FFXI is Final Fantasy XI. It's a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, or MMORPG. In it, a very large number of people play a role playing game in a large, cohesive, and persistent world. These people can interact with each other, form parties for exploration and conquest, and perform many tasks from tiny fetch-quests to massive military campaigns.
FFXI is produced by Square Enix (Squeenix), which is a recent merger of two Japanese video game companies with a lot of history in console RPGs. Square is most well-known for it's Final Fantasy games and Enix for it's Dragon Warrior games. The game is available in the US for Microsoft Windows platforms and for Sony's PS2. It currently comes with the PS2 hard drive expansion, and requires the PS2 network adapter to play.
FFXI is not the first MMORPG (duh), but, IMHO, it's the best (granted, I never really liked any MMORPGs before it, so I may be a bit jaded ;-)
How much does it cost?
For the PS2 (I don't play anything under Microsoft Windows, so can't help you there) you need three things:
The PS2 network adapter
The PS2 hard drive
These three things, if you were to buy them flat out, would likely run you between $250 and $350 at the time of this writing (guesstimating here, research it on your own). After that, you'd need some sort of broadband network connection (again, research on your own).
The monthly service fee for FFXI is $12.95 per month plus $1 for every extra character. I'd generally recommend having at least one extra character (for yourself, or someone else in your household) so you'd be looking at roughly $14 per month.
Ouch... is it worth it?
Obviously I think so. So do a lot of other people. As of January 4th 2004 there were over a million players in the world of Vana'diel.
Here's the deal, if you really don't like RPGs, then you may not like this. Of course, I really don't like most RPGs (except for action RPGs like Zelda et al) and yet I really got into the game ;-)
Also, if ou really don't like MMORPGs, then this game may not convert you. Of course, I really didn't like MMORPGs, and yet this game converted me ;-)
Bottom line, research the game and see if it sounds like fun. If not, avoid it. If, however, you will be using the PS2 HDD for something else (storing saved games, getting new content for games like SOCOM II, etc.) then try it out and see. FFXI comes with the PS2 HDD and comes with a 30 day free trial. Try it out and see if you like it for yourself.
Should I get the PC or PS2 version?
Well, I think Microsoft is the devil, so I'd never suggest getting the PC version.
But if you have lower standards than I, then whatever.
I will say that the PS2 version (in spite of the above cost) is a better deal. The simple fact that the PS2 hardware is sold at a loss means that you get a lot more system for your money. So, from a simple economic standpoint, it's a better choice. Of course, if you already have a monster game machine PC, then it would be cheaper to just get the PC version (and worry about viri, and people cracking your weak security machine, and supporting an evil empire, and basically selling your soul to the devil.)
Oh, and before anyone asks: No, I haven't heard of anyone getting this to run under Wine or WineX on Linux, FreeBSD, etc. If anyone can get it to work, feel free to email me.
I have the PS2 version, do I need a keyboard?
You don't need one, no. There is a pull-up keyboard in the game that you could technically use.
However, I'd highly recommend you have one anyway. Trying to use the pull-up keyboard for anything other than the most rudimentary text entry is a royal pain in the ass. Unless you can do some sort of digit dexterity magic that I cannot, you will never be able to really use the pull-up keyboard in 90% of the game (including and especially battles, trading, etc.)
Considering you can get USB keyboards that work with the PS2 for less than $20, there's really no good excuse not to have one.
I have the PS2 version, what keyboard should I use?
Technically just about any standard USB keyboard will suffice. You could check [Squeenix's site on requirements] to find out some they recommend, but going you're own route is fine as well. Hell, if you have a computer with a USB keyboard try plugging it in and see if it works. If so, bingo, there's your keyboard!
Now, the big problem with a dedicated keyboard is that it becomes somewhat useless in battle as you have to constantly switch between keyboard and controller. To battle this, there are really two schools of thought: 1) You could get a small keyboard, or 2) you could get a keyboard/controller combination.
#2 is the better route to go, IMHO, because then there is no peripheral switching what-so-ever. For #2, you have a high-end and a low-end. The high-end solution is [Logitech's NetPlay Keyboard], which is a full keyboard with controller items snapped on the side. In spite of it's size, it's actually very playable for games like FFXI and even SOCOM. The downside? The thing is $70. Ouch.
The low-end solution (and the solution that I personally use) is to get the [Nyko iType2]. This is a controller near normal size with a tiny keyboard in the middle. You wont be able to type any novels on this thing, and there are a lot of keys missing (you can't make real smileys), but for the vast majority of communication in the game the controller is more than fine. The small size takes some getting used to, but the learning curve isn't too bad. The best part? The price is roughly $25. That's barely over what a normal controller is.
Obviously, I like the low-end solution the best. For the money, you just can't beat it. And it works, so there's no real complaints. The only problem I've found with mine (and this may or may not be related to the brand in general) is, after an hour or two of gameplay the analog sticks seem to change where their center is. This means that, for example, you wont be able to run to the right (you can still walk, but can't run). All I need to do to solve this problem is unplug and plug it back in. This resets it and I'm good to go. Honestly, in FFXI this is rarely a problem as I do autorun most of the time, but in other games like SOCOM this could mean the difference between life and death, so buyer beware.
This game is complicated, should I get the strategy guide?
I personally think strategy guides are for wimps, then again, I'm a pretty hardcore gamer... but if you really want one, go ahead.
Here's the deal: Chances are everything you can get from a guide you can get freely by either asking people in the game or checking one of the online FAQs, HOWTOs, or guides. The real benefit to owning a guide is that you have everything (or most everything) in a handy little book that you can keep at your side while playing.
So where do I go when I really get lost? My favorite place is http://ffxi.allakhazam.com/ which is so freaking comprehensive it'll make you puke. Another good place is http://gamefaqs.com/, but they have considerably less detail and their admin is a dink. (Why is he/she a dink? Well, their [policy] on deep linking is ass-face stupid. You can read a lot about why it's stupid from a quick search on Google, or you can lazily ready [this article].)
One more thing: The US strategy guides seem to ruin a lot of US FFXI players. They have a lot of missinformation in them and biases that propigate out to the players that use them. Use them if you must, just take everything they say in them with a grain of salt and go from personal experience more than relying upon what they say as if they were a sacred tome.