The HDD  
The Hard Disk Drive means new possibilities for the Playstation 2 - a detailed look at the HDD package and installation.
Game Links :: Final Fantasy XI

Harry Playstation 2 gamers have been waiting for this for a long time, and honestly the feeling of having the shiny, elegant white box of the HDD package in our hands is a reassuring one. The Hard Disk Drive for the Playstation 2 was released in Japan about three years ago, and it finally hit the store shelves in North America on May 23rd, 2004 - packaged with a little game called Final Fantasy XI. Since Final Fantasy XI requires the HDD, it's not possible to buy the game or the HDD separately. A last, but important note: the HDD requires the Network Adaptor to be installed on your Playstation 2.

Many reasons for the HDD
The lack of a HDD inside the Playstation 2 was starting to become an evident limit of the console compared with Microsoft Xbox - on my opinion, the only true limit. As a matter of fact, while the Playstation 2 had many titles that set the standard and the excellence of this generation of console video games, the Xbox only had two or three - and I might spend some time to express my thoughts about why Halo is one of the most hyped titles in the recent history of videogames, thanks to a smart marketing campaign.

Anyhow, the idea of launching the Xbox with a built-in hard disk drive was one of the most aggressive, intelligent, yet simple moves in the current console war. The Xbox's HDD is not only a key, fundamental element of Xbox Live, but it also opened the console world to genres of games that simply couldn't have worked without a data storage unit bigger than a classic Memory Card. If the Playstation 2 couldn't have a game as massive, as free as Morrowind it's not because of a lack of processing power, as many think - Surreal Software developed a graphics engine for Drakan: The Ancients' Gates that's similar in scope to the one of Morrowind, and also much more polished - but because of the impossibility to create a save file contained within the ridiculously limited size of a Memory Card.

If the installed base of the HDD will be relevant, it's possible we'll see more complex games in the ending years of the Playstation 2, but it's well known that it's terribly difficult to convince consumers to purchase add-ons for a game console, that they usually suppose to be a "complete" thing. That's why SCEA's decision of releasing the HDD more as part of a "game package" than as a required peripheral was a needed, wise marketing strategy. After all, $99 for Final Fantasy XI (which comes with the PC expansion pack Rise of Zilart included) and a 40GB HDD that can let you say goodbye forever to the nightmare of deleting old save files from your Memory Card to make space for new games isn't definitely a big deal.

But why is the HDD needed for certain online games? First of all, for patches and updates. For example, when you first connect to PlayOnline, the Playstation 2 will start downloading all the latest updates from Square Enix's servers - and, obviously, the more time passes from the release of a complex online game like a MMORPG, the bigger the size of these patches become. While I didn't check the size of the updates installed on the HDD the first time I connected to the PlayOnline servers, they surely weren't inferior to 100 MB of new data that had to be stored somewhere inside the console. Then, the HDD makes possible to download and install new content for games that can be played online and/or offline. Contents like new levels, weapons, character skins, new vehicles, new songs for music games, and so on.

The Hard Disk Drive, something normal for any PC gamer, becomes a door open to new possibilities on a console. That's why any Playstation 2 gamer should be excited about the HDD - like if Final Fantasy XI wasn't alone a terribly good reason to rejoice.

What's into the package
The white package of the HDD + Final Fantasy XI bundle is truly elegant, as you would expect from Sony - it feels like something that's really worth the money it costs, if you get what I mean. The beautiful logo of Final Fantasy XI designed by Amano sits on the front of the box, and the capacity of the unit is shown on the bottom right corner (40GB, but, as we'll see soon, this refers to the capacity of the unit when it's unformatted and completely empty). What just doesn't convince about the package is the position of the "Network Adaptor required" warning, not too evident and located only on three sides of the box, and not on the front. Considering the proverbial inexperience of many console gamers (and of parents of console gamers) for everything that's even slightly technical, the notice should have been a bit more evident.

