Review by CoR02
"Decent for SE's first MMORPG. (Updated 2009)"
We never saw it coming. When Square-Enix, then Squaresoft, had announced that they were making an online game, we never expected it to see the light of day, much less have the Final Fantasy moniker attached to it. But the day came when the official announcement was made: Final Fantasy XI was going to be the series' first venture into the world of MMORPGs. Reactions were of course mixed. Fanboys and purists threw fits, skeptics scowled, and online gamer fans rejoiced. But it was Final Fantasy. A series known for state-of-the-art graphics and gameplay, a deep, intriguing storylines, and likable, fleshed out characters. Surely we had something to take comfort in? Well, yes and no.
I've been playing FFXI for over five years, so I felt it was time for someone to write a review with actual insight and experience with the game.
I'll put it bluntly: If you go into this game expecting it to be similar to FFVII or VIII, you will be severely disappointed. Being an online game, there's a lot more than just going from point A to point B to further the storyline while fighting hoards of increasingly powerful monsters to become stronger and richer.
First of all, it needs to be said this is almost nothing like its predecessors. Battles aren't random, monsters don't drop large bags of gil, gaining just one level can take hours, and items can be very expensive. You can't fight many monsters on your own, as you are almost entirely dependent upon other people in this game. Parties become an absolute necessity to level up, and if the people within said party aren't able to get along, then leveling will be a slower, more arduous task than it already is. Not to mention you also may spend hours on end looking for a party to join in the first place, as some jobs are desired more than others.
***2009 Update: The above issues are now somewhat alleviated by the introduction of a new system called Level Sync. Using this, parties can "synchronize" their levels to that of the designated party member. Let's say you have a party of a Lv15 Warrior, a Lv18 White Mage, and a Lv60 Red Mage. In the world of FFXI, experience points gained are based upon the highest level character in your party, so having a Lv60 in this party will nullify any experience points gained for the Lv15 and Lv18 unless the party tries to fight a monster that would give the Lv60 experience points (which will be very difficult with two vastly underleveled characters). But, if the party leader "Syncs" the party to that of the Lv15 Warrior, the other two players are temporarily restricted to Lv15 and the party can fight monsters suitable for a Lv15 group and gain experience as normal. The Lv60 will still be able to level up to Lv61 in this party, but until the Warrior levels to 16, the party will not reach 16 either. This update has vastly streamlined the party-finding process because now anyone of any level can join a party together without debilitating each other, and even better, gear scales down so players don't have to carry extra low-level sets of equipment to compensate.
There are a few catches however: Gear doesn't scale perfectly (mostly all the negative stats on gear remains even if you are 50 levels lower while none of the positive will be added) and a higher level character cannot gain skillups on their weapons and magical abilities while fighting inferior monsters to their actual relative level. Though this is both good and bad as it does kind of dissuade abusing of this system to level yourself to the maximum level (75) in one of the "newbie" areas. ...though honestly as of this writing, that is exactly what some players are doing. This is leading to a new generation of underskilled high-level players.***
You probably noticed me type the word job. Yes, the traditional Job System has returned. You start the game with access to 6 basic jobs (Warrior, Thief, Monk, White Mage, Black Mage, Red Mage), and you can unlock fourteen more advanced extra jobs (Paladin, Dark Knight, Bard, Summoner, Ninja, Samurai, Dragoon, Ranger, Beastmaster, Blue Mage, Puppetmaster, Corsair, Scholar, and Dancer) through special quests when you reach level 30. Final Fantasy veterans have seen most of these before (Puppetmaster is rather unique however, and Corsair is more like the Gambler class). Unique to FFXI, a character's class can be changed whenever he or she pleases by entering their home base called a Mog House and choosing the new Job from a list. However, serious research should be made before a character chooses his or her career in Vana'diel, and a new player should NOT compare a job to its personification in another Final Fantasy (for example, Summoner Rydia or Warrior Cloud) because this game simply doesn't play like that.
Once a character reaches level 18 on any job, they can complete the quest to unlock support jobs. This allows the player to take on two jobs at once, with the support job being at half the level of the main. Obviously some combinations work better than others. However the support job does NOT level on its own, so the player must take the time to level the job they wish to be their support job independently. Every time you start a new job you revert to level 1. You do not lose previous levels, so if you leveled Warrior to 30 for example and then wanted to level Thief, but never leveled it before, you would be level 1. But let's say you changed your mind, and you don't want to play Thief just yet. You can change back to Warrior, and you will still be level 30. There is no penalty nor limit to changing your job. One character can play and max out all 20 jobs if desired.
