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Review by: Jim Richmond
Published: February 20, 2004
Sequels are tough. On one hand, there’s the attraction that people have to places, events, and characters that they’ve once enjoyed, and on the other there’s plentiful evidence that some things are better left as is. Enough people still love Lara Croft that Eidos managed to ship over 500,000 units of Angel of Darkness worldwide, but we all could have done without that last iteration of Tomb Raider. The Final Fantasy franchise has been around even longer than our good friend Lara, and has seen better success than Ms. Croft’s latest outing. One of the ways it manages to stay in top form is that it receives a fresh face without trampling over the things that people loved about the previous outings. With the release of Final Fantasy XI, Square Enix moves the series into the online frontier and adds social interaction to questing and leveling up.
Final Fantasy XI tells the story of three kingdoms in the nation of Vana’diel. Vana’diel’s history contains a black chapter where legions of orcs rose up and covered the land, destroying everything in their path. Some managed to escape with their lives but they were scattered far and wide. After many years, the fragments of these once great civilizations have regrouped to take back their homes and drive the beastmen back. Since their numbers are small, the survivors are calling on adventurers like you to help in their fight to reclaim a glorious empire.
Character creation is the first order of business before your arrival in Vana’diel. There are five races that inhabit the land: Hume, Elvaan, Tarutaru, Mithra, and Galka. Hume, Elvaan, and Tarutaru characters are further delineated by gender, while Mithra and Galka are only female and male respectively. Choosing a face, hair color, and physical size round out your look and that leaves you with the important decision of which job to take on. Six jobs are available from the outset with up to nine additional trades being made available along your journey. Some careers, like White, Black, and Red Mages, wield magic while Warriors, Thieves and Monks do not. Each job has its advantages and disadvantages, but if you find you don’t like the occupation you’ve chosen, you can change to another line of work later. The last choice you make before setting your feet onto the soil of Vana’diel is which of the three kingdoms to put your allegiance toward: San D’Oria, Bastok, or Windhurst. Each kingdom is peopled primarily with one race or another: Elvaan in San D’Oria, Hume in Bastok, and Tarutaru in Windhurst.
After running through the preliminary in-game rendered cutscene which serves as an overview of the city’s layout, you are cut loose to find your own way. From here, everything else is up to you. Being an adventurer, one of the things you can do is exit the city and start vanquishing the beastmen that live in the surrounding land. Successfully winning battles increases your experience level and allows you to collect items from your slain foes. Items range from gil (the currency of Vana’diel) to armor to assorted magical items. If you choose to do so, you can have your kingdom’s signet cast on you before you leave the city. Bearing your kingdom’s signet allows you to gain conquest points, establish your kingdom’s dominance in the region, and find crystals dropped by your enemies that can be used in synthesis. When your kingdom has a high dominance rating, monsters will drop more crystals and merchants will have higher quality goods for sale. Conquest points can be cashed in for weapons, armor, or magical items with signet-casting guards.
You can also use your time in and around town finding and completing quests. Quests can be received by talking to non-player characters (NPCs) that reside all over the city. Fulfilling quests pays off in new weapons, armor, items, or good old fashioned gil. These quests are usually of the fetch-and-carry variety but have the side benefit of requiring you to get to know the area better in order to complete your task. Finishing quests raises your level of fame in the city and leads to the availability of more quests as the people’s trust in you increases. Other errands are run for the kingdom directly and are assigned by the official city guards. These missions are the key to propelling the storyline and completing them also affects your rank. Higher rank allows you to use your collected conquest points for better grade weapons, armor, and magical items.
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