Saturday, July 3, 2010

Review: Final Fantasy XI Online: Ultimate Collection

Eight years ago Final Fantasy XI: Online hit the Playstation 2 in Japan, today it's also available on X-Box 360 and PC as the worlds first cross-platform compatible Multiplayer SBA*. It has spawned four retail expansions and four a little smaller add-ons as downloadable content with two more coming before the year ends. Final Fantasy XI Online: Ultimate Collection contains the aforementioned expansions and the first three add-ons. I sat down and leapt into the largest world ever created in Final Fantasy history, and what did I experience?

*Stat Based Adventure: Tobbii's definition for the games normally called RPG's.
Developed by Square-Enix
Published by Square-Enix
Platform: 360, PS2, PC-DVD, PC-DL (Reviewed on PC-DL)

Final Fantasy XI uses a software called PlayOnline as its hub and launcher. So if I'm reviewing FF11 I must first tell you how that works and the answer there is both well and terrible. I'll explain to you why. First of all, I downloaded this game using Steam as I find it the easiest solution. After around 3 hours it was finished and I booted up PlayOnline. PlayOnline greeted me and asked me to create an account so I did. So far so good. It then logged me in and I got to see how it worked, and I loved it. It was simple and elegant in design and even had a prepared FF11 short-cut for me when I got to the lobby. I played around a bit with themes and such before I decided to take on FF11. But when I did press the short-cut for FF11 it told me something strange. It said to me "You don't have a FF11 ticket" to which I responded that I most certainly did and it guided me to the buy a ticket screen and there I witness that the game want me to pay another 12 dollars to play the game I had just bought.

After a lot of failures in finding a guide on the internet on how to get it to work right I decided to swallow my pride and press the buy button. When I did, I was greeted by the text "First month is free.". Well thanks for telling me now PlayOnline, thank you a lot. So it asked me to download the game with my new ticket. So I did. Now this is where things made me laugh and cry. I had spent 3 hours downloading and installing FF11 Ultimate Edition via Steam, another 3 hours to find how to play the game and then guess what. Another screen comes up... Installing my game. This took another 8 hours, I'm on a high speed 100/Mbit line, this should not happen. It took me 14 hours to fix a downloadable game that I wasn't even sure I were going to enjoy. So you can probably guess I was bitter. Well before we take a look at the game itself, I'll tell you that an average update takes about 1½ hour, which is fine if you know about it beforehand and start downloading it, but when you get it shoved in your face when you want to play you won't be glad about it.
But on to FF11.The game actually looks quite good for an eight year old game, the textures are sharp and the environment is detailed and immersive. The art direction by Toshiyuki Itahana does not go that well in combination with the art given by Yoshitaka Amano on the boxarts and concept images, but looking past that the visuals are pleasing on the eye, just like Final Fantasy should be. But we must remember that this is the fully patched game with all the expansion packs, meaning that we must view it from a modern perspective. This of course lowers the graphics quite a bit, but it certainly isn't looking bad, it holds it own among every other large MMO on the market with its distinct style. The soundtrack is also great, classic Final Fantasy themes by Nobou Uematsu along with original work both by Uematsu and various other great composers makes FF11's soundtrack the largest one of the entire series, hours on hours of magical music is one of the reasons that will keep you playing the game.

The controls is one of the most common complaints regarding FF11. It's obviously meant to be played with a gamepad for movement and only using the keyboard for chatting, but thankfully for those without a gamepad there is a simple way to change the controls to Type-B letting you use WASD movement. The controls can sometimes be a little annoying in combat though, but it all depends on how you play. When you enter combat you will get a classic little Final Fantasy menu in the lower left corner with Attack, Magic, Skills and all that fun stuff. Now, those with a gamepad can easily go through the menu and choose everything with the precision they want, and so can keyboard players by using the directional keys. However, the problem lies with those who use the mouse to navigate the menu, like myself, because at some times you might end up clicking items instead of skills because the mouse went a little to far down on the menu.
Gameplay is the standard MMO stuff, find a guy with a quest, accept the quest, do the quest, get XP/money and repeat until you're level 80 (Level 99 will be available before the release of FF14). But FF11 have some ideas to keep it all fresh, first of all is the cutscenes. Almost every quest have cutscenes in classic text based dialogue, and at several points in the game you'll stumble upon a cutscene to richen the plot of the game. Another large difference is the use of the combat menu that I mentioned in the controls section, this is also helpful in getting that classic Final Fantasy feeling that seems to be rare these days. The most important thing regarding gameplay in FF11 though is it's incredible difficulty. This is not an easy game, not easy at all. Even finding the tutorial quests were tough, and the other quests aren't really easier. It's certainly not beginner friendly, so I highly recommend playing with friends so that you at least get the positive advantage of being a group.

Now the replay value on a MMO all comes down to the question "Do you want to continue playing?" since the game is, in theory, never-ending. So, do I still want to play this game? Well, even though I might sound very positive about this game, there's not an easy answer to that question. FF11 is by no means a bad game, but it's not that special or good either. If you play with friends it greatly increases the replay value a lot, but if you head into FF11 alone hoping to find players you might not end up playing past the free month. I'm still not sure if I'll continue playing FF11 now that this month has come to a close, it's a tough decision, that perfect middle section of good and bad that drags you back and forth. But unfortunately, I think I'm going to have to pass on renewing my account. At least for now.
Final Fantasy XI: Online is a fun game if you're a MMO fan and want something truly challenging, it's probably one of the largest games I've ever seen and it's definitly worth giving a chance. It's not a bad game by any means, but it's not really that good either and if you're not that great of a gamer you will probably want to sit this one out, because it's a far too tough game that will leave you with nothing against everything. Some people might enjoy that, myself, I think that the game could have a been a little bit more friendly, and that's the main reason I won't be returning, for now.
P.S: Keep in mind that there are three more addons coming, I might get those and review them as well, in that case I'll be returning and will probably revamp the review in case I consider myself unfair on any points.

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