Review by Tanaric

"A Good Game, but not perfect"

Final Fantasy XI (FFXI) is an MMORPG. Like many others in this increasingly popular field, its core mechanics are simple: fight enemies in order to gain power, in order to fight harder enemies. What sets each individual game apart in this genre is how this premise is presented, and what you can do in between the ''grind'' of leveling your character. Final Fantasy XI does a good job of distracting players from what is, essentially, a glorified time sink.

Throughout this review, I compare FFXI to other MMORPGs. In this genre, that's really the only way to express the quality of the game; if you're going to pay a monthly fee for a game, it helps more to know the alternatives. I also compare it to other FF games, because I assume many readers of this are fans of the series.

FFXI is unique in that it attempts to present a story-driven game. As any fan of the Final Fantasy series knows, the trademarks of FF games are their deep characters and their involved storylines. Because the emphasis of character development has been shifted to us, the players, FFXI concentrates on building the world and the story within it, via ''quests'', which are jobs given by townspeople for you to complete, and ''missions'', which are tasks given by your country to help further your nation.

Quests are only mildly effective at storyline building. While the amount of quests in the game is staggering, and all of them seem to have a point, there is very little emotional impact for doing any of them. Most people tend to do quests either to get the reward or, in my case, just to be able to say they've done them. In this respect, FFXI is like any other similar MMORPG, except that the quests in FFXI are quite a bit easier than the quests EverQuest players are used to.

Missions, however, are great. FFXI breaks from the MMORPG norm, and sticks to its FF roots, by using cut scenes in NPC conversations. While no CG video is used in the game, NPCs talk and interact with your character whenever you speak to them. As usual in FF, your dialogue options are all either meaningless or ''yes/no'' options. Still, the missions paint a picture of the world and your country, and let you feel as if you contribute to the society of your nation.

Both missions and (most) quests are fun to complete. They would be more fun if you completed them without any help, but no MMORPG player would do this.

The driving goal for the majority of players in MMORPGs is simply to become stronger. Role-playing is practically non-existent in FFXI, and indeed most popular MMORPGs. Thus, since quests and missions will make you stronger because they give you good equipment, everyone who strives to complete them will generally use a guide from GameFAQs, Allakhazam's Magical Realm, or simply advice from other players in-game. If you are coming into the game because you want a multiplayer FF game, this will most likely disappoint you.

**************************Character Development*************************
FFXI uses a job-based system. Many people compare this to Final Fantasy Tactics, although it's really much more similar to Final Fantasy 3(J) and Final Fantasy 5. You start with six basic Jobs (the initial classes of FFI: Warrior, Monk, Thief, and Black, White, and Red Mage). Each job is wholly independent of the others: if a level 15 Warrior changes to White Mage, he is as powerful as any other level 1 White Mage. Of course, he could then change back to Warrior and be level 15 again. There is no distinction between ''Job Level'' and ''Character Level'' in this game.

This, to me, is a good thing. It prevents people from becoming insanely powerful, and it lets you change your play style based on mood of the day. The ability to change job without losing anything permanently is unique, as far as I know, to FFXI. However...

Eventually, you can obtain a sub-job, which lets you use another job's abilities at half your main job's level. What's misleading is that you must level up your sub-job independently of your main: only your main job gains experience as you play. What this means, in terms of time and money, that you must level two jobs to be useful to a group. Assuming it will take you half as long to level your subjob as your main, you'll only really be leveling your main job 20 days a month, instead of 30. Which means more money in Square-Enix's pockets. I'm not sure if this was their intent, but the whole system seems to me a way for them to stealthily make more money from us, because it slows character development way down.

Plus, 12 levels after you get your subjob, you can unlock an ''advanced'' job, like Paladin, Dark Knight, or Summoner. To actually use one of these jobs, however, you have to level it yourself, starting at level 1. This compounds the problem of doing everything over and over again.

Luckily, the low-level game of FFXI is very good, and I don't mind doing it, when I'm with a good party.

