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Final Fantasy Retrospective: The PlayStation 2 Years

Final Fantasy gains a voice, and faith in the series begins to waver for the first time.

Final Fantasy XI: Together, We Can Overcome Any Foe

Way back in 1999, a little game known as EverQuest took the PC gaming world by storm. Known in the mainstream media as EverCrack, the massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG) captured the attention and wallets of legions of addicted fans. It was such a sensation that Hironobu Sakaguchi stood up and took notice. As early as 1999 Sakaguchi was thinking about bringing the themes and familiar Final Fantasy elements to the online gaming space.

Final Fantasy XI Online was announced in 2000 along with the tenth and twelfth games in the series. As if to quell the expected backlash, Square positioned FF X as a single player game with online elements (these would end up getting scrapped), while XI would be an MMO and XII would be a more traditional Final Fantasy game.

Development on Final Fantasy XI began as the English localization of the PS1 game Chrono Cross was underway. Most of the core Chrono Cross development team moved over to the new online project, with Hiromichi Tanaka taking on the role of producer. Character designs were done by Nobuyoshi Mihara, a newcomer to the franchise. The game was directed by Koichi Ishii, who had made a name for himself in Japan for directing the Seiken Densetsu series, known in the West as Final Fantasy Adventure, Secret of Mana, and Legend of Mana. Nobuo Uematsu once again took on some help for the game’s massive soundtrack. This included Naoshi Mizuna, who would go on to compose music for the expansions to the game.

Hiromichi Tanaka

Though Final Fantasy XI was planned from the get go as a PlayStation 2 game, this would be the first game in the series to also have a PC version developed at the same time. There were multiple reasons for the PC version of FF XI, with the ease of playing online being chief among them. The PlayStation 2 needed a separate network adapter to get online, while most PCs at the time were already online enabled. Developers at Square also wanted to bring in as large a player base as they could manage, since a vast community is vital to the ongoing financial success of an MMORPG.

In addition to the network adapter, Final Fantasy XI needed an additional peripheral to run on the PS2. The game was so massive that it required its own hard drive. To this end, the game was bundled with a 40 gigabyte drive.  In theory, the PS2 HDD was a peripheral that could be utilized by any developer, but its inclusion with Final Fantasy XI and the cost associated with it—99 U.S. dollars—relegated it to simply being the Final Fantasy XI add-on.

Being a massively multiplayer game, Final Fantasy XI was understandably far different from its predecessors. Instead of playing a default protagonist, players were able to create a character chosen from one of the five races of Vana’Diel. There were the average Humes, the tall and lanky Elvaan, the diminutive TaruTaru, the massive (and genderless) Galka, and the female-only catlike Mithra. Players could tweak limited cosmetic features such as hair type and color. After selecting a starting job (the beginning classes came straight from the original Final Fantasy) it was time to name the avatar and log in for the first time.

From its launch, Final Fantasy XI was known as a rather harsh game with a steep difficulty curve. New players began with a weapon and not a dime in their pouch. After being tossed into one of the three starting kingdoms of Bastok, Windurst, or San d’Oria, it was up to the player to decide how to venture forth.

Most players would head straight outside to kill some monsters and begin the long trek to level 75, and the battle system was the best indication that FF XI was a much different game than the rest of the series. Initiating a fight would lock the player onto an enemy, which began an auto attack. Final Fantasy XI used a version of the ATB system, but the timers were hidden from players. Spells and abilities had their own cast times and cool down times, adding a level of depth to the combat. However, to the MMORPG newbie, the battle system of FF XI initially seemed rather boring.

It was in the party system that Final Fantasy XI showed its true colors. The game was built around teamwork, and while most new players would opt to play alone for their early levels, by level 10 it was almost mandatory to group up in order to make any real progress. The jobs in the game were centered around specific party roles. Warriors kept the attention of monsters and soaked up damage, while white mages kept the party healthy. Black mages, monks, and other melee jobs were in charge of damage dealing. Advanced jobs could be unlocked at level 30, giving more options to players. The ninja job, for example, was originally conceived as a quick damage dealing class, but the ability to avoid enemy attacks turned it into a frontline “tank” class once players got their hands on it.

Communication was key to these party setups, and certain attacks and skills hinged on that fact. Characters earned tactical points (TP) by attacking, which would make a powerful weapon skill available when the TP gauge reached 100%. By timing certain weapon skills together, a skillchain would be created. These skillchains did extra elemental damage which could be further augmented by a well-timed magic spell, resulting in a magic burst for huge attack bonuses. Other moves such as the thief ability sneak attack required that players stand in a very specific spot in relation to the target. Players in Japan and the West were able to communicate through an intuitive and expansive auto translate system that could be used to get most information across to players of different languages. The emphasis on teaming up and helping each other out created a strong and friendly community that banded together to succeed in a game that did little handholding.

