Many have criticised Final Fantasy XI for being nothing more than a money grabbing scheme, cooked up by the crooked cash-mongers at Square Enix. Let me be the first to tell you that all these accustions were made under false pretenses. This game is the shining polaris of all MMORPG games, and offers more tasks, more quests, and more side-missions than most regular RPG games. This game is unique, it's immense, it takes place in THE largest online world imagineable, and everything takes place in relative real-time, with a combat system that will have you addicted more than any other FF game ever could have. There is easily thousands upon thousands of hours of gameplay, all of which will offer something new, and there are very few cases where things get repetitive. If anything, this game should be be glorified as it is the most immersive, most elaborate, and best community driven MMORPG to ever grace a console or a PC. This game does require the Ps2's HDD, but at 99/149 bucks USD/CDN respectively, the game is pretty much free with the purchase of the hard drive.
The story is simple, but what MMORPG has a convoluted plot line? Even though the main premise is to stop the shadow lord from taking over Vana'diel, there are several interladden sub-plots that inform the gamer of the back story, what life was like in the previous age of the Shadow Lord, and what must be done to stop him once again. There is easily enough main quests in this game to warrant about 1000 hours of gametime. It doesn't stop there though. In order to obtain some of the quests, you must go on missions for your hometown, either San'Doria, Bastok, or Windhurst; probably to obtain a key or rare item, or simply to increase your rank as a fighter to be able to take on stronger and more powerful enemies. It is incredible, every NPC will have some sort of mission for you to do, whether it be collecting rabbit hide, or collecting coffer keys to obtain some of the most powerful armour sets in the game. These seemingly small tasks, add much more to the overall story, and sense of wonder than one might think. This is truly a work of art, and deserves to be regarded as such.
Best. Graphics. On Ps2. Ever. The character models are incredibly smooth, and the lighting effects like the glimmer of the sun, the shine of your armour, or the changing times of day, all illuminate a plethora of overwhelming fung shuey. The environments are huge, and seem realisticly so, as some structures are literally 20 - 30 times taller than your actual character, which isn't always the case in most games. From open ranges, to dense forests, all the way to bone ridden dingeons and mines, all the way to desolate underground communities, deserts and secret cities, this game has an environment and aura for any person. Happy, sad, desolate, depressing, inqusitive, confusing, and everything else you can think of.
There isn't a single game that outshines this game in terms of graphical appeal. The particle effects of huge spells, the ground shattering visual appeal of pulling off a weapon skill or the joy of seeing the explosions and bursts when a skillchain is successfully executed, ring throughout the entire game. The world of Vana'Diel is literally alive. It is full of motion, even when you are not there. If there were no people on any of the servers, the world would still function. Night and Day would come and go, the NPC's would arrive and depart, and the circus shows would continue to entertain; the world is alive, whether or not it is simple AI controlled NPC's, or the real-life characters interacting and talking to each other. This is a living, breathing world, full of clans, communities and cults. This is Square Enix's first attempt at the console MMORPG, and it works wonderfully, and evokes not only the skeptic, but also the hardcore FF fan, as there is a certain appeal for every gamer alike.
The battle system is flawless. Most attacks are executed easily with macros, the spells require a casting period before the spell is cast, and the pet abilities are automatic for the most part. New abilities are learned as your class gains levels, or you learn abilities as your skill with a certain type of weapon increases. The character growth element of FFXI is probably it's higest point. You will find characters that find the most joy in only leveling up, and becoming the uber strong character on the server. Level caps are in place so that people don't level up too high before the Ps2 gamers get a shot at getting accustomed to this new and intimidating world.
Each character can chose between 6 initial classes for his or her character, and chose between 5 different races. The 5 races are Hume, Taru, Mithra, Galka and Elvaan. The six initial starting classes are Red Mage, Black Mage, White Mage, Warrior, Monk, and Theif. After you reach level 30 with your current character, you can begin to obtain advanced jobs, which offer a myriad of extra abilities, and have even better looking, and even more interesting special attacks and armour. Some examples of advanced jobs are Dragoon, Bard, Samurai, Ninja, Summoner, Beastmaster and Paladin. After you chose your race, hair colour, hair style, gender and class, you are then dropped right into the fray, and are off on your long journey.
