Looking at things as they are now, it’s pretty obvious that Final Fantasy XI was meant as a marketing ploy for the non-portable, $100, 40GB memory card – the PS2 HDD. Now, I’m not here to condemn the HDD, there are a few nice games you can use with it (Resident Evil Outbreak and ESPN Football for example). But, let’s deal with Final Fantasy XI.
Square Enix poured a lot of money into FFXI, and they’re, no doubt, regretting it due to the somewhat mediocre sales the game has tallied – it still hasn’t broken even. Sales aren’t an issue when it comes to quality, though, and based on the MMORPGs I’ve played (which is quite a few), this one ranks highly. Lag is incredibly low, to a surprising degree, and as an AOL user living in the boonies who plays online games, I know all about lag. FFXI provides a solid and deep gaming experience, and as a whole the game’s community is both friendly and hospitable. But, regrettably, this game does not come cheap; with $45 for the Network Adaptor, $100 for the HDD, $20-$30 for the USB keyboard and $12.95+ a month for subscription, FFXI can be somewhat draining on the wallet (that’s $165USD plus subscription fees). Despite that, MMORPGs have a precisely targeted audience who’re probably well used to subscription fees and necessary hardware upgrades.
MMORPGs aren’t widely known for their compelling stories, but FFXI offers some semblance of a story frame that players can actually get into. There are four major forces worldwide, the nations of Bastok, Windurst, San d’Oria, and the Beastmen (Orcs, Goblins, etc). Like any MMORPG, you start by creating your own character. There are five races to choose from; Humes, as the name would suggest, are humans, well balanced in both magic and fighting, Elves are lanky, pointy-eared folk who are also moderately well balanced, Tarutarus are marketable little critters who sport the best MP among all the races, Mithra are evasive cat-girls, and Galka are giant warrior people. Once you choose your race, you can then choose a gender (unless you are Mithra or Galka), and your face (there are ten variations). Then you choose your starting job from: Warrior, the most physically powerful of the starting jobs who’re good at distracting enemies; Thief, armed with effective evasiveness they also provide the standard stealing annoyance for enemies; Monk, the punching fighters who specialize in hand-to-hand combat; Red Mage, the magical class who possess both healing and attack magic along with decent attack power; Black Mage, elemental magicians who can attack enemies; and the White Mage, the curing mages who can heal allies. Once you level up you get to equip a ?Support Job’, which lets you use some skills and also gives you a nice stat boost, enhancing your main job. A while later you can unlock ?Advanced Jobs’ like Paladins, Dark Knights and Beast Tamers among others. Anyway, each player starts as a citizen of one of the three nations (there’s also a fourth, but they’re not important now), and it becomes their job to help expand their country’s power base. To achieve this, each player must kill monsters in defined areas, thus adding influence to their nation in that particular area. Surprisingly, many community players harbor great pride in their country’s power, and it’s not uncommon to see players from different nations going out of their way to kill monsters for their country. The power struggle between nations does add an interesting angle to the game, and having your nation on top of your area does have its advantages, and it is fun to have bragging rights over the citizens of lesser nations.
The battle engine feels similar to Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. You select your enemy, lock on, and draw your sword. Your attack speed is determined by your weapon; each one has a ?Delay’ statistic, the higher the delay, the slower your attack. Each job has a set of skills, the higher your level, the more skills you have at your disposal. Magic is learned similarly to that of skills, but you have to level up and then use a scroll to learn a new ability. What sets magic and skills apart is that, while magic is restricted by MP (as usual), skills are restricted by time. For example, if you use Provoke (a warrior skill used to distract monsters), you won’t be able to use Provoke again for thirty seconds. This makes teamwork a must, and if you have a semi-competent party, then battles will flow very nicely. There is one crippling aspect to the game, though – soloing. When you are an FFXI newbie, you’ll be on your own, just you against the game world. Sure, in a one-on-one encounter with a monster, you can hold your own, but then you have to heal. You click down on the left control stick, get on one knee and wait?and wait?and wait, then fight and repeat. Also, ?Farming’ (killing monsters to get their items in order to sell them on) requires this too, and the solo leveling and farming can become annoying. However, if you have friends to talk with, the time passes more quickly, and making friends isn’t too tough because the FFXI community are amiable, and Linkshells (guilds, as they are called on other MMORPGs) are always looking for new members.
Many gamers will allow the high cost of beginning an FFXI experience prevent them from starting on a PS2. To those of you who planning to pick up the HDD and Network Adaptor just for FFXI, I’d advise against it – if you’re reading this review online, then you already have a computer, so you’re halfway there as it is. Pick up a Radeon and USB controller if you need to, because, unless you are wholeheartedly behind a long-term FFXI experience, the exorbitant cost of upgrading your PS2 just isn’t worth the expenditure. Final Fantasy XI really is rather a good game, but it certainly isn’t $150USD ?good’, especially if you can get it on a PC. Anyway, the game is deep, solid and extremely fun to play, and it offers hundreds of hours of gaming for committed players with broadband connections. It may take a while to get the Final Fantasy XI ball rolling but, to the devoted fan, your persistence will be duly rewarded.