Final Fantasy XI Online (European Version) - PC

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Also for: PS2
Viewed: 3D First-person / Third-person Genre:
Adventure: Role Playing
Media: CD Arcade origin:No
Developer: Square Enix Soft. Co.: Square Enix
Publishers: Square Enix (GB)
Released: 17 Sept 2004 (GB)
Ratings: PEGI 12+
Accessories: Control Pad


The recently merged Square Enix is a development company that, in Japan at least, is considered to be the saving grace of the role-playing genre. It's a bold statement, but to some of the genre's hardcore, a world of video games without Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy would be far less entertaining.

Since 1987, Final Fantasy has sold some 45 million units thanks to some much-loved storytelling and a world-famous play mechanic that, in every fully-fledged outing, comes complete with random encounters, an in-depth battle system and sometimes hundreds of hours of gameplay.

So when Final Fantasy XI was announced to the world as an online offering, making a departure from the winning formula seen in the rest of series, fans were in uproar. Soon after, cynicism and scrutiny kicked in as Squaresoft (the company name before the merger) revealed the game would need a hefty development period, subscription fees and around 500,000 players in order to make it a financial success. That was in 2001.

In May of 2002, Final Fantasy XI finally launched on PS2 alongside Sony's required hard drive expansion. Then in 2003 players were granted a PC release, followed by a US launch some months after. Finally, in 2004, Square Enix announced it had met its target of 500,000 users and the game officially became a success. And that's all before a European release was even confirmed.

But despite FFXI going against the grain of Final Fantasy tradition, it's really not difficult to see why this MMORPG has been a success. Though the game came at a time when online gaming was just starting to warm up, and though it has a strong international community, FFXI plays host to the best play mechanic an MMORPG has ever seen, and some massive gaming opportunities.

Firstly, the expanding world of Vana 'diel is massive, in every sense of the word. So to compensate, gamers are able to customise a character from one of five unique races and begin their adventures in three of the world's four major cities - Bastok, Windurst or San 'Doria. Naturally, each of the races has its strengths and weaknesses, and you can assign your chosen protagonist a 'job' in order to learn specific abilities. There are so many options here because it's important to have a varied population, particularly when joining parties, but we'll get to that later on.

So you've customised your character and you're ready to begin. After a lengthy FMV sequence detailing events in Vana 'diel, players are left to explore the new world by starting alone in their chosen city. Vana 'diel is split primarily into three distinct types of environment - city, field and dungeon.

Cities are safe houses that are devoid of monsters, and places where you can accept new missions, relax, chat with other players, buy weapons, magic and accessories, partake in auctions and visit Mog houses. Effectively, it's your base, and in the early stages, you'll spend a lot of time revisiting home after a hard day's work in the field.

Dungeons are places you'll visit to complete accepted missions and are generally accessible through the field environment. You'll also find there are increasing numbers of enemies lurking here, and you'll have a hard time avoiding most of them.

The Field is where most of your game time will be spent, and it's here that you will encounter a plethora of hostile creatures ready for the taking. The basic premise of the field environment is that deeper you go, the harder your foes become. And with your character stranded in low-level territory in the beginning, you'll want to stay close to home in order to secure a means of escape, because in FFXI you can't break off a fight easily once it's started. And if you do forfeit all your hit points, you'll lose experience points too; or worse, you'll drop down a level.

Solo mode combat is very much like it is in 'normal' Final Fantasy offerings. Combat is menu-driven, and you must use your bestiary of spells and special abilities to eliminate your opponents before they eliminate you. The only real difference is that many of your spells have specified 'casting' times, and if your casting is interrupted, you'll be forced to start over. In this respect, timing is paramount.

More importantly, your abilities in battle are decided by your current job. A black mage is granted the full range of offensive spells, a white mage has healing abilities and protective spells, and a warrior is proficient with melee attacks. There are more than a dozen jobs available to players, but their abilities are only available by levelling up, and many of them must then be purchased rather expensively in the form of scrolls from a magic store. It's Square Enix's way of maintaining the balance, and it works well. As your character becomes more advanced, he or she will be able to undertake a sub-job to expand the library of tricks available to them, but it takes time.

At the time of writing, the level cap for FFXI is 75, and although this seems like a low figure considering Phantasy Star Online allows players to grow to level 200, don't expect to get anywhere fast. On the contrary, progress is gruelling. In fact, here at SPOnG Towers we have a member of staff who is close to reaching level 70 with his current character, but it's taken him more than 1,000 hours to do so. We hope that puts things into perspective.

When you're partying with other players, it becomes a different experience altogether. Using the in-game search engine, lonely players can look for suitable party members with similar statistics and levels within the surrounding area or within the entire Vana 'diel world. It's the only real way to make friends. Once you find yourself a selection of willing friends you should then be able to delve deeper into the game and take on more challenging missions and enemies with less risk. But the real trick comes in finding the right balance in your party. For example, a party of three black mages poses a good offence, but there's no one to heal and assist you. A good combination would be a warrior, a white mage and a black mage. This way, the warrior and black mage can exploit the enemy's weaknesses, whilst the white mage keeps their health topped up. Beyond level 10, partying with others virtually becomes a requirement, as later missions either require multiple players or are just too difficult to accomplish alone.

At any time, players can communicate with each other by typing their messages on the keyboard, or by taking advantage of a library of keyboard shortcuts used for expressions. Players are also free to trade, offer tips and accompany other members on their own missions, all the while gaining both items and experience.

With regards to visuals, the PS2 version takes care of itself, whereas the PC offering is very demanding on the player's hardware. Ideally, players would be equipped with at least 512 MB of RAM and a Radeon 9800 graphics card, but it's not a necessity. And if you're not sure if your machine is capable, feel free to download the benchmark application from and test your system.

Final Fantasy XI is a fantastic and unique experience, but as an MMORPG, it has the additional advantage of being able host new missions and new areas via expansion packs or downloadable content. Because of this, the opportunities for Vana 'diel and its inhabitants are infinite. Square Enix has already made two expansion packs and we're sure there'll be more to follow.

The European version comes bundled with both the Rise of the Zilart and Chains of Promathia expansions at a very affordable price, keeping those of PAL origin right up to date. When all is said and done, Final Fantasy XI begs to be played, and rightly so. The wait is over.