Final Fantasy XI has finally arrived in the United States, the massively multiplayer role-playing game that gamers have been screaming for since its earlier release in Japan. Square-Enix promised the world with FFXI, and in a majority of ways, they’ve delivered. So, with PlayStation 2 hard drive kits in hand, we set out to explore the brave new world of the first combined MMORPG set in the Final Fantasy universe. You did know that PC and PS2 players can co-mingle in the game, right? Well now you do.
Craig: I’m the in-house action gamer, so I’ll talk about FFXI from the viewpoint of the non-RPG fanatic. That doesn’t mean I dislike RPGs in any way, it’s just that I’m not someone who runs to the store to pick up each and every one the minute it hits store shelves. I’ve played both MMORPGs and standard RPGs, but I’ve never been able to stay playing for more than a few months before feeling like they were all the same game. So why am I part of this roundtable? Because I’m the casual RPG player. So RPG and MMORPG fans, spare yourself the anger at my comments and skip my sections.
Jason: I’m DailyGame’s resident RPG nut. I’ve been an RPG fan since Final Fantasy II came out for the SNES. Although I traditionally prefer to play standard RPGs, my experience with Fantasy XI has made me a complete convert to MMOs. In fact, standard RPGs now feel lonely, as I’ve become accustomed to chatting with real people.
Craig: OK, let’s start from the top, the absurdly long installation and log-in process. While I understand the thinking behind setting up the PlayOnline account and getting all your info at once, this desperately needs streamlining. I mean, come on: you have to install the PlayOnline files with an included DVD, then you have to reboot, then you have to go through another setup for the connection and PlayOnline account, which entails creating an ID and an email address. Once you deal with that, there’s the unlocking process for the games. You have to use the included game registration code to unlock FFXI and the extra content pack. Oh, and if you want to play TetraMaster, you have to unlock that, too.
After you get that set up, there’s the log-in process, which adds another chunk of time to setting up a game. And once you’ve logged in to PlayOnline, there’s the delay while the game loads from the hard disk, and that takes a bit of time while you stare at a blank screen and hear the drive churn.
So now you’ve survived installation and log in, and you get to download some hefty updates for FFXI, something to the tune of another 15-30 minutes of lost time – with a 2 Mbit cable connection – before you’re done! I swear they should level you up four times for enduring this process. They should have tried something, anything, to make this more painless, like searching the hard drive for account data from other games and pulling that over.
Jason: I totally agree. Not only do you have to suffer through awful, generic, modern jazz, you have to enter three different sets of 20-key registration codes just to get anywhere. Don’t even attempt this without an USB keyboard. Logitech makes a great one for about $19.99. They could have easily got away with one product-registration code. The key word here is patience. I find it puzzling that they had such a huge update to download when the DVD just went .
Craig: OK, so you suffered through the setup just like me. So, what did you think of the character-generation process? I think that five races and six base character “jobs” was a little thin, especially considering three of the jobs are some type of mage. And did you notice that out of the six extra jobs you can learn are some variation on the warrior?
It was nice, however, to tweak the heck out of the character’s appearance. Choosing body size, facial styles and hair color helps limit your character looking like everyone else’s. Problem is, there isn’t enough variety (they should have taken a cue from Tiger Woods 2004 when it comes to character visuals), and I’ve already run into three near clones of my character.
Also, what’s with only allowing one character per PlayOnline FFXI account? You pay an extra dollar per month for each extra character you want to create, but that seems to be taking advantage of some RPG gamers’ obsession with variety. The second real bit of heartburn with character-generation is that you don’t get to choose which server you start our on, making your odds of firing up a character and joining a friend pretty slim. At later levels you can buy a world pass, which lets you invite people to your server, but that takes quite a bit of time to get to.
