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.
If you can get past the extremely steep learning curve, FFXI does offer a tremendous amount of content to explore.
Part of what's traditionally made online role-playing games so enticing is the promise of feeling totally immersed in authentic fantasy worlds. In other words: good graphics. If nothing else, it's nice for a really time-consuming game to look attractive, since you're going to be staring at it for so long. When FFXI was first released for the PC and PS2, it looked great, thanks to some signature Final Fantasy touches. Those very same graphics on the Xbox 360 don't look so hot anymore, though. Short of bumping up the resolution to support widescreen HD displays, nothing was done to make this game presentable by the Xbox 360's standards. 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. Thankfully, the audio has stood the test of time better. The game's got a great soundtrack, and makes effective use of surround-sound audio systems if you've got one.
For all the problems that make this game so hard to approach, the allure of so much content to explore may still compel you to give the game a shot. With your purchase of FFXI for the Xbox 360 come three different expansion packs in addition to the core game. The Rise of the Zilart expansion shipped with all previous North American versions of the game, and introduced several new high-level character classes (the dragoon, the samurai, and the ninja) as well as new places to explore. The subsequent Chains of Promathia expansion catered exclusively to high-level players, offering them much more story-driven content to experience. The newest expansion, released alongside the Xbox 360 version of FFXI, is Treasures of Aht Urhgan, and it adds still more job types to the mix: the blue mage, the corsair, and the puppetmaster. Since changing your character's job fundamentally affects how you play, these additions are naturally exciting. High-level players will also naturally want to explore the dusty new lands of Aht Urhgan, including its vast fortress city. However, 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.
It's no accident that thousands of players have been hooked to FFXI for months, but there's not much good reason to join them now.
FFXI has always been a source of controversy among fans of the series, simply because it's the first game in the series proper to stray from Final Fantasy's roots. However, FFXI still had the air and allure of a Final Fantasy game to attract a fiercely loyal following, and the gameplay hooked them. Yet 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.