Final Fantasy XI
The very first mainstream RPG in the western area was without a doubt Final Fantasy VII. It was also one of the first video games seen in commercials on television. Months before the sequel, FF VIII, was released, everybody was reading long special reports about it. Number IX did even better. While the game wasn’t even announced yet, several fan sites came to life on the world wide web. Part ten -X- was even called the reason to buy a PS2. The sequel to that sequel -it’s getting a bit complicated- and the several spin-offs also got their fair share of publicity. But what about FFXI? Not a single commercial I have seen, not a single ad. A lot of new fan sites or huge reports haven’t come. Oh well, MMORPG and PC, what did you expect?
To start with, this package isn’t only Final Fantasy XII. The little box contains so much more. There are up to seven discs which you may jam one by one in your tray. On these we find the game itself, the two expansion packs -Rise of the Zilart and Chains of Promathia- and the PlayOnline Viewer. PlayOnline is Square-Enix’ online ‘center’. Chatting, e-mail, minigames, it’s all there. How handy it may sound, for me it was a but too uneasy and useless (after all, a PC already has all that features). All right, on the PlayStation 2 the system should be handy, but that version ain’t available around here. A fun minigame is Tetra Master -that incomprehensible card game from part IX. To complete the full chaos in this game they made a multiplayer variant of it. It’s extremely addictive, but you’ll have to pay even more -monthly- if you want to keep playing it. I don’t know what your budget is, but as a poor student I’ll stick to a bit of old singleplayer fun. Nevertheless, the best part of PlayOnline is that the PC gamers can play against the PS2 gamers and visa versa. You would think that’s logical, but as far as I know it’s the first game being ‘multiplatform’, for real that is. The whole system has been worked out pretty good, as you almost never have the feeling playing against a group of PS2-owners.
But the most space (more than five gigabyte to be exact) on my poor hard drive went to the game itself of course. Several reviews of the previous Final Fantasy’s said the series should be renewed a bit. I do not share that opinion. In fact, that little bit of gameplay that Square-Enix knew to add every time made me a happy gamer. But apparently they wanted to try another road themselves -or they actually listened to the press- and that road went online. Although the mixture of typical FF-elements and the concept ‘MMORPG’ sounds good, there must be a lot more present to mean something in this oversaturated genre, but it always helps to see old friends like Fire Bombs and Tonberries again. Racing with Chocobo’s through the gigantic worlds is also a dream come true. As you read, that typical FF-elements are never far away and that’s the way it should be.
And that’s what you should keep in mind when starting this game: ‘the fun stuff is coming’ (read: ‘I’m gonna ride a chocobo!’). Every MMORPG starts slowly, true, but with this one it’s to be called extreme. You must struggle yourself through an installation process, an update process and a registration process and those take more than an hour of your precious time. When you finally end up in the game world, you’ll be overwhelmed by several menu’s. When you understand most of them a bit, you can go off to find a first feeble little monster, to level -extremely- slow. You’ll start to have fun after more than a week or so and then the trial period of thirty days will be almost finished. Also “fun” is the fact you’re being dropped off on a random server. Random! If you were planning on playing together with a friend it’s only a matter of hoping to be on the same server! The best solution is to buy a World Pass in the game itself, with which several of your mates can make a new character on ‘your’ server. But please pay attention to the word ‘new’. Creating a character costs extra money again, so big chance you’ll be playing alone. You can also call it a rip-off.
I decided not to discuss the gameplay a lot with the simple reason: it’s been done before. Read a review of Ragnarok or EverQuest and you know how the concept works. So I’m limiting it to a simple summary. You can choose between several species, sexes and typical FF-jobs (White Mage, Thief, …). By completing special quests you can unlock new, better and stronger jobs. What is ‘unique’ in this game, is that you can choose a secondary job. That one is naturally not as strong as your primary job, but that little White Magic your Black Mage can do is always useful. After creating the character it’s time to pick an alliance (there are three), each with its own environment and quests. Combat is done by clicking on a battle icon and now and then you may do a special move. As said, FFXI doesn’t add a lot to the genre, but everything the other games have, is in this game.
FFXI’ graphics are a bit dated by now, but it’s all reasonably detailed. Colorful worlds, trees and other green wiggling along with the wind and every character being unique. The areas -especially the ones the expansion packs add- ensure hours of exploring joy. Every region -like an underground Goblin city, snow covered mountain paths or a tropical beach- has its own style and feel. Even better is that lag almost never occurs. You can walk by a crowded market place without a single hang. Name one other MMORPG which can do that too.
The FF series always had good sound. This part has a better soundtrack than any other in its genre. No irritating, repeating tunes, but the quality soundtrack we’re used from Square. With every event you get to hear another song, which gives the whole a cinematic touch. Obviously you’ll eventually get sick off the soundtrack, but I consider this normal as it’s a game you have to play for months.
I preferably see this Final Fantasy not as a part of the main series, with one or another clever subtitle like “Ka-ching!”. It’s not a bad game and it contains everything you may expect from a MMORPG and adds the specific FF-feel and a beautiful soundtrack. Experienced EveryQuest or Ultima player won’t find anything new, but gamers with knowledge of FF, ready to make their first Massive Multiplayer steps, won’t regret the purchase. But beware, a lot of time and a lot of money are required.