A bit like movie sequels, game sequels tend to diminish in stature and quality with every succeeding release. On that basis, the Final Fantasy series should long ago have been consigned to the gamers’ trash heap, yet against all the odds every new release (a bit like The Sims) is eagerly awaited by its legions of fans.
Most of that success is due to the astonishing level of graphics for the combat scenes in particular, as well as strong storylines, plenty of quests, sub-quests and levelling up that can be achieved, and a few surprises. The biggest surprise this time round is the decision to make it a multiplayer online game and once more the aficionados should be delighted.
First, though, a note of caution, as you’ll need plenty of hard drive space (a whopping 6GB) and you’ll need to install the PlayOnline ‘gateway’ which will involves several menu screens to get both in and out of the game, which is a slight irritation. You also have to download the latest updates, which on the first log-in will take a minimum of two hours.
Once in, though, you will be in the truly awesome world of Vana’diel, which is recovering from the Great War when orcs overran the land. Now three nations – the Republic of Bastok, the Kingdom of San d’Oria and the Federation of Windurst – have joined forces to keep the beasts at bay while at the same time trying to expand their own territories.
You choose from five races – the humanoid all-rounder Humes, the Elf-like warrior Elvaan, the child-like magical Tarutaru, the agile cat-like Mithra and the giant Galka. Once you’ve custom-made your features, you then opt for a class, ranging from warrior or monk to mage or thief, and then you’re ready for action.
The principal aim of the game is to make money to buy weapons or spells which can then be used against your enemies. This can either be done by completing tasks (more become available as you gain experience points), bidding at an auction house or by defeating foes, who will then drop items that can be exchanged for cash. Initially even the weakest adversaries may prove difficult to overcome and every time you die you’ll return to the place you started while you recover; and in later levels experience points will be deducted.
So the incentive is to team up with other players as often as possible – either with individuals or by forming a party of at least six – so you can jointly use your powers. As you move up levels and increase your battle worthiness, you can then start branching out well beyond your home turf to help collectively expand your nation’s territory.
And a huge territory it is! Even travelling within your own district can take ten minutes, with the ever-present danger of attack. The graphics are gorgeous – towering castles, spectacular spell effects, day and night features, this is eye-candy of the highest order. Most actions are performed through simple drop-down menus, although it will take a while to master the hotkeys. The manual’s quite chunky; a mini onscreen tutorial would have been a useful addition.
Despite a repetitive main theme, the music throughout is in keeping with the varying locations and once you’ve worked your way through the early levels, it’s easy to see how quickly this becomes addictive.
Company: Square Enix