Final Fantasy XI (PC) - Staff Review  

A New Kind of Fantasy
by Derek 'Roku' Cavin



Rating definitions 

   With ten ordinary RPG predecessors, fans received quite a shock when they discovered that Final Fantasy XI was going to be a MMORPG. Of course, the largest question is how well the world would carry over to a massively multiple setting. The answer was quite interesting: aside from a few things like Chocobos and Moogles, very little would actually carry over at all. In fact, virtually everything has been reworked from the battle system up.

   Battles generally involve running up to an enemy and attacking it, casting spells from far away, or having the enemy initiate combat instead. Once in battle, other enemies can freely join in if it is in their nature to do so. Players can also call for help to allow aid from other humans that aren't in their party should they feel the need to. Once in battle, actions are selected from either a menu or a series of hotkeys that are set by the user. The ATB gauge has been replaced by a delay value in weapons and actions. There are items and foods to boost statistics and/or heal too, but most either don't have a major effect on most battles or are too expensive to use most of the time. Potions and whatnot cost a hefty sum of money and few can be carried at once.

   Like most MMORPGs, battle strategy mostly relies on the user's class and on other party members. Unfortunately, the fun of battles also heavily depends on the player's class and party. Some classes are simply more fun than others. White Mages, for example, will often complain that they are merely watching the other members of their party play the game. While it has races, secondary classes, and plenty of equipment slots to add a bit to character customization, there just isn't much else to set it above the battle systems in other MMORPGs.

   Another major difference from other Final Fantasy games is the difficulty. While it's possible to be very cautious and fight only weak monsters, there's always a very good chance that something stronger and more aggressive will appear out of nowhere and attack. For example, enemies that can eat newbies for breakfast commonly wander through areas designed for level one characters. While it often isn't too difficult to escape and help can be called for in emergencies, the threat of death is far more present than it was in the other Final Fantasy games. Should a player die, they will lose a very large quantity of experience points and possibly even be demoted an experience level. While this is generally a rare occurrence unless in a very bad party, it is a rather severe punishment that raises the difficulty a bit. If a player is unlucky, they might even play for a full day and end up with less experience than they began with or get trapped in the middle of a dangerous area, unable to wear any of their equipment due to level restrictions.

Quite a bit of time will be spent traveling Quite a bit of time will be spent traveling

   Death, even with the Raise spell cast, generally results in enough lost experience to tack on at least an hour due to the slow rate at which experience is accumulated. Needless to say, the time investment required to play Final Fantasy XI is quite large. The world itself is so massive that it takes hours to get from one side to the other, barring Airship travel and warp spells. Since leveling up is so slow, the punishment for death so high, and getting anywhere without an airship or spell can take so long, some players don't even max out a single class's level until they approach the thousand hour mark.

   The time required to get anything done is so high that it actually gets in the way of other parts of the game. Since it is often several hours or days of solid gameplay between missions, the pacing of the story is horrible. To make matters worse, the story is rather bland to begin with for many of the low level missions. While the story is still better than a few other MMORPGs out there, it is still more or less lost beneath the grind.

   Another part of the game that is a bit neglected is the interface. The game's controls are decent, but the menus are far from user friendly in the heat of combat. Any time wasted results in more chances for the enemy to attack. There are about one hundred hotkeys available to help out, but keeping track of them all in battle can be difficult at times because the user has to scroll through several pages of hotkeys in order to access the set they want. This more or less kind of defeats the purpose of using hotkeys in the first place. This isn't to say that the hotkeys aren't useful though. While the interface has its problems, the localization is quite good. There's even a build-in translator function for dealing with people speaking another language. It's very limited, but it's still useful at times.

Seems a tad excessive Seems a tad excessive

   While it does bring a few elements from the single player games in the Final Fantasy series to the MMORPG world and vice versa, there really isn't much else original in Final Fantasy XI. Pretty much everything else has been done before either in a previous Final Fantasy title or another MMORPG, though a few things such as the mog house have been adapted slightly.

   Surprisingly, yet another area of the game that is a bit below average is the music. While the other games in the series generally have music quality that ranges from good to phenomenal, most of Final Fantasy XI's non-battle music is relatively plain. Many areas don't even have real music aside from wind blowing or something similar. The battle music itself is pretty good, but listening to the same small set of battle tracks gets old before even the hundred hour mark. Luckily, the sound effects are of good quality and help balance out the music's shortcomings to a degree.

   This should come as little surprise, but Final Fantasy XI's visuals are great. While the series is pretty much king of the console market's graphics, they aren't as stunning next to some of the other PC games out there. Nevertheless, they are still very good thanks to plenty of detailed character models, massive enemies, and detailed scenery. They reuse a few too many enemies without bothering to even recolor them, but otherwise the graphics are great.

   Final Fantasy XI's world is enormous, but that is both a blessing and a curse. Those looking for an enormous world need look no further, but almost all of the time spent playing will be spent either leveling up, gathering materials by fighting monsters, or wandering the vast expanses of the virtual world to simply get from point A to point B. While it's a decent enough game with all things considered, and generally pretty fun to play when in a good party, there is simply far too much leveling up and other assorted chores between the game's missions to place it above the average MMORPG. Only those able and willing to devote hundreds or thousands of hours need apply.

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