The Hard Disk Drive and Final Fantasy XI bundle

This said, we can take a look into the package. As soon as you open it, your shiny copy of Final Fantasy XI greets you; the Final Fantasy XI box contains a 144-page manual that guides you through the process of registration at PlayOnline and through the basics of PlayOnline itself, Final Fantasy XI, and Tetra Master (Tetra Master is the online version of the mini-game included in Final Fantasy IX). Two discs are contained into the Final Fantasy XI game case: one for PlayOnline and Tetra Master, the other for Final Fantasy XI. Actually, everything is pre-installed on the HDD, but these discs make possible for people who are not interested anymore in playing Final Fantasy XI or Tetra Master to uninstall everything and reinstall the software whenever they prefer. Going deeper into the package, well protected, there is the precious HDD, together with a couple of clear installation and maintenance manuals, and a utility disc containing all the software preinstalled into the HDD, just in case you need to reformat the HDD and reinstall everything in the future.

To sum it up:
  • Internal hard disk drive (40 GB)
  • Hard disk drive utility disk
  • Installation and usage Manuals
  • PlayOnline and Tetra Master disk
  • Final Fantasy XI disk

Installing the HDD
Installing the HDD is extremely easy. First of all, you have obviously to unplug your Playstation 2. Then, you must remove the expansion bay cover or the network adaptor from the console rear. The next step is connecting the network adaptor to the HDD: this is done by simply inserting the connectors of the network adaptor into the matching connectors on the HDD rear. You're almost done: now you just have to insert the HDD unit into the expansion bay and gently turn the mounting screws of the network adaptor in a clockwise direction to fasten the HDD unit and the network adaptor to the console.

Now, since all the software is already preinstalled onto the HDD, you just have to reinsert the power plug of the console into an electrical outlet and turn the Playstation 2 on.

The PS2 HDD Inserting the PS2 HDD into the Playstation 2
Inserting the HDD into the Playstation 2

After the installation - what's new?

The HDD browser
The first thing you should notice after the installation of the HDD is that the unit now appears in the browser section, next to your memory cards and game disks; the software preinstalled in the HDD lets you copy data from a Memory Card to the HDD and vice versa. To do so, you just have to select the Memory Card, select the save file you want to copy or move, and then select "move" or "copy". Finally you have to select the "Your Save Files" folder option and the files will be moved onto the HDD.

The HDD browser lets you perform all normal maintenance for the unit by using your Dual Shock controller. You can manage (create, rename, and delete) folders, delete files, and uninstall software. As I already mentioned, you can even uninstall Final Fantasy XI from the HDD if you want, and reinstall it at a later date, when you want to play it.

Looking into your HDD, you'll immediately notice that the available space is inferior to 40GB; in fact, you should have roughly 28-29 GB of space available. This is normal, since the capacity of 40GB refers to the unformatted, completely empty unit (like specified on the box) - not to mention that the Square Enix package (Final Fantasy XI, Tetra Master, PlayOnline) is already installed on the disk. Final Fantasy XI alone takes about 8 GB of space; PlayOnline and Tetra Master about 1 GB altogether.

We tried enabling the HDD functions for SOCOM II U.S: Navy Seals, even if there isn't still available content for download - the process worked flawlessly, and the SOCOM II HDD files were installed on the unit.

Finally, the utility disk included in the package contains software to optimise and repair the HDD if anything goes wrong, and to format it if anything goes really wrong. Thankfully, we didn't have a chance to test these tools.

Two new options
With the HDD installed on the Playstation 2, two new menu items - "Keyboard" and "Mouse" - will be added in the System Configuration menu.

The Mouse settings menu lets you select the button for main use (right or left), adjust the mouse cursor speed, and the double click speed. The Keyboard settings menu is probably more useful. It lets you set the proper layout for the on-screen keyboard (the one displayed on screen when you use the Dual Shock to input text) or for a real USB keyboard connected to your Playstation 2. Layouts available are English (US), English (UK), French (Canada), French (France), Spanish (Spain), German (Germany), Italian (Italy), Dutch (Netherlands), and Portuguese (Portugal) - this is extremely useful for all those who are not using a standard US keyboard with their games. It is also possible to adjust delay until repeat and repeat rate in the Keyboard settings menu.

PlayOnline and Final Fantasy XI
Stay tuned on for our series of features about PlayOnline and Final Fantasy XI. Considering the complex nature of a MMORPG, instead of a simple review we'll have many articles about Square Enix's first fully online adventure, starting this week!

- Harry (25 Apr, 2004)