As Final Fantasy XI reaches into its sixth year of service since the late 2002 Japanese launch, it seems that Square Enix is as ready as ever to keep adding new content to their hit MMORPG. Currently, the fourth expansion "Wings of the Goddess" is where most of the regular updates are focused; unlike other MMORPGs, FFXI's expansions are built upon from the time of their release until the main plot of the expansion has been told, which can take the developers over a year. Of course, additions and changes continue to happen all over the place.
We at RPGFan had the opportunity to tour the beautiful virtual world of Vana'diel alongside a crack team of professionals from Square Enix to give us the run-down on the latest content update (June 2008), and we also learned about some of the changes planned for the September update (the details of which have gone public, so no, it's not some sort of "exclusive" information). But we're here to report all we saw and heard.
June 2008 Update
The first thing we noticed when logging on to the private server was that our character (a MNK75/WAR37) was decked out in some pretty fancy gear. He wore the entire "Hachiryu" armor set, as well as Shenlong's Baghnakhs for a weapon (more discussion about this set below). However, the poor guy only had a Brown Belt instead of a Black Belt. What gives?
Our level 75 Monk joined the crew in some Campaign battles, which have existed since the release of Wings of the Goddess. Much work has gone into trying to balance this event, and one of the best things about these battles is the use of NPCs joining the players' side to help tear down wave after wave of nasty enemies. Campaign battles can take place not just in the fields, but also in the towns.
After fighting in the Campaigns, our monk and his friends decided to progress with the linear plot present in Wings of the Goddess. We were permitted entry to an exclusive pub found in San d'Oria, and there we saw some dancers perform. A young, red-haired girl caught our eye. After watching the lengthy and beautiful cut scene, we headed out of the town and were caught off-guard by the lovable but enigmatic Cait Sith. For those not in the know, Cait Sith seems to play a key role in the story, as he is the one who helped guide you (the player) into the past for the cause of "reducing the suffering" rampant in the time of the Crystal War. Cait Sith meets you in the forest to have a chat with you, but your chat is cut short when a group of dancers spring from the bushes and attempt to capture the curious feline. Of course, Cait Sith escapes, but the dancers seem to know more than they let on. The leader of the group is that same red-head from before, and she gives you her name: Lilisette. We won't give you all the details, but we will tell you that we learned Lilisette was half-Elvaan and half-Hume, something we have not yet seen in the game.
We were presented with even more of the story, but we won't spoil it for you now. Let's just say that Square Enix knows how to properly tell a story that involves time travel, because the plot thickens not long after this scene with Cait Sith and the dancers.
The last thing presented to us in the world of Vana'diel's past were some new Notorious Monsters (NMs) added recently. Since WotG's release in November of 2007, players have seen sandworms roam the world of the past. They were extremely difficult monsters to destroy, and seemingly with little reward in place. However, in this most recent update, Square Enix added a twist. When the Sandworm's health gets low, he gets desperate, and uses an ability that oldschool fans of the Final Fantasy series are well-acquainted with. After the using this special ability, the Sandworm is no longer a problem. All players in the area fighting the Sandworm get sucked into the earth, and are now stuck in one of three different dungeons for the next hour. In each of these dungeons are familiar NMs from the present-day world, but there is something different about them: they are extremely difficult. These NMs are now nearly impervious to most forms of damage, and it will take knowledge, skill, and a lot of people to bring the NM down. It is these enemies, that exist under the earth's surface, that present players with exciting new rewards.
But Wings of the Goddess isn't the only place where FFXI has expanded. A new system, called the "Zeni Notorious Monster" (or ZNM) system, has been added. For over a year now, players have had access to a piece of equipment called the "Soultrapper" which is, essentially, a camera. Originally these cameras were only used for one event, called "Pankration," which allows players to capture monsters and use them in a battle arena. Though this Pokémon-style system has seen some modest success, today the players of FFXI use their cameras for something entirely different. There are two NPCs in Aht Urhgan who are in desperate need of these pictures, though they tend to have specific tastes from day to day. If you give them pictures they want, they will reward you with "Zeni," which can then be used to purchase special items to "pop" NMs now found throughout Aht Urhgan. This pop-based system is generally prefered by players over the 21-24 hour "lottery pops" of NMs such as Fafnir and Behemoth. These new ZNMs are ranked across five tiers, the top tier being an extremely difficult NM called the Pandemonium Warden. And remember that Hachiryu set of gear our monk was wearing? The hands, legs, and feet drop from the three "tier four" ZNMs, and the body drops from the Pandemonium Warden. As of the time of this article being published, no one on any server has been able to conquer the Pandemonium Warden, even after one Linkshell put in over 18 hours of straight fighting to bring it down. This controversial new NM may pose a threat to some, but for us at RPGFan, we were happy to freely reap the benefits of wearing a body piece with absurdly high stats and destroy everything around us with ease.
Some exciting news has come down the pipe for the future of Final Fantasy XI. In September, the cost for a group to enter Dynamis will be cut from 1,000,000 gil to 500,000 gil, and the cost to enter Limbus will go from 30,000 gil per person to 15,000 gil per person. With this reduced price, we expect to see even more people completing the time-consuming "relic weapons" for their various jobs.
Speaking of relic weapons, the "Myriad Arms of Balrahn" quest, which allows players to upgrade any number of new relic weapons in the Aht Urhgan expansion, will be moved forward in the September update. Previously with insurmountable costs, such as the dreaded "50,000 Alexandrite" requirement, will apparently be dealt with. How? We don't know, but we are looking forward to finding out.
Finally, it has been announced that the "AF2" (or "Relic") armor sets for Blue Mage, Corsair, and Puppetmaster will finally be released, and that they will be made available in Dynamis. Dancers and Scholars still do not have AF2, but they will receive category 1 merit access in the September update.
Beyond that, it's anyone's guess. Square Enix has stated repeatedly that they will continue to develop content for Final Fantasy XI as long as players continue to spend their time in the world of Vana'diel. We would like to thank Square Enix for giving us the opportunity to have a hands-on look of Final Fantasy XI in its present form, and we look forward to bigger and better things in the near future!