When I heard the eleventh installment of one of my favorite fantasy RPG series was going to be a Massively Multiplayer outing, I was less than thrilled. I’m just not a big fan of the MMORPGs, whether it’s due to the necessary time commitment, the monthly fees, or the feeling of the game never really coming to any actual conclusion. With some trepidation I loaded Final Fantasy XI, and to my enjoyment found here a solid online game. There’s really nothing fancy or revolutionary, but there is an enjoyable online romp for those who want a change of pace in their online worlds.
Most online RPGs require a large time commitment, and Final Fantasy XI is no exception. This is not a game for the impatient, nor is it a game that players can jump into easily. Even the install time is monstrous—I clocked in at just about 2 hours for my installation process. And that was when everything was going smoothly, using a broadband internet connection. I shudder to think of someone using a dialup. Other than the exceedingly long time, however, installation and account setup was a breeze and everything went swimmingly. Square Enix has had quite a bit of time to work the bugs out of their servers, and so by the time of the North American release, most of the technical issues usually encountered in a new MMORPG launch were almost nonexistent.
Character creation was the next line of business. Final Fantasy XI feels quite a bit less complex than many of the other MMORPGs. Whether this is good or not is really a matter of personal taste, but the slightly more “streamlined” approach to characters and gameplay works well, even if it doesn’t offer the truly deep character development some might be craving. Players initially choose from five fairly generic fantasy races and a handful of typical RPG classes. Once the choice of race and class is set (no number crunching here), it’s time to pick a kingdom of origin. Here’s where things start to get interesting. There is no direct Player vs. Player fighting in FFXI (yet), but there is still quite a bit of healthy competition, and the choice of which kingdom a character pledges loyalty to is an important one. Once the kingdom is chosen (and thus a starting point is determined), the character is ready for a brand new adventure.
Don’t expect to be awestruck by the adventuring portion of FFXI. It’s done well, but it’s still just typical online adventuring. Most characters start out gaining a few simple quests from the local townsfolk, such as “give me 3 rabbit pelts” or “take these supplies to outpost X”. After that, it’s out for the oh-so-tried-and-true “rodent-bashing” that seems to be a staple of all RPGs. The first several hours of play will be spent frantically hunting those poor little rabbits (and a few other small critters), while running in blind panic from anything more scary, all the time trying to get just a few more experience points. After a while, with a few more levels gained, a few more skills or spells learned, and some slightly better equipment donned, the more interesting quests can begin. There are a lot of quests and missions throughout FFXI, enough to keep players busy for a while. Most are of the “bring me this” or “destroy that” variety, but there’s enough variation to keep things interesting.
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