SquareSoft has recently announced that its PlayOnline service will start on May 16 in Japan. Final Fantasy XI for the PlayStation 2 is also scheduled to hit store shelves on the same day. The package will contain two discs--the game disc itself and a separate disc for the installation of the PlayOnline service. The service itself will not incur monthly fees, but Final Fantasy XI will have a monthly fee of 1280 yen (approximately US$9.50). The Final Fantasy XI package is set at a price of 7800 yen (US$58.00). Keep in mind that all the information cited above is for the Japanese market, as SquareSoft has yet to announce details on the PlayOnline service and Final Fantasy XI for the North American market.
While the beta version gave us a glimpse of what to expect, the company claims that it is merely a fraction of what the final version is expected to be. First and foremost, the most noticeable difference in the final version is its much-improved graphics and user interface. Filled with more color and textures, each faction's cities are now more distinguished. Other geographical areas of Vana'diel in the final version also promise exploration into more varied environments. Furthermore, those cluttered windows that were on the beta version are now trimmed down, letting users see more of the in-game action onscreen.
We previously talked a bit about how players can go on quests and missions during the game. In the final version, missions are more important than quests, since they are vital to the game's main storyline. Quests require you to do personal favors for characters, usually NPCs, while missions are usually tasks given by your faction. Each mission is ranked, and in order for you to be allowed to go on missions of higher ranks, you'll have to fulfill several of the more basic missions and increase your character's "mission rank" level. Mission ranks pretty much tell you how important your character is in the faction. The higher your ranks are, the more you can access other areas of the cities, where lower-ranking characters can't go, or perhaps even meet with a faction's leaders.
Other than mission ranks, you will need to gather a certain number of crystals to take on missions of higher rank. There are eight different elements of the crystal: fire, water, earth, wind, ice, thunder, light, and darkness. The first four crystals are relatively easy to find, while the other four are considered rare. You can find crystals by defeating enemies when your character has the "signet" spell (called "crysta" in the beta), which is cast by one of the faction guards.
Keep in mind that missions and signet spells are restricted within your faction. So if you talk to guards of another faction, you will not be treated as one of their own. The crystals also serve another function in the game--they're used for item creation, in conjunction with the "combine" skill. Players will need to improve upon their combine skill for item creation to succeed, and when it does work, you'll be able to create some useful items. The combine skills will be divided into several categories: smithery (for armor and weapons), sewing (for clothing), alchemy (for potions), woodwork (for shields and furniture), toreutics (for rings and amulets), and leather work (for whips, paper, and belts). For example, using the alchemy combine skill and combining items such as tree roots, mistletoe, a bat's wings, mercury, and the water crystal will yield a healing potion.
Of course, you wouldn't be able to call it Final Fantasy without some of the familiar features in the game. So far, we've confirmed that (1) Cid appears as one of the NPCs in the game, (2) players can ride on Chocobos, cutting down travel time, and (3) air ships exist. These air ships are apparently controlled by the principality of Juno, another faction that fought alongside Bastok, Windurst, and San D'oria in the war against evil 20 years ago. The air ships dock on the ports of San D'oria, though their purpose during the game has not yet been revealed.
You will be able to use data between the PC and Sony PlayStation 2 versions, since the game uses server-side saving. Though the specifications have not been finalized, so far it is known that the PC version will require a graphics card that supports hardware T&L and DirectX 8.1. It is expected that users can choose from different resolution settings, depending on their hardware specifications. The PC version will be released on a CD-ROM, while the PS2 version will be on a DVD-ROM. Final Fantasy XI for the PS2 is slated for release on May 16 in Japan, followed by the release of the PC versions shortly thereafter. A North American release date for both versions has not yet been announced. SquareSoft also plans on releasing Final Fantasy XI expansion packs for both versions of the game in the future. Look for more on the game as it becomes available.