Though leveling up and finding different classes are not your only source of entertainment. There is a lot of fun to be had in learning how to craft and synthesize items to be sold in your own bazaar or at the auction house, where you will no doubt find people who are looking for a party. With an emphasis on solo adventures in the early chapters of the game, you'll soon find that all missions and quests become impossible without a party or alliance of some kind. Six people can join up into a party, and 3 parties of 6, can ally with each other, making a team of 18 people. There are some quests that will require an alliance of 18 people, just because the enemies are so incredibly tough. Though there is some strategy in forming parties. Everyone has their own role. White mages heal, Warriors attack, Paladins will provoke enemies to take damage, and fast attackers like Dragoons and Ninja's will deal heavy damage to the enemy. There is a trick to getting more people in your alliance than 18 though. Classes like Summoner, Beastmaster and Dragoon have the ability to summon and control pet creatures, which are just as strong as normal characters. An ideal alliance would have 6 Dragoons, 6 Summoners and 6 Beastmasters, so the total number of active members would be 36. These types of tactics are crucial when trying to stack the odds in your favour, though it never hurts to throw a few red, black and white mages into the mix.
The point is, there is just so much to do, that you begin to wonder when you will run out of new and compelling tasks to accomplish. The fact is, there is no end to it. This is an on-going world of business, commerce, war and community. Even if you find some way to accomplish everything possible in this game, Square Enix is constantly adding new content with monthly patches and the occasional expansion pack, that will integrate more areas to explore, new armour to obtain and new classes to master.
There only two small problems with the gameplay though. You will find that early on in the game, the battles are repetitive, as you'll be fighting killer bunnies, bees, worms and bats over and over, just to level up enough to get started in the real adventures of Vana'Diel. The other is that this game is heavily menu driven. Though some prefer a lot of menus, some do not, and admittedly, navigating through menu after menu just to buy a certain item, or execute a certain attack can get tedious and annoying, though it never takes away from how fun the combat actually is.
The game controls just fine. The Ps2 controller combined with the keyboard is almost perfect, though it would be nice if there were a few more keyboards that aren't cumbersome, or as expensive. The only problem with the controls really, is the fact that it's a lot of hardware just to control a character in a world like a normal FF. The only real need for the keyboard is to communicate with others, and I have to admit, I wish there were a few more macros for key phrases to make communication a little easier; but in the end, this game controls with a certain fluidity, that even makes navigating all the menus easier than it sounds.
The music is done by the infamous Nobuo Uematsu, a genius when it comes to music. Each town has it's own infividual theme, and the battle music is quite catchy. Where the score shines though is in the opening theme. I haven't experienced such a lively and polyphonic piece since One Winged Angel in Final Fantasy VII. A score to gawk at, and wide array of audio effects, this game would make the G.A.N.G. proud to be working for better performance in gaming audio.
It's an ongoing world of life. The game never stops, so you will always be playing, at least until you can't keep paying the monthly payments. If there is no end to the game, the replay value is as much as you make it. There is an infinite amount of time be spent in this deep and immersive world, so have at it, and let the good times roll.
Incorporating new hardware, creating new communities and online friendships, this game will be the centre of every FF gamers life, for the next 20 years. There is no reason to NOT pick this game up, if you have an internet connection and a Network adaptor, and can afford the monthly fee. Some would argue that the monthly fee is useless and is only a money grab by SE, but once you see what this game is actually like, and how alive it is, and how full and vibrant the people and cities really are, you don't know what you're missing, and this game is worth every penny. As mentioned before, it would be nice if there wasn't such a heavy emphasis on menu driven gameplay, though it never gets in the way of having the best damn time of your life.
Final Fantasy XIESRB:
Platform: PlayStation 2