As the owner of a Final Fantasy website and an Xbox 360 owner, I jumped at the chance to write this review. I love the series, and despite having my favorites and my least favorite games, I’ve played and completed every title, except for FFIII, which has never seen an English language release. I’d say it’s fair for me to dub myself a Final Fantasy veteran.
Final Fantasy XI is of course different to every other Final Fantasy title previously released – it is a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game - which, incidentally, is quite possibly the longest genre name ever. Coupled with decisions to eradicate the classic style of turn-based battles for a more active and involving style, it was a decision on the part of Square that caused much fan backlash to the game at first – something the game is still reeling from, selling only a small percentage on three consoles what FFX sold on one.
But years have passed, and FFXI and it’s format are in no way new to me; with it’s previous releases on the PS2 and PC, and with my work for my website, it’s no surprise I’ve come into contact with it several times before; so how does the 360 reiteration match up?
The game, like both the other versions available, requires the HDD to be played, taking up several precious gigabytes on that 360 HDD. I have to admit I installed the game somewhat begrudgingly, knowing it was taking up quite a considerable amount of space. This feeling wasn’t helped by the fact the install literally took several hours. For the purpose of the review, I should probably uninstall and reinstall the game just to check how long it takes, but I can’t bring myself to go through that ordeal a second time. It was a long bloody time. If you’re like me, and you like to jump straight into the game the second you get home, be aware you’re not going to do it with FFXI.
After the long install time, and an equally long automatic update, you’re finally able to boot the PlayOnline viewer. That’s right – those of you who’ve played the game before, they’ve kept the viewer. This thing was the bane of my life. It’s clunky, it’s pointless, and I actually think it’s quite ugly. I will never understand how my computer (as it was when I first owned FFXI) could run Half Life 2 at full settings, but slow to a crawl with PlayOnline open. The answer is simple; it sucks.
On the PS2, it was almost necessary, but on Xbox 360 the viewer only feels more cumbersome due to the fact there’s a wonderful interface built right into the console that Square-Enix could’ve used with a little bit of extra effort. Instead, you’re forced to use PlayOnline over the top of the 360 interface, which I think was a major oversight – or just a case of pure laziness – on the part of the developers. Running its own individual friends list and messaging, it totally undermines the 360’s interface. On the bright side, PlayOnline offers the Tetra Master Card game from FFIX – a superb game – despite cancelling my FFXI subscription, I still have a Tetra Master subscription on PC.
Through the viewer, and into the game! In many ways, especially after being sucked into the engrossing world of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, FFXI is somewhat underwhelming. It really is just the PS2 and PC game (with the expansion packs) put into the High-Definition format and re-released. You’ll find quicker loading times and a better draw distance, and in places better textures, but that’s about it. In short, if you’re looking for a graphically impressive Final Fantasy game, this isn’t it.
Music is a pretty regular Final Fantasy affair. Being a big fan of the music, I was disappointed to find Uematsu didn’t write it; but it’s still very good stuff. But you always have custom soundtracks – a major advantage over PC and PS2.
The controls feel unnatural, and while I got used to them I still struggled. This was also an issue with the PS2 version – no surprise, considering the game is designed to be played with a keyboard and mouse. The game is totally Keyboard and Mouse compatible if you plug them into your 360, which helps to make up for the poor controls on the actual joypad.
One aspect of FFXI that has always disappointed me is lack of character customization. A small amount of haircuts, skin tones and combinations awaits you, meaning a lot of people look alike in the world of Vana'diel. I always thought the point of an online avatar was to create something original and recognizable, but Square do not apparently agree.
This review’s been pretty negative so far, especially from a fan of the Final Fantasy series. However, this is where it gets positive – gameplay. If you like MMORPGs, you’ll love FFXI – it’s that simple. Everything is there that you’ve come to expect from Final Fantasy – Knights, Mages, Thieves and Summoners amongst the class selection, Chocobos instead of horses for travel, and they’re all executed brilliantly in a way that is refreshingly different from the rest of the series, thanks to the differences in the battle engine.
While FFXI isn’t the best MMORPG going, I certainly think it is one of the best. Once you look past the similar looking characters and the struggle to find things to kill to level early on, there’s an extremely deep game that spans across well over 100 different areas with a good balance between the classes – something which is always important. I must say, I’m not an MMO person. They take too long, and they often bore me with their fetch and carry style quests, however, even I enjoyed FFXI, even if aspects appeared boring. I think this is somewhat of a testimony to the game, though I can’t say what core MMO players think of the game.
To progress in the game, you’re going to need to form a classic Final Fantasy party with other players – going it alone just won’t cut it. One of the best aspects of FFXI on PC was the people I met – despite knowing many who own the game, I chose to meet people in the cities of the game, and began travelling with them. For me, experiences like that are what make MMORPGs worthwhile. What’s the point in playing an online game if you don’t interact with new people?
The good news for all you wanting to play with people you already know - FFXI 360 plays on the same servers as the other versions, meaning your party could consist of PC, PS2 and 360 users. This also helps to ensure the servers aren’t deserted, which is a very good factor if you’re trying to find a party to play with.
This is a very faithful port – something that is both a blessing and a curse. It’s allowed three platforms to play together with no issues, but ensured that the graphics and interface are horribly dated, especially when lined up next to the likes of Kameo and Oblivion. Despite this, the gameplay of FFXI is still fun and refreshing compared to the rest of the series; despite what many hardcore FF fans may tell you. If you’re an MMO fan, take the plunge – otherwise, give it a try! It’s not that bad!