REVIEW: Final Fantasy XI

final_fantasy_xi_vanadiel

 
(out of 5)

XBox 360 version reviewed

Let’s start with what I don’t have a problem with first, in case people thing I’m some sort of hack ‘n’ slash noob that could never hope to appreciate a game like this. I don’t have a problem with taking on single enemies that could outright kill me, forcing me to pick a chose my targets. I don’t have a problem being forced to form a party to take on certain tasks. I don’t have a problem with the EXP penalty incurred if you die. The GM’s are courteous and present, and unlike some other games (*cough* Phantasy Star *cough*), active and helpful. The non-instanced, ever-concurrent nature of the game allows for plenty of one-off help from random strangers. The recently-introduced level-syncing system serves as a great incentive for higher-levels to help lower-levels. The auction house system is great, albeit a bit strange for newcomers.

So Final Fantasy XI definitely has what it takes to be a decent, maybe even great game. However…

Saying the auction house system could benefit from sorting capabilities is putting it mildly. Every salable item is listed, with items in stock having a number after the item name, items you can equip in yellow, and items you already have in green. While the clues are greatly appreciated, an option for shorter sorted list would be nice.

I do have a slight problem with the point-and-click macro-your-ass-off interface. It’s not that I deem it boring and tedious (which it is to a point), but rather I found it quite inefficient when it comes to bigger parties and bigger mobs of enemies. On a related note, you’re almost forced to make a macro out of everything if you want to gain any level of proficiency at all. The menus simply become too plentiful and time-consuming.

Another slight problem I have is with the PlayOnline interface. It’s really not that there’s anything wrong with it per se, but rather that the Xbox 360 already has such an interface. In a perfect world, there’d be cooperation between Microsoft and Square-Enix to make some kind of gateway between the two. In the real world, we get what we have here. PS: Don’t bother installing the game disc to the hard drive. The installer is going to copy files to the hard drive, anyway.

A bigger gripe I have is with the graphics, whose extremely blurry nature makes its PS2 roots evident. People try to excuse this with the fact that it’s an old game, but “old” would equate to “pixelated” and “blocky.” The blurriness is in fact caused by extreme interpolation of a very small 512×382 (4:3) or 680×382 (16:9) resolution, most likely intended for standard-def TV. No effort was made at all on the Xbox 360 version to run at a native 1280×720 or 1920×1080 resolution, instead relying on the Xbox 360 to upscale. A shame — I don’t mind “blocky,” but the level of blur in Final Fantasy XI on the Xbox 360 is distracting at best and headache-inducing at worst.

A bigger gripe than that is the map system. The areas are huge enough to get lost in no matter how much time you spend in the game. (A bit of a necessity for non-instanced games, I suppose.) However — for sake of realism? — you are forced to constantly bring up a map that, unrealistically, pinpoints our location. I don’t get it — just about every game has some kind of radar with a small section of the map displayed in some corner of the screen. With this small tidbit of information, players are able to orient themselves in the game world. Not Final Fantasy XI. Sure, if you’re on auto-run you can still run forward while viewing the map. But neither your nor your party members’ positions are updated in real time. Nor can you maneuver while the map is on the screen. This system is an utter disaster if you are by yourself. If you’re in a party, you can have someone lead on auto-run and have everyone else tag the leader and auto-run with him, but this leaves someone else to play shotgun and lead the party leader around by constantly bringing up and closing the map.

My biggest gripe overall with Final Fantasy XI is that it insists on being a gigantic time sink. Things have been dragged out for no reason whatsoever in this game. And more mind-boggling is the fact that people view this waste of time as a right-of-passage. A difficulty that must be overcome. Everything is a privilege that must be earned. Well guess what? My time is also a privilege that game developers must earn.

Take simple traveling, for example. You are literally stuck on foot for your first 20 levels. To get from point A to point E, you must travel on foot from A to B to C to D to E. There are outposts to which you can warp to if you complete a quest, which can cut out some of the travel. But each home city only has so many outposts. You may get outpost locations at C and E, and all’s fine for a while. But your access to the universe is ever-expanding in this game, and you eventually you end up in the same position you were in at the start — extreme amounts of jogging.

Once you get to level 20 you’re able to do a quest that enables you to rent chocobo rides. Unfortunately, the quest itself is dragged out, taking at least 3.5 hours, and the end result is only a slightly speedier trip from point A to B to C to D to E to F to G to H to I to J. Oh, were you expecting to warp to an outpost at E and take a chocobo from there? Nice try, but the developers already thought of that and said, “Nah, too much of a time-saver.” So ultimately, your speed may double, but to take advantage of that speed you must travel double the distance. What. The. Fuck.

You also have airships you can take and gate crystals you can use to warp, but my patience wore out before I could get an airship pass and the lack of a black mage amongst my friends and the extreme “tele-whoring” prevalent in the general FFXI community rules out using the gate crystals.

Everything was going fine for me in this game until I went to do the quest to up my rank within my home city of Bastok to level 3. The mission’s objective was to go to Windhurst and San’doria and help Bastok’s consulates there. Of course, you can’t travel directly to the cities you want to. At level 23, I was stuck riding a chocobo through every area between Bastok and Jueno, between Jueno and Windhurst, from Windhurst back to Jueno, and Jueno to San’doria, from San’doria back to Jueno, and from Jueno back to my home city of Bastok. On top of that, there where sub-quest to complete in both Windhurst and San’doria which took even more time. In the end, this single mission took more than 12 hours between 2 days.

In case anyone’s wondering how I took out a nefarious monster at level 23, yes, I had help. And by help, I mean a few member of the friggin’ link shell community I was in did everything for me. Which made the final sub-mission in San’doria extra boring. I’ve never wanted to cry in both boredom and anger and scream out obscenities at everyone around me like I did that day. But I couldn’t — the people weren’t being malicious, only mis-guided. I wanted to log off so badly and tell everyone to fuck off, but couldn’t bring myself to do it because, again, they weren’t being malicious, and there was too much time invested in forming the party at that point. I dragged myself to complete the mission out of courtesy to those who were only trying to help, only to turn around and cancel my Content ID.

But that was piss frosting on a turd cake. Sure, piss frosting is a bit rude, but what sense does it make to point at the piss frosters when you should be pointing at the people that gave you a turd cake to begin with? Seriously, Square-Enix, how you’ve made a killing off this game is beyond me.