Final Fantasy XI departs from the series formula by taking the gameplay online. Whilst still retaining the feel of the series this is a massive departure from what we've all learned to love from Square. The question is can this game compete in already packed market?
I've been a fan of role-playing games for a very long time. So was very excited when I was given this game to review. The first thing I noticed about the game was the time it took to install. It took several hours to complete, including all of the required updates and scans required. Once installed, I created my character. Character generation is quite simple you choose a race and character class and also how your character looks. The creation stage doesn't allow for much fine tuning, and this was a bit disappointing at the time. I later learned that the way you play the game and the items you buy will more than make up for this.
The races that you choose from are your typical bunch. There are five to choose from:
Humes; From their names it is obvious that they are the human class in the game. Their home nation is Bastock and they are the most common of all races. They are a good choice for those who are new to RPG's or those who are not sure which path they will follow through the game. They are balanced characters who do not excel in any attribute, but they do not have any low stats either. This versatility allows them to do well in any class they choose, which is good if decide to change class.
Elvaan; The Elvaan are a tall slender race who excel in swordmanship. Their nation is San d'Oria. Obviously their name suggests that they are the elves of the game, though this is not the case. Going against tradition (and of course cliché) this race isn't your fantastic archer, or your delicate magic user, but instead a refined warrior. Elvaans make fantastic Monks and very good warriors. Though they still retain they're elegance rather than being thuggish brutes.
Tarutaru; The Tarutaru look like fury children. If you took an elf, a chipmunk and a five year old and mixed them together, you would find you had created a Tarutaru. This race excels in the use of magic and their home nation is the land of Windhurst. Even though the race resembles children their age may vary. I will say that you should never understimate a Tarutaru, many times i have witnessed their people destroying the fiercest of foes.
The Mithra are an elvish race that inhabit a small corner of the Federation of Windurst. This race relies on magic much more than technology. They are more of a nature oriented race and strongly resemble humanoid cats. Due to their social structure only the females venture out in to the world and therefore if you choose to play as a Mithra you may only select the female sex. This race make good thieves and ok mages.
The Galka are huge bear like creatures. They're main use within the Republic is within industrial life. This race make excellent warriors due to their size, strength and durability.
There are a number of character classes within the game. For those of you that are unfamiliar with Role Playing games, a class summarises your type of character. For example there are warriors and black mages. A Warrior will be good at dealing and coping with damage whereas a mage will be weak but will be able to deal damage through dark magic. The class you play will drastically affect how the game plays out for you. For example characters with healing magic may be more easily welcomed into groups as will well armoured warriors who can soak up damage (often referred to as Tanks), whereas some character types may suit solo play a little better. Though no matter what your choice you will always be able to find a group to join or have the option of going solo. The good news is that a little later in the game you can choose to take up a second class. What this allows you to do is have the abilities from both classes. For example you could have a Black Mage/White mage, so you will be able to use both damaging and healing magic. When you have two classes advancement is slower. This allows for a massive amount of customization. Further to this at level 30 you can pick up an advanced class such as a ranger or bard. These classes are gained by completing a quest.
Having created a character you get to choose your starting town. This will drastically effect your initial experiences. Each nation offers different starting bonuses and will have a different demographic. For example Windhurst is geared towards magic users. Though you can choose any City and you won't be at a massive disadvantage.
The games combat system is quite basic. Basically you choose an enemy by clicking on them and then you select to attack.. You can cast spells in the same way. Basic spells will do small amounts of damage or blind your opponent thus reducing their chance to hit you. More advanced spells will paralyze enemies do massive damage or hit multiple targets. Every blow that you land will increase your TP bar (Tactical Point) Once past a certain point on the bar you can execute a weapon skill. The higher up the bar the powerful the weapon skill. Also if a party a member uses a skill within three seconds you can get a skill chain going, where your attacks will combine to do vastly improved damage. The more advanced summoners can summon in the various Final Fantasy Gods for support.
Healing outside of combat is a simple affair, you just have to kneel down. After a few seconds of kneeling your health and magic will regenerate. The longer you spend kneeling the greater the effect of the healing process.
As we've discussed you have a choice of having two classes but on top of that you can also get involved with crafting. Crafting isn't vital to the game, but it is something that you can spend a lot of time doing and can really help you along with your finances. There are several different ways to make cash, Alchemy, Woodworking and Smithing to name a few. Also there are resource gathering skills such as fishing or mining. Resource gathering can take up a lot of time, but the money you can make and the items you can gain make it more than worth the effort.
It's a big world out there
Once into the game itself, the initial experiences are very, very daunting and there are many things to learn. At the beginning of the game you will be at level one with very little money and no friends. There are people everywhere, offering and requesting items or services, you will see people fishing in the canals or off piers, others will be creating items, some will be running around as parties. There is a lot going on at one time, and your involved in none of it. At first I was very concerned about speaking to other players because it would be obvious that I was a newbie. When I eventually plucked up the courage to engage other gamers in conversation I quickly realised that the people playing the game are pretty decent. This most probably comes down to the cost of playing the game (Discussed later). When I went out in to the wild to gain experience I found that players would be willing to heal me and cast protective spells on me to help me along. I also had high level characters giving me some items for free. This can help massively, especially as money is so scarce at the beginning of the game. There is definitely a community feel to the game and there are always people out there willing to help.
