Our LAN wrapped up when we both pretty much passed out around 5 in the morning. Pretty early collapse for a LAN, but your body knows when its tired, despite a Red Bull and half a Monster (energy drink).
Before I get into the actual game experience, I feel obliged to share the hellish quest we had to endure, just to come home with one boxed copy of FFXI Vana’Diel Collection 2008. We were planning on just playing a 14-day trial, until I was greeted with a 9-hour patch upon logging in yesterday morning while waiting for Zack to arrive. Already being pretty excited to play and having some Gamestop store credit, we headed out to the closest Gamestop to check for the box. Of course, they were out.
Now keep in mind, we could have both just easily gone home after this quick defeat and used Direct2Drive, but reminiscent of a similar LAN in which a friend and I scoured the town for what seemed to be the last two copies of Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, I was on a mission to land us both a boxed copy of FFXI. The whole point was to avoid a giant download time, so a digital copy wouldn’t help much. Game boxes will always reign supreme anyways, screw digital-distribution and the future of pc gaming.
We’re off to a Wal-Mart (ugh) and then Target that are on the way back by the house. Both a big negative for FFXI, but I was impressed with a little MMO-shelf type deal Wal-Mart had going on, a handful of MMO on the same shelf, even if it was lacking FFXI. Not giving up, we switch cars so I’m not wasting his gas on my quest for a tangible game box, we head all the way across town to the mall area where we find our first taste of success in a slightly weathered, open-box, form of the Vana’Diel 2008 Collection at the Gamestop in the mall. Opened, because Gamestop is apparently nazi about their pc game security, and would risk compromising a customer’s account key, just to cut down on theft. Lame.
Having already shotgunned the first copy we find, Zack still needs one and we’re off to the plethora of stores all within 2 miles of each other; Target, Circuit City, CompUSA, and Best Buy. Long story short, they’re all no-shows. Best Buy thought it was witty and had every retail copy of FFXI except the 2008 Vana’Diel collection and Circuit City apparently doesn’t get memos and had collector’s editions of both Tabula Rasa and Hellgate London along with gems like a $49.99 Archlord and Fury. GG Circuit City, you lose.
So we’re done. We’ve failed and are forced to come home half-handed (it makes sense, trust me). On to plan b: both install from my dvd, Zack buys a key on Direct2Drive. The catch, we still had a three-to-five hour patch. A three hour driving expedition has barely saved us 1 hour of patching. We’re pretty disappointed at this point, but just adapt the LAN to these changes and play some Xbox 360 and Warcraft 3 while patching.
Six paragraphs down, WTB actual FFXI impressions – amirite? Okay.
Presentation: From the mandatory PlayOnline Viewer to the console-designed control scheme of the in-game menus and navigation, FFXI may strike you as archaic in it’s presentation, but after 10 hours I consider it all part of the charm. The PlayOnline viewer is like no other login system. It sets you up with your own PlayOnline email address, you have to purchase “content IDs” instead of the regular subscription model most MMOs offer, and my favorite, the wonderfully-cliche Final Fantasy diddy playing in the background while you’re navigating the FFXI menus in the PlayOnline viewer. The menus in-game menu navigation can be cumbersome at first, but switching to a 99% keyboard playstyle like I have (and like it expects you to, with it’s default control scheme) you accept the arrow key and numpad centric setup and adapt. One of the key features of the presentation for me is the music, which I’ll get to later.
Graphics: Let’s get it out of the way, this game is coming on 7-years-old, so one shouldn’t expect Aion or Age of Conan level DirectX 10 graphics. That said, with the proper tweaking (16x AA, AF, 1920×1200 resolution) the game appears to have aged very well. It looks almost on par with Warhammer, which I’m not sure is a shot at Warhammer’s graphics or praise of FFXI’s, but either way they’re admirable graphics and worthy of being classified with the current-gen of MMOs. I would have some supplemental screenshots, but my screenshot hotkey failed me and wasn’t taking screenshots when I was attempting to capture them! But rest assured, what I have seen of Vana’Diel is beautiful. As someone who was adament that FFXI was one of the worst looking MMOs when I attempted to play it years ago, I am shocked that the graphics were not even of concern after the first few minutes in game. I had forgotten about them and let myself get lost in the game-world. Your mileage may vary, as a lot of it is just genius art design on Square-Enix’s part, but I was impressed, after having low expectations.
Sound: It’s a Final Fantasy game, need I say more? The sound effects are perfect and the music is subtle yet lingers with you as you randomly notice and admire it. My favorites being the classic combat music that queues up when you enter combat, and level up medley that excites me every time I hear it. I’m never sure what I’m more excited about, the leveling up, or the awesome diddy that plays with the “level up” spell effect.
Gameplay: Imagine a Final Fantasy that has to sacrifice a little bit of the turn-based combat, in order for it to work in an online game, but keeps all the other facets of a good jrpg and Final Fantasy. The grind, the summons, the focus on group and parties, the wariness you feel when venturing out of the city. I feel like FFXI is more like a JRPG than an MMO, which is refreshing to me. The combat is hard to describe; itt’s not twitchy, it’s not WoW combat, and you won’t be spamming fireball or sinister strike. The combat is more strategic in nature, with less emphasis on a plethora of spammable abilities and more on a staple of job abilities and weapon skills that you earn by leveling up your job and your weapon skills respectively. The combat has more depth than a deepdish pizza, but I don’t have the wherewithal or experience to really explain it in the fashion it deserves. I’m only lvl 9 and one day in so I’ve obviously only barely scratched the surface of the game.
Simply put, I’m having a blast in FFXI and it’s hooking me pretty damn well. It feels like no other MMORPG out there, with it’s mix of jrpg influences, Final Fantasy classic-touches, and semi-turn-based, strategic combat. This isn’t your little brothers MMO of actionbar spamming and twitchy combat. The old-school JRPG influences are abundant, and it truly is a Final Fantasy MMO. Final Fantasy XI has a certain charm to it’s obscurity, difficulty, and learning curve that reminds me of why I loved Star Wars Galaxies. It’s as if I know it would be a tough sell to convince an average person or casual MMO-player to play it, acknowledging that it’s not for everyone, but feeling as if it has clicked with me and get it.
More impressions are likely to come, the more time I have to play it. I’m not sure if I’ll post a “review” because I personally feel like MMORPGs are not reviewable games, but more suited for adaptable impressions. A MMORPG is never a completed product, therefore, there is no finished product for you to review. Not to mention the debatable semantics involved a reviewer trying to declare himself experienced enough in said game to be worthy of writing a wholly review of the entire product. That’s just not entirely possible.