I’ve got a pretty large resume of MMORPG gaming under my belt, most of which was spent in either EverQuest, or in smaller part, in Anarchy Online. The review that follows is my concept of the game after two days of its initial United States release. Of course, I have no concept yet of the higher level content, and I have not been able to explore all the lands and attempt much of the quests there are to see and do. This is merely my review of the early game, and reflects what you should expect if just starting it.
From Square Enix comes yet another Final Fantasy Role-Playing game, this time butting itself into the MMORPG market. Did they pull it off? Time will tell?
The graphics are decent. They aren’t the greatest. They remind me, mostly, of Final Fantasy VIII’s character models, with the lush environments of Final Fantasy IX, which is a good thing. The environments, however, leave a lot to be desired in the realm of pure crisp visual clarity and beauty. It seems a bit dated now, especially with the engines other MMORPGs employ at present, such as Star Wars Galaxies. The real gems are the spell and ability effects. Watching as someone casts Protect on you, and seeing that all-too familiar hexagon appear around your torso in 3D is a beautiful thing.
The graphics aren’t going to knock your socks off, but they won’t annoy you either. The graphics may not be the newest thing on the block, but they aren’t the oldest either. The game looks and feels like a Final Fantasy game, and that’s a wonderful thing.
Gameplay is your standard MMORPG/RPG type. Find enemies. Kill enemies. Get money. Level up. Get more abilities. Use them to kill more enemies, harder enemies. Outgrow an area, and move onto a new one, a harder one. Kill more enemies. Level up more. Buy better equipment. Fight a boss monster. And so on.
It’s the same basic standard of every MMORPG and RPG that is out there. There’s a reason that the formula hasn’t changed much, even in the last ten or so MMORPGs. The system works. The formula adds up to a fun experience.
Even though the formula is similar to most other games in the genre, Square Enix added their own nice little flourishes.
For one thing, which is a departure from many other MMORPGs, certain abilities and spell effects actually increase item drop rates. It is refreshing to play an MMORPG that doesn’t keep such a firm stranglehold on the item-based economy that obtaining anything is a severe burden (EverQuest feels twinges of this). Money isn’t too difficult to come by, but doesn’t feel like it is completely worthless either (Anarchy Online).
And thankfully, the battle system (which they call “RTB” ? Real-Time Battle, which is a throwback to their single-player games which used either “ATB” ? Active Time Battle – or “CTB” ? Conditional Turn-Based – battle systems) feels like a Final Fantasy game’s should. You pick abilities from a menu reminiscent of the Final Fantasy series. The spells are all those you would likely find in other Final Fantasies, and the monster’s effects fit perfectly with the oddball creatures you fight.
A few issues I have with the game are mostly related to control. The control scheme is?weird. It’s what you might expect from a console game, but seems out of place on a PC. My recommendation is to immediately going into your game configuration and switch to the “compact” control scheme ? it feels more natural to a PC user.
The game has a very steep learning curve, mostly related to figuring the interface out. While the learning curve is steep, once you get past that hurdle, the game is smooth sailing.
The only other issue I have, after playing for almost a week, is regarding the loot system. When you begin the game, you pick an allegiance, which determines the town you start in. You can then speak to one of the gate guards (the NPCs standing by the exits of each town) and have them cast Signet on you. Signet grants you a percentage of a chance to loot elemental crystals from enemies as long as the region is not under Beastman control.
Control of a region depends on how much death occurs in said region and by which factions. There are four main factions that matter in the early game: San d`Oria, Windurst, Bastok, and the Beastmen. The Beastmen represent the entire monster population of FFXI. All those Rock Lizards and Vultures and giant turtles and crazy sheep and the like all fall under the Beastman faction. So if Bastokians kill more beastmen in a particular region than any of the other two factions, it will be said that Bastok has control of the region. And the same goes for the other two.
This actually has a direct impact on your town’s economy. Depending on which and how many regions are under your faction’s control, more vendors will have goods in your town, prices will be lower, and you will have access to more areas at which you can declare yourself “home.” A “home point” allows you to respawn upon death at said points.
This is actually quite innovative, and a departure from the way many other MMORPGs work. However, it is a double-edged sword. If the beastmen control a certain region, no crystals will drop. Crystals are a requirement in synthesis, which is FFXI’s version of crafting. Crystals are also the most lucrative method for newbies to make money ? fire crystals, at least on my server, sell particularly well.
