Sunday, April 17, 2011

It Was the Best of Fantasies... (Part 1)

Today I'm bored, so let's take a moment to talk about one of the most controversial Final Fantasies of all. Final Fantasy XI Online. The bane of fanboys (or girls) everywhere. I remember the nerd outrage when this game came out. A FF game that is online only and you have to pay for....AND it's one of the numbered entries?!? INCONCEIVABLE!!!!

Disregarding that whole shitstorm, those who actually played the game have very mixed opinions, myself included. Like a diligent seagull, I'm never one to miss an opportunity to shit all over things. However I'm also willing to give credit where credit is due. That said, this game is simultaneously one of the best, and worst in the series.

Ok, so what's so great about it? Well for starters it was an anomaly of it's time. A fully featured, MASSIVE online game developed primarily for PS2, bundled with it's own hard drive. Released in North America and Japan on PS2 and PC, it allowed Japanese and English players from BOTH platforms to play together on the same servers. Later on it was also ported to xbox 360, which allowed 360 users to join PC and PS2 players on the same servers. Truly an impressive feat.

For it's time, the game looked absolutely stunning. Graphically it outclassed WoW, which was released 2 years later. The art style was one of the best in the series. Everything had a very cohesive feel, and the slight twists on typical fantasy creatures (orcs, elves, goblins, cat people) gave it an identity all it's own. Some of the high level areas were absolutely breath-taking, and made you want to explore the world just to see them.

The story in the game is also fantastic. I know story and MMOs usually go together like Jaison and bees, but it's true. As you progressed through the game there was a set of story-based missions in your home city that progressed to the typical "save the world from evil" drama you expect from a FF game. Aside from that, there were tons of side quests and optional missions that really made the world come alive. It was a welcome departure from the cast of whiney pretty-boys (and girls) the series seems to have adopted.

And what about the gameplay? Well that is a mixed bag. But first, the good stuff. There was literally a shit-ton of things to do, with more content added each update. Grinding exp, harvesting, fishing, crafting, breeding and racing chocobos, questing, PvP fighting. You had a house you could furnish, and invite friends over. There was even a pokemon-esque monster catching and fighting mini-game added later.

FF XI also had a very unique class system. You could play as any of the jobs from classic FF games such as monk, white mage, dragoon, summoner, blue mage, etc. When you reached level 18 you had the option to unlock a sub-job. That meant you could equip a second class, which was capped at half of your current level. This provided additional skills and stat boosts which provided some much-needed versatility. It also lead to some awesome combinations (Ranger/Ninja) and some useless ones (Monk/Red Mage).

The bulk of the game was spent leveling up, like any RPG. When it worked, it was great. Melee classes could skill-chain, mages could then do a magic burst off that for even more damage. When everyone played their part well it was so much fun, and like nothing I've experienced in other RPGs. That was, when it worked...

Stay tuned for Part 2!

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