PlayOnline and its free services  
The first step to enter the world of Final Fantasy XI - Entering Square Enix's networked environment.
Game Links :: Final Fantasy XI

Carlito This is the first of a series of articles about Final Fantasy XI. In these articles, we'll first look through the registration and character creation process, and then we'll follow the adventures of many characters in the Final Fantasy XI universe, created by our staff. A simple review would make little sense with a game like Final Fantasy XI that's constantly evolving, that changes every time you log in the world of Vana'diel: in Final Fantasy XI, you're playing with real people, in a virtual world so vast and detailed that every day you spend in it is truly a different one. We'll have a final review to sum up all our features: for now, let me say that Final Fantasy XI is a magic game, an enchanting one, and possibly the most exciting experience to grace the Playstation 2. Similar to classic MMORPGs like EverQuest, Final Fantasy XI is nevertheless a much more refined, polished experience, gifted with the magic of the most popular console RPG series. Playing with your friends - and why not, enemies - in an enormous fantasy world populated by mogs, chocobos, and beautifully designed characters is a dream come true for millions of players.

In this feature, we'll talk into detail about PlayOnline, the registration process and the free services. This article is still on the technical side - expect our "Adventures of an Elvaan Mage" in the next days!

Entering Vana'diel - not yet!
Final Fantasy XIThe first time you enter the world of Vana'diel it takes some time to go through all the registration processes and wait for the latest updates to download. Once you've installed your HDD in the Playstation 2, turn the console on and insert the PlayOnline game disc. As you may know, the software is pre-installed on the HDD; anyhow, you will need to complete the PlayOnline installation with the PlayOnline disk for security and anti-piracy reasons.

First of all, you have to configure your network connection. In fact, PlayOnline will not use the setup you might have created and stored on the Memory Card with the Network Adaptor utility disc. Anyhow, don't worry - if you have already setup a connection with the Network Adaptor you'll just have to reinsert the data in the PlayOnline network configuration menu.

PlayOnline services and games support normal dial-up connections and broadband connections, so everybody with a decent Internet connection should be able to setup the proper network configuration in few minutes. The only problems may occur if you have a USB modem plugged into your PC. Chances are you are not a newbie to Playstation 2 online gaming, and you've already solved the problem; if this is not your case, you should just know that despite what's written on PlayOnline official website (that doesn't seem too helpful when it comes to technical issues), it is actually possible to use a USB modem to connect to PlayOnline and Final Fantasy XI, like with any other Playstation 2 online game. You simply don't have to connect the modem directly to the console; instead, you can activate Internet Connection Sharing (ICS) on your PC: this is quite easy to setup if you have a Windows PC with a Ethernet port and the proper cable to connect the console to the PC, a Cat5 twisted pair crossover cable. If your PC hasn't an Ethernet port you can buy a good one for a few dollars. You can take a look at our Online Gaming FAQ for more details.

With your network connection properly setup, you're ready to go. Remove the PlayOnline disk and the system will shut down. Turn the Playstation 2 on, access the HDD, and select the PlayOnline Viewer.

PlayOnline

What is PlayOnline?
PlayOnline is a network created, owned, and maintained by Square Enix to connect online services, information, and games published by the company. Within your PlayOnline manual, before the Final Fantasy XI registration codes, you'll find the PlayOnline registration code. The first step to play a Square Enix online game is registering at PlayOnline - which also means you'll have access to special free services like e-mail, communication tools, a friends list, a file management utility and more.

Registering at PlayOnline
Final Fantasy XIIn order to register at PlayOnline, you must go through the online registration process with the PlayOnline viewer and enter your unique registration code, found in the last page of the manual. Once the system has verified you entered the proper code, you must enter all your personal data (name, address, phone number, optional e-mail address) and then your payment information.

This is an important step that many players may not consider before purchasing Final Fantasy XI. While PlayOnline services are free, and so are the first 30 days of Final Fantasy XI, you must enter valid credit card (Visa or MasterCard only) info even to play the free trial period and to access the free services. The card will be billed only if you purchase fee-based services, for example if you decide to keep playing Final Fantasy XI after the 30-day free trial period.

While this evidently makes things easier for Square Enix's accounting department and offers an easy way to verify the member's registration, the idea of forcing the user to enter valid payment information even to access free services and free trial periods - used also in EverQuest: Online Adventures - feels like an unnecessary inconvenience for players who want to enjoy just the trial period, or simply for all those that don't have a credit card in their pockets while they are registering at PlayOnline. It would be "gentler", and more correct, to ask players to insert the credit card information few days before the end of the free trial period or before purchasing any other fee-based service.

