Review by Typh

"Four years and still going strong..."

Ever since its introduction back in 2002, Final Fantasy XI was a game both loved and hated by many. One of the main reasons behind this was that, being an online game, it broke the line between the main Final Fantasy series. The seemingly endless grinding and partying made the game too complex for casual gamers. That is just the way it is with FFXI, which is perhaps one of the most complex and time-consuming MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games) out there.

Even though it has been four years since its initial release, Square-Enix has released several expansion packs (one per year), adding much more content to an already humongous game. This new content ranges from new quests and missions to even new jobs and abilities/spells, thus, making the game much more complex and entertaining. However, Xbox 360 owners -do not fret; the FFXI game that is being sold for the 360 comes with all expansion packs released so far.

Before the actual review, it is important to state that FFXI is a game for those seeking a challenge>. The casual gamer might find it too hard at first, seeing how it is not a newbie-friendly game. The missions can be time-consuming, and finding a group to level up can take a long time depending on your job (more on this later). Finally, seeing how this is an online game and it costs Square-Enix money to maintain the servers, the game has a monthly fee of $12.95 for the first character and $1.00 per additional character.

Since this is an MMORPG, rather than focusing on individual categories to rate the game, this review will be focused on the overall quality of Final Fantasy XI for the Xbox 360.

The character creation process is actually very simple. The game features five playable races, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Humes (humans), Elvaans (elves) and Tarutarus (tiny people) can be selected as male and female, whereas Galkas (Physically strong people) can only be male and Mithras (cat-women) can only be female. Since there are only 18 faces to choose from, the player might see a lot PCs (Player Characters) that look exactly the same.

Speaking about races, the developers made a great job at balancing them. Some are adept at magic, while others are excellent at playing melee classes, but ultimately, any race can be any job and perform excellently, it all comes down to the equipment.

The variety of jobs in this game is outstanding, which is reminiscent of Final Fantasy V's job system. The game lets you start with six jobs: Warrior, Thief, Black Mage, White Mage, Monk and Red Mage. The other 12 jobs (ranging from the classic Blue Mage to a Beastmaster, which can control monsters at will) come as unlockables -in the form of quests- once you achieve level 30 on any other job. Each job is specialized on something and fulfills one role of a party, which makes the combat much more interesting. To help players, the developers intended to make parties as varied as possible, while keeping the main functions intact (A 'tank' job, a healer job, a DD (Damage Dealing) job, etcetera.).

The game's visual aspect still looks amazing on the 360 considering this is an MMORPG. Thanks to the inclusion of HD (high-definition) in this new version of FFXI, it is possible to appreciate the landscapes that the development team created. Featuring more than 120 areas, ranging from a Federation of Mithras and Tarutarus, which still hungers for power after being destroyed in the Crystal War, to a pirate cove in the middle of the jungle that specializes in training both Samurais and Ninjas.

Thanks to the inclusion of more than 110 different sets of sprites of armor, it is hard to see one player that is wearing the exact same set of armor as you. However -as with many MMORPGs- if the player is looking for the 'best' set of armor in the game, it will be saddened by the thought that many people possess it and thus, look the same. It is also important to add that again, thanks to HD, the equipment in the game looks very nice on the Xbox 360, with zero lag.

Final Fantasy XI features orchestrated BGMs (Background Music) in the most important areas of the game (towns, chocobo riding, for example), but even then, they can become repetitive. Sadly, not all areas possess background music, which can create a tedious atmosphere especially if the player's experience points party has been in the same [muted] area for about 5 hours. However, there are also BGMs for storyline cutscenes, which are really nice and enhance the 'FF Feeling' in this game. On the other hand, there are literally hundreds of sound effects for the diverse abilities and spells included in the game; also, all areas feature a BGS (Background Sound), which enhance the realism of the areas within the game. In conclusion, although the music can get repetitive at times, it is still a nice addition to the game, considering most areas do not even have BGMs.

