The first question that probably comes to mind is, “why the hell would you review a decade old game? What are you, some kind of nostalgia reviewer?”
The answer to that question takes me back to the year 1823, I was a fighter pilot in Vietnam and the Nazis had managed to finally ward off the Mongolians, but Thomas Jefferson wasn’t about to give up yet…anyway, where was I? This isn’t a nostalgia review, surprisingly Final Fantasy XI is a MMORPG that has managed to survive the last 10 years without going free-to-play, unlike its successor, Final Fantasy XIV, which barely last 10 minutes. As MMO gamers will know, MMOs change with each update. Look at World of Warcraft for instance, it’s very different to what it was like when it was first released. With the new expansion, Seekers of Adoulin on the horizon, it only seems suitable to give this game a review.
Let me start off by saying this game is big. There are many aspects that could be covered in this review and there’s game tactics I can explain, but it would make this very long winded and I know the attention span of most people is – oh my God what’s that thing over there?
In Final Fantasy they’re called ‘jobs’, this is based off of the systems used in Final Fantasy games like I, III, V, Tactics and X-2. This also means one character can have multiple jobs, yep, that’s right, you don’t have to make a new character every time you want to try out something new. Also, not all jobs are readily available, you have to unlock them through questing, except for the first 6. Naturally, each job has to be levelled. The game doesn’t rely on any kind of talent systems and the jobs aren’t dumbed down. But you get the advantage of a sub-job system, which work like a joint university degree, you select a major and a minor, or a job and sub-job. The sub-job will only be up to half of your main job, meaning you get access to extra abilities and you can have fun mixing and mashing jobs. Some combinations work better than others.
Your combination could mean the difference between being a powerful damage dealer and being a great tank. Without a talent system you’re not restricted to think ‘tank spec’ or ‘heal spec’, which comes down more to your gear choices. Even then, if you want you can get away with one set of gear.
Each job, even the hybrids, manage to feel unique to play and in classic RPG style, you’ve got a large range of jobs to choose from, which modern RPGs seem to be lacking these days; it was also nice having to unlock extra classes, which to be fair WoW does for Death Knight, but it’s really only a level requirement. Final Fantasy XI boasts 20 different jobs and are introducing 2 more with the release of Seekers of Adoulin.
The drawback is that Square Enix have moments of favouring different jobs, causing an imbalance. During the Abyssea endgame content certain classes rarely got invites, for example, Scholar, but after the update where Scholar was given a spell called ‘Embrava’ suddenly they became loved. Regardless, if you’ve got a job you’re good at, then people will invite you and if you’re in a good linkshell then you will get to play your favourite jobs and still win (a linkshell is like a guild).
MMO gamers are probably too familiar with ragers, flamers, trolls and other idiots on the internet. Some games seem to attract them, like World of Warcraft, which cannot go without a PvP match without someone crying ‘noob’ to some poor fellow. Regardless of the game you play, you’re going to get them. Final Fantasy XI’s community attracts a number of friendly and sociable people, it’s easy to make friends and given how much the game pushes you to work with other people means it won’t be difficult making friends or getting involved with a linkshell. Sometimes shouts can attract idiots and the forum can be pretty much a flame fest, but when you’re actually playing the game, you tend to steer clear of them.
What’s also great is that people are always looking to help, whilst there aren’t too many new players, there are people levelling new jobs and when it comes to stuff you can’t solo there’s always somebody willing to chip in, even if they’ve done it all before. Unlike some MMOs, Final Fantasy XI is pretty much impossible to level to the highest level cap without help, well first time at least. The best way to level is to group up too. You might solo the first 15 levels, but beyond that, you’re much better off finding a group. Whilst this is great in that you get to meet new people, but the downside is that you have to find people to group up with and sometimes you have to rely on peak times for people to group up.
Unlike some MMO titles, Final Fantasy XI doesn’t separate itself into ‘US’, ‘European’ and ‘Asian’ servers, a server is just a server. It means you’re grouping up with people around the world. “Won’t that create a problem with language barriers?” you might ask. Final Fantasy XI allows you to combine stock phrases together, which translate into people’s native languages. Pretty cool, eh? Well, they can be creepy at times, for example “Are you alone?” Now, who says MMOs aren’t for stalkers?
Trying to keep more in line with Final Fantasy’s turn-based approach fights in the game are based more on tactics than button mashing. This allows for Final Fantasy XI to give you access to a large number of abilities and allows you to get away with a silly number of macros, but it depends on your job really. If you’re a Scholar, you might be swamped in macros, whereas if you’re a Monk, you might get off fairly easily. Some people would prefer to keep it simple, but at least macros are a quicker way to access your skills. Final Fantasy XI does offer the classic Final Fantasy battle menus, so if you prefer them, you can get away with then on some jobs.
