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Review of FFXI

First Impressions of Final Fantasy XI
By smshyu of Final Fantasy XI LQGaming

Let's get one thing straight before I indulge you with my first impressions of Final Fantasy XI. I am not a big RPG fan. I never was and I thought I never would be. The only ounce of interest I had in RPGs was watching my two younger brothers play them over and over again, and that was only when I was bored and had absolutely nothing else to do. I have to admit that my favorite RPG when watching my brother play was Final Fantasy VII, so I did have some understanding of the Final Fantasy world. However, watching a game and playing a game to me are completely different activities when it comes to RPGs. To me, watching a RPG game is like watching a movie being played out, with a great plot and storyline. Playing a RPG game, on the other hand, is like having a crummy job, where it feels I have to do redundant work using the controller but never really have the opportunity to enjoy the game as I could by watching someone else play. This is because my focus would be so engaged in the battle sequences and what to do next rather than to just sit back and enjoy the game itself. Whenever someone started chatting about a RPG with me, I would quickly turn them off and say that I don't play RPGs and that my passion is in sports and action games. Not long after my first experiences with RPG games, I began to totally disregard RPGs as something I would ever consider playing.

Now before you hardcore RPG gamers begin to stone me with feelings of dislike and apathy, there is one thing that you must know: FFXI isn't like the rest of the RPGs you or I have played before and it certainly isn't one that will soon be forgotten.

FFXI is a MMORPG, or Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, and therefore isn't like any other RPG. For those of you who are not familiar with MMORPGs, instead of controlling a party of characters, you control a single character in a huge multiplayer world in which you go into battle, gain experience, buy/trade/sell items, and engage upon various optional quests and missions. Because of this, the gameplay in FFXI is very open and nonlinear, whereas the gameplay in other RPGs were constrained to a more linear fashion that had you do one thing after another or go from one place to another in order for the storyline to move along. While you may think that previous RPGs were still quite open and nonlinear in that you didn't have to immediately do what was next, FFXI completely eradicates that whole idea by allowing you to do whatever you wish in the game. Pretty cool, huh? And that's not even the best part of FFXI. Speaking as a non-RPG player, the fact that FFXI was going to be a MMORPG alone caught my attention and sparked a casual interest. Sure, I have heard of other MMORPGs before, but a Final Fantasy game as one? You can't be serious.

Well, it looks as if the makers at Square Enix were more than a little serious about it. Final Fantasy XI simply took my breath away. Forget what you have seen in your past RPGs in controlling your own party of characters and welcome to the new era of MMORPGs where you can meet and team up with other characters through online play. I loved the idea of playing online because you can rely on others and team up together to defeat enemies instead of having to do everything on your own. Play with friends or play with people half way across the globe, and it doesn't matter because you are sure to have some great fun meeting new people and completing quests and missions together.

Ok, now that you have gotten the general idea of what the game is like, there are plenty of other innovative features in FFXI that will surely add flavor and interest. One of the premier features is the ability to choose a type of job your character will take on once you start playing the game. There are an abundant number of jobs from which to choose from, including black/red/white mages, monks, thieves, warriors, rangers, summoners, samurais, and even ninjas. Each job allows for you to learn different abilities such as spells or special weapon attacks that may be used during combat. I chose to start off as a warrior, which happens to be one of the simpler jobs in terms of not being able to learn spells but whose abilities are still vital when fighting in a group (e.g. the Provoke skill, which changes the enemy mob's focus towards you). One of my favorite things to do was to be able to use my weapon abilities in combat that I had learned, because I didn't have spells that I could cast. Although you are able to change your job at any time, another neat feature in FFXI is that you may also take on a sub job once you reach level 18. The two jobs allow for you to learn special abilities for both the jobs so you aren't confined to only a single job throughout the game.

The reason why this matters is because jobs are essentially your identity in FFXI and not necessarily just based upon the character you choose. People you team up with during battles are more inclined to sort you by your job description in order to better come up with a strategy for the battle (e.g. white mages heal others, black mages cast damaging spells, and warriors fight with melee weapons while being meat tanks).

FFXI enriches the idea of controlling just a single character by allowing for the user to fully customize their characters in any shape, way, or form. You can purchase equipment or spells at local small shops, through auctions, or trade them with other players. Above that, every character automatically starts off with their own moogle (a cute pudgy creature from previous Final Fantasy games) house which includes a safe and a mailbox to store and pick up items as well as many other features. And since it is your house, you have the luxury of designing it yourself by filling it up with furniture which not only makes it look nicer, but also enables you to store more items when you run out of room in your safe. I also enjoyed the freedom I had in customizing my own character with equipment such as armor, weapons, and a really cool pimp hat (I like to think it's cool, anyway). These are the types of features not found in previous RPGs that bring about a fresh sense of depth and responsibility that immerse you into the character you play.