With the focus on partying, leveling up, and gathering items for crafting or selling on the auction house, it was easy for some players to forget the storyline of Final Fantasy XI. Those that stuck with it were treated to the same level of storytelling, character development, and cutscenes that the series had become known for. The only thing missing were the CG cinematics; other than the impressive intro movie, the big story scenes in FF XI were done in real time with the game engine. Each starting nation had its own selection of story missions to undertake, which would tie into a larger narrative that incorporated players of all realms. The world and story of Vana’Diel was later continued through multiple expansions.

Final Fantasy XI enjoys the dubious honor of having the most release dates of any game in the series. The PS2 version of the game launched in Japan on May 16, 2002, followed in November by the PC version.  This was switched up quite a bit for the American launch; the PC version hit stores on October 28, 2003, but the PS2 version wouldn’t make it until March of 2004. The long wait meant that Western gamers got the first expansion, Rise of the Zilart, included in the box.  Final Fantasy XI made its way to the Xbox 360 in April of 2006, making this the first game in the series to appear on Microsoft’s console. Three major expansions followed, with Chains of Promathia hitting late in 2004, The Treasures of Aht Urhgan in 2006, and Wings of the Goddess in 2007. As of this writing, another expansion, Seekers of Adoulin, is slated for a 2013 release.

Critics initially praised Final Fantasy XI partly due to the rarity of MMORPGs on home consoles and the ability to play with people on the PC and in different countries. While the game managed to collect a dedicated userbase on the PC, the high cost of entry on the PS2 (the $99.99 game, network adapter, and monthly fee) proved to be too high a barrier. The high difficulty was also a factor; many people who did jump in didn’t make it too far past the initial 30 day trial period. However, the game saw steady growth, and has since gone on to become the most profitable game in the Final Fantasy series. Even today, new players join regularly, thanks to a smoother difficulty curve and a knowledgeable player base ready to help welcome fledgling adventurers.

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Comments

Anonymous

01/01/2013 at 02:10 PM

Good times ^^

GamerGirlBritt

02/24/2013 at 12:14 PM

Final Fantasy X was my very first Final Fantasy. Hell, you could even say it was my first video game period. And is still my favorite to this day

And what's really weird is, it was released on my birthday. Coincidence? I think not.

Jesse Miller Staff Writer

02/24/2013 at 12:20 PM

X seems to get a lot more hate these days for some reason.  When I originally played it, I loved it, and it's still one of my favorites in the series to this date.

asrealasitgets

02/24/2013 at 03:02 PM

I think XII is my favorite from PS2. I played that game the longest time just grinding. All the PS2 FF are great, even XI Online. Although I didn't spend much time playing that one. I liked them in this order : 12 > 10-2 > 10 > 11. 

SanAndreas

02/24/2013 at 06:10 PM

I never understood all the hate FFXII gets. To me, FFXII felt more Final Fantasy than FFX did, even though that game is called the "last true FF game." Don't get me wrong, I liked X, but XII had so much more to do in it, had a very refined battle system that could have served as a template for future entries, and unlike X and XIII, you weren't rigidly locked into a long hallway. I wish they'd reassemble the XII team to work on Final Fantasy XV.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

02/24/2013 at 07:37 PM

I prefer X for its cast of characters and the strategy that comes with being able to plan out moves many turns in advance, but I loved XII as well. It also had a great battle system, and the world was a blast to explore, feeling almost as vast as XI's Vana'diel. But I didn't like any of the characters besides Balthier, and the License Board system didn't allow for a lot of specialization. By the end of the game, all of my characters were a hodge podge of abilities, which took away from any identity in battle they had.

stratu23

02/25/2013 at 12:03 AM

Just love love love FFX. Great memories!

When the FFX HD version is released on the Vita, that's the day I get myself a Vita :]

GamerGirlBritt

02/26/2013 at 12:49 PM

My thoughts exactly!!!

CroniclsofLauren

02/25/2013 at 12:13 AM

Loved the article!

Julian Titus Senior Editor

02/25/2013 at 12:30 AM

Thank you so much! It was a lot of work, but also a lot of fun to put together. I have a companion editorial going up soon, and I hope it sparks some great FF talk.

Surfcaster

02/26/2013 at 11:00 AM

When FFX released I really enjoyed it. I didn't finish the game, simply because my end-game file was corrupted (sigh), but I really liked the game. The colourful world was a nice change of pace and it looked spectacular on the new PS2.

I bought FFIX, HDD and all and I was one of those that didn't get passed the trial period. It sounds weird, but even in an MMO, I prefer a solo experience.

FFXII was a great game, and I'm a sucker for Ivalice so that all worked for me. I enjoyed the Gambit system, although the License System was a little lacking.

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