Final Fantasy XI Updated Preview

Read about the latest information on Square's massive multiplayer online RPG for the Sony PlayStation2.

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Final Fantasy XI, SquareSoft's first MMORPG for the PlayStation 2 and PC, is scheduled for a spring release in Japan this year. The beta currently features tens of thousands of testers, and it's now in its final phase, as the company has announced that it will close applications on February 6. In our latest preview, we cover the most recent details on the game.

Many options exist to allow you to communicate with other players in the world.

Communication tools are an essential part of online RPGs, and Final Fantasy XI provides players with different options for communicating with others during the game. A text window is located at the bottom part of the screen, and it displays messages, battle information, and public announcements. Upon locking on to a character, you can choose from one of four options. The default option is "say," which displays your message text in white and allows everyone near you to read it. This is useful when you're looking for new party members or asking questions. "Party" displays your text in blue and only allows members of your party to read it. "Tell" displays your text in red, it's used to send private messages to a designated player. It can be used even if that player is distant, as long as you still have the person on your designated list. Lastly, "shout," which displays your text in pink, is similar to "say," except that it allows people who are farther away from you to read it. This is useful when you want to sell weapons and items in a town, since everyone in that town will be able to see your messages.

There is another method of communication, and it involves "link shells," which can be purchased in stores. When players are equipped with the same link shells, they will be able to communicate with each other regardless of where they are. This is useful if you have regular discussions among clan members scattered around the world of Vana'diel. In addition to exchanging text-based messages, players can perform a variety of gestures, such as bow, shake head, smile, point finger, cry, wave hand, laugh, and many others.

As mentioned in our earlier preview of FFXI, you'll travel to different factions in the world of Vana'diel. Other than pubs and shops, the cities and towns in each faction have other important locales for players. Each player is given a home where he or she can heal, change jobs, and even receive money and items in the mailbox. Money and items can be shipped to any other character, as long as you know his or her character name. You can also trade items with anyone nearby. You lock on to that person and choose the "trade" option. You can give, trade, or even barter for weapons and items using this option.

Different text colors represent different types of messages, including private, party, and special chats.

Battles occur outside of the cities, and the further away you are from a city, the tougher the enemies tend to be. Players can earn experience points and skill points for weapons, magic spells, and defense in battle. The weapon skills include fist (no weapon), dagger, single-handed sword, single-handed ax, and single-handed club; the defense skills include evade, shield, and parry; and the magic spell skills include heal, light, dark, strength, weaken, and elemental. The more players use certain weapons or magic spells, the more likely they are to earn skill points for them. The defense skills are different in that points are earned for them randomly during battle. It is not yet known if equipment like armor or stats such as agility affect the defense skills.

After battles, you and your party may be rewarded with money, weapons, and items. There are two ways you can divide your wealth among party members. One is to let the party leader spread the take among the rest of the party, while the other involves an element of chance. Everyone who is interested in a particular item will be assigned a randomly generated number (from 001-999), and the one with the highest "roll" wins the item.

Though they may seem daunting at first, MMORPG interfaces soon become second nature to dedicated players.

When players die, they are transported back to their "home points," which are usually located in each faction's capitols. There are also home points in unpopulated parts of Vana'diel, though they may prove to be more dangerous since enemies could be lurking nearby. At any rate, the home points will most likely become major gathering places where players seek party members or sell weapons and items.

Veteran FF players will be pleased to see many key elements of the Final Fantasy series have been brought over to FFXI intact. The game also features a number of elements from previous games in the Final Fantasy series. Though the only jobs revealed so far are warrior, monk, white magician, black magician, red magician, and thief, you can expect to see others such as summoner. You can switch jobs during the game, and you can also choose a "support job," which is largely the same as becoming a dual-class player in other RPGs. You can take on a support job by meeting a job master and completing the mission that he or she offers. Though players who take on a support job will be able to use the abilities of two jobs, they will only gain experience points for their main job. In addition, your support job will function at one-half of its actual level. For example, if your main job is 10th-level white magician, and you take on warrior as your new main job and designate the white magician as your support job, you'll become a level-one warrior and a level-five white magician.

Your enemies get progressively more deadly the farther from civilization you travel.

There are several elite guards located in and outside of cities and towns, and they have the ability to cast the magic spell "crysta." Only guards from your faction can cast the spell on you. This spell allows you to earn crystals randomly after battles. There are four types of crystals--fire, earth, wind, and water--and they can be fused onto weapons and equipment, though their exact effects are not yet known.

One last interesting bit is that the different servers the game will use will be named after the bosses in previous Final Fantasy games--Chaos (FFI), Xdeath (FFV), Golbez (FFIV), and Zande (FFIII). In the beginning of the game, players will be restricted to the server they start on. However, players will be allowed to travel between the servers later on in the game, though no specific information about this feature has been released.

We hope to deliver more information on the game as its release approaches. Expect to see Final Fantasy XI on the PlayStation 2 and PC this spring in Japan. Players will need the PS2 hard drive to play the game, and they'll also be charged a yet-to-be announced monthly fee (though access to the PlayOnline network's auxiliary functions will still be free of charge).

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