(Explanation filter: I was given a copy of Final Fantasy XI Online (Squaresoft, 2002) for the Xbox 360 a couple of months before I started this blog and, as those who have heard me evangelise the strengths of Final Fantasy VII (Squaresoft, 1997) can guess, my joy was unbounded. This is a description of my first 3+ hours of contact with the game, written as it happened.)
Jesus fucking Christ.
I put the disc in the drive, and the Xbox 360 begins its install of PlayOnline. PlayOnline is Squaresoft’s proprietary system for linking consoles to MMORPGs via broadband, including secure credit-card processing, unique user names, avatars, friend lists and messaging. The thing is, the 360 already has one of those. It’s called Xbox Live and it’s generally agreed to be the state of the art for this kind of thing. PlayOnline is essentially the same system, only more clunky, layered on top of Xbox Live and taking up a large chunk of the system’s storage. How much? About 8gb, or 40% of the 360′s hard-drive.
So PlayOnline installs from the disc, and then goes online to download its most recent updates. This takes a while, but I didn’t time how long. Then you have to register, entering data which is almost identical to the data you’ve already given Xbox Live. The difference is that PlayOnline seems to assume you’ll be entering it via a keyboard. There is no keyboard for the Xbox 360. There is a softkey system (an on-screen keyboard), but it’s not enabled by default. To use it, you have to move the cursor to the field you want to fill, press A, press X twice, then move the cursor to the keyboard. Once the field is filled, you have to disable the softkey system, move the cursor to the next field, and re-enable the softkeys.
The cursor is in the shape of some kind of bird. I think it’s meant to be a chocobo. Which bit of the bird is actually the active cursor is not clear. Clicking it on a field can take several tries. The soft keys are small, the cursor movements are unforgiving, and it is easy to mis-key.
It took me half an hour—I do not exaggerate—to register the game, at which point I sat back and looked forward to some FFXI lovin’. The PlayOnline system begins to install Final Fantasy XI.
First thought: it’s installing it? It’s a console game. Console games run off the disc. That’s the point; they’re instant gratification. What the fuck?
Second thought: AN HOUR? You’re telling me this is going to take AN HOUR?
Third thought: check current time.
When something tells me that a thing is going to take a certain amount of time, I am sceptical. I use the Northern Line, after all.
It takes an hour and ten minutes to install the game from the disc. Finally, I get to see the intro movie for the game. It is pre-rendered and heavily influenced by Return of the King, but my lord it’s gorgeous. And then we’re back into PlayOnline, to enter credit card details and the game’s registration codes, battling against the fuck-awful softkey system again.
A brief word on the registration codes. They are long alphanumeric strings, in groups of four characters. Each group of four needs to be entered in a separate field. Cursor to field, click A a few times, click X twice to bring up the keyboard, enter four characters, dismiss keyboard, move cursor slightly to the right, and repeat. Several times. Once again, this is a console game. It is also an MMORPG with a monthly subscription. And they want to make sure that I’m not using a pirate copy? Or, I’d guess, a second-hand copy? That seems a trifle unnecessary.
And once that’s done the game assigns you a unique user ID—gibberish alphanumerics—and a mail ID, which is more of the same. Then it logs you out. Then you have to log back in by re-entering the user ID it’s just given you.
But it’s a fucking console game.
And after lying to you and comprehensively pratting you around for literally hours, at the moment where you’re thinking that, yes, now, finally, surely one might actually get a taste of some FFXI gameplay, it commences downloading the most recent updates for the game. Not expansions, just updates. Which it reports will take an hour and thirty-nine minutes. And my broadband is far from slack.
That’s where I am as I write, somewhere in that 99-minute period. Actually I’m watching Criminal Minds on TV, and after that I’ll watch Lady Vengeance, and then I’ll go to bed. I have given up any hope of playing FFXI tonight, or indeed anything else. While the Xbox 360 can multi-task its gaming functions, downloading in the background while you play a game, here the downloading isn’t controlled by the 360 but by PlayOnline, which uses the rest of the console’s massive processing power to play a music loop. FFXI‘s music loops are okay, suitably evocative of rich fantasy landscapes, epic battles and quests into legend. PlayOnline’s is a maddening jingly-jangly loop of piano pap.
I haven’t played a single minute of this game yet, and already I loathe it and its publishing company. I am going to play the fuck out of it for a month and then uninstall it, so that Squaresoft and PlayOnline don’t get a single extra penny from me.
(Update: I played it for less time than it took to install. It’s dreadful.)