A few days after the American release of FFXI, the beastmen gained control of all the newbie areas surrounding all three starting cities on my server, presumably due to many new players dying while learning to play the game. While I have not been able to research whether or not this occurred on every server, I am fairly certain it was a common occurrence. This means that only a few days after the inception of the game, the entirety of the new player base was cut off to most of the loot they would have otherwise receive while fighting. Not only that, but this also means OLD players would be cut off as well. The servers American gamers had access to when creating their characters were not brand new servers?we are sharing them with the Japanese whom have been playing for almost a year. An influx of American gamers caused an already established player base to lose what I consider a very essential part of being a new character or switching to a new job (when you switch to a new job class, you become level 1 ? essentially, you are a brand new character).
This just seems like poor planning on Square Enix’s part, to me. It does not seem prudent to reward players struggling to learn how to play a new game with a punishment. Right now, most new gamers are feeling the effects of this, and I can only imagine that the veterans of these servers feel the same way.
All in all, however, the game is a fun and rewarding experience. The actual game interaction is fun, and after you learn how to get around using the interface, FFXI is precisely what a Final Fantasy MMORPG should be.
The sounds are precisely what you would expect from an online MMORPG, or any RPG for that matter: standard clanging and clashing and “oofs” and “ughs” and all those nifty little combat effects. I would have liked more environmental sounds, but I probably would have turned them down in favor of the music anyway. The music is wonderful – classic Final Fantasy fare. Unlike other MMORPGs, Final Fantasy XI comes from a well-established series with a much-loved history of great music. In almost every other MMORPG, the music becomes annoying after a very, very short while. This is completely different in Final Fantasy XI. I find myself wanting to log in just to hear the music playing in certain areas. Even PlayOnline is fun to listen to, as it employs some of the best songs in the Final Fantasy soundtrack.
How can I fairly review the replay value of an MMORPG? The replay value of an MMORPG rests squarely on if you like the game at all or not, because the only reason to play an MMORPG is its replay value. There is no ultimate conclusion in Final Fantasy XI. You level up, you fight monsters, and if you like doing what you’re doing, you keep doing it. I suppose I could discuss the ways FFXI attempts to keep you interested in the game.
For starters, unlike other MMORPGs, you are never closed off to any profession. In EverQuest, you are almost obligated to maintain a multitude of characters just to do everything you could possibly want to do. In Star Wars Galaxies, you can surrender skill points you’ve already spent to switch to a new profession, but in my opinion, surrendering points into the void of space is just one step away from deleting your character. It is almost heart-wrenching to discard your own hard work.
Thankfully, Final Fantasy XI does away with all that. There are five starting “job classes” and a number of expert classes. At any time, you can go into your “Mog House” which is sort of a home base that you can even decorate, and switch job classes. You could be a level 70 warrior and if you decide that the warrior life is too dull for you, in an instant you can become a level 1 white mage (equivalent to a cleric, in other RPGs). But the best thing is, you can always decide to be a level 70 warrior again. You never lose anything. The only stumbling block I could see is possibly finding enough inventory or bank space to retain enough items for all the job classes you may want to change around to.
In addition to this, Final Fantasy XI allows you to select a “support job.” This allows you to use the abilities of a second job you’ve leveled up in, while pursuing a main job. The formula goes as follows: You can use abilities at half the level of your main job in your support class, as long as you’ve reached that level in the support class.
So, let’s say you level your Monk job class to level 70 and your White Mage job class to level 50. If you want to use the primary abilities and attributes of a monk, with some of the spells and abilities of a White Mage, you can select a Monk as your primary job and White Mage as your support job. As a result, you will be able to use everything a level 70 monk could use, and every ability a level 35 White Mage could use. If you chose White Mage as your main job, and Monk as your support Job, you’d have a level 50 White Mage with a level 25 Monk support. If you had leveled your Thief job class to level 20 Thief and you wanted to do a Monk/Thief combo, you would have a level 70 Monk with a level 20 Thief support class. The possibilities are near limitless.
This means that you never really have to make a new character, unless you want to change your race or look. One “content ID” costs 12.95 USD per month and allows you to create one character. You can purchase additional IDs, up to fifteen extra, for one extra dollar for month, but they aren’t really necessary. Tetramaster is also one dollar per month. The first month is free.
Final Fantasy XI is fun. Lots of fun. If you like MMORPGs or Final Fantasy, I definitely recommend trying it out. Then again, this is just based on initial impressions. MMORPGs are evolving, living things, and the game changes as you level up. As of this writing, I have not progressed that deeply into the game, however, I feel that I have played enough to comment on most aspects that a potential newcomer would care to know about before investing themselves into it. The game is a worthy insertion into both the MMORPG market, and the Final Fantasy game series.