Life as an Adventurer
So you're out there in the world with your character and a few items to start you off. What next? This is the beauty of the game, you are free to do pretty much whatever you like. The main aspects of game play, are missions/quests, adventuring, resource gathering, creating items and trading. The game isn't focused on Player versus Player like some games are, this will be good news to some and bad to others. It really depends what you are in to. The game tries to hold on to some of the friendliness found on consoles. Instead your country will have influence in different regions. To gain this influence you must have a certain spell cast on you (this can be done quite easily at your home city). Then every kill you make in a region will add to your countries influence as well as giving you conquest points. The conquest points can then be traded in for special items. Another bonus is that when you have the signet spell cast on you is that when you kill an enemy they may drop a crystal. Crystals are at the heart of much of the item creation process. The missions/quests are extremely varied and are a good way to gain experience and make some cash. The types of missions that you do includes killing certain enemies, delivering messages, rescuing people, item gathering to name a few. Wandering around on the map can be quite good fun and also partying up with someone who already has an objective is a good way to spend your time. As the game is a MMORPG it does not force you down any one path, you get to choose exactly how you spend your time. This is excellent because you can really play the game how it suits you. Your progress is slowed by the types of equipment you can equip. More powerful items require higher levels, this prevents higher level characters 'donating' items to lower level characters to give them an unfair advantage. Despite this there is a good range of weapons for each class and every character will look and feel different after just a few levels.
Money makes the world go round in Vana'diel. You need it a lot, without gil (the games currency) you will get absolutely nowhere. The games economy is mostly player driven. You have the choice of buying from NPC shops, but the range is very limited and you can't really get a bargain. Instead purchasing goods from other players is the best way to get a wide range of goods and the best deals. There are three main ways of purchasing from other players; Auction houses Bazaars and messages. The auction house feature is nothing short of genius. The idea is that you can place your items up for auction and see previous auction details. This gives quite a dynamic economy. For example you might have a massive amount of Earth Crystals which might be selling for a high price, if you flood the market, prices could plummet, if you fancy a quick sale you can sell them for less than other player, but this could lead to a price cut war that could destroy the saleability of the items. From a buying point of view, you don't want to spend a lot on items that you will need to frequently buy, a high bid might be a good way to quickly get an item but could then send prices soaring. Supply and demand does drastically affect the economy, and its possible to take advantage of this. As a newbie I found the auction house a good way to make money. Bazaars are basically player created markets. In your inventory you set which items you are willing to sell and the price you wish to sell them for then you plonk yourself down and wait for people to purchase your wares. This can obviously take a long time and is often better for more obscure items. Messaging players is a good way to buy and sell goods. Just let everyone know what you are buying/selling and for what price. Quite often you'll quickly get a reply. The more advance crafters will often purchase raw materials in vast amounts above auction house prices, so you can squeeze a few extra gil out of your loot this way.
Home sweet home
Every character in the game is given a Mog house. This is your own space where other players may not enter. The Mog House has a number of uses; Your delivery box is their meaning your money from auction house sales will appear there. You can store goods that you don't wish to carry around with you. And you can furnish it. Yeah, you read that right, you can furnish it. Furniture does double as extra storage which can be very useful.
Looks and Sounds
The game looks pretty nice, on my machine it ran without any problems whatsoever (AMD 2.8 Barton, 512 memory, Radeon 9200). Character models are very well designed and have a lot of detail, backgrounds are nicely done also. In all honesty, with a game like this, graphics aren't all that important and so with FFXI the graphics do way more than they need to. The game sounds fantastic; music is very atmospheric and really helps absorb you into the game.
I didn't mention the games cost up front because I didn't want to put you all off before I'd even go started. The game costs about £13 a month to play. Yeas, I know this sounds a lot and I originally thought I would never pay that amount to play one game. I soon found out why the price is a good thing. The people who are playing the game are obviously serious about putting effort into it as they have forked out the cash to do so. I have not yet met a person who has tried to ruin my gaming experience. Also the effort that Square put into their updates is very apparent. The server I was on ran far more smoothly than any other game I've ever played. I have not yet experienced any lag whatsoever. I didn't think I would ever say this but £13 per month is real value for money. You could argue that instead of playing this for three months you could buy a new game. My argument would be that if you have FFXI you don't need other games.
Does it stand out?
You may have noticed that throughout the review I've concentrated on stating features rather than just giving straight opinion. Well here comes the opinion. The game features a lot of the things found in other MMORPGs but also remains true to the Final Fantasy series. It does lack the strong storylines found in the traditional FF games but manages to retain most of the feel of the series. One important point to mention is that it requires a lot of dedication. Gaining levels is remarkably slow, which in ways is a very good thing as you wouldn't want to hit the maximum level early on. This does lead to times when it feels like hard work. It's not unusual to spend a three or four hour session just to gain a level in the hope that you might just be able to survive the next map area. This can be very frustrating, also dying costs you xp, so it's possible to play a mammoth gaming session and be no better off due to a few untimely deaths. With all of this comes a great sense of achievement.
This review may seem a little late, this is because I didn't want to post a review if such a huge, complex game having only played it for a few weeks. Also in the few months since I first played this game I have been lucky enough to play a few other MMORPG's, and so have gained a better perspective of the game.
Even after a few months of playing (and a month or so of playing other games) FFXI keeps its charm and remains as addictive, higher level gaming is extremely satisfying, especially the bonds that you will form with other players who you frequently play with. The biggest thing that put me off was the harsh penalties for dying. In a game where it can be difficult to level there isn't much need for heavy penalties, though there are MMORPG's where the penalties can be worse.
Those of you who Like the FF series and MMORPG's this game is ideal for you, though the difficulty may drive away newcomers to MMORPG's. For those who are used to online roleplaying may already have a favourite game and so be put off (lets face it there are lots on the market to choose from). In my opinion anyone who plays the game shouldn't be disappointed, it's a great experience that could take over your life and be more rewarding than any other title that you have played.