So, what does one actually do in FFXI ? Considering the player will spend most of their time looking for experience points (even at endgame, called merit points), one has to be grouped with 6 people, normally a healer (White Mage), a tank job (Ninja), a debuffing job (Red Mage) and DDs in order to actually gain a decent amount of EXP. Sadly -and this is what turns down most people- it is incredibly hard to try and go out to fight solo, and even then, it will take the player a long time to get anywhere. However, there is one class that can solo effectively, the Beastmaster. But after all, which Final Fantasy game is not about parties and grouping?

Again, depending on one's job, the combat in FFXI can be either active or extremely dull (I'm looking at you, Monk). First and foremost, your character attacks automatically (i.e. swings an axe), but it will still need the supervision of a player to execute special abilities and Weapon Skills. On the other hand, other classes have a tough time fulfilling all their duties in a party, due to the overwhelming number of abilities they possess (such as the Red Mage).

Generally, mages need to cast many spells per battle in order to be useful –while trying to maintain MP-, while melee jobs create Skillchains, which are composed of two Weapon Skills, in order to kill enemies faster. Depending on your killing speed, you might get Experience Point chains, so the player must look for a competent party, or else the grinding will be terrible after level 50 or so. Just as an example, levels 1 through 10 can be done in one day, but getting through 74 can take the same time, if not longer.

It is possible to level all jobs on just on character by just changing job at the player's own Mog House. Speaking of which, this Mog House is protected by the player's own personal Moogle, and here it is possible to customize furniture and to grow plants with the help of a flowerpot if the player is a fan of gardening.

Once a player reaches level 18, it is possible to obtain a subjob, this subjob is technically a way to further customize your character by having half of the power of a second job. For example, if a player has White Mage at level 32 and Black Mage at level 21, and changes to White Mage at his or her Mog House, the level of that job will be 32 White Mage /16 Black Mage. The level of his or her Black Mage is still 21, however, it gets lowered to 16 temporarily because White Mage is at 32.

Transportation can take a long time. For the first 20 levels of your job, you will not be able to do anything other than run from point A to point B, taking a 10~ minutes walk just to get to the starting areas. Just as an example, the ferry that travels from one side of the world to the other takes about 18 minutes, which can get tiring if you need to use it again. After level 20 though, you are able to do a quest in which you can ride chocobos, which makes traveling much easier. After players clear enough missions for their hometown, it is possible to get an Airship Pass, which decreases time wasted via walking tremendously. There are also teleportation spells that White Mages can cast starting level 36. So, although traveling generally takes a long time, as the player progresses through the game, there are more and more ways to travel to make transportation easier.

Personally, the FFXI experience grind can (and will) become repetitive after a while. So that is why the player has other activities within the game, such as Missions and Quests that enhance the storyline and rewards players with either new equipment or titles. Another activity favored by players is Farming (killing monsters for drops) because money tends to be a big issue in the game.

The big money maker within FFXI is crafting. This, just as many other activities in the game, can take a very, very long time, especially if the player expects to make money from day 1 via crafting. Bonecraft, Smithing, Goldsmithin, Fishing and Leathercraft are just a few examples of the many crafting guilds contained in FFXI. Synthesizing –as the game likes to call it- generally controls the economy of the game, while NPC shops try to maintain price control over basic items.

The inclusion PvP (Player versus Player) in the shape of competitions called Ballista and Brenner calls for players wanting to show the very best of their abilities against other PCs, but not forgetting the part that one has to cooperate in order to win, yes, even in PvP. Finally, Square-Enix will soon implement Chocobo Racing and Chocobo Breeding in the game, so having your own personal chocobo will soon become a reality.

Surprisingly, the storyline in FFXI is so complex, that it makes other MMORPGs (and even some RPGs) blush in shame. The cutscenes are nice, packed with SFX and intelligent dialog, especially those coming from the Chains of Promathia expansion pack. Thus, it is a nice addition to the game seeing how most MMORPGs seem to forget completely about the storyline.

Overall, if the player can get past the initial barriers of the game such as the initial difficulty and the grinding, the player will be able to find a vast world filled with hundreds of activities waiting to be awakened. Do not be scared to ask if you need help with anything, people are generally nice if you ask them politely. To put it simply, Final Fantasy XI is just a gem for those looking for something different. Four years and still going strong...

~Overall Score 9/10~

Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 07/26/06

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