Final Fantasy XI Online Impressions

Square Enix shows off the localized version of its massively multiplayer online RPG on the E3 show floor.

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This week Sony announced that Final Fantasy XI Online and the 40GB PlayStation 2 hard drive will both ship in the first quarter of 2004, so we're not exactly holding our breath for one or the other. But we still made sure to check out the playable localized version of Final Fantasy XI at Square Enix's booth on the E3 show floor. Final Fantasy XI was originally released in Japan last year, and it experienced many of the same sorts of growing pains that have wracked some other online RPGs. But the game should have a relatively high degree of polish by the time it's finally released here.

Final Fantasy XI eschews the series' emphasis on storyline and is instead an online RPG reminiscent of the original EverQuest for the PC, or even the PS2's own EverQuest Online Adventures. You create a character from a number of different races and classes (called "jobs" here) and head out into the world, looking for adventure and engaging monsters in pseudo-real-time combat. You gain experience and new skills and abilities as you defeat more and more monsters, and fighting in groups with other players allows you to take on much tougher foes. Despite being about a year old, Final Fantasy XI still looks pretty good from a graphical standpoint.

The biggest difference we noted between the version of the game shown at E3 and the Japanese version we've been playing is that this version of the game has been translated into English. Since Final Fantasy XI is already out in Japan, and since the localization process seems to be complete or far along, there doesn't seem to be any particular reason why the game couldn't come out sooner than 2004. That is, other than the fact that you need the hard drive to play it, and Sony isn't releasing the hard drive till then. For what it's worth, it seems possible that Sony will bundle the game with the hard drive to sweeten the deal for prospective buyers.

The game is on display at a number of kiosks equipped with Logitech's combination keyboard-gamepad for the PS2, allowing people both to run around and beat up monsters and to chat with each other. Final Fantasy XI currently offers no option for voice chat, a feature that's standard in Xbox Live-compatible RPGs like Phantasy Star Online and the upcoming True Fantasy Live Online, though we do know that online voice chat is important to Sony, as expressed during the company's press conference this week. In any case, we expect Sony and Square Enix will take the time to add some new features to the domestic version of Final Fantasy XI, perhaps by integrating the content from the upcoming expansion pack that's being released in Japan. We do know that the PS2 version of the game will be compatible with the PC version, insofar as players using either version will be able to meet each other in the game.

Final Fantasy XI's fate for domestic release became uncertain for a while since plans for the PS2 hard drive's release weren't clear. So we're comforted to know the game will definitely see the light of day on these shores, and we're hopeful that it'll be worth the wait.

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