Final Fantasy XI Updated Impressions

We revisit the land of Vana'diel in the upcoming PC version of Square Enix's online role-playing game.

We recently had the opportunity to take another tour of Final Fantasy XI, Square Enix's upcoming online role-playing game for the PC and PlayStation 2. Like other such games, Final Fantasy XI will let you create a single character of a specific race and profession, then venture out into an online world in search of fame, fortune, and excitement with other like-minded players. However, the game will also include many of the mainstay characters, creatures, professions, and magic spells of the popular Final Fantasy console RPG series, including the chickenlike chocobo birds; the puffy, bat-winged moogles; and the red, white, and black schools of magic.

Vana'diel is home to many creatures. Not all of them are friendly.

Our latest tour began in the cabins of the quiet fishing village of Kazham, one of the game's many town areas. Many of Final Fantasy XI's towns are equipped with amenities like regular shops, moogle vaults (where you can store your items), and auction houses. Like all of the game's other regions, Kazham has a backstory that involves its control by the mithra, the game's catlike playable race.

We then rented a chocobo to ride on to proceed to the next area, the caverns of Norg, by way of the dense Yuhtunga jungle. This jungle, like the Jugner forest area, is home to many powerful, hostile monsters that make their home in the dreary shadow of the treetops. Wilderness regions such as this seem like perfect places for a hunting sortie when all anyone wants to do is fight--though the jungles and forests of Final Fantasy XI seem as winding and confusing as they are huge, so you need to keep an eye on your compass or risk getting lost.

On reaching the grotto town of Norg, we were greeted by Lion--the summoner character that resembles Rikku from Final Fantasy X--whose dialogue initiated a lengthy cinematic sequence. It seems that your character has had business with Lion in a similar environment--an underground palace known as Castle Zuahl. In this dramatic sequence, it's revealed that your character accompanied a character of the hulking galka race on a quest to find and free an imprisoned oracle. However, once you and your companion found him, the reunion was interrupted by a visit from two other characters--a spoiled-brat duke and his court wizard, who were seeking to revive an ancient race known as the "crystal line." The evildoers complete a ritual that summons five powerful warriors (of each of the game's playable races), each with gray skin and red eyes. Your character is subdued in this sequence, and the once-imprisoned oracle is wounded in battle with these warriors, but he makes a last-ditch attempt to save you and your companion by summoning a powerful spirit clad in black plate armor.

This extremely lengthy cutscene is just one of the many cinematic sequences in Final Fantasy XI that serve to advance the game's main story and also to provide background for new areas, as well as hints on where to go to complete a quest. At the end of this particular cutscene, we resumed play in the pirate town of Norg, which is apparently situated in a seaside cave--perfect for smugglers that sell special weapons not available anywhere else.

You can access challenging battles by using a burning circle.

Our subsequent adventures included a jaunt in Korrokola Tunnel, another wilderness area that consists of huge, stony caverns inhabited by creepy, crawly critters and a few species of giants. We then paid a visit to the Eastern Altepa Desert, a desolate flatland inhabited by more unusual creatures, including the cactuar, essentially a tiny cactus with legs and a very nasty ability to deal severe damage to its attackers by shooting spines in all directions. We then concluded our tour with a visit to a burning circle--these areas indicate a "boss fight" that's available to characters within a certain level range. This particular circle pitted us against a squadron of tiny, saplinglike creatures whose magical abilities more than made up for their size. These enemies, like others you encounter in Final Fantasy XI, have specific strengths and weaknesses that a well-equipped party can prepare for. For instance, all plantlike enemies are especially vulnerable to fire-based magic. These particular enemies were joined by a leader that would render players helpless by casting a powerful sleep spell, so using sleep protection potions and spells helped somewhat, too.

It's clear from the time we've spent with it that Final Fantasy XI has many varied environments and a stable of unusual monsters. The beta test ends on Tuesday, October 14, and the final game is scheduled for release later this year for the PC and early next year for the PlayStation 2.

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