Having a larger number of macros can be interesting because it means you’ve got a large choice of things to do in a fight and you don’t have to get stuck with the same old repetitive rotations, you can mix it up a little. You could view Scholar in a negative light because of it’s number of macros, but a Scholar is meant to be a tactician and are meant to be flexible to the situations they’re put into, which can make them fun to play. A Summoner will find themselves in a similar light, they need a set of macros for each creature they summon.
This game is also controller friendly, not many MMOs like controllers mainly because of how their macros work and the fact they rely on button mashing and usually on a strip of 12 macros, which makes it pretty un-ideal for any controller gamer. Final Fantasy XI was originally developed for the Playstation 2 and it remains controller friendly on PC. Get this, Final Fantasy XI STILL supports the Playstation 2 with its updates and expansions, however, it may be taken out of the picture with Seekers of Adoulin, though it’s looking likely it’ll still be supported in Japan.
How well does the game play on controller? Pretty well. You can scroll through commands very quickly. If you need access to more than 2 sets of macros (left buffer and right buffer, or ctrl and alt) then you can macro in page changes. If you’re sensible, you can move very quickly through a large selection of commands, handy for somebody who needs access to a large arsenal of spells.
There are a lot of battle mechanics in this game that vary depending on the game content. Of course people will be familiar with concepts like ‘tank’, ‘healer’ and ‘damage dealer’, but you might get invited because you’re carrying enhancements to boost up players’ spirits, like with a Bard or Corsair, for example in Voidwatch. Or you might be invited to offer powerful enfeebles, like a Red Mage. Or you might need to solo certain mobs, for example, a Dynamis group and you might have an advantage with any pet jobs like Puppetmaster or Summoner. You might end up in a group, for example, in Abyssea where you might have certain spells or skills to stagger an enemy.
The actual fights on the other hand, they are similar to the mechanics of any Final Fantasy game. You can build ‘TP’ for special attacks called ‘weapon skills’, which are like mini limit breaks, where you go berserk. In Final Fantasy XI, there’s an extra bonus called ‘skillchain’ and ‘magic burst’. If you’ve played Final Fantasy XII, think quickenings. Players in a group can chain off weapon skills back-to-back to create extra bursts of damage called skillchains and if a mage matches the element of the skillchain with a spell then that spell is a lot more effective through a magic burst. It can be fun timing these, but the sad thing is: skillchains are less popular these days. After the release of Abyssea people relied less on skillchains to deal damage and there’s fewer zerg tactics because of the ‘proccing’ systems SE introduced. Like Marmite, you either love it or hate it or smear it all over your body and have the ladies…well…maybe not. Proccing is about staggering the enemy with a certain skill they’re weak to. There’s different types of staggers too and depending on how you stagger them you increase your chances of getting certain loot. So the emphasis in battle is to keep yourself alive, keep the enemy alive before scoring the right triggers and bringing the enemy down. For some fights, you might still like to go down the route of zerging the enemy.
Final Fantasy XI once was notorious for having highly difficult fights with powerful enemies, for example, Pandemonium Warden, which was so difficult that when a group finally managed to defeat it, it was newsworthy.
Of course, Pandemonium Warden was one of their extremes, but since the release of Abyssea Final Fantasy XI has become more accessible and fights are perhaps easier too. Still, Final Fantasy XI caters to hard-core MMO gamers who like spending hours fighting monsters and collecting and upgrading gear.
One of the main selling points of any Final Fantasy title, the game needs an interesting and epic plot with memorable characters and villains. This game will not disappoint, you’ve got plenty of quests and main missions to complete following intriguing plotlines and cut-scenes to boot. From defeating the awfully clichéd Shadow Lord of the original game to unravelling other doomsday plots to fighting in a war set in the past and encountering the mysterious Cait Sith. Each job has their own storyline too, you’ve got the Voldemort-inspired plot of a Scholar gone mad and protecting your pirate captain from the Empire as a Corsair and the Rohypnol induced adventures as a Blue Mage…well, there’s something suspicious about being drugged and waking up in a darkened room surrounded by masked men…and hey, if Cloud Strife can have a homosexual experience, why can’t you? Assuming you pick a male character that is…in my case, it was.
There are of course new plots with each expansion pack, including the add-on scenarios and battle content. The plots are pretty much classic Final Fantasy before Square Enix ruined them, even with the latest Abyssea content. The plot is not worked as something on the side as you’ll experience with some MMO titles, it becomes important to gameplay, particularly as you’ll need to complete a certain amount of story content to access areas. You’ve got tales of demons, dragons, gods and goddesses, of warring nations and hordes of beast-men armies laying siege. Enough to please any fantasy geek, even if clichéd.
