The fears of Final Fantasy XI fans with years invested in their characters that Square Enix would no longer support FFXI with the announcement of Final Fantasy XIV were put to bed at VanaFest - the international Final Fantasy Fan Festival in Japan, in late February. The show stayed focused on FFXI, with only mention that invitations to a closed FFXIV alpha test would be extended only to FFXI players.
The future of FFXI was laid out for the fans for the year, which included raising the level cap from 75 to 99 in three stages, beginning in the summer. Three new add-ons were also unveiled to the participants: Vision of Abyssea, Heroes of Abyssea and Scars of Abyssea with the first one slated to launch this summer. Abyssea is a parallel world to Vana'diel with all new Mobs, and Mobs of notorious and high notorious levels.
The March version update continued the Wings of the Goddess Missions with the Trial of the Magians, a new ongoing quest offered once again by a Moogle which upgrades your weapon. We opened the Splintering Chest beside him and received our great big honking sword. For each quest you complete, you gain a chance at a weapon upgrade. With the increase of level to 99, and upcoming version updates, there will be more branches to the quest for players to improve their armor, and there are even plans for rewards that will enhance skills and character stats, as well as quests that will provide players chances to improve their own weapons of Relic and Mythic quality. We received a few screenshot teasers of upgraded weapons.
As a prelude to Abyssea, we picked up a quest from Assai Nybaem (an anagram for "I am Abyssean") in which we hunted Void Walkers, invisible one. Greasing his palm with 1,000 gil got me a piece of Clear Abyssite which works as a magic compass. With that in my possession, we were transported to the Beaucedine Glacier where I saw how it worked.
"It can do one of three things," I was told, "No reaction, which means no void walkers are present, it vibrates which means void walkers have passed through but are no longer present, or it vibrates and lights up which means that void walkers are present."
Assuming a resting position, the Clear Abyssite vibrated, lit up and told me there were void walkers 80 Yalms in the West. We ran over, fanning out with no result. Then I did the same thing. 35 Yalms to the South now. We moved in that direction, again covering the area. No void walkers. Kneeling again, 17 Yalms to the North East. Bingo! A void walker appeared in our faces and we dispatched it with a little GM magic to speed things along.
I was then shown Castle Zvahl Keep in the Shadowreign era. In current time, the central keep of the ancient ruins in Xarcabard is pretty scary at level 55, but not so much when players are level 75. This is where the ShadowLord gathered his army of Beastmen over 20 years ago, and now players will be able to go to the keep during the reign of the ShadowLord. Here, the summoners showed off their latest summons, Odin and Alexander. These guys have a 2-hour cool down time between uses so players use them wisely. Alexander is a buffer and cast Perfect Defense on the party before dismissing himself where as Odin is cast on the boss mob and itself casts AE Death which is an instant K.O. (modified on Notorious level mobs) Both, were huge and well, really nice summons. 60 seconds no damage and AE death? Very nice.
We also explored Castle Zvahl Bailey during the Shadowreign era and was treated to a Final Fantasy signature cutscene, a movie which involves the player avatar. In Final Fantasy XI, you don't just watch a cutscene and your avatar is not simply a bystander, you are addressed by name and your character participates in the cutscene. I've always enjoyed these cutscenes which can last several minutes while the story plays out (especially if I'm so enthralled I forget to press click the arrow to get to the next bit). The music, the sound, the involvement of your character makes it an immersive moment, a reward for reaching that moment, and a prelude to the battle to come. We saw the Shadowlord and Count Bifrons in the bailey, and saw Noillurie and her knights of the Red Rose come running to the rescue, and even Mayakov, the famous, flamboyant, lisping leader of Troup Mayakov dances through. Oh, how I love Mayakov and regretted once again that the cutscenes, however well done they were, were not voiced. That would be the icing on the cake.
As we ended the tour, a few hints were dropped, such as "The Shadowlord drops some really nice armor" and there was talk of a ring or earring providing character upgrades. The level cap removal is just around the corner, I am told. So... FFXI going away in favor or FFXIV? Hardly.