Digits & Dragons
The Current Final
With no must-buy (at least for me) games released in the last month, I decided to peruse the
shelves in search of games that are still relevant today but that I may have overlooked. After
getting over my initial shock at how many games I hadn't heard of and couldn't imagine anyone
buying… I found just what I was looking for, a trusted series making its first push into the online
world: Final Fantasy XI
Looking back on my gaming history, no other games have had a greater influence on me than the
Final Fantasy series. Now, for someone not familiar with these adventures, the name may be a
bit confusing as there are now twelve of the traditional Final Fantasy adventures and about as
many spinoffs, including movies and portable games. While the number of Fantasy games is
certainly not final, each individual game (for the most part) is.
My first experience with Final Fantasy was playing FFIII over at my best friend's house. He
had been talking about this crazy game for weeks and I just couldn't understand how one game
could consume so much of his time and attention. Until this point in my young gaming life I had
never experienced a role-playing game. When I finally played it myself, I found the depth and
complexity overwhelming. The possibilities amazed me: a small army of allies, tons of spells
and a huge world. Where had this been all of my life? Since that experience, I have consumed
just about every Final Fantasy product Squaresoft has produced.
Chickens, madmen, and bears
What makes the Final Fantasy brand so interesting is that although each game is self-contained
with all new characters, worlds, and stories, there is something about the atmosphere that makes
each game a distinct part of the series.
The basics are pretty much the same in every Final Fantasy experience: a group of unlikely
young people with even more unlikely abilities are thrown together and have to save the world.
Along the way they often find themselves teaming up with magical white teddy-bear-things
named moogles or chicken/horse/ostrich creatures called chocobos. Throw this together with a
variety of spells, weapons and evil masterminds and you've got yourself the ostensible
components of a Final Fantasy game.
Oh, and don't forget: the music. Nobuo Uematsu, the main man behind this, is the best
composer of video game soundtracks there has ever been. His music has covered the entire
spectrum of emotions, from intense battle themes to award-winning love songs, and from in-game operas to jungle boogies. Prior to Final Fantasy XI it had been years since I had played
another Final Fantasy game, yet I still listen to the music from the games about every week.
Even my wife, who has never played a Final Fantasy game (and may bear slight resentment at
my Final Fantasy gaming time) loves the music and listens to it when she is studying and
working. It is just that good.
So, there are a lot of constants in Final Fantasy games that keep the series together. One of these
constants, at least until FFXI, was the single player nature of the game. It was up to you, and
you alone, to lead your party in destroying evil. FFXI changed all of this as Squaresoft sought to
move away from a strict one-console, one-hero approach and create a world that spanned
thousands of gamers and players with Playstations, PCs, and most recently, Xbox 360s.
The online growing pains
If you have played any other Squaresoft games for Playstation or Nintendo, you are probably
aware of how difficult they are to start playing: insert disc, power on. Somehow, that process got
ridiculously complicated in the PC-DVD version I purchased. The collection I got had the first
two expansions included and for some reason the developers or publishers decided that it was
necessary for me to install the original game and then each of the expansions separately.
As if this wasn't enough, I then had to go through setting up my account to work with each of the
expansions. This seems like a small thing to complain about, but when you combine all this with
the mandatory software updates it took me two hours just to start playing the game!
PlayOnline is a pain but at least it looks good!
Once you get past the laborious set-up and Sony's annoying PlayOnline portal, things go a lot
smoother. Character creation is nothing too revolutionary, though I do like the job system
reminiscent of previous Final Fantasy games. This system allows you to focus on a type of
playing such as a bard, an offensive mage, or a fighter, yet still allows you to switch and grow in
other areas while keeping the skills you have learned.
For me, the best part of gaming is interacting with other people. Massively multiplayer games
can be great for that and FFXI does not disappoint. For newcomers to a world, whether or not a
player creates an in-game social network often determines if he or she will stay with the game
after the trial period expires.
Hey, I couldn't find anyone my own size!
After trying my combat skills on some of the mutant rabbits and bees outside of town I decided
to attack a larger creature. In typical newbie fashion, I was killed in a short time. To my
delight, a more experienced player who had watched my pathetic battle (and laughed I'm sure)
came over and, like a good Samaritan, healed my wounds and helped me get some better armor
This incident was far from isolated: although most players ran around minding their own
business, whenever I needed help I found friendly adventurers ready to give both knowledge and
materials. The Final Fantasy community is certainly one of the friendlier, and especially more
newbie-friendly, online communities I have found, and it made a huge difference as I tried to
adjust to the awkward user interface and foreign environments.
The Final Fantasy feel and environment has a huge appeal but is really the only impacting
element that FFXI brings to the massively multiplayer genre. Battles are somewhat mundane,
items are varied but not amazingly so, and the interface is acceptable at best.
The real question for a player, then, is simply, does the Final Fantasy brand bring enough to
offset the clunkiness? For hundreds of thousands of gamers, the answer is yes. And for me? As
much as I love Final Fantasy, I think I'll pick the series back up with FFXII. Frankly, I like
being the center of attention as in previous Final Fantasy games. Squaresoft writes great stories,
which I really missed as I got the feel of Final Fantasy but not the flow.
If you simply cannot wait for Final Fantasy XII to come to the US from Japan, or if you need a
Final Fantasy fix on the PC, FFXI may be what you are looking for. If not, don't worry, there
are plenty more Finals to come!