Interaction with the environment is one of the biggest aspects of the game that you will first notice. It's not just the other players you interact with, but entire nations within continents. Yeah, it's really that big! There are three nations in which you are able to choose to start off at: Bastok, Windurst, and San d'Oria. I chose to start off at Windurst, which also happens to be the home of the Taru Taru, cute tiny people with magical abilities. It doesn't really matter where you choose to start off at, but each nation is quite large with many different areas for you to explore. If you plan on taking part in the Nation vs. Nation PvP that Square Enix promises to deliver in the future, be sure to start in the same nation as your friends!

One of the first things that you will begin to notice is where you can engage in battles to gain experience and gradually level up your character. The answer lies outside of the nation in which you start off in and where all the shops, auctions, synthesis shops, chocobo stables, and your moogle house is located. You will meet many small creatures as you start off such as bumblebees, savanna rarabs, river crabs, and tiny mandragoras that can give you easy experience points. However, don't become too confident in your character's fighting abilities, as it does get tougher as you level up and start to take on bigger and tougher creatures. The first time I played; I gained six levels in about four hours, but once I reached level ten, it would take me four hours just to gain one level. Don't worry about the tougher creatures though; they are what make the game start to get really fun. You might think that fighting weaker creatures would be easy and you won't risk losing your life. However, it gets quite boring after a while, and it does get pretty fun when you start to team up with others around level ten to take on bigger and badder enemies such as wild dhalmels. It gets even better when you begin taking on creatures such as dragons and demons during later levels. The difficulty of monsters ranges from those which you can solo to monsters that require three full groups of six people, making eighteen total, to take down.

Speaking of risking your life in battle, one of the downsides in this game is that you do lose experience points whenever you die. You might not lose a lot at first, but it does add up when you start to gain levels and the exp becomes harder to come by. It happened to me several times where I would die in battle and lose the same amount of points as I gained defeating 5 or 6 tough creatures, and sometimes even end up dropping a level. Even though this may seem quite devastating, it pays to have some patience when battling enemies and to use smart strategy when fighting in groups against tough creatures. Another aspect in FFXI that wasn't in previous FFs (Final Fantasies) is the ability to heal your character simply by having them rest when they are hurt. Resting will slowly help your character recover their lost health points without having to use any potions, and it is crucial to be as close to your max health as possible when attempting to take on tough enemies.

Another thing I noticed when traveling through areas in which creatures dwell is that there are players who ride on big yellow birds that travel faster than my character. For those of you unfamiliar with FF games, these birds are called chocobos, and they can be used as an alternate and much more efficient method of traveling than simply running. Chocobos run at much faster speeds than your character can run, and can also be used to avoid any nearby creatures from attacking you. It's not that easy to obtain a chocobo though, because you have to be at least level 20 before you can obtain a chocobo license that allows for you to have a chocobo. Nonetheless, once you reach that level it will pay off hugely to have a chocobo for safe and quick travels.

Crystals are also important in FFXI because they are quite valuable. You can use them for synthesizing into different items, or you can sell them off in auctions for a pretty good price. Different crystals have roughly different costs attached to them depending on how rare they are and how valuable they are to other players. I found out when I first starting playing that wind crystals seemed to be pretty valuable and rare and therefore can be sold for a greater price than other crystals. If you manage to pick up either light or dark crystals, then you have obtained the most rare and valuable crystals in FFXI. You can pick up crystals after having signet cast on you by a guard and then defeating certain creatures that drop them.

Now, you might think that all this stuff is very informative and good to know when starting off, but is that it? Well of course not! One of the best aspects about FFXI is the quests and missions that you can embark on. There are literally hundreds of quests that you can seek to accomplish throughout the game, ranging from mindless tasks to very difficult ones. Most quests require that you talk to a NPC, who will then ask for you to help them out with a task. After accomplishing the task, you will then be rewarded, usually with money (Gil), some item, fame, or a combination of the 3. While quests are more oriented for individuals, missions are oriented for a group of players. Missions are thought of as the one of the most fun and intriguing features of FFXI. Missions are directly linked to the storyline of the game, so completing each mission reveals another part of the story. Your story will vary depending on which nation you start in. Missions are tougher than quests, as the later missions will require group involvement in order to be successfully completed.

There is so much to this game that I have yet to discover or realize. FFXI captivated me with its lush scenery, massive online play, multitude of strategies, and excellent overall gameplay. Square Enix has revolutionized the Online Gaming industry. FFXI is the first game, MMORPG and otherwise, that allows PC gamers to play alongside their Playstation 2 counterparts. If you still aren't convinced that Final Fantasy XI is a game worth your time (and money), don't just take my word for it. Ask the 500,000 other players from around the globe who subscribe to the game.

Here are some Screenshots of the game.

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June 5, 2006