|The playable races of Final Fantasy XI, from left to right: TaruTaru (Male and Female), Galka, Elvaan (Male and Female),|
Mithra and Humes (Male and Female).
«Final Fantasy XI» is set in the world of Vana'diel. As an adventurer of Vana'diel, you live a highly subsidized existence. For instance, one of your perks is free housing courtesy of your starting city. You also get to stay in rent-a-rooms in other cities, ironically without having to pay rent. Adventurer perks further include housekeeping in the form of a Moogle, a tiny bat-winged plush-demon who is somehow always waiting for you wherever you are staying, having already brought with it all your stuff. This adorable creature is as such likely more magically potent than anything you will encounter on your adventures, and is therefore potentially the most dangerous creature in the world.
The first thing you must do to become an adventurer of Vana'diel, is to create a character and allign yourself with one of the starting cities. Your choices are:
The Kingdom of San'Doria: Populated by the Elvaan, a tall, elf-like race with pointy ears and a martial disposition. Unlike traditional fantasy elves, Elvaan are quite bad with magic and instead prefer to solve their problems with good old fashioned violence.
The Federation of Windurst: Home of the magic-savvy TaruTaru, a race of tiny, short-legged, big-headed bundles of cuteness. The TaruTaru also have the characteristic of looking like the chibi style sprites from the earliest «Final Fantasy» games. Windurst is also inhabited by a mercenary group of nimble cat-women called the Mithra. Mithra fill the animals-with-human-like-characteristics role which apparently is mandatory in japanese RPGs.
The Republic of Bastok: The industrialized home of the Humes and their Galka laborers. The Galka were originally from the desert kingdoms across the sea, but lost their lands to invaders. They are huge, hulk-like and can take a beating. Although they look very butch and manly, they are apparently sexless beings who procreate through reincarnation. The Humes are just regular humans, and are not particularly special in any single way.
Compared to a game like «The elder Scrolls: Skyrim», there is very little character customization in «Final Fantasy XI». You pick a race, decide if you are male or female, choose between light and dark hair color and one of eight standard heads... and that's it! There is no deciding on body type, tweaking of cheekbone height, deliberating over eye color or any other such ting. Many begrudge this lack of freedom, but it has one pretty big advantage: You can start playing a lot sooner. If I'm given large amounts of character customization options, I tend to use large amounts of time customizing my character.
Also, all the faces, hairstyles and the standard body type, are well and tastefully designed. As a result, the world is populated only by attractive people with good physiques. This is «Final Fantasy» after all, where traditionally, everyone has awesome and slightly elaborate hair, always.
Characters still have a lot of personality though, as each race moves in ways that underscore their primary characteristics. For instance, the Elvaan (males in particular) have strong, exaggerated stances in combat, signifying their martial prowess to the point of impracticality. They fire crossbows with one hand and have both their shield and sword tauntingly lowered when in a defensive pose. A Hume doing the same things will have a more practical but less impressive looking approach, like using two hands on the crossbow, and keeping the shield well raised in front of the chest
The mechanical differences between races are noticable at the beginning of the game. For instance, a TaruTaru start with higher potential to cast more and stronger spells than for instance a Galka, but a Galka is a lot harder to kill. Over time however, as your character levels up, the differences become less marked. When one reaches the level cap, the differences are for the most part negligible
This is a good thing, as one of the cool things about «Final Fantasy XI» is that characters can, with the help of the above mentioned Moogle, change jobs whenever they like. If you for instance start out as an axe swinging brute, you can easily change into a mage class later, and then back again. The convergence of racial attributes at late game allows every character to be long term suited for whatever jobs they choose, even though race might have placed restrictions on them in the early game.
One of the most awesome aspects of «Final Fantasy XI» is the job system. As mentioned above, each character can be any job they like, and change between them at any time. This eliminates the need to make multiple characters to try out different play-styles, and as such you become more attached to the one character you invest your time in.
At this time, there are twenty different jobs in «Final Fantasy XI». As each job must be leveled individually, getting every one to the level cap is quite an undertaking. At the start of the game you are given a choice between six starter jobs:
Three jobs which are mainly combat oriented:
- Warrior (all-round-fighter who can use most weapons and armor)
- Monk (lightly armoured hand-to-hand and counter-attacking specialist)
- Thief (agile backstabber with the ability to find and steal treasure).
Three jobs that deal primarily with magic:
- White Mage (healer and support class that improves the party's defensive capabilities)
- Black Mage (elemental artillery and conjurer of cheap tricks)
- Red Mage (jack-of-all-trades, who can cast limited black and white magic, and fight half decently with light armor and blades)
That does not mean that the original six jobs are made redundant or obsolete. For instance, although advanced jobs include things like Paladin (a variation on the Warrior job, but with specialization in the sword/shield combo and the ability to cast limited white magic), the original Warrior job is still better at killing things with physical damage. The Paladin is however better at defending itself.
Advanced jobs are numerous, and new ones are periodically added to the game with expansion packs.
Relatively early in the game, you can unlock the ability to have a second job active at half the level of your primary job. This allows you to combine jobs, in such ways as to improve what you are already good at, or compensate for abilities you lack.
It is generally more efficient to boost your main job's already existing abilities, than to compensate for functions you don't possess. For instance, becoming a WAR/WHM (a Warrior with White Mage as a support job) to add healing spells to your Warrior repertoire will work, but it is better to just be a Paladin, who have those capabilities to begin with. Improving a Warrior can however be done by becoming WAR/MNK (a Warrior with Monk as a support job) to add counter-attacks to its already awesome withstanding-and-dealing-damage abilities.
The mechanics of combining abilities from multiple jobs, as well as the actual jobs present in the game, are strongly reminiscent of the job system in «Final Fantasy V» from 1992, which was not released in the west until much later, because it was deemed too complex and not accessible enough for the average western gamer.
The job system and adventuring.
Mastering all the jobs is not for every adventurer. It is however, not uncommon to have at least one fighting job and one mage job at the level cap, as well as a large number of different support jobs at half the cap.
I remember playing for a whole year, before I maxed out my first job. In this time, I experimented a lot with all of the other jobs in order to find out what worked for me, but mostly because it was fun. As such, it would have been possible to get to the cap a lot quicker, but I have always felt that playing a game is more about the journey than the destination. In «Final Fantasy XI», there is rather a lot of this journey, which can be both a curse and a blessing.
Chapters (more to follow):
Final Fantasy XI, Part 1 - Introduction
Final Fantasy XI, Part 2 - Adventurers of Vana'diel
Final Fantasy XI, Part 3 - The magical world of Vana'diel