Once, twice, three times a fantasy.
When Microsoft announced at their E3 press conference last year that Final Fantasy XI
was coming to the Xbox 360, the crowd roared. GR, however, snored. Not to take anything away from Square’s solid MMORPG, but it’s a little hard to get excited by a port, especially when it’s coming three years after the original.
Now that we’ve spent some time re-exploring this old standby, we feel justified in our initial apathy. Though probably yielding a high ROI, this next-gen port of a last-gen game effectively delivers an already available product sans the accessories required for its full enjoyment.
If you bought the Xbox 360 Core System (the lame one without a hard drive), well, punch yourself in the face for being stupid. Then, you’ll need to shell out some cash to upgrade before entering good old Vana'diel, which has remained completely unchanged gameplay-wise since the PS2 version hit the market a few years back. Just like that version, a hard drive is required for play, which also means the game’s insanely obtuse and obscenely long initial installation time returns. There’s a lot of registering, installing, and patching, amounting to about a four-hour configfest. Have a pillow ready.
In a way, this makes sense since you'll be playing in the same exact game world (and the same servers) as all the PC and PS2 players. That makes FFXI the first tri-platform simultaneous MMO, which is pretty cool, although it also raises some unforeseen compatibility issues. Specifically, you better add a USB keyboard to your shopping list if you intend on socializing at all, which is a must in any MMO.
Though the game includes a virtual keyboard for blurbing out the occasional "thx" or "lol,” navigating all the tiny letters with a game pad is awful, and you'll just come off sounding like a clueless Gil farmer when it takes you five minutes to emote anything. There’s oddly no in-game voice-chat support, instead making you use the voice-chat supplied with the Xbox Live dashboard, much like the free Ventrilo or Teamspeak servers for PCs. It works, but there's no way to tell which players are playing on what hardware, so more often than not people don’t speak back. Chances are you'll end up using text like everyone else.
The basic controls, such as navigation, attacking, and menu usage, work well with the 360 controller, unsurprising since this has already been ported to a console. It might be hard to get started, but it’s pretty easy to play.
And you could be playing for a long time if you get hooked, which is very likely considering it's still the same strong game it was a few years ago. Go ahead and peep our PS2 review to read up on the intricacies of its awesome Auction House, interesting quest system and still somewhat boring combat; it’s exactly the same. Since this MMO has been active for a while now, it’s also really stable and streamlined.
This time, however, Square Enix tossed all three major expansions in one package: Rise of the Zilart, Chains of Promathia, and Treasures of Aht Urhgan are all included. They each add new areas, monsters, quests, and sub-jobs for you to mix and match with your character's main class. Altogether they deliver a huge amount of mid-level and end-game content, but since most 360 players are noobs starting from scratch, those rewards are certainly not immediately evident.
The graphics sure don’t wow off the bat. FFXI is only as good-looking as its two year-old technology and the Xbox 360's processor and RAM permit. This port looks quite a bit prettier than the PS2 version, rough as good as the PC version running on a decent home rig, but it doesn't look as good as what the Xbox 360 can do for games designed for its architecture. Framerate and loading times are as seamless as the server you're connected to. It’s hardly next-gen.
It’s also hardly the cheapest way to enjoy the game. You can find the PC version and all three expansions for about the $50 this port requires and you don’t have to stress about the USB keyboard. If your PC is fairly new, it's good enough to run FFXI at least as well as this Xbox 360 version. Really the big reason to check out 360 FFXI is to play a decent MMO on your big honking TV for the reasonable $13 a month. Just know there are no HDTV advantages to speak of.
FFXI is simply a great way for Square Enix to capitalize on development work they wrapped up years ago. It might also be a great way for Microsoft to sell you an EZ-sit chair for your Mog House or a fancy new hat through Xbox Live Marketplace, but is it a great investment of your time and money? Better ask a Shaman.