Those of you still haunted by recurring nightmares about random battles can sleep easy with FFXI, because Square have completely vanquished the concept, offering something in-between the classic Final Fantasy gameplay and Diablo II-style fighting. As you wander around the game world you will see a lot of your enemies doing the same - just prowling about the area, spoiling for a fight. Using the target function, players will be able to enter a real-time combat mode with whoever they plan to victimize. After a smooth transition from the gameplay view to the battle view, players will see a colour-coded window detailing attacks and the damage caused, while the player's character will attack in real-time unless ordered to do something else. This approach means that you won't be caught off-guard by a quick-thinking monster. A pop-up menu is available in this mode which lists various combat options, including defensive and offensive magic, special abilities and inventory items. There will also be an option to peg it, if said monster looks a bit too mean for the player's poor, weak-willed character. Whether the game will offer magical abilities in line with Square's previous adventures is unknown. Enormous screen-filling limit break attacks and the like would certainly be nice to see, but whether they would work in real-time is debatable.
Beyond the game's documented battle features though, a lot of people are speculating based on the trailers released by Squaresoft. These show several battle sections, and it appears that for certain attacks the game switches to more dramatic camera angles to capture the effect. It's also obvious that larger scale battles will be possible, with hundreds of players and enemies on screen at once. Squaresoft has also blown the lid on a couple of new character races, the various character classes which will be available to players from the start and the much-debated battle system. The most interesting thing about Final Fantasy XI will be how you choose your character. Picking from five different classes and several different races, players can create a fairly unique set of physical attributes, and we expect that Square will include options for tweaking beyond that. The classes available are Fighter, Monk, Thief, White Mage or Red Mage, curiously the same as those found in the original NES Final Fantasy. The character races are Humes, Elvarns, Taru-tarus and now Misura and Garuga. Humes and Elvarns are fairly easy to figure out, and apparently Taru-tarus are fuzzy and cute, but Misura will be a catwoman-like female-only class, while Garuga is a hefty male-only class, presumably for players who prefer brawn to magic.
A New Fantasy
We really wanted to know how persistent world events would work within the land of Vana D'iel, and Squaresoft have also given us an idea of that. Within the three kingdoms, players can work together for world domination or can group together with like-minded wanderers and attack parties or cities in other regions. Every week 'points' will be awarded to each region, although it's unclear how these will affect players or whether they have anything to do with FFXI's as-yet unreleased storyline. Creating a storyline that can fit such a vast and all-encompassing adventure will be tricky for Square, but the men in charge of that particular aspect are none other than Hiromichi Tanaka, of Chrono Cross and Xenogears fame, and Koichi Ishii, who cut his teeth on the SaGa Frontier… oh, and Seiken Densetsu. Visually Final Fantasy XI is quite a departure for Squaresoft. It seems to share more in common with the likes of Dark Age of Camelot than Final Fantasy X, with huge sprawling vistas and boundless areas of scenic beauty to explore, rather than functional adventuring within a closed area. Obviously the PlayStation 2's graphical prowess will be put to the test by FFXI. Whether the system can handle such a widespread level of texture detail is unknown, because nobody has really tried anything this vast and detailed before. The official Squaresoft trailer features a lot of Onimusha-inspired CG, but the in-game sections look surprisingly detailed as well. The forest sections were particularly impressive, with some thoughtful lighting and a beautiful mesh of leaves and branches covering the players' path.
First Or Final MMORPG?
With Final Fantasy XI currently in its beta-testing phase, a lot of people are already commenting openly on Square's first attempt at an MMORPG, with a surprising amount of negative feedback appearing on the various websites charting the game's progress. As much of it is in Japanese it's difficult to decipher their opinions, but the general gist of it is that the game doesn't yet justify the cost of the PS2 hard drive and broadband peripheral, and after the catastrophic failure of the Dreamcast to capture the online console market its outlook is fairly bleak. Ironically, another big concern from the Japan-only beta test is that the game seems "too American". Some people have even questioned Square's own commitment to the game, pointing out that they need their biggest franchise to back PlayOnline but are perhaps acting out of obligation rather than anything else… Although Final Fantasy XI will undoubtedly be a milestone for Squaresoft whether good or bad, there is a tinge of trepidation about the title. It's new ground for Squaresoft, and that's not often the case. As proven by Final Fantasy X, when they do take the plunge (introducing voice-acting, a real-time 3D world etc) they do it with aplomb, but whether they can create something innovative and exciting enough to give the PC-bred MMORPG a run for its money is a tougher question to answer. Of course, we will have to wait quite a while before we see Final Fantasy XI in action here in the west, and by that time it should be clear what the Japanese think of it. Until then, we'll have to hold our breath. Release Date - March 2002 in Japan