Let me backfire now

Now that I’m pissed off, let me backfire.

I had archived (when I still didn’t have reasons to flame the game) a link to a Gamespot review of FFXI on the XBOX360 to comment later on. It fits prefectly the momentum:

Preposterously long installation period, plus layers of unnecessary inconvenience; virtually nothing done to enhance the experience for the xbox 360; slowly paced action and exploration caters almost exclusively to the hardcore; tough-to-swallow monthly fees required.

That’s a quite good beginning, isn’t it?

Let me quote more:

There’s something to be said for a game that can stand the test of time. Final Fantasy XI Online dates back to 2002, when it was originally released in Japan. Clearly inspired by the influential massively multiplayer PC game EverQuest, FFXI infused the online role-playing formula with the distinctive look and feel of Square Enix’s hugely popular franchise. The game naturally attracted thousands of players, many of whom stuck with FFXI over the long haul, since it featured a deep character class system and a huge, evolving world to explore. However, it’s simply impossible to look at FFXI for the Xbox 360 in the same way as the previously released PC and PlayStation 2 versions. Paradoxically, that’s because this latest translation of the game is essentially no different than the others. It makes no concessions whatsoever to take advantage of the Xbox 360, and it practically goes out of its way to inconvenience and alienate new players. If you’re addicted to FFXI already, now you can play it in HD on the Xbox 360 if you feel like buying another copy. But if you’ve avoided the game up until now, you’d best keep that up.

The game’s sprawling environments and initially slow-paced combat makes the underlying action feel like a chore even early on.

Just beginning play for the very first time literally takes close to three hours, from the hour it takes just to install the game to your Xbox 360 hard drive (the game gobbles up more than a third of the total amount of free space on that thing), to the hour it takes to update the game files once you connect, to the hour it takes to enter about half a dozen registration codes and, finally, spending a few minutes to create your character. Like other versions of FFXI, this game is unfortunately saddled within Square Enix’s PlayOnline viewer, a shell that provides you with a free e-mail address and some other completely unnecessary services. It must be an inextricable part of the game, but all it does here is make it more difficult for you to jump into a session of FFXI.

Once you’re in the game, you’d better get comfortable, because the slow pacing means you’ll have little to show for your time spent unless you play for at least several hours at a time. You’ll also find it’s almost impossible to make progress after a while unless you join a well-coordinated group of players. And after you manage to find an adequate group and start slowly grinding your way toward your next level, killing monster after monster, you’ll naturally pressure each other to keep playing. In the past few years, online role-playing games have evolved to cater to more types of players, by doing a better job of accommodating people with less time on their hands or those who prefer the option to play solo. Such games as World of Warcraft and City of Heroes have attempted to become less restrictive, easier to get into, better looking, and simply more fun than their predecessors. By comparison, a game like FFXI feels like work, not play. No wonder the game’s character classes are called jobs.

Another issue worth mentioning is that, for better or worse, FFXI throws all kinds of different players into the mix. That means you’ll run into Japanese players running the PS2 version of the game, American players running the PC version of the game, and so on. Most of them have probably been at it for months already, so don’t expect much sympathy as you try to learn the ropes. Don’t expect the game to do a good job of teaching you the ropes, either. The manual spends about as much time explaining the registration process as it does telling you how to play, and the game itself pretty much drops you into the world without any instruction. At least the PlayOnline service itself offers some advice, though in FFXI, you’ll have to learn most everything the hard way…or hope that an experienced player is kind enough to walk you through some of the finer points of etiquette, grouping, combat, macros, travel, and so on. Prepare for a frustrating uphill battle just trying to get your bearings in Vana’diel.

You can still look forward to some decent character graphics and environments, but this game looks seriously below par, and rough edges like an inexplicably uneven frame rate and distant objects suddenly popping up on the horizon hurt it further.

While each of these expansion packs add substantial amounts of content, none of them are likely to even come into play until you’ve already invested dozens of hours in the game. So while FFXI has grown over time, it hasn’t really evolved. One of these expansion packs might have done something about the interface or the graphics, for example.

Whatever mystique there was surrounding FFXI is gone now, and what’s left is a great, big game that’s almost intolerably cumbersome. If you’re very brave, masochistic, or stubborn, you might find some rewarding experiences in FFXI. But chances are good that you won’t. Considering this is the first time the Final Fantasy series has appeared on the Xbox, it’s hard not to feel sorely disappointed by the slapdash job done in clumsily pushing this game onto the 360.

That’s what I define a good review. Even if here I collected the gripes, these are good gripes, whether you like the game or not. The point is that you can like it. But IN SPITE of these problems, and not because they do not exist. These are problems that existed since the very beginning and that affected just everyone. Square did very little to address them and the game remained essentially the same without even trying to improve.

I believe FFXI is a wonderful game. One of the best mmorpgs, sitting close to WoW. Even better on certain aspects. But the fundamental point is that the game is CRIPPLED
by absurd problems that could be extemely trivial to address. This is why the lowest common denominator is Square’s masochism in those choices that cut the legs of this game and, as the review says, alienate possible players.

Some of the common gripes have good reasons behind and I can even defend them. Compromises that have a foundation. For example the “worldpass” mechanic (you cannot create a character on a server of your choice) was a “lesser evil” that pissed of every single player. But that was still able to effectively achieve the miracle of balanced servers. See what is happening to Blizzard and you’ll understand why this choice wasn’t so terrible.

The same for the decision to unify the interface and technology between the different hardware platforms, or the decision to have global servers to cut the maintenance/administration costs while striving for a good ideal. There were good ideas behind, good principles. Even innovation and the desire to try something different. Something to strive for.

But beside those valid points, there were also other, fundamental flaws without good reasons to support them. From the decision to not allow the game to run in a window or deleting not only the characters, but even whole accounts after a period of inactivity, to the very little work on the game client to take advantage a bit more of the different platforms.

It wouldn’t have been too hard to code a better mouse support to improve the controls on the PC.

That review lists and explains clearly most the perceived major problems at the high level. It is interesting to notice that the great majority of them aren’t even directly related to the game.

The issues of course don’t end there. Even the game has serious accessibility and design problems and it’s again interesting to observe that it was fairly successful in spite of them. It’s a game with a huge potential, high production value and execution, but that suffers from very simple problems that are evident to everyone but Square (and here there’s obviously the cultural gap that hinders a good communication between the comunity and the japanese devs). It could have been much, much, much more successful than how it is now but it is again grounded by those basic flaws. As I wrote on Q23: “I hate the retard, masochist parts of the game, not all of it”.

FFXI is a game I always wanted to love but that has remained really hard to approach for me. I’m sure I’m part of a large majority in this.

It’s fundamental for every mmorpg to remain flexible, evolve and adapt. FFXI, while remaining one of the best game worlds to date, performs very poorly with these three.

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