Last May at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, one of Microsoft's biggest announcements for the Xbox 360 was that Square Enix's popular online role-playing game, Final Fantasy XI, was headed to the system in 2006. Because the game first launched in Japan way back in the summer of 2002, we never could have expected that it would be a showpiece for a next-generation console four years later. But Final Fantasy XI for the Xbox 360 is definitely on its way, and we've been playing the open beta version to prove it. Available exclusively with the latest issue of the Official Xbox Magazine, the Final Fantasy XI beta test essentially lets you experience the game for free on the Xbox 360, while the beta lasts. We're just starting to get our feet wet with this version of the game, but our first impression was one of surprise, since so little has changed on the surface of Final Fantasy XI all these years later.
Much like other versions of Final Fantasy XI, the Xbox 360 version requires you to install Square Enix's PlayOnline browser before you can get into the game. PlayOnline is sort of a shell interface, offering its own friends list and e-mail system that are analogous to features built into the Xbox 360, only clunkier. At any rate, this preliminary install takes about an hour, and when it's combined with the Final Fantasy XI data, you end up carving out a large chunk of your hard drive--about five gigabytes. You also have to go through a fairly laborious registration process, first setting up a PlayOnline account and then separately registering for Final Fantasy XI. All told, it takes a solid couple of hours between the time you first insert the beta disc into your Xbox 360 and the time you get started playing Final Fantasy XI.
The game itself seems identical to what we've experienced in the past. The interface is unchanged, meaning the game is playable with a gamepad, but a USB-compatible keyboard is more or less necessary for player interaction (the game doesn't support the Xbox Live headset). There don't seem to be any additional bells and whistles in terms of the presentation, so the visuals--since they were originally conceived in 2002 with the PlayStation 2 in mind--just aren't that impressive by the Xbox 360's standards. On the other hand, games like Final Fantasy XI can get better with age, and to that end, this is absolutely a time-tested online RPG that seems to have left its old growing pains long in the past. We've already seen plenty of players running around, killing monsters, finding loot, and getting stronger in this beta.
The Xbox 360 version of Final Fantasy XI does include the game's first two expansion packs, Rise of the Zilart and Chains of Promathia (another expansion, Treasures of Aht Urhgan, was recently announced). Overall there's just a ton of content here, enough to have kept people busy playing all these past years since the game's original debut. So while we aren't going to expect too many differences between the Xbox 360 version of this game and previous versions, this version of Final Fantasy XI will give Xbox 360 owners a chance to get wrapped up in the game's addictive world.
While we got a serious case of déjà vu setting foot in Final Fantasy XI's world of Vana'diel for the Xbox 360, we're still looking forward to experiencing this game again on a new platform. Stay tuned for additional coverage and impressions as we delve deeper.