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Final Fantasy XI: A Shantotto Ascension
Platform: PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox 360
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Genre: MMORPG
Format: Download
Released: US 11/10/09
Japan 11/10/09
Official Website: English Site



Scorecard
Graphics: 80%
Sound: 88%
Gameplay: 85%
Control: 80%
Story: 90%
Overall: 85%
Reviews Grading Scale
 
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Ohohohohoho!
 
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"Attack of the Clones" takes on a new meaning.
 
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Big shiny explosions. This sort of thing tends to be either really good, or really bad, for the citizens of Vana'diel.
 
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A Shantotto in white? Who could this be?
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Patrick Gann
Final Fantasy XI: A Shantotto Ascension
12/05/09
Patrick Gann

I can hardly believe what happened here. After two especially uninteresting and unrewarding "add-on" mini-expansions (A Crystalline Prophecy and A Moogle Kupo d'Etat), the FFXI dev team surprised us with something that had decent gameplay ideas and a hilariously fun storyline.

If you haven't played Final Fantasy XI in a while (or ever), here's a quick refresher: Shantotto is Windurst's resident evil-genius/wizard who cannot help but rhyme at all times. Her small size, as a Tarutaru, should not fool people, because much like Yoda, she wields unimaginable power. She even made it into the cast of Dissidia: Final Fantasy (the PSP 3D fighter) as the only playable FFXI character, so it's not surprising that a full scenario was developed just for her.

The opening cut scene for A Shantotto Ascension shows Shantotto mixing things in front of a cauldron and chanting incantations. Then something bad happens, Shantotto gets sucked into some sort of warp spell, and a large explosion takes place at her house. Not long after, you discover that Shantotto has taken a new form and is calling herself "Domina Shantotto." She still rhymes, but unlike her old self (which held some level of devotion to Windurst and the order of Vana'diel), she now intends to take over the world. Great.

At first, you're forced to work in the employ of the Shantotto Empire, but you eventually break out and join Tenshodo member Aldo in a quest to rescue and reclaim the original Shantotto. The rest, I won't spoil. All I will say is that no matter what you might suspect the ending to be based on this description, you're more than likely wrong. And the ending cut scene is absolutely roll-on-the-floor-laughing hilarious. So the plot alone, in my opinion, makes it worth the $10 price tag.

The 12-mission sequence isn't half bad either. Somehow, the development team managed to make huge strides between what happened in the other two add-on expansions, which consisted of bothersome fetch quests with no challenge until the final mission. A Shantotto Ascension still has some strange quests: one requires you to synth your own rare/ex item (fortunately, no crafting skill is required), and others leave you to collect key items at spawn points in certain fields. The mistake they made with the previous add-ons was that they made these "key item hunts" mandatory, and they put them in zones that were large, but easy to navigate without facing any enemies. While some may argue that it's more irritating to put key items in, say, the Den of Rancor, where anything will attack you on sight, I would argue that it's more irritating to have to run through the entirety of Delkfutt's Tower, where I can feel safe, but know that what I'm doing is just some annoying prerequisite to enter a battlefield.

As you might have guessed from my complaint above about previous add-ons, they made collecting the key items largely optional in A Shantotto Ascension. You only need one of eight for the second-to-last battle, and one of sixteen for the final battle. And if you don't have the expansion, or haven't reached the mission, or have already completed the mission and merely wish to help a friend, you can still participate even if you collect zero of the key items. But there's a purpose to collecting those things: for the fight related to the eight key items, you gain an elemental proficiency (offensive and defensive) based on the items you collect. In that fight, you face eight wizards who each represent one of the game's eight elements. Depending on your strategy, you may not need to grab all eight items, but each one you snag will give you an edge against a wizard. For the final fight, the sixteen key items give you various absurd strengths: base stats +150, max HP or MP multiplied by 3, a free unweakened reraise, elemental defenses, and more. Granted, you really need most (if not all) of those buffs to survive the extremely difficult final battle, but if you want to cut corners, no one's stopping you.

The first half of the missions are solo-able by most endgame players. For example, one mission requires you to take out six special monsters, each of whom can only be damaged by a certain method (black magic, white magic, blunt, slashing, piercing, and ranged attack). If you're proficient in many jobs, you can solo this mission, but otherwise, you'll probably need some help. After that mission, though, there's no more soloing. You'll need the power of a full party to get through the two final battles, and you might need a guide to help you collect the key items. For this career White Mage, I actually had a lot of fun doing both the solo and the group missions. Even having failed each of the final two battles once before successfully completing them, I was pleased with what I saw. This expansion felt right. It was right-sized, and it was enjoyable. And the reward, double-augmented leg gear (movement speed +8% anyone?), is certainly cause to finish the expansion as well.

Graphically, the cut scenes are still limited by the game's engine and resolution, but the direction of the cut scenes is still excellent, and they pushed the graphics to the limit for the final cut scene, wherein we see things happen on an incredibly large scale. On the musical front, Naoshi Mizuta composed two or three new songs for this expansion, just like the others. Yet again, the most memorable piece is the new final battle music. Here, for the final battle "Project Shantottification," the music sounds truly epic. Like a John Williams Star Wars piece, in fact. I was shocked by how absolutely different this song sounds from everything else in the game. Well done, Mizuta-san!

With a walkthrough and some talented friends, endgame players might be able to finish this expansion in 12 hours. Everyone else should expect to commit at least 20 hours to this expansion. I myself clocked roughly 30 hours in completing it, and I enjoyed the whole thing. Unlike the other add-ons, I'd say this one is well worth the $10 you spend to access the content. Maybe it's high time to log back in and give Final Fantasy XI one more go before XIV comes and steals the remainder of our free time.



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