Still doubting XI's ability to be a part of the Final Fantasy series? Most people believed that a game being online meant that good a story can't be conveyed. The XI myth is finally busted.
For the past two years each summer was spent anticipating something of FFXI. First it was the delivery of the HDD and game itself. My friend sent it by express, as it could only be ordered by people living in Japan and currently subscribed to an internet provider. Few people played FFXI back then, as the HDD itself was a costly, hard to get obstacle. Once I was hooked up and finally in Vana d'iel, it took me weeks to adjust to the game's size and scale. It was then I realized that big and constant adjustments were what a real MMORPG experience is about.
FFXI is a big game which has been carefully pieced together and constantly adjusted. It contains trademark FF storytelling, gameplay and execution. The year after FFXI's release was a summer where I spent a week anticipating my friend's delivery of Zilart. The fall after that was waiting for my friends to get the English game. Now this year my older brother and I both needed the expansion so urgently that we ordered it. Patience is something players don't have for FFXI, I've heard stories of grownups watching their windows all day long, hoping that the mailman was bringing in their Promathia.
My Final Fantasy XI: Curse of Promathia expansion (the english version calls it Chains) eventually came in and I installed it right away. The installation was quite fast, patches included. It was faster than Zilart or any of the original game's patch downloads and this made me worry. It seemed possible that not much was in this expansion. Nevertheless, the first thing I noticed was being treated to new music in the FFXI game menu after years of hearing the same. old. song. PRAISE ALTANA.
As with the Zilart expansion, there are also Promathia specific missions and quests. Where Zilart's missions were spread over needing tens of levels and being Rank 6, the Promathia missions have increasing level caps and don't require anything else. Well.. I lied, players need plenty of gil and a hefty amount of playing experience to participate. This difficulty ensures that missions require some effort and dedication to the game, making the rewards (personal and game ones) worth it.
The driving force behind Promathia's missions are quite simple: story. Access to amazing areas (Riverne Sites are nothing short of amazing), entertaining cutscenes (as much as I want to beat up the Chebukki family, I still love taru), NPCs who actually have some personality (FF11J Prishe is FF8J Zell in a girl's body), intriguingly interwoven histories (one can play with or without Zilart but no matter what, Tavnazia is a prominent piece of the puzzle in Vana d'iel history), true plot twists (I'll be damned if someone said "I knew that all along.") and exciting battles (here's to fighting in the middle of an airship armada, evoking SNES airship battle memories of old).
I can drone on and on about how nyanderful the new locations are, as usual they are best seen for yourself. The feeling I got with the Promathia expansion is variety. A whole spectrum of areas are offered, along with some new barge rides for anyone who seriously enjoys fishing. There's a feeling of peace in Bibiki Bay, dry and arid in Attowah Chasm, wet and icky at Carpenter's Landing, rolling thunder on Misareaux Coast, freezing cold at Uleguerand Range, dark and confusing in Movalpolos, empty in Promyvion, psychedelic in Pso'Xja and that's not all. More areas can be accessed by Promathia Missions.
The greatest thing about exploring each of these is finding just the right spot at just the right time. An example of such a rare find would be the west end of Purgonorgo Isle. As the sun sets into the endless ocean, the sky begins to glow a rich red and the water in the horizon begins to sparkle. I found this as relaxing as Leremieu Lagoon's changing colors, or the waterfalls of Cascade Edellaine, all of which screamed "wedding location" in my mind. Turns out that the last Tavnazian princess had her wedding-on-the-water at the Lagoon over twenty years ago!
Speaking of 'twenty years ago', Promathia's story and FFXI's story as a whole focuses on this war ravaged period in history. This takes us to the root of many Vana d'iel character histories. It's a little strange that in Promathia we get missions which are occuring before the Zilart storyline. There is an actual order to the storyline, being FFXI -> Promathia -> Zilart. Most people believe that Promathia should have been released first and I agree. Low level players won't notice the difference, and will most likely progress by doing lower level capped Promathia Missions before any of the Zilart Missions, anyway.
The original FFXI introduction movie had FMV rendered locations which players couldn't even place in the actual game. We all brushed it off as inconsistency between the game and movie teams. Seriously, dragons? We didn't even see dragons outside of missions until Zilart was released. The movie introduced the player to a boy named Aldo and we later find him in the actual game. Aldo is now in his twenties, and says that he's from a destroyed country called the Tavnazian Marquisate. The FMV zoomed out to show a distinctly shaped valley which was nowhere to be found in FFXI for two years. It's only with the Promathia expansion do we finally get to see this location in the game. By heading to the north end of Lufaise Meadows in the Tavnazian region, players can catch a breathtaking glimpse of the valley. In the distance Dragons fly above the mist, and their cries echo throughout. The area was named Blueblade Fell.
