Final Fantasy XI, by Square Enix, has enjoyed a successful run over the course of the last three years; four years if you were playing the imported Japanese version. The game has changed dramatically during this time, with the addition of three expansion packs, and numerous content updates provided to the players for free. Bringing in an approximate 500,000 subscriptions a month, FFXI has proven itself to consistently please its old player base, while continuing to draw in new customers to the world of Vana'diel.
One of the more interesting aspects of FFXI is that there is a dark, complex storyline supporting the mainframe of the game. The opening movie will show you the background concerning the war between the Beastmen and the Alliance of mankind. Before one can even begin to immerse oneself in the world of FFXI, players will pledge their Allegiance to one of three nations; Bastok, San'Doria, or Windurst. Each nation has its own separate storyline, yet all three will guide players to uncovering the secret evil that lies in the shadows in the world of Vana'Diel. Players advance through the storyline by completing missions issued by their home nation. By advancing their "Rank", players will be rewarded with more storyline details, access to new areas to explore, and even exclusive pieces of gear. There are other hidden privileges as well to gaining rank... such as the ability to travel between cities on the infamous airships!
On top of the original storyline, the numerous expansion packs have added in-depth sub-plots into the game. The "Rise of the Zilart", the "Chains of Promathia", and the "Treasures of Aht-Urghan" all present new challenges, storylines, and rewards to the players who dare to complete them. The storyline is one of the finest qualities about FFXI, as it provides even the highest level players with something to do after they've hit the level cap.
However, there is one particular weakness presented by the mission-based storyline. While in the early stages of the game, nearly all of the missions are very simple, and can be soloed with minimal effort. Naturally, the missions will become more difficult, and require a party, and in some cases, numerous parties to complete them. However, the difficulty curve in missions is both quick and unforgiving. Players will not be able to advance very far into the storyline until they have hit the level cap, 75, or without the aid of numerous high level friends. Whether this was the intention of Square Enix or a flaw in the game's design is not my place to say, however, I found it frustrating personally to advance halfway through the game's storyline, only to be stonewalled for nearly 40 more levels. Essentially, if you aren't planning on playing this game all the way to the end, there's a very good chance you won't be able to truly appreciate the game's storyline. Even if you do manage to hit the level cap, you will not be able to progress without the aid of numerous friends/allies, and the missions can take several hours to complete. It requires a certain degree of dedication and networking to really enjoy advancing the plot.
FFXI has a very limited amount of options regarding the creation of your personal avatar. There are five races, each specially suited for a particular roll by default. For example, Galka, the gorilla-like race, has an exceptional amount of vitality and life points, and therefore are naturally better tanks than other races. This can discourage players from experimenting at earlier levels, but the difference is not so terribly significant to force a player to play a certain race and job combination.
Of the five races, there are only eight face options, with a minimal amount of pallet-swapping options. As a result, you'll be running into your twins quite a lot in the World of Vana'diel. There are also size options; small, medium, and large. While they don't really appear noticeable, if you stand beside a character of a different size, you'll notice a slight difference.
At the beginning of the game, you'll only have the option to choose between the six starting jobs. When you advance to level 18, you'll quest to acquire your "sub-job", which will allow you to choose a secondary job to help enhance your primary profession choice. Upon reaching level 30, you will be able to quest for a variety of "advanced jobs". These are not necessarily better than the starting classes, but they tend to be more specialized in a particular field, or else they serve as a hybrid between two different classes.
Lastly, as I mentioned in the previous section, you'll choose which nation you want to pledge your allegiance to before you begin playing the game. Certain races are rewarded for starting in certain nations. For example, Bastok is the home of the Hume race and the Galka race, so if you pledge allegiance to Bastok, and you're a Galka or a Hume, you'll receive an exclusive ring when you start the game. Also, your home city's storyline will reflect on the history of your chosen race, so it may be of interest to the player to start at their designated nation. Do not be discouraged though, there's no requirement to serve any city, so if you'd prefer to serve Windurst as a Hume, you won't be penalized for doing so, you just won't start off with the nifty ring.