Jason: I disagree with you on this one. I think Square-Enix put a lot of thought into the races and how they play into the FFXI universe. Each race has its own home region, and the story flushes out a decent history and how the races got along throughout their timeline. I agree that it’s a bit spendy to create different characters, but you’re allowed to change your job whenever you want, which counts for something, in my book. I really don’t see the need to have too many different characters going on at once anyway, since you have to start from level one every time you change your job. I was fortunate to have a world pass code given to me from a friend of mine who’d purchased the PC version. It would have been nice to be able to choose a server from the onset, but that may have just caused one server to become overcrowded.
Craig: Now that I think about it, there is some freedom to “create” another character by changing jobs, since it kind of lets you play as a new person from the start without buying a new one. But it’s not nearly as good as being able to just fire up a whole new character. I still think the fee per character is really cheap on Square’s part. After all, we’re already paying a monthly fee to play, and then they want to nickel and dime players like that?
Craig: OK, here’s where I’m sure I’ll get flamed by a lot of the game’s fans: this game is kind of boring to me. It’s one of slowest-paced MMORPGs I’ve ever played. It may actually be that the game is so overwhelming at first that I just couldn’t figure out the best way to get things done, but I had a hard time wanting to log back in to play after several hours. Since you can’t start on the same server as your friends (unless you get totally lucky), you have to forage on your own for quite a bit of time. While the community is very friendly (the best community I’ve seen in a long, long while), a lot are carryovers from the PC version. This means they’re far more experienced than you and, frankly, won’t have time to help a new player level-up. That doesn’t mean some of them won’t help out, but you’ve got to get lucky to find an equal party at your level in the beginning. I ended up roaming around, talking to lots of NPCs and picking up odd jobs to make enough money to buy gear, but that got tiring pretty quickly.
I understand that that Square wanted to make it challenging so you can’t level up super-quick as in most other MMOs, but the amount of time it takes to level-up at all seems a bit excessive. I don’t want to be level 10 in just a few hours, but it takes some serious dedication to get up just a few levels. I will admit I’m not the Minister of Patience, so perhaps it’s just me.
Jason: Let’s remember, this is an MMORPG. It’s meant to be played with other people, not alone. None of this is more apparent than when you’re leveling up by yourself. Expect to be overwhelmed by the sheer size of your starting town. I think they did a great job of applying realistic architecture to each of the cities. Everything just makes sense, which is good, since you’ll be doing a lot of walking during your first 20 levels. But even with the architecture, time seems to pass faster when you’re doing the walking around with someone else and can chat about your experiences (remember: the keyboard is essential).
I must have lucked out more than you, because I have to mention here that the community is very friendly. I can’t count the number of times when a higher-level passerby saved me by casting cure 3. They don’t even expect anything out of it. Definitely a different crowd than the online action gamers. The best thing I can recommend is to hang out at the auction house when you start off. Interact with the people (especially if you’re going in alone) and try to form leveling-up parties. You shouldn’t have trouble at all finding anyone, especially if you’re a white mage or monk. You’ll also want to buy and sell at the auction house. This is where the PCs decide the price, and they are usually at fair value.
Another thing you’ll want to do on the onset is set up your macros. You’re allowed to set up to 200 macros of mundane actions like chatting, pointing, expressing, and forming parties. You can also set up complex macros that allow you to call out a quote before performing an awesome combo on an enemy. I think this is the greatest addition to the game, especially during battles. You don’t have to fumble with menus, you can simply press the macro it’s assigned to and sit back as your character pummels or heals.
Craig: Final Fantasy XI does have one of the most amazing and in-depth worlds I’ve ever seen. I can’t say enough for the depth; there’s so much to do and see, you could probably spend years playing this game. Literally. Taken on a character-by-character basis, the NPCs might not be the most interesting, but if you’re willing to take the time to speak to them all, it’s cool to watch various stories unfold. Of course, if you’re impatient like me, you’ll find it gets old having to talk to NPCs constantly. Sometimes, you just want to head out and adventure, and if you think you can do that without interacting heavily with NPCs, you’ll find your experience coming very quickly to a frustrating end. If you have patience and like interacting with NPCs and watching a very rich (and sometimes overwhelming) world unfold before you, then this game will rule your life. Jason, you’re the big RPGer here; how do the world and environments compare to other RPGs you’ve played?
