I had been curious about how Final Fantasy XI (FFXI) had been doing when Steam put it on sale for ten bucks. I decided to pick it up and check it out. This is my tale…
FFXI still sucks. While they have made levels 1-20 a bit easier and quicker to attain, overall, the game continues to be a poorly designed, disappointing MMO and member of the Final Fantasy family of games.
I had first started playing FFXI back in its beta days. Several friends and I spent countless hours playing the game. I don’t think, during the beta, that I ever left the immediate area around San d’Oria. I could barely stay alive, something that continued to happen even after the game was launched in North America.
It took me forever to reach the mid-20′s, all solo, and moving around any map was an exercise in futility. God forbid a stronger mob should target you. Your only escape would be to pray that you reach a map exit point in time (unlikely) before they killed you (likely). It was not unusual to see some hapless adventurer running in fear of his or her life while a trail of orcs were behind them, whacking precious hit points away with their rusty, tetanus-filled axes of doom. It was a funny thing to watch until it happened to you. And then you’d toss up your hands in frustration because Square Enix, the game’s designer, failed to design mob AI with a range before they’d return to their spawn area. Running from place to place was, and still is, an exercise in futility.
Unlike Blizzard, who’s World of Warcraft is a bit younger, Squeenix has failed to do any really solid re-evaluation of the game’s design. Quests and missions (yes, they are separate entities) take a lot of time and effort to find. Essentially, you are either stuck talking to every. single. NPC you come across, or forgo participating in the game’s rich storyline and try to play the game map by map without context. Unless you go to a Web site and write down the names and locations of quest-giving NPCs, you are shit out of luck.
Some FFXI players, especially modern-day gamers, may take issue with FFXI‘s menu system. The game was designed to be played primarily on PlayStation 2′s (the initial market was JP), and was later adapted to North America and PC’s, with PS2′s hard drive with FFXI pre-installed at a later date. The menus, therefore, are exactly the look and feel you’d have with a Final Fantasy game. If you are old-school FF gamer, this will not bother you in the least.
What will bother you are the absolutely draconian travel and inventory systems, the absolute worst I have ever experienced in any game I have ever played. Travel is by foot, for the most part. If you don’t have a chocobo license (available after you do a death run through some tough maps to Jueno for a quest), you can rent one for 15 minutes at a time (chocobos with a license = 30 minutes). But if you are young, weak, solo, and broke, get ready to build some calluses and get blisters on your feet because it’s a long trek between the nearest city and wherever it is you want to go.
There are “home points” that you can bind yourself to scattered around cities and the countryside. If you’ve couriered supplies to an outpost, you may be able to teleport to and from these locations from your city of residence. You can also use warp spells to return to a home point. Or you can die. Death automatically returns you to the home point you last bound your avatar to. This can be a convenient way to travel, but can be extremely annoying if you’re trying to go to a home point in the middle of one map but die and wind up a map or more away from your goal. That Squeenix has failed, after all these years, to improve their travel system is an offense to gamers.
(Note: the above doesn’t mention sailing ships nor airships, but that’s because I haven’t ridden either, yet, this time around. Mind, I haven’t even rode on nor earned my chocobo license).
Inventory is just as bad, You are limited to carrying 30 items on you, and inventory slots are taken up by your equipment. Since vendors aren’t abundant in the lands of Vanadiel (outpost vendors will only sell to you if your country is in control of the area), this means you either need to keep very few items in your inventory or simply give up on accruing goods to sell on the auction house, which is how the good money is made.
Speaking of the auction house (AH), it’s the worst I’ve ever used in any MMO. You are limited to selling only seven items at a time, have to remove sold items from a list of good you’ve sold, and then run to the nearest mog house to collect your money and unsold items. If you want to find items to purchase, you need to figure out where the item is listed in some sub-menu. There is no search feature. I simply plug an item name into Google and look up where I can find the item in the AH so that I don’t have to suffer long bouts of trial and error.
One thing I do like about FFXI‘s AH is the price history feature. This can help you figure out how much an item normally sells for, which is useful, whether you are buying or selling.
What amuses me most is FFXI‘s economy. It’s probably the most stable I’ve ever experienced. Back when I was playing eight or so years ago, stacks of crystals (used for crafting) would sell for 3-5k gil. They still sell for that amount, and most everything I used to buy through the AH back in the day sells the same amount they did years ago, too.
This is also true for player stores, a unique economy feature in FFXI. In Ultima Online, you can set up NPC vendors on your property to sell goods for you. In FFXI, you can sell items directly through your backpack to other players. It is not unusual to walk around a city passing by a number of afk players selling goods (there’s no idle time-out in FFXI), or to browse through some stranger’s backpack somewhere in the middle of nowhere looking for a deal. Amusingly, you rarely get a better deal from a player than you can in the AH, at least in my experience.
I also am not a fan of crafting in FFXI. While it is true that FFXI has a very deep recipe system, I find that crafting really suffers from the lack of inventory space. Out in the field, crafting goods such as sheepskins, logs and ores are not stackable, so unless you go hunting for basic materials in the buff or craft goods as you get materials, you may find yourself buying raw materials in the AH or running between your house and the material source rather frequently.
Fishing is another disappointment, especially if you are a low-level character. Due to botting, Squeenix, rather than designing a better fishing system, severely limits the number of fish you can catch in a 24-hour period to 10 if you are under level 20 or haven’t logged in over a two-week period. This restriction is brutal for cash-strapped newbs, and the limitation design shows that the designers at Squeenix are lazy.
Of course, this is already a given. After 10 years, they’ve failed to re-evaluate the game, failed to look at the current market to help inspire themselves into improving the game, and seem to be complacent with their poorly designed MMO. To be honest, I’m surprised FFXI is still around after all these years, especially since Final Fantasy XIV has been out for a while. FFXI is horrible if you want to solo and are the kind of player who enjoys ambient social environments, the inventory system sucks, exploration is hampered to the point of meaninglessness, crafting is ultimately so-so, PVE is boring… is there anything at all that I actually like about the game?
There is one thing: they allow you to play in windowed mode.
When FFXI was first released, the game could only be played in full-screen mode. As a multitasker, this was the bane of my existence. Alt-tabbing, if I remember correctly, would log you out of the game, and it forced me to keep notes about recipes and quests on scraps of paper and in notebooks. At one point I had to purchase the official guidebook so I could keep all my information in one place. (You know, I bet if I still had that guidebook, there’d be little changed to the basic systems of the game and I’d get along just fine!)
Full-screen was to prevent PC users from cheating. Somewhere down the road, Squeenix came up with a fix for that, and the client will automatically log you out of the game if it suspects that you’re doing something nefarious. Since you can play in windowed mode, you can multi-task as much as you want. It seems silly to point out windowed mode as a major improvement to a game because it is so common place, but full-screen mode really made me feel restricted in Vanadiel; windowed mode makes me feel a little bit better about the game.
By the way, don’t ever ask me about the horrible, torturous account creation system from hell. Whatever team designed this patchwork pathetic excuse of a system deserves to have fire ants shoved up their ass for eternity. Whomever you are: I hate you.