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Developer:
Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: PS2, PC (Reviewed)
Release Date: 2003

by Nicholas Bale




Square Enix has broken into new territory for themselves with the release of Final Fantasy Online. The biggest question out there is whether or not they can make it work.


Okay, let's get this out in the open: I am a virgin when it comes to online games. When I first played this game I had no idea what to expect. That said, remember that these opinions are from someone who has never even seen Everquest, nor Dark Age of Camelot, nor Anarchy Online, etc. With that out of the way, here's the review:


Okay, I had heard rumors about the long setup time of this game, but what I found was near-ridiculous. First you need to install the client that runs the game (PlayOnline). That took some time. Then you needed to install FF Online itself. That took an hour or so, I'm not sure. Then when I ran it, I needed to update the game. No problem, there, I'll just start downloading and OVER TWO HOURS LATER(!!!) it finished. Now I don't know about any other games, but that's a long time. But never mind that, I was ready to play.


Final Fantasy XI (or FF Online, as some call it), takes place in the world of Vana'diel, where there are three nations vying for conquest. There is the technologically advanced Republic of Bastok, home to the human-like Humes, who are average in all aspects. The hulking Galka also live here. There's the Kingdom of San d'Oria, in which resides the tall, proud Elvaan race, master swordsmen. Finally, there is the Federation of Windurst, in which resides the magical race of Vana'diel, the knee-high Tarutaru (who are just the cutest little race I have ever seen in my life). With these plush people live the cat-like Mithra, the dextrous ones. Around these nations are areas inhabited by beastmen, monsters who are the prime source of experience in the game.


Your character in Vana'diel has 4 major characteristics: gender, race, homeland, and profession. You'll get to select one of the four different races as well as one of the three homelands mentioned above. The profession is what really determines what your character will be like in the game. You start out with a moderate choice of professions ranging from your basic Warrior to the more elaborate Red Mage. Your profession will determine your fighting style, the types of guilds you might join (more on that later), and the position you will fill in a party (white mage heals, warrior attacks, etc).


The profession you choose, however, is only temporary. At any point in the game you can switch the job you have, no penalties at all. Tired of being a level 10 thief? Become a black mage! Of course, you'll start at level zero, but when you return to your thief you'll be back at level 10. I liked this fact, but I never used it. I don't know, it was weird for me to go from a black mage to a fighter. I'm a huge fan of role playing - getting into the game. And so when people I knew saw me, I wanted them to think "Hey, there's Belemare the black mage.", not "Hey, there's Belemare, that guy's character. I wonder what he changed to." Call me crazy.


Okay, a problem. The party system. Yes, parties are important, but I would rather not have them be vital to success. Any person who is soloing (playing alone), unless fighting weak enemies, will quickly die. No question about it. Parties are absolutely essential in FF Online, but I would rather it be possible to go it alone. Be the mysterious mage in black who never takes on a partner, that kind of thing. But no. He who travels alone finds many ways to die, so says the wise man.


However, the party system, when used, is very well implemented. The exp is evenly divided depending on who the highest level character is (hint: Do not party up with higher level characters!), and the items are divided in a sort of random-distribution fashion. What I did like about the party option was the strategy involved. Often it wasn't just "Go forth and smite". There would be "Warrior, you tank while Monk provides backup. I'll nuke (cast spells, for the un-MMORPG savvy) from the back, White Mage you heal. Red Mage, nuke then help White." Yes, I really liked being the leader of a party. The strategy involved added quite a new level, like the ability to chain special moves and spells together to create very, very damaging attacks.


You will die. Oh yes you will. At first, dying isn't so bad at lower levels. You lose no exp and suffer no penalties. After passing the first couple levels, however, prepare to suffer. Everytime you die you lose approximately 1/3 of the experience required to reach the next level. This does mean you can lose levels, which is definitely the most depressing thing that can ever happen to you, especially if you just reached that level. It's annoying, but a way of life. Just try not to die.


A good addition to the game (it could be very dull without it) is the addition of guilds. Throughout the game are scattered guilds that will allow you to take a crystal (earned from enemies), miscellaneous other items, and combine it all, hoping to god that you succeed, to create a entirely new item. After you do this enough times, raising your rank enough, you can gain the next level in the guild, which allows you to craft even better items with a better success rate. And it's great to make an item that you can equip.


What bugged me in the game was the severe bias towards fighters. I like magic, so I was a black mage. However, I had an incredibly hard time doing anything as one. My mana ran out much too quickly, my attacks were pathetic as well as slow, and I couldn't equip some of the most basic stuff (like gloves, for example). And as I, the black mage, struggled with even the simplest of enemies, I watched warriors hack their way through throngs. After I decided to become a warrior myself to check it out, I found the game was much, much, much easier. Without mana points (MP) to worry about, I was able to kill things at leisure, as opposed to resting between every battle to recover MP.


One incentive to leveling up (as opposed to getting powerful) is the chance to ride chocobos at level 20. The other is to be able to take on a subjob, which is basically a second job for you character. This I loved. Want to be a fighter that can heal? Or how about a black mage that can summon spirits to his call? You can do it with a subjob. It really let players expand, as opposed to just being your standard professions throughout the game.


Perhaps the most annoying thing in the game was the focus on gaining experience. I understand that people buy an RPG to gain experience, but when you, as a game developer, are creating a world... well let me put it this way: Imagine a fantasy world where nearly the entire population of a city was constantly running in and out, fighting monsters. When I logged in, if I didn't really feel like fighting monsters...too bad. To do anything, you need gil (currency). To get gil, you need to kill monsters. Don't feel like it, well then don't get the game. I've heard of other MMORPGs that have allowed the players to do more than just fight...like Ultima Online or Star Wars Galaxies, for example. Perhaps it's just that FF Online doesn't have all the updates under its belt yet...perhaps.


But despite its flaws, Final Fantasy Online is definitely a game that any RPGer should play. It's generally fun, gives you a chance to fight with others, and gives you the whole thing with the Final Fantasy atmosphere in it, to boot. Worth a shot for anyone.


Final Grade: 85%




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