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Page 1 of 2Chapter XI of the Final Fantasy phenomenon hit North America a couple months ago like a stampede of frenzied chocobos. And yes, to answer the avid fan's most dire question, you can ride chocobos. With that said, the world of Vana'diel is now Online and equipped to take on the MMORPG juggernauts we have spent all too much time playing but enjoying every minute. Square made huge headway with the release of FFXI nearly two years ago in Asia; naturally they could not resist dishing up a plate for the finicky palette of the Americans and they have delivered. With such a delayed release to the States and our neighbors, one calls into question if a game that has been on the market for two years can actually hold a candle to what is out today.
First off, judging a book by its cover offers some promise. Any fan of Final Fantasy will be drawn to this title like a Taru Taru to a picnic. Taru Taru you say? Well, FFXI offers five races to choose from each having their own advantages and disadvantages. We have the Hume, basically a human, average in just about every field. The Elvaan, elf to the majority of us, masters of the sword and average magic users. Taru Taru, a child like race that excels in the realm of magic but lacks in the ability to take physical punishment. The Mithra, a female-only bipedal feline race that has amazing dexterity and quickness. Last, the Galka, a male-only race of what looks like hairy giants chiseled out of stone. They have tremendous strength and can bring down the pain as well as they can take it.
From a gamer's standpoint, the graphics are actually quite good for being an older game. Vana'diel immerses its population in an almost anime cartoon style universe that is a pretty refreshing change. The animated emotions of the characters are overly cute but nevertheless well done. The spells are attractive and Summoner pets are definitely impressive to look at. Another definite plus is that it doesn't require a beefy system to be surrounded by a well-designed atmosphere. The graphic engine is not top of the line but gets the job done, simply, without bogging down your system performance. I think a lot of gamers will appreciate that it doesn't require investing into a beefier system to surround oneself in a decent atmosphere.
Getting down to the crux of the game play Square has remained true to the Final Fantasy universe. FFXI boasts a variety of classes from Monks to Red Mages and Dragoons to Ninjas. However, as a piece of discretionary advice before tackling the playing aspects of FFXI one must discern the potential game play predicament. Take a moment and cease from weaning yourself on the standard keyboard and mouse game play you are accustomed to. There are two ways to play FFXI and the mouse has little to do with either. The keyboard style of play (the way I played the game) is probably awkward for about 75% of the gaming population. The controlling and accessing of your character windows and menus revolve around your Num Pad. That's right, that cube of keys most gamers have never touched before will be your new console. It takes getting used to but is actually fairly efficient. Let it be known, in my profession I use the Num Pad quite often so I think my learning curve is dwarfed in comparison to a good portion of gamers. Your second option, the route just about all of my friends took, is to purchase a game pad. Think PS2 controller coming out of the back of your computer. Supposedly, this makes the game play a breeze. My qualm with it is setting down your game pad every time you want to communicate via the keyboard; however, from person to person that could only be a minor setback.
The prime rib au jus of the FFXI dish (Tofurkey and organic greens to the vegans) is definitely the character possibilities; ironically called (jobs.) The gazpacho appetizer is furrowing your brow and trying to digest what exactly building a character entails. No offense to fans of cold soup, but the time one will invest to build a character the irony of (jobs) becomes all too real.
First off, the player chooses one of the five races. There is a basic character builder with about a half a dozen faces/hair styles and colors to choose from in order to differentiate oneself from the rest of Vana'diel. Unfortunately, one will discover a number of virtual twins upon playing the game. You then choose your job: Warrior (master of armor and most weapons), Thief (stealing, backstabbing and feint attack), Monk (vicious damage dealers with very little armor), White Mage (healing and defensive magic), Black Mage (offensive and support magic) and Red Mage (jack of all trades, master of none). All fairly explanatory unless you are unfamiliar with Final Fantasy magic users; Black Mages are damage dealing wizards; White Mages, read as cleric; Red Mages are a hybrid between the two other mage classes and offering a bit of skill with melee weapons and armor. Pretty interesting and more importantly is a decent sense of balance between starting jobs. You can also pick your height, three different sizes and lastly your starting city, which have detailed explanations in game.
One thing any MMORPGer will notice is that there is no server selection screen. Yup, if you wanted to start the game playing on the same server as your friends I would like to introduce you to my friend Random Luck. Before you burn brain cells contemplating why Square would do such a thing, know that there is something you can do besides, Create/Delete, Create/Delete to finally land on your server of choice. There is a purchasable item in towns called World Passes. They give a number sequence that can be given to your friends so they can type in the Server name and number upon character creation. Still, this feature is fairly draconian and should have been strategically left out of the first course salad like firm avocados.
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