Let’s face it, you’re not going to play this game for modern graphics, if you are, Final Fantasy XIV is there for you or Guild Wars 2 or SW:TOR, whatever tickles your fancy. This game looks like it was meant to be played on a PS2…because it was, even the PC and 360 versions, Square Enix has made no real attempt to up the graphics on this game. Blizzard made some effort with World of Warcraft, but Square Enix has decided against it with the excuse ‘PS2 limitations’. However, at least on the PC you can up the resolution pretty high and the game will look good.
In terms of the actual assets Square Enix have done a good job, you are essentially looking 10 years in the past and as always Square have managed to do well with their resources. The character models still look good and some of the gear you can get for your characters look great, as can be expected from Square’s character designers.
However, some low level gear can look uninteresting and you’re usually looking to upgrade quickly when your gear is butt ugly, but when you start getting class specific sets they become really recognisable. Oh and, it’s always nice to stroll around in a subligar when you’re in the low levels, which is your underwear, it really shows the definition on your cheeks, well I guess if you’re going to slay monsters you might as well impress the ladies or the guys…speaking of which, did you know gay marriage isn’t legal in Vana’Diel?
The downside is the game is really poorly optimised. On most modern PC’s you might not notice it. On the Xbox 360, it’s much more noticeable, there’s definite slowdowns when it’s crowded and if you’re not careful you might encounter one of few bugs. For example, if you’re doing a Bastion event, you might find your 360 crashing on you. The same can even happen on Voidwatch content.
The areas in the game are actually pretty beautiful for their age. I know, longs walks on the beach, riding your chocobo out into the sunset and all that chick flick crap. But playing the game you will find yourself having your favourite places to chill out. The game is very good with atmosphere, not only with the environments but great work from Nobuo Uematsu on his music too. You get empty voids like Promyvion and then great landscapes like the Misareaux Coast and the deep thickets of Aht Urghan to the underwater ruins of Nyzul or the harsh cold winter landscape of Xarcabard. There’s plenty to explore and you may even end up exploring for the sake of exploring.
What have the game’s updates been like? They’ve been a hit and miss. Square Enix on one hand seems to want to make the game more accessible and appeal to hard-core MMO gamers on the other, which has always been met with mixed views. Updates can sometimes make a job too powerful or nerf them a little too much. Sometimes they get it right. They don’t always seem to know what direction they want to go in with certain jobs; there have been some sacrifices that may please some but disappoint others. The old content used to have fights where your level would be capped, meaning you could be a level 90, but would be level 25 when you enter, meaning old content was still challenging, even for those who grind first, play later. A few updates gradually removed those level caps making previously difficult content easy.
Then another update, which at first seemed like a good idea where players could build up large amounts of exp from enemies regardless of difficulty, which then killed the levelling system. Previously you would get into a group of 6 people, pick a few camps and kill tough monsters and bring in the exp, it meant learning how to work as a team, it meant learning how to play your job and it gave room for experimentation. But in all fairness, it could be a bit boring after a while, particularly if you pick the same spot and use the ‘level sync’ system (where you can match your level to that of somebody lower in your party and get the same exp). The new system gives exp a lot faster, but requires no player skill and is pretty boring from the word ‘go’. At least you don’t have to suffer it for long because you will put on those levels like Honey Boo Boo puts on the pounds.
In updates Square Enix is nice enough to add new content, ones more recently include Voidwatch, Legion and Meeble Burrows and they’ve also been revamping some of the old endgame content to make it more appealing to the current level cap. Now, you don’t see Blizzard doing that on their updates, do you?
A classic game that still lives. It is still reminiscent of the days when MMOs were challenging and required a lot of time and your frustration. Whilst it has tried to be inclusive of more casual players it has by no means dumbed down. But it does seem to be a shadow of its former self, perhaps some poor choices on Square Enix’s behalf, but none-the-less they’ve avoided killing the game and it is still fun to play. It still remains true to its Final Fantasy name. There’s so much the game still offers that people aren’t about to abandon ship, Square Enix is putting a lot of time and resources into fixing the failure that was Final Fantasy XIV, but it could be argued their attention should be directed at this game, somebody else may argue that if they did that then they’d ruin it, which is probably true. With Seekers of Adoulin on the horizon it should be exciting to see what’s in store.
Gameplay = 9
Story = 9
Ingenuity = 8
Visuals = 7
Audio = 10
Learning Curve = 8
Online Features = 8
Community = 9
Developer Trust = 7
Wow factor = 8
Total Score = 8.3