Final Fantasy XI is one of those games that have been quietly massive for a decade now. Its core audience is made up of, usually MMORPG elusive, Japanese loyalists and thousands of westerners with an obsession for side-swept fringes and anatomically impossible cleavages. If said boobs are attached to elf ears, the better.
Square Enix are currently celebrating FFXI's tenth anniversary, and as such I made the pilgrimage to Japan and the annual Vana'diel Festival. While I wasn't busy trying to convince the native population I was actually a member of the Beatles (I have an uncanny likeness to Ringo in some lights) there was much JRPG and online goodness to celebrate.
First and foremost, and prising my attention away from the scantily-clad, cosplaying Japanese girls, was the announcement of Seekers of Adoulin. Marked as the MMO's 5th expansion, and the first since 2007, it seems as though FFXI is still as relevant to Square's online strategy as ever: well did you play XIV?
This latest addition to the already expansive world of Vana'diel opens up an entirely new continent in the west, complete with the new, Mediterranean-themed city, Adoulin. Taking the experience in a slightly different direction however, in lieu of the normal grind, SoA will bring with it a new facet: "reclaiming the land."
While this isn't a prelude to a Final Fantasy themed civil-war, what it does mean is that the expansion focuses on two specific areas: exploration and pioneering. I can already sense the intrigue oozing through the Word Processor, as I type.
Without testing anyone's intelligence, exploration is fairly self-explanatory. Being a rugged and untamed land, players will rummage through the new content, discovering new things, checking out the check-ables, and also finding places of "mysterious power." Which I think you'll agree sounds mysterious.
Certain areas have obstacles such as rocks and trees which players must surmount, and there will also be monster lairs, and other such places of treasure and danger. To add to this sense of discovery, is the inclusion of giant enemies, from insectoid to planet-like goliaths: think of it as a cross between the standard FFXI faire, and Monster Hunter. Fantasy Hunter if you must.
The second element to the expansion, and perhaps the most intriguing, is that of pioneering. This portion of SoA is all about living off the fat of the land, and taming what is a dangerous and hostile continent. Players will be able to cultivate crops, mine minerals, and raise sheep.
Adding to this is also the ability to create an outpost, which will serve as a headquarters while you explore the new land. This settlement will boast merchants, provide as a hub for questing, and also have a "home point" so you can travel quickly and easily between the old and new worlds.
And aside from these two new mechanics to FFXI, veteran players can expect the usual treadmill of better loot, increased crafting recipes, and more dungeons. Being that the game is now a decade in age, it seems as though Square Enix aren't just content with banging out more standard content, but instead lavishing new experiences upon loyal subscribers: and hey, with the newest additions to gameplay, there's a lot to tempt your wallet from your pocket.
The other big announcement to run alongside the expansion is the inclusion of 2 new jobs, adding to the already bustling roster of 20. The Geomancer and Rune Fencer are the latest classes, each with their own unique spin on the already established formula.
First up is the Geomancer. This new job sits somewhere between WoW's Shaman and a traditional buffer/debuffer. Taking influence from the principles of Feng Shui and adding that unique Final Fantasy charm, this class will support allies with AoE buffs, and also non-resistible debuffs. Adding a twist to this however, is that their abilities are static, in that they are cast on a certain patch of the environment, and in order to receive bonuses you must head to the area of influence. And that's not all: Taking the aforementioned influence of Feng Shui, polarity will also affect spells, meaning that facing north will grant one bonus, west another, and so on and so forth. Cool huh?
Second is the Rune Fencer. This job is more traditional than its counterpart, in that sadly there are no Shinto or Buddhist afterthoughts in its implementation. Instead, this is the game's third tank that uses, you guessed it, runes to alter damage types, and modify defensive abilities. Using two runes, enchantment and elemental, this class will receive element-specific bonuses (fire = fire damage) as well as running up resists, duration effects, and more.
After ten years of refining, patching, and expanding, it is always a hard task to keep interest fresh within an MMORPG, but Square Enix are effortlessly managing the task. Vana'Diel Festival was running at a capacity crowd over the entirety of its 2 day tenure, amassing a staggering 10,000 thousand people in attendance. Throw in a Moogle or two, and at times the place looked to teeter on Final Fantasy revolution.
Love or hate the game, one thing is for sure, Square Enix aren't done with XI quite yet. Boasting a massive 250,000 years of play time and also being the companies most lucrative IP, one thing is for sure: it'll stay quietly massive for another 10 years.
Final Fantasy: Seekers of Adoulin will arrive sometime in 2013 for Xbox 360, PC, and PS2 (JP only.) For more information check the official site.