But there isn't much freedom in the way you can play your job. Since this game has been out for over six years, certain roles are expected by every job (such as tanks for Warriors and healers for Summoners in early levels) whether the player wants to perform these roles or not.. It sounds elitist, but those job combinations are actually amongst the most powerful and efficient choices you could make. Though nothing's stopping you from playing the way you want when you're playing solo. A friendly tip, the BradyGames player's guide doesn't contain a plethora of useful information on support job choices as far as the players of this game are concerned. In fact it gives some very poor advice at times, so you're better off getting advice from the real players of the game.
The game is largely based on a player economy, with a few key NPC vendors. PCs buy items from other PCs via the Auction Houses or through players' personal Bazaars. Spells need to be purchased as scrolls in magic shops or the Auction House and can only be learned at certain levels and used by certain jobs, etc. The player makes money for himself by selling the spoils of battle on the Auction House or through his own bazaar, where other players buy it.
Onto the battle system. Once you choose a monster to attack, that's just what your character does. You swing at different speeds depending upon the delay of the weapon(s) you have equipped. SE calls this the auto-attack system. Most MMOs use this system so if this isn't your first one you know what's going on here. While your character is mindlessly hacking away, you can choose to use job abilities or spells if you have any, or use weapon skills, which are obtained as you become more proficient in a weapon. You gain Skill in each weapon as you use it, by fractions at a time. Usually in increments of .1 or .2, .3, and sometimes .5. Once you reach a certain skill level, you learn a new Weapon Skill. Magic skill is increased in the same fashion, but there are no magic skills, the spells just become somewhat more accurate and powerful as your skill level rises. In parties, you can link together weapon skills with other party members for extra damage. This is called a Skillchain, and they can be used to maximize damage, especially with a Black Mage, because each skill chain has one or more elemental property. If a Black Mage casts a corresponding spell (for example casting Water after the Skillchain Reverberation) the spell will do bonus damage. Skillchains have fallen out of favor in recent days since damage-dealing jobs have become so powerful, monsters die before a Skillchain can be coordinated.
There is a crafting system in FFXI that is very encumbering and quite basic. Each recipe uses a specific elemental crystal and up to 8 ingredients. You choose the crystal, then put the ingredients into the window, press OK, and watch the animation. Success depends upon your skill level in each craft (Alchemy, Clothcraft, Woodworking, Goldsmithing, Blacksmithing, Leathercraft, Bonecraft, Cooking). Each recipe has a skillcap level, and you gain fractions of skill per synth until you reach that cap. In other words, you must continuously craft the same exact item(s) repeatedly for hours on end just staring at your character while you do it. It's as boring as it sounds. And unfortunately, most crafts' money-making ability is nearly 100% dependent upon producing High Quality items, and HQ items are made in a very aggravating way: it's entirely random. You can HQ an item if you are under the cap or above it, but your success is much higher the higher you are over the cap for that recipe. And with the growing amount of endgame equipment, an extremely large amount of crafted items are falling out of use, making crafting a largely hit or miss function of FFXI.
There are several large-scale battle systems in FFXI that can require anywhere from 6 companions to up to 700 or more to complete. Some of these include, but is not limited to: Besieged -- the empire of Aht Urghan is under attack by huge hordes beastmen and it is your role as a mercenary to defend it; Assault -- the empire of Aht Urghan employs mercenaries to undertake special missions; Campaign -- experience the Crystal War firsthand by taking part in large scale war battles defending key outposts of Vana'diel, and so on. Most of these give experience point rewards and some also give rewards in the form of new equipment and weapons. The large-scale battles tend to be the more thrilling parts of the game, as FFXI is, at its heart, a community game.
The main goal of the game is to reach the max level (75) so that most of the endgame can be started. There are multiple endgame events and battle-systems and areas, and each expansion tends to have its "ultimate" endzone where some of the hardest bosses in the game can be found. Also once reaching Lv75, players can continue to accrue experience points in the form of Limit points that can earn Merit Points. It takes 10,000 limit points to earn one Merit Point. Merit Points can be used to specialize your character by raising stats, raising critical hit rate, raising weapon proficiencies, and even learning brand new job-specific abilities, and more.
