Final Fantasy XI

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As a child, I often found myself perplexed as to what type of villainous creature would encase the delectable Tootsie-Roll inside a lollypop prison. While I wasn't a fan of the exterior encasement, I would often find myself engaged in a fierce battle, matching tongue against flavored shell in an effort to free the confectionary I desired; the sugary delight that, in the end, would make my efforts worth wild. This is exactly how the progression through Final Fantasy XI, the first online title in the series, takes place.

Beginning the journey into the world of Final Fantasy XI, known to players as Van'diel, isn't an easy one. The actual hardware installation, updating and patching, depending on the each individual user's internet connection, is a lengthy process. Don't fret, though, because it gives you plenty of time to read through the instruction manual so you can get a grip on just what you're getting yourself into by playing this game.

Then, if you can believe it, you'll finally be able to create your character. This is a fairly simple process and made fun by the characters prancing around in the background as you customize them. The variety of options isn't humongous, but it's enough where the player will not feel pigeonholed into their selection. There are five different races to choose from: Hume, Elvann, Tarutaru, Mithra and Galka. Also, you can select what gender you want your character to be, save the Mithra and Galka, which are female-only and male-only races, respectively. Each of the races has benefits that make them more suitable for various jobs. So while a player might think the Galka is the best looking of the bunch, if he or she plans on being a White Mage a Tarutaur would be the best choice.

The customization still isn't complete, as after this players need to select an initial job. However, fans of Final Fantasy will recognize their options immediately - Fighter, Black Mage, White Mage, Red Mage and Thief. The selection of this job doesn't prevent the player from changing down the road if they dislike the play style of their current class though. Going from Black Mage to Thief is as simple as visiting your housing and talking to your Moogle.

While the amount of time it takes to go through this process can be a buzz-kill for those eager to enjoy the game, this is only an example of the time required to be successful in the world of Van'diel. After getting to this step you'll still need to invest quite some time before your character is capable of performing impressive feats.

When exploring the world of Final Fantasy XI, it is easy to see why so many people enjoy the game. The root towns are huge, with a plethora of things for each user to do. You can go shopping, bid on items at the action house, meet up with friends, accept quests, rent a Chocobo and much more. It might take a while for a new player to memorize the layout of the town.

I know I often found myself checking my map one or two times each section because I was getting turned around so much. However, this feeling of displacement erodes once the player makes the journeys to Van'diel more and more frequently. The size, originally daunting to the novice, becomes something they relish. They enjoy the freedom found in the expansive cities, ultimately finding solace in their size, instead of the initial trepidation experienced.

Combat is another element of Final Fantasy XI that improves over time. When you first start out, fighting is a laborious activity. You tackle one creature, rest for a minute, rinse and repeat. However, once you start gaining levels you'll have access to a bevy of special abilities. Then you'll be joining parties and tackling greater challenges that present themselves with your newfound powers.

Final Fantasy XI is a game that, through time, proves to be a title that can thoroughly captivate the gamer due to its immersive experience. However, players that lack the time to make such a commitment to the title will find themselves paying for their second month and having nothing to show for their efforts. It could be the best massive multiplayer online role playing game to date, but don't expect the masses to know - they will not get past the first ten levels.

The Score:

+/- The world is filled with many things to engage the player, but these spacious environments can be confusing to beginners, as quests and shops don't exist together in a central location for easy access.
+/- Combat proves to be a banal activity for the first 30 levels, only becoming interesting later on with the introduction of chains and subjobs.
+/- The setup can be intimidating to someone not used to PC games, where constant patching and server downloads is the norm
+ An excellent looking game that again raises the bar for graphics on the PlayStation 2
- Music isn't as impressive as in other Final Fantasy games, opting to be ambient noise instead of conjoined with the action

Bottom Line:

Final Fantasy XI is one of the most immersive and rich worlds available in the market today, but this doesn't come without a cost. The world of Van'diel gives back only as much as the gamer invests, and those who can't devout the required time to the development of their character and in-game relationships will soon find themselves left in the dust, regretting their decision. By the same token, those who could care less about their schedules couldn't have found a better world to traverse, with a currently unmatched online gaming experience.

Reviewed by Daniel Dormer