"Overall FFXI is a conceptual experiment in the FF series and honestly I think the FF series should remain a console RPG event."

Ahh, the Final Fantasy legacy. Probably one of the most famous and well-known series in video gaming history, SquareEnix's Final Fantasy saga has been running strong since the 80's. Fans love the series for the deeply intricate and often heart tugging storied, interesting compelling gameplay, and absolutely fantastic graphics. FFXI is the deviant to the Final Fantasy series in that it's the very first to be an MMORPG.

I like to consider myself a veteran of the genre, I've played many throughout the years. My time in MMORPGs began with Everquest nearly 4 years ago. I've also played SWG, RO, DAoC, and fooled around with Anarchy Online a bit.

FFXI functions very much like the typical MMORPG (Which is one of my main gripes with the game), you create yourself an online persona by choosing one of five races and picking one of six starting classes and heading into the large open world created for you to explore. Newcomers to MMORPGs may be a bit distraught by the sheer open ended feel to this kind of game and may, at first, be put off by the fact that there really aren't any limitations in what you can or cannot do.

When your character is created and you first plop into Vana'Diel, you'll be surprised by the splendor and enormity of your starting city. One of the few things SquareEnix did surprisingly well was make richly detailed, surprisingly animated and wonderfly big starting cities. There's actually a good ammount of exploration to each of them and should provide the newcomer some good quality adventure time. Once you've compiled your bearings, you'll want to go out and level up, the main premise behind any MMORPG. You'll head out into the nearest wilderness area and experience your first encounters with enemies and get your first taste of combat.

Combat is initiated through a clunky system of clicks, starting with clicking on your target of choice, clicking on them again to open the menu, and finally clicking attack to initiate the offense. This in itself is annoying and poorly designed. Combat the ensues and is based upon a system of delays. Every weapon has a delay factor which when the delay is up, the weapon will swing and thus you will be given the chance to attack and land a blow. You will trade blows with your target until you or it is defeated and left for dead. As you progress in proficiency with the weapon type you're using, you'll gain abilities and special attacks which are initiated in the combat menus. The overall battle system is completely standard to that of any MMORPG and in all honesty really isn't original at all. This is one of my biggest disappointments with the game. It just feels too similar to something like Everquest, and I really feel the developers decided against being pioneers and trying to develop something new and exciting. It feels like they took an easy way out by using a tried and true formula, but not really expanding on it or making it any more interesting. Soloing is hardly a viable option in this game, save for the newbie levels. This is a major flaw, not every one has the time or dedication to form a group. Grouping is pretty much forced upon you, and there is no XP bonus for grouping which makes leveling even more of a grind.

FFXI's meat and potatoes (just like every MMORPG) lives in combat and skill progression. Your main goal in the game per se is to level up your character and become increasingly powerful. When you reach level 18, you'll be allowed to choose another job to be your subjob, which will basically grant you some of the lower end abilities of that job, increasing your overall power. When level 30 has been reached, you'll be allowed to quest for additional jobs. You may switch jobs at any time in your very own personal ''Mog House'' which is provided for you in your starting city. When you switch jobs, you begin at level 1 unless you've previously leveled that job. The main problem with this system I feel are the advanced jobs. If you'd like to pursue one, you need to start from scratch once you reach level 30 and complete the quest. Believe me, reaching level 30 is no cake walk and starting from level 1 again to level a new job isn't the most appealing thing in the world. While advanced jobs were interesting in theory, I don't think they were executed properly. If anything, you should be able to convert your starting job to an advanced job of your choice at level 30, and continue from there. The whole system borrows heavily from Ragnarok Online, and instead of improving it I honestly feel they degraded it.

MMORPGs usually do not contain any valid story or overall plot. The main theory behind this is that you create the story as you play by maintaining and raising your online alter ego throughout the levels of achievement. FFXI differs from the norm (for once) in that it actually includes (or tries to) a basic overall plot to the game. While I personally feel stories are left out of MMORPGs for a reason, I do give SquareEnix credit for attempting what many consider impossible - implementing a structured story into an online game. While there certainly was effort put into it, it's nothing really amazing or remarkable, and is just shy of being completely disposable. MMORPGs were never about plot and never will be.

Graphically, if you have a good computer, you'll be in for a nice treat. The environments are spectacular and the cities and towns look fantastic. Player models are good, not amazing, but good. The main problem here is that the required system specs are so high that most people will be forced to play on lower settings and thus taking away from the splendor of the visuals.

The audio in the game is, well, decent at best. The musical scores that are in the game are very good (this is FF after all) however like many MMORPGs, the sound effects need work. There are no voice overs (which is annoying) and combat consists of a series of grunts and squaks which gets irritating after a while. Like many MMORPGs, the sound effects need improvement.

Final Fantasy XI is not a bad game. If you've never played an MMORPG before, this is a great one to start with. If I myself never played one before, I could see myself being completely obsessed with the game and do nothing but ranting and raving about how amazing this game is. Unfortunately I cannot do that because I feel this game borrows too heavily upon other existing MMORPGs and doesn't provide enough innovation. SquareEnix did take the easy way out on this game, they went for tried and true rather than experimental and new. This is good or bad depending upon how you look at it, I personally see this as lazy and unorginal.

FFXI does enough things right for me to recommend it to anyone looking to complete their Final Fantasy experience and live the FF world online with friends and strangers alike. If you're a novice to MMORPGs my 6 may as well be a 10 to you because you'll always fall in love with your first one and compare every one you play after it to the one you began with. However, if you're a veteran to the genre, don't expect anything new or to have your socks blown off, because they won't be.

SquareEnix makes remarkable console RPGs, that's their field and they should stick with it. While a commendable effort to expand their horizons and dabble in new things was made, FFXI is clearly an example that SquareEnix puts a lot of work into everything they put their name on but really need to stick with that which they do best.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 11/07/03

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