The gameplay comes together nicely once understood, but has an extremely steep learning curve. FFXI is also pretty much a forced multiplayer game, as it's near impossible to do anything on your own. A quirk, shall we say, about the gameplay in FFXI is that it requires nearly complete perfection. There are heavy penalties for failure in the world of Vana'diel. Death results in a hit to your experience points, and the amount lost varies depending upon level and any special enhancements you may have, but is typically 8% of the experience required to level up, and if you currently haven't amassed that total, you level *down.* Death also can cause substantial downtime in the form of Weakness (significantly lower HP/MP, battle speed, etc) and the time required to regroup afterwards. Though one could say that this causes the players of FFXI to be trained to avoid such things, and come out the better for it. Because of these penalties, FFXI's community isn't nearly as gungho as say WoW's is and groups tends to perform with excellent coordination and teamwork. Of course there are exceptions but there is no comparison to other games.
Much of this game depends on your patience, and is a substantial time sink, even with current additions to try and push the game towards more casual players. This isn't a casual game, and even when you do have the time play, you still may not even get the chance if you can't find a party to take you. No game should require such perfection to enjoy. I'll reiterate though: this is NOT a traditional Final Fantasy, so do not expect it.
Final Fantasy XI boasts something most MMORPGs do not have: a storyline. And this game has one of the more intriguing and interesting storylines of the series. The story is told through special quests called Missions, which can be taken up when certain qualifications are met. Some of the backstory is explained in the opening CG movie, but, as the series is notorious for, it's confusing and doesn't make sense until you start hearing more of what happened through the in-game cutscenes. Basically, there was a great war many years ago that resulted in much death and betrayal. Cities fell, power shifted. The three nations were being overcome by the powerful hoards of Beastmen, and it wasn't until a powerful man united the three nations and led them to victory. After this victory and years of peace, there is unrest amongst the Beastmen, and they are showing strange activity. It's rumored they are trying to revive their leader, the Shadow Lord. This is the core game's storyline, and after this is completed, the player can then move onto the expansions' stories (actually some of the expansions' content is entirely independent of this story arc and can be undertaken whenever desired).
The subsequent expansions' story arcs are largely unrelated to each other, but they do share a few common ties. Rise of the Zilart plays in with the original storyline, following sequentially to the events of the Rank 5 missions for each nation, but Chains of Promathia and Treasure of Aht Urhgan are mostly unique. Wings of the Goddess takes a new perspective of the core storyline by taking the player back in time to experience the Crystal War firsthand (of course with some twists here and there). Some aspects of the storylines, particularly the finer details, can be discovered in various quests (especially the Artifact quests) but quests can be done independently of missions, and are not always required to be done in sequential order, so sometimes, the storylines can become disjointed and hard to piece together.
The major flaw with the story is that you can't even hear most of it until you reach certain levels, as most missions require you to trudge through a deep and dangerous dungeon to achieve some goal, which you cannot accomplish if you are too weak to survive. Several missions also require you to build large parties and have many prerequisites, some of which include mandatory level caps. It becomes an annoyance rather quickly, and many players quit trying after the pre-expansion missions are completed and the final boss is defeated. Yes, there is a final boss, but that doesn't mean the game ends, and each expansion tends to have its own version of a final boss. Sadly most players simply won't see more of the story due to the substantial roadblocks and all the red tape because a lot of players simply have zero desire to go back and help other players complete these missions after they themselves have completed it because of the simple fact some missions are so annoying that they're usually not worth the effort to go back and redo them.
The stories are largely very good and very engrossing, but sadly most players will never see them due to the amount of work required.
Well it's not going to win any awards by today's standards. The environments can range from downright boring and bland to breathtakingly stunning, but character designs are extremely limited. This is because this game was designed for PS2 and its HDD. Although the environments look outstanding, you'll likely see your clone walking around beside you and through town very often. SE tries to make up for this by offering a wide plethora of equipment (which you can actually see your character wear), but most equipment falls into families (like Robes or Harnesses) that look just like the last, usually only featuring a palette swap at later levels. There are a few unique pieces of equipment, and you can even obtain job specific equipment (like the traditional White Mage cloak with the red accents or Cecil-esque Dark Knight armor), but many are high level and a major annoyance to achieve (though some would argue this is a good thing). Spell effects are quite good however, being flashy and looking powerful and deadly or calm and aural where necessary. Weapon Skill effects are also rather impressive, and the lighting effects, although lacking reflection, are also of great quality. Mixed bag here, but basically, the environments are absolutely breathtaking, while character models leave a lot to be desired.