Current Monthly Fees (April 2004)

  • Final Fantasy XI $12.95
  • Final Fantasy XI additional Content ID (basically, an additional character) $1.00
  • Tetra Master $1.00

Once you've entered your payment information, you get your unique PlayOnline ID and you must select your PlayOnline password and your Mail password. In fact, registering at PlayOnline you also get an e-mail account - you can choose the mail address you prefer ([email protected], for example), but remember that once you've created it, you can't change it.

About Updates
The first time you'll connect to PlayOnline, you must wait for your Playstation 2 to download the latest updates for the PlayOnline viewer, the software used to access PlayOnline services. Updates can be huge, so players on a slow connection must expect to wait 2-3 hours before the automated update process is completed. After your first installation, you must also expect occasional updates to the PlayOnline viewer and to games files - these updates usually occur to install patches and new content for the games you want to play.

PlayOnline's Free Services
Final Fantasy XIPlayOnline is not only about playing Square Enix's online games. With your registration, you've a selection of communication services that you can access through the PlayOnline Viewer. PlayOnline interface is well designed and look stylish, but you absolutely need a USB keyboard to use it, since composing messages with the on-screen keyboard and the Dual Shock 2 is just tedious.

The main screen of PlayOnline offers many options. You can look at manuals, call for support, configure Viewer options, and access the Navigator, the area used to communicate with other PlayOnline users. The first thing you must do to use the free PlayOnline communication tools is accessing the Navigator and creating a handle, another name that is used when you are using PlayOnline. Hey - you might ask - didn't I already register? Yes, in fact the "handle" is more like a nickname, an avatar you use to communicate with other PlayOnline users and to play games, the equivalent of an IRC or ICQ nickname.

You can have multiple handles all corresponding to the same PlayOnline ID. Basically, you can create a series of identities to communicate with other players in the PlayOnline community. Feel like a boy today? Use a handle. Feel like a girl today? Use another handle. You and your roommate share the same Playstation 2? Create two different handles.

In the Handle profile options you can choose an avatar (there is a wonderful selection of images, including artworks of characters from past Final Fantasy games; it may seem a small thing, but I actually had fun looking through all the avatar folders) and try to describe yourself showing other members your preferences in music, art, hobbies, and more. Then, the Friends List lets you easily manage a list of PlayOnline users, for example your friends or people you've played with in Final Fantasy XI.

Final Fantasy XIThe e-mail service lets you write to any e-mail address. When sending e-mail, you can also attach files stored on your HDD, for example screenshots taken during Final Fantasy XI that you want to send to your friends or that you want to have on your PC. Anyhow, the PlayOnline e-mail account is much more limited than a normal mail account. First of all, it can't be used on a normal PC, since it's linked to your PlayOnline ID; for example, you can't setup Outlook Express or Eudora to receive and send e-mails with your PlayOnline mail account. You can also receive e-mails with attachments on your PlayOnline mail account, but currently the only file formats supported by the PlayOnline Viewer are JPEG and PNG. Also other functions, common to almost any modern e-mail program, aren't available. For example, there isn't an auto-sort function for incoming e-mails; anyhow, considering the frequency of updates, it's not difficult to imagine that new features could be implemented somewhere in the future.

A chat service is also available. You can access existing chat rooms or create your own. You can also setup a password, for example if you want to create a private chat room for your Final Fantasy XI party, and you can talk privately with a single user.

Final Fantasy XI and Tetra Master
Of course, despite the attention and the efforts put in the development of the PlayOnline Viewer, what really counts, in the end, are the games you'll play on PlayOnline. Tetra Master is the online version of the card game features in Final Fantasy IX; the first time you play it, you must use the registration code at the end of the manual. There is a $1 monthly subscription fee to play Tetra Master online.

Then the big thing, the reason that will convince many players to get the HDD: Final Fantasy XI. Like the North American PC version, the Playstation 2 version includes both the game and the expansion pack, Rise Of The Zilart, which was released separately in Japan. The Expansion pack adds new jobs and new areas for you to explore in Vana'diel. So, the first time you play Final Fantasy XI, you must insert both your Final Fantasy XI and Rise Of The Zilart codes - to enjoy the full experience from the very beginning.

But we'll talk about this in our next features. The creation of Sentenza, our Elvaan hero with a spaghetti-western nickname, in the next feature!


- Carlito (1 May, 2004)