Final Fantasy online sounds like a great idea on paper, one with limitless opportunities and a torrent of novelties. It is unfortunate then that Final Fantasy XI offers nothing new or innovative in the way of Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG). With that said however the game is still worth the effort and obviously cannot be missed if you love your Final Fantasy.
MMORPG's are new to me, for the longest time I had been put off by the idea of paying for a game and then having pay to play that game you just bought. It all makes sense of course, the game costs the same as any other game on the shelf and the monthly fee of approximately $20 New Zealand dollars pays for the expensive servers to function and host the thousands of individual user-made characters and intricate game details. The idea was always intriguing, forging a fantastical character to interact with others in a gargantuan online environment. Sometimes going on quests and solving puzzles together and sometimes battling it out with torrents of spells and medieval weapons. Having this sort of experience set in the Final Fantasy universe was something even I, someone quite unenthusiastic about MMO's could not pass up.
As far as I could see anyone who bought an officially released copy of the game here in New Zealand could not connect to North American and Japanese servers. Instead we connect to more local servers here in Australasia. At first this sounded a little disheartening since to a certain degree it takes away the sense of scale MMO's usually have but in effect it is a godsend. Final Fantasy XI has been out for quite some time outside of the Australasian/European market, because of this North American and Japanese players are now maxing their character levels and have solved nearly every mission and found every item there was in the game. Starting afresh with new players in our own Final Fantasy world is actually an excellent idea and it even affords the opportunity to find Australians much more easily and show them why New Zealanders are the greatest gamers in the world.
There is a fantastic amount of content in this game and there are always more additions being made. Many quests you'll come across will be reasonably simple where you'll be asked to find and retrieve certain items. But not all quests are this simple, some you will still have to find items but you'll have to do so in interesting locations and in one particular case go to a place with different weather conditions. There are eight separate elements in the world on Vana'Diel which can be a weather effect in a play area. Certain weather effects are restricted to happening in specials zones so by exploring you will be able to uncover where exactly they occur. The exploration thus becomes the greatest reward for finding items as the items themselves usually aren't anything to show off about. Unique weapons look a little fancier than your average weapon but do not possess any special effects like igniting in flames or being charged by lightning. This would have been a nice addition and would too make the quest a little more rewarding. But as it stands the exploration is still a hefty amount of fun.
Missions are what make the game what it is. They are tied directly to the rich storyline which you can personally take part in for your kingdom. Each kingdom has their own storyline and on some occasions the three kingdoms will unite for the greater good. Your character has their own personal storyline too which you can fulfill at whichever pace you choose. The only flaw with this is that to complete the first few missions you're going to have to band together with others unless by some form of a miracle you're able to survive alone.
The lower levels of the game can prove to be a chore but as with any MMO this is to be expected. As you reach level 15 things begin to brighten up, you'll be given the opportunity to complete a quest which will allow you to take on a second job which is called a sub-job. This allows you to use the skills you gain from the two jobs at the same time. If at any point you decide to give up on a job and take on another you do not forfeit your stats, should you decide to reclaim your previous job all your stats will have remained intact. Your stats and levels never change when you change your jobs.
The only real way to lose levels is for your character to die. Upon death you will lose a certain percentage of your overall experience which will either mean you will have to work harder to get to the next level or your experience will be deducted enough to take you down a level. Obviously this can be very frustrating as five hours worth of leveling up can be lost in five minutes. If you die more than once in a single night, I strongly recommend giving the game a break as a dying streak will do your character no good, nor will it benefit your personal sanity.
Camera issues seem to plague almost any third person game and unfortunately FFXI falls to this trap... sometimes. For the first week of play every time I'd move my character off into a new direction the camera would have a slight delay re-positioning itself behind the character. This did become unnecessarily time-consuming and very irritating. However after the initial week of play the camera seemed to have sorted itself out on most occasions, whether this was due to a patch I am not sure but the decrease in instances of the delay occurring became quite acceptable by third person camera standards.
One thing we've come to expect from all Final Fantasy games of late is superb graphics, Final Fantasy XI does not disappoint. The first time you load up the game it will default to a low resolution and make the game look absolutely horrid, a few tweaks later and you'll be basking in the Final Fantasy visual bliss. With huge draw-distances and highly detailed models and environments, Final Fantasy is at home on the PC.
Music during the game becomes somewhat repetitive. There aren't nearly enough different tunes and barely any dynamic music effects. Coming face to face with a boss will make the music pick up pace but when engaged in battles with random enemies the background music will continue to play as normal and can prove to be quite amusing when you have peaceful music playing to an intense battle of sword and magic. Sound effects on the other hand are handled quite well but are nothing out of the ordinary and have no special Final Fantasy quality to them.
There is just one last thing that I feel needs mentioning and that is the patching of the game. Unlike North American gamers patching seems to occur when the servers are at their least busy which makes for a much smoother experience. As more content and glitches are continually being fixed it's nice to know that the next time you play things will have improved. We can expect to see a lot of improvements within the next few months such as extending the cap on the maximum level one can attain and the addition of a huge array of quests, all of which will be seamlessly implemented through the patching system.