Sound is disappointing however. The sound effects are a little questionable at times (when you go to attack a monster, your weapon makes an unsheathing sound, which is odd, considering there ARE no sheaths), and many areas have absolutely no music and only ambient sound effects. What music there is, though, does fit to the area. There are several different battle themes, though they get a little redundant after hearing them hundreds of times. If you are in an expansion area, you get treated to an entirely different set of battle music as well, assuming you're in a party. A nice touch, and the Zilart dungeon battle theme in particular is quite good. The victory fanfare isn't played after every battle however, though you will hear the infamous Nobuo Nine when you level up (the first nine notes to the victory fanfare in case you aren't familiar with that term). There are once again several music composers, but overall the music is well done. Unfortunately there just aren't too many memorable themes. If a song is sticking in your head, it's probably because it's so catchy or redundant. Although Ronfaure and Lufaise Meadows are two shining exceptions.
Overall, environmental graphics are amazing, character and armor design is sadly lacking, some areas have absolutely no music, but the areas that do fit the mood.
Being an online game, and one that requires an unfathomably large amount of waiting, you will be literally putting months worth of work into this game. It takes a very long time to achieve pretty much anything, *especially* some of the endgame gear (look up Relic weapons). Replayability is impossible to score, as you can't very well finish this game. However, although you will be playing this game for a very long amount of time, it's not necessarily because you like it. It's because you *have* to if you want to get anything accomplished. Because of this, I can't give this a very high score. Even if you do get a party, it still takes hours to achieve a level, or to find a specific item. This is one of FFXI's major flaws. You have to accept this if you expect to get very far in this game. It sounds pessimistic, but this is what you're getting into. I'm scoring this on time actually spent playing, and not waiting.
Although this section won't be receiving a score and isn't required by GameFAQs to be covered, I simply cannot let this pass without saying these next few things.
Let's talk Customer Service. Unfortunately to say, SE's employees disgustingly fail in this regard. I'm not talking about Game Masters (GMs), I'm speaking of those people you call and/or e-mail looking for help or a solution to a problem. I don't know if they're undertrained or simply do not care, but far too many of them give the wrong advice or use their Guidebook Answers (they seem to be extraordinarily fond of "Please make sure to check your network cables are properly connected." Which they also say even when you e-mail them. It's kind of hard to send an e-mail if your network cables aren't connected don't you think?) when they have no bearing on the situation.
Long story short, Square-Enix's customer service has taken a major hit to its respectability and trustworthiness, and will likely never recover until they're willing to step forward. I won't let this section affect the game's overall score, as it's not an aspect of the game itself, but it does exist within it, and affects all its players. If you come from another MMORPG plagued by RMT or poor customer service, this may not be one you want to escape to.
In the end, FFXI is merely an average game. One that requires the utmost patience and dedication and a large amount of free time. This isn't a game you can always sit down to play a few hours and expect to get a lot done. Although that can happen, it doesn't happen often. It has a very good storyline and looks pretty, but the gameplay is lacking, and takes far too long to accomplish anything. And if you don't enjoy working with others, I highly recommend *against* purchasing this game. It can be a lot of fun if you have friends to play with and everything works out for you, but that doesn't happen very often. There is a 14day free trial, that you can download and I suggest any new player do so. I also suggest that you read many reviews, view messages boards, and get the opinions of your friends. And considering this is one of the more expensive MMORPGs on the market today (you have to pay $1 for each new character you want), it's quite a large risk to take. Finally, if you're in the mindset that you can go into this game and come out a few days later as a super powerful badass like Cloud Strife, save yourself the money and aggravation. It's not happening. Do not purchase this game for its name alone either. Purchase it if you like online games. I don't recommend playing this game if it is your first MMORPG either.
Final Score: 5.75/10 = 6/10 for GameFAQs
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 12/27/04, Updated 02/13/09
Game Release: Final Fantasy XI Vista (US, 09/15/07)
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