Jason: Keyword here is patience. You cannot play this game if you are in a hurry. Traversing across the world map actually feels like you’re traversing great distances. You will not get anywhere fast in this game. Sometimes I find myself not leaving town for a couple of days straight since there are so many things to do. For example, there are multiple guilds spread out across town. Off the top of my head I can think of four that you can join: a fishing, culinary, blacksmithing and clothing guild. Each has its benefits, but it is extremely time-consuming and costly to level up these skills. If one were a monk and decided to join the clothing guild, you could essentially make your own Kimonos or armor for other PCs. Or if you were to join the culinary guild you can make stat boosting snacks to hand out to your party. Of course, you have to pay for supplies and this can get very expensive.
My advice to players starting off is to be as frugal as possible. Only buy armor every five levels or so. Don’t head into town right after leveling up once and buy a whole new outfit. Usually armor four or five levels below your current character level will suffice. Also, talk to all the NPCs, especially after completing quests. Some won’t offer you anything until you’ve raised your “fame” level, accomplished by completing mini-quests inside towns. Some of these quests are as easy as delivering an item to another NPC, while others are vast and have you escorting an NPC to another town hundreds of miles away. If you’re completely lost, just ask other PCs wandering around town. I’ve never met a person who wasn’t kind enough to point me in the right direction. I can’t say that the PCs in this game are any better than those found in EQ, but the guilds are more streamlined and easier to do.
Craig: For the presentation nuts out there, FFXI is a good looking game. Character models are clean and well-detailed, and the environments look great. The frame rate can be a bit choppy, and the music gets old fast, but as a whole, FFXI is a tight package.
Jason: Um, understatement there, my friend. This is the best-looking MMORPG I’ve ever played. I’m astounded at the level of detail that they were able to cram in here. From the real-time environmental effects to the way your character looks when you change armor and weapons. There are many moments when I’m simply amazed at the sheer size of everything.
The sound is hit and miss with me, though. In some areas the score is brilliant, while in others it becomes insanity candy. I often find myself hitting the mute button, especially if I’m in a particular area for more than an hour. In some areas, though, the background music is cut off completely, leaving just the environment sounds. It’s an eerie feeling, especially if it’s a new area that needs to be explored.
Craig: On that note, let’s explore a summary here. For me, this was a very good MMO, one of the best I’ve played. Unfortunately, it takes quite a bit of time to get seriously into it, which can lead to some boring and frustrating moments. The inability to choose a world server at the start is just plain evil in my mind. After all, MMOs are about enjoying games with friends, yet you can’t choose which friends those might be in the beginning. The world is richly detailed and has a great storyline, and Square is promising to add more features as the game develops, which should keep the MMO fans around for some time to come. But not being an MMORPG nut, I just couldn’t stay interested after a few dozen hours. That said, I think it’s only fair not to assign numeric scores for FFXI. Thus, I leave the scoring to you, Jason.
Would I recommend FFXI to the non-MMO faithful? Yes and no. Yes if you’re looking to see how a well-designed MMO should be, but no if you’re lacking the patience to sink at least 10-20 hours into the game before it starts to get interesting.
Jason: I absolutely love this game. I can see myself playing it for at least a year. There is so much to do and see and, quite frankly, I’d feel like I was letting my party down if I bailed, that I’m sticking with it even though it is quite costly to set up and even more costly the longer you play.
A cool feature that is going to be added is called “Conflict.” This is a coliseum-type game that is going to allow PCs to battle each other. Not much is known about whether or not you can compete for prizes or how much control the PC will have, but it is definitely an awesome feature for those who want to settle a score with a PC they’ve run into during their adventures. If you’re a big MMO fan, then you already own this game. If you’re a casual RPGer, you may want to stay with a more traditional title.
- Gameplay: 9
- Graphics: 9
- Sound: 6
- Replay: 10
- Overall: 9
- After a tedious setup, say goodbye to the real world.
— Craig Falstaff and Jason Thomas