It is hard to believe that Final Fantasy XI has been around as long as it has. Originally released on the PS2 in 2002 and eventually migrating to the PC and Xbox, this groundbreaking multiplatform MMO has seen its share of highs and lows. Its lasting fan base has lead it through an incredible 4 expansion packs of new material that have added a multitude of areas. Following in the footsteps of last years’ Vana’diel Collection 2007, the 2008 edition includes all four expansions to date, in one inexpensive package.
In the world of Vana’diel, five races of beings spread across two continents and four major cities work together to fight the forces of the Shadow Lord. Whether you fight the Zilart Princes, Bahamut, the evils of the Empress Court, or travel back in time before the Crystal Wars to fight the injustices of the era, you must band together with your fellow travelers to overcome great odds and save the future of Vana’diel.
You begin your adventure by choosing a race to play as, each with their own defining characteristics and then choose a Job to focus on. There a total of 20 Jobs that you could peruse, only a subset of which are available at the beginning. Once you reach level 30 and are able to complete some questing prerequisites the entire spectrum is open to you. One of the best features of the game is how it implements the Job system. Similar to Final Fantasy III, you can train in one Job and then change Jobs mid-way through to completely change your playing style. In addition to this, at level 18 you can complete a quest to learn a Support-Job which can help supplement your main Job with a different one that will always be half the skill level you currently are. For example, my Thief had level 20 thief skills and level 10 White Mage skills so that I had a better survivability within the world. And since you pay by the player, having characters who could re-train in a different Job helped lighten the feeling you were stuck with what you initially rolled.
This is essentially the only thing the game has going for it though. Details other than the Job System make the game fall apart, especially considering how much fine tuning MMORPGs have experienced in the same amount of time this game has existed. First off, the game is not very friendly to the new user. The interface is clunky and inaccurate, with the Final Fantasy menu options being the main way you interact and fight through the world. The system was designed for fighting, turn-based fighting, and while it mostly succeeds in getting the job done it doesn’t flow as well for real-time combat, causing me more deaths than I cared for because I couldn’t navigate the windows to my healing spells fast enough. In town the menus only amplify my frustration as seemingly menial tasks such as buying and selling loot were more complicated than they needed to be.
Gameplay is similarly hindered with a bad system. Quests are very scarce, and grinding seems the best way of leveling for the solo player such as myself. Group players should rejoice though as the most effective way to progress through the world is with a party. Players are nice enough and mostly available, but I still had a hard time justifying grouping with others just to progress myself at an even pace. And forget about leveling solo if you are a white mage; certain Jobs are just more uneven than others, showing a blatant disregard for Job balancing.
Graphically the game is okay, but it is showing some serious age. This may have been ahead of its time back in 2002, but now the designs are blocky, bland and generally unappealing. This may have been a product of going more for realism in the graphics than a cartoony feel that some other MMOs maintain, causing that realism to fade fast. An update needs to be made here, one that needs to ignore the system requirements up to this point and start afresh for the next generation of gamers.
This is a game with a lot of potential that has just lived past its shelf-life. A plethora of content and a fascinating Job System just don’t make up for the numerous short-falls this game presents. What is desperately needed is a reboot of the series; maybe the next Final Fantasy online can strike a better balance between casual and hardcore online, building a better house on an already solid foundation. Just, please, please don’t release another expansion.
ESRB: T for Teen, with online interactions varying
Plays Like: Watered down MMORPG
PROS: Expansive world, hours of entertainment
CONS: Clunky interface, outdated, needs to be retired