Report from Final Fantasy XI Fan Festival 2008

Emily Balistrieri | 10 Dec 2008 15:00
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I was thinking about it the other day and FFXI Fan Festival is really the only game-specific convention I've attended. I've never been to Blizzcon, for example, so I'm not sure how to compare FFXI fans to WoW fans, except to say that since FFXI has such a learning curve that sticking with it and coming to the convention is maybe more hardcore. (Cue WoWer wrath-pun intended--here.) This year was my second, the festival's third, and while it was a little smaller than last year's event (at least it terms of length and activities), it was a still a lot of fun.

Instead of Anaheim again like '07, we were at the Renaissance Hotel in Hollywood. Friday night kicked off with an open bar reception at Twist so attendees could become acquainted before the big day of announcements, exclusive play time, and contests.

My Saturday morning actually began before the opening ceremonies, since they snuck us into the game demos before everyone else. Two new modes are being added to the game: Moblin Maze Mongers and The Swarm. The first was hinted at as a possibility during last years' fan festival: a way for players to create their own dungeons. By using the tabula item, any monster runes you have can be packed like Tetris pieces into a room voucher grid. Once you get the arrangement settled, there is a store front in the Chocobo stable where you can order the maze to be built. Inside the dungeon lobby you confirm your design and even change the background music before heading in to do battle. Most of the time this will probably be a group task, but since the monsters inside scale to the creator's level, you could theoretically construct one that would be possible to solo.

The Swarm, on the other hand, is definitely designed as a group activity. Players gather in a cave for a five minute bug killing spree-the ideal lunch break encounter. It's best to gather in the center of the cavern, because they sort of drop down from the ceiling there and skitter away to the edges where they disappear-you have to be quick. At the end of the five minutes, the group is awarded points based on performance, but so is each individual player, providing some healthy competition.

At ten, producer Hiromichi Tanaka was introduced to kick off the event proper with an announcement that had already been given in Japan a couple weeks earlier, about three new downloadable mini-expansions: A Shantotto Ascension, A Moogle Kupo d'Etat, and A Crystalline Prophecy. He described these mainly plot additions to be vertical, as opposed to changes like new classes and mechanics that they consider lateral. Each will take about a month or two to complete and are available from around level 30, although you'll need a capped (75) party to finish them. The rewards will reflect this difficulty, satisfying endgame players' desires for awesome loot. A separate team is developing these so that the Wings of the Goddess patches can continue on schedule.

After Tanaka's morning address, Yoji Fujito gave a technical difficulty-plagued walkthrough of the Moblin Maze Monger game everyone would get to play. Bobby, the demo player, was having some trouble getting the custom maze to load, so the middle of the presentation was given over a back-up PowerPoint backdrop. They did eventually get back in-game, though, only to be slaughtered by a plantoid. Win some, lose some.

The middle of the day was reserved for lunch, mingling, shopping at the Square Enix merchandise store, voting on the art contest submissions, and of course, lining up for demos. At first I wasn't seeing as many cosplayers last year, but slowly through the afternoon more people seemed to change in their costumes.

Part of this downtime I spent in a round table interview talking with Hiromichi Tanaka, battle director Akihiko Matsui, global online producer Sage Sundi, director of the Wings of the Goddess and Treasures of Aht Urhgan expansions Kouichi Ogawa, and planners Mizuki Ito, Yoji Fujito, and Mitsutoshi Gondai (pictured l to r: Sundi, Fujito, Ogawa, Tanaka, Gondai, Matsui, Ito). The questions they fielded ran the gamut from inquiries about possible graphical overhauls of older content (no) to the possibility of expanding inventory space (maybe) to where the promised summoner avatars are (soon!). There were also some good suggestions made by press players-such as an all-in-one elemental staff for mages that could be quested after to replace the umpteen million separate single-element staves once you collect them all.

Once again the "next-gen MMO" that Square Enix is working on was hinted at, but there wasn't really any information they could give us. Maybe next year? The FFXI Fan Festival would be a great venue to drop a huge story, because it may not be expected, and it'd also be a really cool way to reward all the players who have been faithfully following FFXI.

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