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     " It's gonna depend entirely on what kind of player you are... "

      Title: Final Fantasy XI (FFXI) by Square Enix

      Format: MMORPG for the PS2 (too…many…acronyms…)

      Reviewing Monkey: Dungapult

      The Hype: One of the few things in the world that may honestly never end, "Final" Fantasy XI moves the acclaimed and staple line of RPGs to the online arena. What's particularly noteworthy about this game off the bat, however, is that it comes only with the PS2 Hard Drive and that it is cross compatible with both Japanese PS2 and PC players…indeed making it a small world after all.

      What This Monkey Thought...

      Graphics: Unquestionably a highlight of the game, the graphics, especially when contrasted against the MMO aspect, are sweet. Though perhaps slightly below par for a single player experience, the fact that the game can look this brilliant while several hundred other people are playing with you on some truly giant landscapes is undeniably an achievement. Nice character detail, lush environments, and killer mapped textures are all fantastic and will keep you happily staring for hours on end. My only real gripes comes from the repetition of characters and animations: with only a few races, and very limited variations per race, you will see the same exact model a whole lot, and each character only has 2 attack variations which will get old in a hurry. But all that's to be expected I suppose. 4.5 out of 5

      Playability: In order to keep this from being a 15 page review, I'm going to make a lot of short statements that normally I'd expound upon in detail. This isn't me trying to be lazy, honest; it's just trying to keep it readable…so bear with me. If you have specific questions about any given aspect I might encourage you to visit any of the myriad of boards dedicated to the game for more info.
          So, with that said, how does FFXI play? The short answer is well. The longer, and more accurate, answer is well, but repetitively and with some noteworthy issues.
          At its heart, FFXI will feel very much like any other Final Fantasy game, and thus much like almost any other RPG out there. The majority of your time will be spent wandering the countryside looking for random encounters or heading off in groups to find a specific baddy. Once found, the interface, which is a little more complicated than it needs to be, will allow you to attack a beast with blade, magic, or bow, or taunt it into attacking you. Combat is still very much the turn-based slugfest it's always been, with each side waiting patiently to attack again while being abused by the other. Much needed are some cinematic displays (a la Knights of the Old Republic) or a more interactive combat system, but still it remains functional and effective.
          But before you go into combat you'll need to equip yourself, and this can be done at either the myriad of NPC ran stores in any given area or through the auction house; a very cool and incredibly functional program that allows you to sell your items at any price you wish…provided there's another player willing to purchase it for that. It's really this auction house that acts as the backbone of the game's economy, and will be the place you're most likely to go to buy and sell your swag.
          The purpose of all this is to engage in the near endless level treadmilling the game promotes. You buy better gear so that you can go out and kill more monsters, which give you higher levels, so you can buy better gear, to kill more monsters. Ad nausium. And this endless treadmilling is both the biggest strength and weakness the game offers. On the one hand, it is painfully repetitive and casual gamers will likely quickly realize that they're feeding the beast just for the sake of feeding the beast. There is little to actually compel you to continue unless you really think that owning a sword that does 2 more points of damage than last week really does make you a better person. On the other hand, however, is the simple fact that the game is bloody addictive. You will be happy that you made level 12 and will salivate over the possibility of reaching 13 before next Tuesday.
          So does all that make it a good game? The answer, decidedly, depends on who you are. If you're into leveling up, or suffer from an addictive personality, you will unquestionably find your niche here. If, on the other hand, repetition in play gets old quickly you'll lose interest in the lack of dynamic interaction and won't be happy with the play FFXI offers. Further infuriating casual gamers will be the painfully monotonous and aggravating play of the lower levels. Until you hit level 10 (which will likely take you approx. 20 hours of in game play) you are on your own (grouping isn't effective until after level 10) and totally worthless…trying to kill baby monsters for smatterings of treasure, dying constantly (which costs you hard earned XP), and gritting your teeth at the unquestionable pointlessness of it all…which can be exceedingly frustrating. 3.75 out of 5

      Story and Drama: Though a cool intro movie exists for PC players (we PS2 players miss out) and an occasional NPC narration or in-game cut scene will reward you for your work, the only real story you'll care about is your interaction with other players. There are master stories associated with your city/area, but until you reach a nice high level (I haven't gotten there after almost 30 hours of play) you will neither know about them nor care. 2 out of 5

      Multiplayer and Replayability: Well, since we established that it'll take you 20 hours just to get started playing this game, replayability isn't a factor. What is important, however, is the multiplayer aspects. After level 10, grouping will become a huge issue, and unquestionably whom you group with will be the difference between good entertainment and lackluster time wasting. A good group can move in coordination, chain attack combos together, give you a good social experience, and generally be a helluva good time. A bad group will waste hours and hours of your life, give you little or no return, and make you adjust your chat filters endlessly. So what's all that mean? It means that the experience will be hit and miss. If you're a lifeless little nerd, who can dedicate specific hours of the day or week to meet with your group, you can build a frickin' society online and forget about your mortal cares. If you're a normal monkey, however, and have life, love, and responsibilities to deal with you'll be left at the mercy of the community itself, which is somewhere between okay and fair. In my experience, grouping is at about a 1:3:2 ratio…with every good session mixed among three mediocre and two bad ones.
          Also worth noting, and critically important for PS2 players, is the communication aspect. A keyboard, hands down, unquestionably, without possible doubt, is ESSENTIAL. Though a dual shock designed controller interface does exist, it is clunky at best and good, at most, for basic group survival only. It can let you tell your group who to attack, or when you need help, but honest communication is impossible. Further, given the scope of the game, voice interaction would have been really nice. Typing out commands, especially on a flowing battlefield, is just too much of a waste of time. 3 out of 5

      The Verdict:

       In the end, FFXI is a great MMO that suffers from few, though noteworthy, issues. Play is smooth, the graphics are great, and the game remains addictive…though a lack of compelling interaction and an offer of little more than level treadmilling means it won't be for everyone.

      The Good: Pretty, fun, and vast.

      The Bad: Limited, a bit dull, and uncompelling.

      The Overall Ugly: It's gonna depend entirely on what kind of player you are.

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