It would have made more sense to me if they stuck with the FF: Tactics system of JP, or the FFIII/FFV system of AP. That way, you never lose anything at all. In the end, though, I'd rather have the customizability of this system than the regimented classes of EverQuest or the tiered, specialization classes of Shadowbane or Dark Age of Camelot.

The crafting system in this game is very well thought out. Most importantly, because of the job system, low-level characters abound in this game. Thus, even low-level equipment is coveted. Crafters with almost no experience can make a profit, or at least break even. This is a world ahead of EverQuest, where you never make money, period, and Dark Age of Camelot, where you can choose to make money, but your development stagnates if you do.

Nearly every item dropped by monsters in game can be used to make *something*, which means a healthy economy. The Auction House, where most business takes place, allows adventurers to sell their hard-earned drops to crafters, who manipulate them and create something, which they sell back to adventurers. With the way FFXI is currently expanding with respect to player population, this economic system will hold for some time. This is very well thought out by Square-Enix, and is one of my favorite aspects of the game.

The game is beautiful. There is no other way to describe it. Just be sure you have a machine that can run the game. Check and get the FFXI benchmark tool, to make sure you can play. If your score isn't at *least* 2000, I would seriously consider upgrading your computer before playing.

The game does have slowdown when many characters are in one spot, but this effect is much reduced on quality computers.

This is a Square-Enix game. The sound meets and exceeds their already high standards. The music is the typical synthesized goodness that befits a Final Fantasy title, but since you may spend hours in the same area, with no change in the couple minutes of music, you might be inclined to put on your own CD instead. People have figured out how to put custom music in the game; I haven't tried it, but I imagine it would be a good solution to this problem if you get bored of the existing audio.

Some people expressed disappointment about the lack of voiceovers in the game, but I am relieved. I like using my imagination on that sort of thing. Plus, with the game already taking almost 6 GB of space on your hard drive, do you *really* want to add voiceovers to that?

Combat is where FFXI shines. Comparison is the best tactic:
In EverQuest:
Warrior sees enemy
Warrior clicks autoattack
Warrior clicks the ''kick'' and ''taunt'' buttons when available
Cleric heals warrior
Wizard casts spells on enemy
Monk hits enemy with fists
Dark Knight hits enemy with sword
Enemy dies
Everyone sits and heals

Warrior sees enemy
Warrior clicks autoattack
Warrior Provokes when able
Monk hits enemy with fists
Warrior uses a weaponskill
Monk follows suit and uses a corresponding weaponskill, causing a skillchain and extra damage
Dark Knight uses another corresponding weaponskill, timed correctly, causing a bigger skillchain and extra damage
(These skillchains must be timed within 3-second intervals, or they fail)
Wizard casts a spell corresponding to the total skillchain, causing a Magic Burst, which does 2x - 10x damage
Cleric casts a heal which corresponds to the total skillchain, causing a Magic Burst, which heals 2x - 10x damage
Enemy dies
They fight another enemy, causing a Killchain for bonus experience

FFXI's combat is wonderful. :)

Plus, when you sit and heal in FFXI, you get *much* more back every few seconds than an EverQuest character. Good on Square-Enix for helping remove downtime from the game.

************************Other Thoughts*******************************
This game impresses me on many levels. First, I love the feel of the Final Fantasy series, and this definitely maintains it. Secondly, I absolutely adore the economy and the crafting system. Third, the merger of American and Japanese is interesting, because it prevents a certain amount of capitalism. I've noticed that prices for items, even rare ones, are much lower than I expected, when compared to EverQuest or Shadowbane. There is little price gouging going on, and the Japanese seem content to give good deals on the Auction House. Plus, it's really useful to have level 75 White Mages running around when you're lying dead on the side of the road. I personally commend the dual-language servers, unlike the majority of FFXI players.

I do wish the Job system were a little more fleshed out. I had hoped we'd had a Final Fantasy Tactics -based character system (which I really can't explain in a review: e-mail me if you're really curious), and I'd hoped for much less of an experience grind. And finally, I wish there was more equipment, spells, skills, and powers in the game. EverQuest really beats this game in this area. However, for my $13 a month, FFXI is the best MMORPG out there, and I'm happy to pay it.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 01/12/04

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