Whenever players pick up a game in the Final Fantasy series, there are a few things they can expect. Everyone anticipates high quality cinematics, complex, serpentine plotlines and dozens of hours of gameplay. However, the one thing that they’ve never been able to enjoy has been a true sense of their actions fully affecting the world the characters live in. Aside from scripted sequences, players never got a sense of how their progress or failures changed the landscape of the region around them. Well, that’s all about to change with the latest title in the series, easily Square Enix’s most ambitious project to date. Final Fantasy XI takes both PC and PS2 owners online in a global adventure influenced by every event a player goes through.
Players enter the new world of Vana’diel, a fantastic realm comprised of three massive countries: The Republic of Bastok, The Kingdom of San d’Oria and The Federation of Windurst. While these three nations have peacefully coexisted for numerous years, a secret hunger for expansion has driven each land’s government to attempt to gain control over neutral territories. Herein is one of the largest twists to the game, which is that each player has the opportunity to aid its country’s pursuit of nationalism. Much more than the typical quests and adventures that other RPGs feature, Final Fantasy XI hosts conquests, a specific subfacet of the game that tracks each player’s achievements and failures as well as their success in gaining land on a weekly basis. The most dominant nation and its denizens receive bonuses and items based on these rankings, giving every newbie and every veteran numerous reasons for striking out from towns in search of adventure.
Before you can hope to change the destiny of your nation, you have to establish a character to represent you in Vana’diel. Final Fantasy XI offers five different character races, each with their own specialties and abilities. Humes come from the Republic of Bastok, and resemble humanoid figures the most. The most average of the five, Humes can specialize in just about anything. The next race is the Galka, an incredibly powerful beastlike group of creatures from Bastok as well whose attributes make them better fighters than magic users. Contrasting them are the Tarutaru, a smaller, childlike race from Windurst that are better suited as magic users. Living in relative peace with the Tarutaru are the stealthy Mithra, a nomadic group that are comprised primarily of thieves than any other class. Finally, the Elvaan come from San d’Oria, and are strong fighters and surprisingly capable magic users (in the right hands). Aside from the limitation of male Galka or female Mithra, players can choose just about any race to explore these lands with.
An interesting variation on standard RPG fair is the inclusion of a job system, much like the one found in Final Fantasy V, which allows players the opportunity to become known throughout the land for their craftsmanship as well as their skill in combat. Of course, like all online games, combat will play a rather large role in advancing characters, and Final Fantasy is no exception, allowing parties to grow to be as large as 18 adventurers at one time. Every battle takes place in real-time, and players can provide assistance or fend off attacks based on a rather simple control scheme in a number of locations, including desert, mountainous and artic locations. (And yes, there are the stereotypical cave explorations and dungeon crawls that we’ve all come to expect from this genre.) Along with the PlayOnline experience, which acts as both a lobby for gamers, personal mailbox and mod community, Final Fantasy XI also includes Tetra Master, the wildly popular card game from Final Fantasy IX as an online playable feature. This lets players get their poker face on while waiting for party members to sign on, or gives them an outlet to relax in after a long day of killing monsters.
Anyone who’s played a massively multiplayer title has probably become accustomed to small, jagged characters with undistinguishable features running around on bland textured landscapes. Get ready to change your perception, as the graphics for Final Fantasy XI are gorgeous. For players that are running PCs with high end graphics cards, you’re going to receive an experience that will simply bring tears to your eyes if you don’t frame your monitor. It’s that good. PS2 owners haven’t been shafted either, with some of the best images that have ever graced the system. If you play any multiplayer titles, this is one you definitely won’t want to miss. Check it out when it hits shelves later this month, and check back soon for a full review!
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