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Final Fantasy XI: A Crystalline Prophecy
Platform: PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox 360
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Genre: MMORPG
Format: Download
Released: US 04/17/09
Japan 04/17/09
Official Website: English Site



Scorecard
Graphics: 70%
Sound: 75%
Gameplay: 55%
Control: 80%
Story: 70%
Overall: 60%
Reviews Grading Scale
 
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No FF title is complete without a crystal. Not even a measly FFXI expansion can get by without one.
 
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Feeling good in that cute little outfit, are we?
 
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If the "we're beastmen and we have glowing eyes" thing didn't give it away, here's a hint: they're enemies.
 
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Remember that boy from the opening FMV we all watched for the first time seven years ago? He finally makes an in-game debut.
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Patrick Gann
Final Fantasy XI: A Crystalline Prophecy
04/30/09
Patrick Gann

At the end of 2008, at the FFXI FanFest (and the Japanese VanaFest), Square Enix unveiled plans for three downloadable mini-expansions that would cost 10.00 USD. They announced that the three expansions would be released one at a time throughout the span of 2009. A Crystalline Prophecy: Ode of Life Bestowing is the first of those three expansions.

This expansion tells the tale of a young boy and girl, separated by the tragedy of war, and the aftermath that comes of it. It turns out that the boy and girl from that opening cut scene are well-known NPCs (well, the boy is well known, at any rate). However, it seems that the tragedy of the past–which lingers in the hearts and minds of many–is able to re-manifest itself in the present. It does so, presumably, as an entity called the "Seed Crystal."

The entire scenario was written by veteran Masato Kato, whom you may remember from Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross, and Xenogears. The details of the plot and scenario are interesting, but they are not well expressed in the cut scenes. Having completed the expansion–which took relatively little time, and would've taken less time if it weren't for the maddening fetch quests–I am still not sure that I understand the nature of this Seed Crystal, nor am I sure what the ending cut scene meant. Though, having talked to other players, I assume the ending scene is a reference to the "prophecy" (from the expansion's title), since the cut scene shown has never happened. Maybe something good will come of the story in the future.

But for now, the scenario must be declared weak. Weak because it is short, and because it's backloaded. Other than the last hour of events (including a cut scene, a final battle, and a few more cut scenes), the expansion scenario is terribly boring. Let me lay it out for you, in painstaking detail.

After a lengthy opening cut scene in Lower Jeuno, the player is asked to gather three items by defeating low-level beastmen in three specific zones. Nevermind the fact that the drop rate is painfully low, or that this exercise is a waste of time for any endgame character, the real offense is that after doing this once, you are asked to do it again. Only this time, you collect three items off of low-level monsters, and then trade those items to three spawn points to fight three low-level NMs (notorious monsters, or "boss" fights, for the uninitiated). After you do this, you are led to Qufim Island, where you are subjected to the task of killing 30 mandragoras (who spawn five at a time) within 30 minutes. Again, any endgame, level 75 character can do this without a hitch. But the game doesn't even hint at a recommended level range, so if you are a new player, and you are attempting to "ease into" Vana'diel through this expansion, you still can't be sure what the heck you're doing. In most cases, I'd assume that a new player would just have their hand held by a friendly endgame player to take care of all this.

One cut scene later, and your next quest is (surprise!) another fetch quest. Instead of killing enemies, though, this time you sneak around the ruins of Fei'Yin to collect nine key items within a span of 30 minutes. Then, in a surprising turn of events, the expansion takes on a true difficulty level. The next battle, also in Fei'Yin, can be won with as few as three endgame characters, but most people struggle with the fight even with a full party. What you have are four beastmen (goblin, yagudo, quadav, orc) that are absolutely immune to sleep. It's like a mini-Divine Might battle, and these beastmen have some new tricks up their sleeves. For example, the Goblin (whose job is Thief) has the ability to randomly appear next to any character and attack them. This instant-warp is a rare attribute that only a select few enemies have been given in FFXI. It adds a lot of challenge.

After this event, you're required to climb the entirety of Delkfutt Tower: a twelve-floor mammoth of a dungeon that has been used more times than I can count to fulfill a variety of quest and mission prerequisites. In this particular event, you touch a magic crystal that sets you to a level-cap of 30, and then on each floor there is a fixed point to pick up a key item. The twelve key items, once collected, are traded to another magic crystal, to combine and create the omnis stone, which allows you to open the door at the top floor and participate in the final battle. Again, hand-holding is advised: you can have a friend who already completed the tower (or has no intention of doing it) to follow your level-capped character and keep all the enemies away from you while you collect each of the twelve key items. Otherwise, you're faced with a challenge of stealth, one that is best suited to mages, ninjas, and dancers (who can self-apply sneak and invisible).

The final battle is a valiant effort on Square Enix's part to make up for the rest of the expansion, which was terribly dull. Two new pieces of music (composed by Naoshi Mizuta) are introduced during this sequence, and they are great tunes. The battle itself is very difficult, though far more balanced than other difficult battles in the game's history (see: pre-nerfed Chains of Promathia missions). I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of the final battle. It was an excellent half hour of content, and the cut scenes that followed were also enjoyable. The reward for completing the expansion is also fantastic: high-quality, endgame customizable body armor. The ending is fairly satisfying.

But the final battle hardly makes up for all the pain that came beforehand. How can you call it an expansion, and one you had to pay for, when all it offers is a series of tedious fetch quests that serve to artificially lengthen this rather short series of quests? The vast majority of the expansion is a time-sink and a barrier to progress. I had thought that Square Enix was getting away from these cheap gameplay mechanisms, but apparently, I was wrong.

A worthy comparison ought to be drawn: FFXI's most recent "full" expansion, Wings of the Goddess, has been out for 18 months. The plot isn't over yet, and already it contains more than ten times the amount of content that ACP offers. And it costs a mere 30.00 USD instead of 10.00 USD. In fact, just the most recent content update in April offered more content (and, most importantly, more interesting content) than ACP. Just one content update, which is understood as free (since we all bought WotG so long ago), offers more than the pay-to-play optional expansion.

I don't know what Square Enix can say to justify themselves. Yes, you can repeat the quests to get more customized equipment and other rewards, though personally, I refuse to subject myself to that level of boredom again. If this was their idea of "solo-friendly" content, sign me up for more of the group-based content, please! And, my biggest fear of all is that the other two expansions will follow suit. After all, they're already developing the other two, and they will roll out later this year. If Square Enix has the opportunity to make changes after learning from this mistake, they had better take it. It is an affront not just to the fans, but even to Masato Kato, who took the time to write up interesting scenarios only to have them destroyed by less-than-mediocre gameplay mechanics.

Essentially, at the end of the day, A Crystalline Prophecy is a micro-transaction. You pay ten dollars, and you get a cool piece of body armor at the end. And if you really like the game's aesthetics, you get a couple cool cut scenes at the end with some good music. That's it. The rest isn't worth any money whatsoever. I hope the other two expansions won't follow suit, but I fear that it's too late for Square Enix to save the other expansions from critical failure.



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