The good news: the insanely popular Final Fantasy series of role-playing games has finally come to Xbox 360. The bad news: it's a game that's three years old. The online-only Final Fantasy XI, already out for PC and PS2, fits well with the 360's internet capabilities, but the system's first massively multiplayer RPG feels a bit like a clunky relic.
Unlike a regular game, there's no ending to an MMO. The goal of FFXI is to create a character and gain levels, currency and gear by hunting monsters on individual quests in the fantasy realm of Vana'diel. As you adventure and meet other human-controlled players, you'll form a social network that will help you progress and explore new areas. That sounds nice, but most of the time you'll be fighting the same monsters repeatedly - better known as "grinding" - and that gets tedious regardless of the company.
Just finding direction in FFXI takes some time; the quest-givers offer no clues that they have tasks for you to complete. The marginal manual leaves you to figure out a very complicated game on your own. (Check out our Beginner's Guide to Final Fantasy XI for help.) The one thing that's not tricky is combat, which devolves into clicking auto-attack and waiting to see who runs out of health first. When you die, you'll also lose some of your hard-earned experience points, if not a precious character level. There's more than just fighting in Vana'diel, but much of the deeper, more rewarding fare such as learning jobs and riding Chocobos (FF's oversized birds) kicks in beyond level 20. Trouble is, you may not stay interested that long.
Despite its flaws and frustrations, FFXI's age gives it one thing that no other 360 game can match: massive amounts of content. You could easily lose 200 hours of your life (not to mention your spouse) during the first month of exploration. All those uncharted realms could make Final Fantasy XI worth its $12.95 monthly subscription fee (and yes, that's in addition to the $50 price of the game itself) as long as the repetitive gameplay doesn't chase you away before you see most of it.