Review by delateur

"A dissenting view, to balance the positive..."

Although I'm a huge Final Fantasy fan, ever since FFVII for the PS1, the transition to online just didn't meet my expectations. While many might think that I'm not suited to online play after I reveal what those expectations are, a few might be wanting the same things I am, and if so, perhaps this review can save you $50 for something that's going to leave you wanting.

Sound and Graphics: 9/10 I'm going to lump those two together. I think they're secondary in almost any game unless they're really REALLY bad. A game that will get the most out of a high end system (which mine is) is nice, and it helps a world like this be more immersive. FFXI fills the bill in that regard. It's got a different feel from most online games, and has texturing similar to what all the other recent FF games have attempted to achieve (realistic movement, emotions, etc.). I doubt many would find fault with either the music or the sound. It's not 10/10 because it didn't blow me away, it was just very enjoyable overall.

Plot: 8/10 Yes, there's a plot in this game, and it's actually pretty well done. Personally, this is key for me. I play just about every offline RPG that comes out, and as you know, getting into the story is what it takes to be immersive. In online games, emphasis on some sort of backstory is MORE important, because otherwise, it's just a grind. The biggest complaint I see from gamers similar to myself is the repetitive nature of some online games. Some are all about that sort of tedium, others aren't. I'm in the latter category, and while I enjoy battling monsters, I want some story to break things up, to remind me why I'm here, killing my umpteenth Tiny Mandragora or Maneating Hornet. The quests are nothing unique to the genre, but the missions are nice in that they are presented as cutscenes complete with decent dialogue and good use of the camera to catch body language. It's a nice touch that contributes to the 8 I give it.

Gameplay: 6/10 Yes, this is where the scores drop off. Gameplay is SO key to a game like this, because you're going to be undertaking activities, lots of them, to progress in whatever you choose, be it crafting or battling bad guys (or innocent woodland creatures). In this section, I include combat, crafting, and character development. This is what breaks the game for me. Combat is nice to look at. The camera can be difficult at times, but for the most part, you can get it to do what you want it to. The only drawback is that this game was STRONGLY designed to make soloing a deadly proposition, such that by the time you're around 15th level or so in a ''tank'' profession (warrior/monk) or sooner than that for a caster/thief profession, you're going to NEED a group if you want to save yourself even more running than is already present in this game (you will run a LOT just trying to find mobs, which magically materialize randomly all over the place. There's no specific spawn points for things). Dungeons are where the highest concentrations of mobs are (and the place you'll die the fastest if you try to solo). The problem with soloing is that escaping from creatures has been made nearly impossible. A group might sacrifice one so the others can escape, but when you're on your own, there's an extremely small chance that you're going to get away. That, to me, is a huge flaw. While online games should encourage grouping, making it obligatory is not pleasant. Sometimes you just have a few hours, and you want to just go out, kill a few things, and call it a night. This is NOT the game to do that! I'll explain more about why down below, in Reviewer Spin. Crafting has the same tedium as EQ (as I remember it): find/buy raw materials, combine them using a crystal, wait about 10 seconds, watch crystal blossom or explode (success/failure), and do it all over again, until you can step up to the next item. To me, this is just a time sink for people with way too much time on their hands, and has never been of much interest to me, personally. Character development is the last part. Skills go up much like in EQ. You get fractions of a point when you fight tougher mobs and a skill is used successfully (parry, evade, hitting with a weapon, casting a spell, blocking with a shield, etc.) Thus, it's gratifying to watch your skills improve in steps, assuming you can find challenging monsters to battle. However, it's disheartening to know that, under most circumstances, unless you're a tank type, you're not going to be getting so strong that you just walk around and take down decent or even match monsters without being seriously hurt yourself, or maybe even killed, if you're not full strength. You'll be sitting often, maybe after every couple of battles if you fight tougher creatures (and you should if you want to keep your skills increasing). If you're a person who always groups, comes into this game with a handful of friends who are going to make classes built on supporting one another, and your play schedules line up, then this might just be what you're looking for. If you're a person who enjoys soloing, and maybe even prefers it in most instances, you'll be disheartened at the limited amount of choices you have for a job/subjob combo (around level 18 for main jobs, 30 for advanced jobs) that will make the soloing experience tolerable. Note I said tolerable, not enjoyable.

Reviewer Spin: 3/10 Yes, there is a huge Achilles' Heel in this game. It's the servers. One, they're random. Unless someone gives you a Worldpass, you're going to wind up where you wind up. That, in and of itself isn't horrid because of my second point. There are NO new servers for the North American public to start on. If there WERE such servers, we wouldn't be able to ensure we were going there, at least not initially. So what's that mean? I think you're starting to see the picture. 95%+ Japanese players, at least initially, slowly growing into a more 50/50ish balance, unless the North American populous decides to do a mass exodus to a few choice servers so that they can enjoy grouping with other Americans. Can we communicate with the Japanese? Yes, some common phrases can be used. Is it easy? Not on your life. So, because it's more trouble than it's worth, it just doesn't happen. I spent a bit of time communicating with one nice Japanese Tarutaru, trying to figure out the Trick or Treating and how to get it going, and he knew some limited English. It was horribly painful... but not near as painful as scrolling through tons of phrases to find something that just wasn't there. Bottom line: They should have set up separate servers for the North American public. I love the Japanese, and their culture, but if I can't communicate with them, then I'd rather not be surrounded by them, in all their glory from months of gameplay, making my avatar look even more pathetic than I already feel because if a battle goes wonky, I know I'm dead, no matter what. Also, you get ONE character to start. You can have up to 16, but each one costs you and extra dollar a month to have active. It's an interesting marketing strategy, but one that I think would have been better utilized by giving people at least 2-8 characters to experiment with, and allowing people to purchase more if they so desire. Even two would have been good, as I could compare and contrast those two professions, and the one I liked least could be redone. Some will say a dollar a month extra isn't horrid, and I would agree with you there, but many other games give you as many as eight characters on a single server. One seems a bit, well... cheap.

Bottom line: It's a beautiful game, and you can tell Square put a lot of time and love into it. Please don't think my less than pleasant points are meant to detract from that. My goal was to express what some players would find to be fatal flaws, and give you a fuller view of what the world of FFXI has to offer. For people who at least want to be able to solo safely, you're probably going to be disappointed. For people wanting to enter a new, untouched world (early purchaser types), you'll be SORELY disappointed, as the Japanese have been there for months already, for people wanting a sense of uniqueness in their character, not much there, either. Certain templates work, many of them don't. You can dabble in anything, but eventually you'll have to choose something that's group friendly, because grouping is basically the only option in just about every case. Again, I'll mention that it's entirely possible that this genre, as much as I'd like to mold it to my way of thinking/playing, was never meant to be played in the fashion I've described. However, I do chat people up plenty when I play, and many identify with my feelings, so if you're one of those people reading this now, please take what I've said to heart, and seriously consider if this game is right for you.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 11/03/03

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