Grand views aren't the only thing to notice in Promathia areas. Aside from the multitude of new monsters, I love to notice the strange new flora and fauna in Promathia locations. Carpenter's Landing in particular has flocks of birds constantly passing by, often they dip into the water to grab a meal. I enjoyed watching this so much I made a layout of it. Also in the Landing are suspicous looking owls who keep their eyes trained on the players as they move about. Then at night tiny fireflies appear near the water, while crickets and frogs begin their little symphony of scary noises. While on the barge ride from Bibiki Bay during the day, try looking down into the water. Aquatic plants can be seen, a reminder of how shallow the water is. Getting to the top of the Pazradamo Tot at the east side of Attowah Chasm, a difficult feat in itself, is also worth the effort not only for the view.
The sights and sounds alone are enough to call it a true expansion, but a little something was missing in the new zones. It was that ability to level there or hunt. Many of the new monsters feel like they were designed only to be looked at, not for leveling or even fighting. Things like level 30 Uragnites randomly going back into their shell, and their 10 damage per three seconds poison is enough to kill even a level 60 player. Since leveling options are quite scarce with Promathia, I'm guessing that the story and level capped areas were supposed to make up for this.
Much of the expansion's noticable content was the abundance of new music tracks. This was one of Zilart's weak points, as there simply weren't enough new tracks used outside of mission cutscenes. Naoshi Mizuta and Kumi Tanioka have blended the Promathia soundtrack into the Zilart and original game flawlessly. They've given most of the areas constant music, and blessed us with some desperately needed new battle themes. My favorite pieces were the reworked versions of the 'Recollection' track from the original FFXI game. Often used during scenes talking about the past, this melody is Tavnazia being described in feeling through music without words. Being an amazing melody on it's own and a variant of the actual FFXI opening theme song, to hear it in a piano solo and in another fully instrumented version was above and beyond my expectations for 'just' MMORPG background music. (Unsure of what melody this is? Try watching the FFXI intro FMV, when the music fades to a sad and silent flute and harp solo that's the spot!)
There's much content to do with others in Promathia, but the difference between Zilart and Promathia is that specific level or job assistance is a requirement and not a luxury. One of the things I often enjoy is being able to do quests on my own, or hunt something with a small group. Missions have level caps, and although this means people of varying main job levels could group together more, it actually lead to more problems due to the nature of the missions. On four separate Linkshells I saw problems arise due to BC (Burning Circle) battles which need specific jobs to be a success.
As expected, level 75 remains to be the current level cap. Anyone at level 75 can choose to continue gathering experience until counterstop, or boost their character's stats (across all jobs) through the completed Merit Point system. The possibilities of Merit aren't endless and they're extremely time costly. There's not much to pursue in the endgame outside of equipment, however it seems that unless some new HNMs (Hyper Notorious Monsters) drop items similar to King Behemoth, Nidhogg or Aspidochelone, the endgame will continue to be all about those three monsters as they're the only means of acquiring certain endgame items. Tu'lia Gods and the ever tiring Dynamis are have turned into Lipton side dishes by now.
There's telltale signs that Promathia's package was not quite a finished product. The release date competing with other games must have had a part in it. These signs include new monsters, notorious monsters, missions and quests being added only recently through patches. There's still quite a few zones which have yet to have a purpose and surely much more has yet to be added. None of this comes as a surprise, as MMORPGs are always a work in progress. By slowly trickling additions into the game, a developer can can keep players interested and paying.
As with Zilart and the original FFXI game, anyone who pushed ahead had the pain of seeing later patches tweak the gameplay. In this case, the Promathia Missions were made a little easier. Other early birds took advantage of the new items being available to them. By having access to the expansion before anyone else, Japanese client users monopolized the economy by racking up the price of much needed items from the new areas (sometimes into the millions). They also had access to recipes for synthing even more items early and pricing those products extremely higher than normal.
If FFXI is to last longer than a year from now, I'd be surprised. I remember that the original data used to go up to level 255 (somewhere about there). As much as I love the game, I just can't see anyone leveling past 80 (where 50,000+ experience would be needed) and saying that they're having fun. With the Zilart expansion I felt that despite the limitations, the gameplay was going somewhere. New jobs, Avatars (Summons), and leveling areas made for more reasons to play. Now that Promathia is out, it feels like the gameplay (outside of acquiring copious amounts of items and equipment - hey, I know something is wrong now that I carry 10 weapons, three shirts and at least two of everything else on one job) has been meandering along an unknown path for far too long. If a later patch suddenly introduces new gameplay concepts, abilities, or even Avatars, then that would be more than enough confirmation that Promathia was released long before it was ready.
This is the part where reviewers normally say "Oh, but don't be discouraged by my review! This rawks!" I will be honest. If you enjoy storylines, exploring new places, doing missions with other people, watching cutscenes and lengthy boss-type battles, then this expansion will leave you satisfied. If you enjoy leveling, hunting monsters at random, keeping to yourself and focusing on 'the endgame', then you will have an empty stomach. There's still hope, and it comes in the form of version updates.
Title: Final Fantasy XI - Chains of Promathia
Platform: Playstation 2
FFXI: Chains of Promathia