Review by Mechaflame

"Still going strong!"

So, here we are again six months after the US launch of FFXI on the PC, and it's still going strong. This is great news for PlayStation 2 owners who have been waiting to get their hands on a version of the game that was playable without a PC (or without a PC that could run the game). For the price of a couple of new games ($99), PS2 gamers can score the new hard disk drive with FFXI pre-installed. Although this review was originally intended to detail some of the graphical differences between the two platforms, which is really all that's different, I've decided to re-evaluate the game as a whole based on many more hours of play.

Let's get the simple stuff out of the way first. The PS2 version of FFXI is exactly the same game as the PC release. This should be obvious since the PS2 players and PC players can play together in the same world with the same items and the same jobs. The PS2 version is more stable simply because it was programmed to a specific platform. You won't have to worry about random crashes or needing the latest drivers for your video card or motherboard. You also don't have to worry about it looking any different than any of the other PS2 versions. The weather effects, texture compressions, high quality shadows, etc. are all locked in place. The sacrifice is you're playing at about half the resolution possible on the PC (that's if your computer could handle it). Outside of creating your Playonline account and getting online, which can be a little disorienting the first time, it's fairly straightforward and easy for the average console gamer.

FFXI on the PS2 is certainly not eye candy and is really the only drawback. The low resolution enlarges the text field so much that it almost obscures vision into fights and whatnot. This doesn't really make any sense because I've played many RPGs that have smaller, more manageable text when delivering the story. It's also a pixilated mess. It shimmers like crazy when moving the camera around and reminds me a lot of the old Ridge Racer and other first gen games on the PS2. It's certainly a step back from FFX. The upside, which I stressed before, is stability. The framerate is pretty well locked down for the size of the world and the number of people running around. This is immensely helpful when navigating menus or accessing macros without the interface lagging. This is something that caused me problems on the PC if I tried to set the graphics too high. Also, don't let people tell you that you can't play an MMORPG with a controller because it's bull. I've never be en more comfortable in an MMO then when I'm using the controller in FFXI. That's really one of the strongest points of the entire game, it's controllability.

Now I want to move onto the game as a whole. There are some things that I've grown to love over the last six months but also some things that I've learned to hate. Since the first review, I've taken my character, Rox, up through level 30 as a Warrior/Thief. After that I tackled some of the advanced job quests, which were very rewarding. I took Dark Knight/Warrior up around 30 again, and now I'm back leveling up Ranger/Warrior, currently at 20. So while I haven't seen any of the high level play, I've still seen a great deal of the world and been on numerous quests and missions. A number of people in the unofficial Gaming Age linkshell are over 50 (a major milestone in this game), so what I haven't played up there, I've at least heard stories about.

I've already covered in my first set of journals and the review all the wonderful things about the interface, party dynamics, and presentation. So, outside of some really great quests and missions that I've accomplished, that ''A'' still covers all the bright spots of FFXI.

I'm dropping the score of the game for this review for a couple of reasons. The initial 100+ hours of the game, which is more time than most games give you in replayability, are still a solid ''A''. The first reason is that the PS2 graphics are uncharacteristically low quality for a SquareEnix game. The second reason can just be chalked up to certain aspects of the game growing old and tired. Let me expand on that more.

While the party dynamics in a fight in FFXI are fantastic, the absolute, unforgiving necessity of fighting in a party at the mid to late levels is too stringent. SquareEnix has taken away all ability to progress in the game without a party, plain and simple (the Beastmaster is the only exception). While this is great in theory, after all it is a massively multiplayer game, there will inevitably be times when you cannot find parties or choose to wander alone. Often times I have limited time to jump in to the world of FFXI and can't be tied to the obligations that come with a party, or I just don't have the time to wait to find one or set one up. Outside of crafting, there's really nothing at all for me to do in that limited time. You can't solo creatures that are much harder than ''Easy Prey'' without fear of dying or ridiculously long down time.

