Rather than simply waste a bunch of space on the mainpage with this, I thought it made a bit more sense to do it as a spiel, and waste a lot MORE space with it. :)
So, by now, you've probably figured out that I have, in fact, imported Final Fantasy XI. I'm sure most of you probably think I'm crazy, as it is planned for a Q4 release here stateside. I thought it sounded crazy a while back, too. But now, as I'm playing more and more and getting the hang of things, I'm starting to feel more comfortable playing this game that is almost entirely in a language that I don't have the most tenuous grip on (after all, I am only in a beginning Japanese class).
Basically, it started when I was in the chatroom for #RL-Radio, and Schala said something along the lines of "I'm off to play more FFXI." I knew people had been importing it, but I had never actually spoken with one of them. So, I pm'd him and we talked a bit about the game. It startled me to find out that he hardly knew Japanese at all, and he was enjoying the game immensely! He directed me to FFXIonline.com, a valuable resource for any importer, and Shop Himeya, which stocked not only the basic game, but the expansion as well. After talking about it with Liz and finding out that she was massively interested as well, we went ahead and ordered Final Fantasy XI + The Vision of Ziraat expansion all-in-one pack.
When ordering from Shop Himeya, keep in mind that they ship most products directly from Japan, and only through the postal service. They have EMS shipping (Express Mail) which you can track on both the Japan Yubin page as well as the USPS page. I live in the Sacramento area, about 2 hours from San Francisco, and it took approximately 4 days to ship from Japan to here. Also, Himeya may take a few days to process and ship your order, so factor that in if you order from them.
Before I go any farther, to prevent people from just running off and buying it without reading the rest of this rant, let me tell you a few things you NEED TO KNOW.
Now, if you're still with me, head to the forums at FFXIonline, cause they have all the setup info there. I'm not gonna go into that. Just be sure to expect to set aside about 3 hours or so of your time just for the setup.
So, the first thing I notice about this game is the most striking. The world is BEAUTIFUL. The city of San D'oria where I started is big enough to be a functioning city, not like the cities in EQ and whatnot. The architecture, the streets...it all feels SOLID. Like it's there. So much care was put into each little part of the city that it has a presence, and I think the fact that San D'oria alone takes up at least 3 zones should be evidence of that. The nice thing about such a huge HD space commitment is that they cram a LOT of 3D models in there, and it all renders wonderfully. The forests feel like forests, and there's a pretty stream in Ronfaure that has a little babbling brook noise when you get nearby. You can hear the wind blowing through the trees. Morning FEELS like morning...it's misty, and the sun is just poking over the horizon in all it's yellow glory. If you look at it directly, you get a lensflare that is too realistic to be fake. Vana'diel is a living world.
As far as the races go, you have 5 choices: Hume (Human), Elvaan (Elf), Tarutaru, Mithra (cat-girls, essentially), and Galka (uh, just think big brutey guys). For Humes, Elvaans, and Tarus, you can choose between male or female, you have a choice of 8 faces and hairstyles, and 2 colors for each hairstyle. It's not as customizable as I'd like, but you still see a pretty big variety of people running around the world. Mithras are female only, much as the Galkans are male only. I went with a male Elvaan, chose warrior as a class (though classes can be changed at any time), and got a worldpass to the Ragnarok server, where most importers play.
Money is tighter than in most MMORPGs. Just killing random monsters doesn't get you money - only creatures that would conceivably carry gil will give it to you...goblins, orcs, those kinds of things. However, you can still sell things dropped from normal creatures (rabbit pelts, for example) at retailers to get gil, or you can put them up at the auction house for other players to buy. FFXI has a very player-driven economy, and most of the good buys can be found at the auction house. You don't even have to be present to put your item up for auction, you simply deposit at the auction house, give it a price, and if it sells, the money gets sent to your mog house via mogmail. If the item doesn't sell in 3 days, it gets sent to your moghouse for you to pick up. Pretty good system, if I don't say so myself.
Also, the battle system is excellent. After locking on to an enemy and entering battle mode, you're presented with a menu of in-battle actions, such as abilities, magic, items...things like that. You select what you want to do, it does it, and then goes right back to fighting melee. I don't know why other MMORPG's don't use a system like this. Hell, I'm sure some probably do, I just don't play 'em.
I still have a lot more to do in this game, Liz and I both do...but I'm VERY impressed with how it handles so far. I'll post updates as I feel like it. :D