Review by CAHowell

"....Don't know what to write in the title: So here is the letter t"

FFXI: Final Fantasy game, or cheap MMORPG?
Final Fantasy XI has had a interesting ride. Released near the end of 2002 in Japan with the HDD, it was considered one of the "forbidden fruits" that was only in Japan. Then, in 2003, a few rumors went around that it was delayed in the US, and even a few people claimed it was canceled. Then, after a few setbacks, FFXI was released in the america in the form of the PC version. For some, it was a early taste of the PS2 version, and for others, it was a major pain in the ass to install, wait, and pay 13 US a month for. Finally, after the hype died down, FFXI was released for the PS2, alongside the somewhat useless HDD add-on.

The problem with console (and any) MMORPG's is the fear that it will never catch on. Many games have been in development for quite some time, and have only failed due to wasting time on flashy graphics, and not the content. With FFXI, however, it was a sure thing that it would catch on. Now, there are hundreds upon hundreds of people playing FFXI on a daily basis, and it does offer quite a bit, but not in the way square usually presents it.

Calling FFXI a "true FF game" is somewhat of a overstatement. Many things have been stripped down to ensure XI would be enjoyable to a wide audience of people, but lost some of it's charm. The story is somewhat lackluster, and far below average FF games. There are pretty much no boss battles, or random battles for that matter. However, even despite that, XI does offer a few things.

The worlds feel so real...maybe
With MMORPG's. the graphics are usually toned down so the game doesn't lag. Fortunately, for FFXI, that is semi true. Square, for the most part, did a good job of making the environments similar to real life, and not some random "Fantasy" crap that sometimes plagues online games. The shading, for the most part, is extremely impressive. Shadows, the light in the sky, and distance are all very lifelike, and makes you feel that you are in the action. However, there are still a few problems.

Upon closer inspection, you will find most of the scenery and graphics to be somewhat basic, and blocky. Most trees are either 4 to 6 flat sides with 2D leaves and branches. Textures are dull in the PS2 version, and not very detailed up close. Fortunately, that isn't the same for enemies. Most have the same detail as the character models, some near the limits of the PS2's power.

When it comes down to it, the graphics are mixed bag. Not too flashy, while not too crappy (AKA: PSO reusing Dreamcast technology).

Unfortunately, music is somewhat annoying. Often, it is a single 20 second track looping over and over until you run into a enemy, or new area. Not up to par with other square games, but not too annoying (Although the playonline theme is a pain in the ass). Combat music changes from area to area, as well as if you are in a party or not. There are next to no voices in the game, a few grunts and enemy cries, but thats it. Passable, if at all.

Gameplay...where the hell is my party at?
The core of the game, for the most part, is largely different to anything you have seen in any FF game. Instead of using random battles (Which can be implied, which it unfortunately wasn't), they decided to go the MMORPG way and put countless, re-spawning enemies on the field. Maybe it's the realism of it, I don't know. However, it does make the game seem more like a PC RPG then a classic FF game.

However, this isn't much of a problem. One of the things you need to know is to not expect a FF game just waiting for you. XI is a strictly online only game, and has no single player, meaning that you will be FORCED to join up with other players if you wish to do jack squat. The game has made it so only you and you only can attack a selected enemy, so once you get into battle, don't expect much backup, unless you are in a party.

Now, onto the specifics. At the beginning, you can choose from 5 races, each with there own looks and stats. However, the main combat lies with the job system, which you must choose at the beginning of the game. At first, you can only be one type of class: Warrior (Focuses on the sword and shields), White, Red, and Black Mages (Healing and elemental arts), as well as Thieves and Monks. However, after you reach Lv. 18, you can take a sub-job and have some of the abilities as that class while using another.

Your experience will differ depending on where you choose to start, and who you choose. There are 3 different areas you can start out on, and you can only visit the other ones once you get a world pass. This adds a good point of depth, and allows you to have a different experience each time you create a character.

The...Other things to do
Fortunately, Square had half the mind to add other things to do besides wander around and kill..things. You can take part in side quest where you can earn Gil, Weapons, and other specifics. Activities, such as material gathering and merging adds time, while fishing allows other things to do besides combat. Unlike some online RPG's that only show weapons, your character will also show there top, bottom, boots, and any other accessories you equip them in. This makes identification easier, and allows you to see who is a worthy addition to your party, and who isn't.

Oh yeah, that Tetra Master game is also a freebie that you can play online, but I hated that game in crappy IX, and still hate it, so no, I haven't tried it. Play it when you get bored.

The Problems: Do they outweigh the good?
Unfortunately, there ARE problems with the game, many which could have been fixed with easier set up. Obviously, FFXI is a extremely large game, and that is why they put it on the HDD. However, they didn't do a few things too well. Just trying to register to use it takes a hour or so, then you have the content updates (Which on a good day, can get you playing FFXI within 3 hours...)

Another problem is how hard getting a party together is. If you are at a low level, it is much harder to get started and understand the game (Or even get anyone to join up with you). I found myself playing more alone then with a party, which is somewhat bad. Paying for FFXI is no simple task either. You have $100 for the Disc and HDD alone, $40 if you didn't buy a Online Adapter, $13 US after the first month and each month after that, and a additional $1 for each character you register with your name.

There is also the losing of Experience. When you reach 0 Health, you lose 10% of that current levels requirements to level up. In a nutshell, if you need 500 EXP to level up, have 100 and die, you lose 50 of that EXP. Worse, there is no cap. If you die, and there isn't enough experience to lose, you level down. and lose whatever stats you had during that level (For example. you were at level 7 and die, and go back down to level 6. Your HP at the time was 123, it will be knocked down to it's recent form, which in this case would be 106).

Fortunately, after two false starts (PC version, and a small few days with the PS2 version before it and the HDD was stolen), I found XI to be relaxing. There is at least 200 hours worth of content before you get bored with the online play, and the multiple regions add to that. While FFXI isn't a true FF game, it does offer quite a bit for a casual RPG player to enjoy. One recommendation though: Give it time. The first time I played it on the PS2. I hated it simply because it was too different from a FF game. However, after time, I started to enjoy it, and now play it to relax. Also, you may want to get a keyboard. Since there is no headset option, you will need a keyboard to communicate (And get anywhere, for that matter).

Graphics: 8/10
Music: 6/10
Voice Acting: Not Counted/10
Combat: 8/10
Originality: 7/10
FINAL SCORE: 29/40, Equal to 8/10

+Graphics are realistic
+Combat is enjoyable
+MAJOR amount of content
+Hours of play

-Online only
-Losing penalties
-Major investment
-Hard to set up, and get into

Recommendations: (Similar games)
-The Legend of Zelda Series
-Nearly any other FF game

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 08/12/04

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