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.
In addition to quests, each character is also fighting for the honor and glory of their kingdom. Each outdoor map area has a dominance rating for all 3 of the kingdoms. Characters can choose to start fighting for their kingdom by gaining a “signet” ability from one of the guard NPCs. Once this signet is acquired, every time an enemy monster is defeated in battle, the kingdom gains a bit more dominance in that particular part of the world. Other things, such as donation of items and completion of quests, also swing dominance toward a character’s kingdom. Every so often, the server tallies up which country is in the lead in each area, and dominance over the area changes. Dominance allows home cities to have increased trade, helps establish outposts in a particular area, etc.
Fighting itself is, unfortunately, rather bland. For melee characters, it’s usually just a matter of targeting a monster, hitting the auto-attack button, and waiting until something dies. Occasionally, characters can use some of their special powers, but for the most part battle is almost run on autopilot. Spellcasters have a bit more to do, but it’s still not all that exciting. FFXI is not for those looking for intense fights or complex battlefield strategies.
If fighting and adventuring get dull, there is a rather extensive crafting system. Crafting simply involves combining “crystals”, magic shards of elemental energy, with various items found throughout the world. If done correctly (and if the appropriate craft skill is high enough), a new item is formed. Although crystals and many of the necessary crafting ingredients are found in battle, a lot of characters will simply trade for the various items. Some of the other ingredients can be searched out through fishing, harvesting, or even lumberjacking, if a character so desires. This fairly rich system of crafting allows for a rather active economy, and some characters can make their virtual livings never leaving town, if they so desire. This is a social game, after all.
Speaking of the social aspect, I got an overall positive feeling during my time with FFXI. I didn’t meet any rude or obnoxious players, and for the most part everyone was pleasant and even quite helpful. In a MMORPG, the community of players makes a huge difference on the overall feeling of the game, and, at least from the time I spent, this community is a good one.
After a while, in most any game, playing a particular character just gets old. Thankfully, FFXI gives players a chance to change jobs at almost any time. With a quick trip to the “mog-house”, a Thief can take up that white-mage position they’d been thinking about for a while, without starting from scratch. After a certain level, characters also have the opportunity to take on a “sub-job”, allowing them to essentially be a cross-class character, gaining benefits and abilities from the new (albeit much lower-levelled) job. In addition, there are advanced jobs such as Ninja and Dark Knight, which can be made available through certain quests. This keeps things fresh for those who tend to like a bit of variety in their gaming.
FFXI looks and sounds good, but not outstanding. Once the game is tweaked out of its default mode, things actually look pretty sharp, with good character models and decent backgrounds. This isn’t the best-looking MMORPG, but it does well enough. What isn’t quite as good, however, is the control scheme. Originally designed for the PS2, FFXI is primarily menu-driven. It took me quite a bit of time to get the hang of the clunky interface. After a while, it wasn’t too hard to head out for an adventure, and there is a fairly robust macro system available, but it still seems that this game was designed to be played with a gamepad, and not a keyboard and mouse.
FFXI also comes bundled with TetraMaster, the old collectable card game from Final Fantasy IX. For a small monthly charge, TetraMaster can be played against online opponents. I was never a fan of the original TetraMaster, so I really didn’t have all that much appreciation for this version. Some will like it, however, and it’s a nice gesture to include it in the game.
Overall, Final Fantasy XI is really just another MMORPG. It’s a good one, with smoothly running servers, decent gameplay, and plenty of quests and missions and social interactions to keep players busy. However, it’s just not that much different that many of the other online games. If you are looking for a new face on your online RPG, or if you’re a big fan of the Final Fantasy worlds, it’s certainly worth giving it a try.
Another MMORPG, this one placed in a Final Fantasy setting. Itâ€™s a good, solid game, but itâ€™s not much different than any of the other online RPGs. Itâ€™s nice for a change of pace, but itâ€™s certainly not going to win hoards of converts.