Another issue is with creature dropped items. Not only are dropped items sometimes rare to the point of almost being extinct (see level 50 cap quest), but they tend to be useless no matter what level you're at. The crabs I fight at level 8 are dropping rock salt, which is the same worthless item that crabs at level 20 drop even though they are three times harder. This in turn forces you to take time away from progressing your character to ''farm'', meaning killing hundreds of low level creatures hoping to make enough stacks of semi-useful items to earn some money at the auction house.

That brings us to creatures in general and their lack of variety. Now's a good time to point out that most of these complaints are nothing new to MMORPG players, but that doesn't mean that it's ok because it's ''the norm'' or that it doesn't need to be fixed. Not only do the level 1 and level 30 worms look, act, and drop in exactly the same manner, they are also probably the best things to fight if you can find some in your level range. Naturally parties tend to fight the things that are abundant and easiest for the xp. Since monster types keep reappearing throughout the levels, you end up camping the same things over and over (crabs, worms, mandragora, pugils). There's no reason not to.

Finally, one of the most annoying issues at medium to high level play is unfair placement of difficulty, and I don't mean how hard it is to fight. This rears its head in many different forms. One particular sore spot for me is the acquisition of certain quest items. For instance, Race Specific Equipment (RSE) is available to be worn between the levels 27 and 33. The monsters that drop keys to the chests that contain this armor are impossible to beat alone at those levels, which I can understand for such an exclusive item. But, they would even be almost too difficult for a party of six at that same level. Not only that, but the drops are rare, and if you want one for each of your six party members, that's hours and hours of camping. I believe that if you are forced to party for a rare item drop, that the whole party should benefit from that drop. That's assuming you can even survive the trek to the area with the monsters that drop the keys, and that you could survive the even longer walk through aggressive monsters with your party to find the chests that open with the key. This almost always degenerates into one of two things. Either you wait until you are level 40+ to seek out the RSE, at which point it's no use to wear anyway, or you try to seek out really high level help to essentially do it for you. This problem also occurs with other high profile quests such as the subjob quest, Artifact Armor quests, and level cap quests.

Another noteworthy example is the inability to complete certain advanced job quests, which are all offered at level 30, but some are impossible to complete at that level (see Dragoon, Samurai, Ninja). Even if you attain the job of Summoner, you're basically worthless until you obtain the use of other summons besides Carbuncle, which is done by defeating them in a fight. The problem for these summoners is that you'd need level 65+ help to even consider defeating creatures such as Ifrit and Titan.

We've all gone into MMORPGs knowing that they're 80% timesink and 20% enjoyment (of course not everyone will agree with those numbers). What I don't understand is why we all keep accepting it and not pushing harder for a change from the developers. I know from their standpoint, they want to keep you paying the monthly fee for as long as possible, but this can be accomplished in many other ways than the formula that's out there now. For goodness sake, let me get through a whole character's life cycle (level cap) in a reasonable amount of time and I'd more than willingly pick up another class to try it all over again. I feel like I'm only getting to see a fraction of the game over months of time. When really I'd like to see everything Dark Knight has to offer then run back and do it with Ranger and Black Mage. I'll never even come close to seeing what a Black Mage can do in my hands because I'll be sick of sinking time into my other class. I don't know why everyone thinks that hitting a level cap with one character or class has to be the end of the game. Despite the offenses I've gone over here, I still very much enjoy my time in FFXI, and I still think it is an excellent game. It's the first to actually get me hooked on an MMORPG, so much so that I've played in the Lineage II beta test and should be in with World of Warcraft soon. If you are just starting the PS2, are within the first 100 hours of the game, or can eagerly accept the deficiencies common to today's MMOs, I'd steer you more towards the ''A'' score. If you are tired of the grind involved with current MMOs or are particularly bothered by some of the negative points I've brought out here, then you'll tend to agree more with the new score given in this review.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 04/15/04

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