Final Fantasy XI

Final Fantasy XI

Written by Randy Kalista on 5/1/2004 for PS2  

1987 was a questionable year. Martha Stewart first signed on with K-Mart, televangelist Jim Bakker was publicly crucified in a sex scandal, and Prozac made a calming U.S. debut. Bon Jovi was rocking billboard charts, but it was a little-known and near-bankrupt company called Squaresoft that was “Livin’ on a Prayer”. Hironobu Sakaguchi, Director of Planning and Development for Square Co., Ltd. (now Square Enix), released a last-ditch effort to save his company from impending doom. Using a bit of gallows humor in the title, his offering was dubbed “Final” Fantasy and…well, the rest is gaming history.

Twelve titles are graced with the Final Fantasy logo--not including over half-a-dozen spinoffs like Tactics and Chocobo Racing--making this franchise one of the longest running and most respected names in the business. Farming every medium from movies to mobile phones, the next move for ‘Squeenix’ was to milk the phenomenal online gaming cash cow. Consequently, Final Fantasy XI was conceived.

We reviewed FFXI for the PC in December of last year, and there have been no slowdown of events and awards for the first cross-platform, intercontinental, massively-multiplayer online roleplaying game (MMORPG). Over 500,000 members were shelling out their hard-earned $12.95 per month before it came to the PS2, and the number of registered characters has surpassed the one million mark. Cornering markets in Japan and America, FFXI is now scheduled for a European release. Once that is done, the sun will never set on the Sony empire.

In a constantly evolving world such as Vana’diel, there is one thing there will never be a shortage of, and that is download time. After an exhaustive installation period, you will face at least another 20 minutes of file updating. That is, if you avoided trying to log in during monthly or emergency maintenance of a server. Despite the downtime (or, perhaps, because of it) players remain faithful to this Final Fantasy religion. Square Enix, with their constant updates, are continually tweaking and rebalancing original elements, while frequently injecting new gameplay content.

Instead of haphazardly tossing in a few new missions or trite tidbits of equipment, these updates strongly consider the voiced desires of the player community. In response to public outcry, Player vs. Player battles have been added, albeit in non-lethal terms, for a decidedly conflict hungry American audience. An alternate reality plane known as Dynamis exists to further challenge characters level 64 and above. And in Japan (I’m not making this up) there is clothing, equipment, and services available to carry out wedding ceremonies.

All of this open communication between the players and the producers has served to spawn over 1,000 registered Community Sites on the web. That’s a whole lotta love translated into this particular MMORPG community, which likewise translates into helpful, dedicated players building a strong online experience for one another. In games with essentially player-driven storylines, this is key.
Confession: I’ve been clean of FFXI for a couple months now--and it feels great. I patched up my relationship with my girlfriend, brought my grades back up to finally get my college counselor off my back, and I might have even gone for a brisk walk outside once or twice. Fully understanding the addictive properties of online gaming, I looked forward to this review with justifiable anxiety.

I logged in and found that, to my dismay, the world of Vana’diel was as breathtaking as ever. The immediately familiar soundtrack by famed composer Nobuo Uematsu hailed my triumphant return. The extensive menu system, while clunky on a keyboard, is instantly user-friendly on a console gamepad. It was time to reintroduce myself, or, more appropriately, to unleash my avatar “Chuupa”, an adorable taru black mage with an unmendable Sauron complex. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Of the three starting city-states, the Republic of Windurst calls to the taru and to magic-users especially. I was randomly placed on the Asura server, one of 31 possible, and was granted an opening movie full of panning city-view camera shots and strolling non-player characters (NPCs). My first order of business would be to complain about the musical score; each city has an aptly themed soundtrack, but Windurst has the fruitiest concoction I’ve heard this side of Elton John.

Undaunted, I send Chuupa, my unholy sorcerer of seething dark magics, into a full sprint toward the city gates. If I can find them. The designers are unafraid of making you run vast distances between primary mission points, and getting a license to ride chocobos is a good 20 levels away. I take two very wrong turns before reaching a gate and running headlong towards a well-armored taru with the War Warlock initials “W.W.” behind his name. He casts a Signet spell that allows me to participate in Windurst’s subsidized conquest of other territories. That’s patriotic and everything, but my leveling motivations are much more self-interested. I rush the gate and wait a moment in darkness while the next map is loading.

Outside, the Sarutabaruta grasslands spread out between valley ridges. A hume (human), elvaan (elf), and mithra (feline folk) are knelt down together, healing near the gate. Their armor is unimpressive, indicative of their low level, but my cutesy taru pajamas are a dead giveaway of my own newbie status.

I target the first unassuming and innocent creature I see: a savannah rarab. This kangaroo rabbit-looking creature appears safe enough, so I attack. From a safe distance, Chuupa begins his whirling spell semantics and stones begin to pummel the rabbit up from the ground. While the spell effects are visually impressive the rabbit appears only mildly amused. The ‘active turn-based’ combat begins and the once unassuming and innocent rarab is now very pissed and hopping towards my indestructible Chuupa. My black mage’s rise to nefarious greatness begins here.

I’ve equipped my staff just in time to catch the bullwhip effect of the rarab’s tail attack. I swing my staff sideways in an attempt to linedrive this bastard past third base and shortstop. Swing and a miss. The rarab thwacks me again with a critical hit and the screen blurs for a moment. I fail to connect any of my pitiful swings, I’m soundly beat into the ground. Soon the rarab hops over my dead body sprawled facedown in the savannah grass. I make mental note of this.

Like any MMORPG, there is an unforgiving time investment demanded and a steep learning curve to master. A good handful of your first gaming hours will be spent in the rodent hunting business, but after that it becomes infinitely more engaging. Although there is no tutorial worth mentioning, you’ll be entering an online arena with an experienced roster of (for the most part) helpful players. After two years of balancing and steady improvement, this product lands in American PS2 owners’ hands with unprecedented maturity. Fan of the series or not, FFXI is still one of the finest MMORPGs out there. And if you run across the path of the infamous Chuupa, be very afraid.
Summary: Two years after its initial debut in Japan, few can compete with the storyline depth and graphic beauty this title delivers. Although some feel that something may be lost in translation, Square Enix has remained as faithful as possible in bringing a traditional RPG into the (ironically confining) world of open-ended online gaming.

Rating: 8.9 Class Leading

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.


About Author

Randy bought his way onto an underground rap compilation in jr. high, lettered in marching band, dropped out of business school, got a sharpshooter ribbon in the U.S. Navy, nabbed a B.A. in English & Writing, then entered the workforce as a corporate buyer. He's played video games the whole time. He lives with his wife and daughter in Oregon. View Profile

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