, similar to other entries in the Final Fantasy franchise.  The environments are huge and detailed, but some of the textures can get a little blurry.


Sound: 9.0
The sound in Final Fantasy XI is very good.  The music is sweeping and atmospheric, just as you’d expect from the series.  The sound effects also sound great, with clanging swords, shrieks and yells coming through crisp and clear.


Difficulty: Medium


Concept: 9.0
Taking a long-running franchise with a very intense fanbase and putting it into a completely new environment like the MMO arena can seem a little risky, but Final Fantasy XI seems to do a lot right, by not only making a very good and engaging MMORPG, but also retaining the overall feel of a Final Fantasy game.


Multiplayer: 9.5

Being a MMORPG, Final Fantasy XI’s gameplay revolves around the multiplayer experience.  The main focus is on team-based gameplay.  At the moment (patches may later change this) the game does not enable Player vs. Player fighting as other MMOs do, shifting the mechanics towards forming friendships and alliances with fellow players instead of killing them if you feel like it.  Making connections with other gamers is crucial to your progress, as you will not be able to complete very much of the game alone.


Overall: 9.0

Final Fantasy XI takes the series to a new level by creating a fantastic MMO experience and retaining the atmosphere of the Final Fantasy universe.  MMORPG fans should find a deep game with a versatile job system and an detailed universe, and open-minded Final Fantasy fans should enjoy the Final Fantasy nuances and great multiplayer gameplay.


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