In this special FFXI feature, ZAM takes you along for the ride as Square Enix demonstrates a few of the highlights from A Shantotto Ascension, it's latest add-on scenario.
With all the recent news and hype surrounding Square Enix's upcoming Final Fantasy XIV, it's easy for casual players to forget that the company's original cross-platform MMO, Final Fantasy XI, is still very much alive and kicking. 2009 was the year of FFXI's new "add-on scenarios," which offered fresh content and gameplay mechanics via horizontal expansion. Smaller than full expansions like Wings of the Goddess, these add-on scenarios focused on revitalizing existing storylines and characters within established content.
The latest of these add-on scenarios was A Shantotto Ascension - The Legend Torn, Her Empire Born, released earlier this winter, which introduces the Doctor Shantotto storyline and further continues the overall Wings of the Goddess arc. Also, in early December, Square Enix's latest version update introduced some cool new in-game features like the Synergy crafting system and Evolith gear customization. Last month, ZAM took part in an in-game tour hosted by the developers, highlighting some of the best bits introduced in the new add-on scenario and version update. Keep reading to come along for the ride!
The new A Shantotto Ascension scenario was inspired by the eccentric Doctor Shantotto, a popular character in the world of Vana’diel. The first mission and intro cutscene begins by zoning into Windurst Walls, which sets the stage; Shantotto returns to Windurst one day after a sudden and unexplained absence, shocking her colleagues with behavior so outrageous it puts her old self to shame. She goes so far as to proclaim herself ruler of her own empire, and it's up to you to discover the truth behind the doctor’s new agenda.
Our tour guide, a Square Enix rep, set us up with a pre-made Samurai character and invited us to join a party of GMs, so that we could jump around and experience some of the biggest attractions in the new scenario and update. He told us that on completion of the mission series, players are awarded a rare leg armor piece, selectable according to their job, which can also be augmented with a variety of stat bonuses.
Our guide explained that crystals have always been a big theme in Final Fantasy, although historically, players haven't been able to use Evoliths to augment their gear. "But now, players can harness the power of these Evoliths and use them to power up our equipment and weapons," he said. "Each one of them gives a different stat bonus; players can hunt them down and pick and choose which ones they want to use."
To give us an example of how players can obtain Evoliths, the guide brought us to a floating book called the Hunt Registry. "A hunt is pretty much composed of defeating a notorious or named monster, which are a little bit stronger than our regular enemies," he explained. "As you defeat these notorious monsters, you can [come back] to the Hunt Registry to record your hunt, and the book will give you an Evolith."
To show us an example of a high-level hunt, we accepted a hunt in Crawler's Nest to fight Lugh, a notorious monster that would normally take about 18 maxed-level characters to defeat. However, this was a pretty extreme example, meant to allow us to get a drop that would illustrate the new Synergy crafting system afterwards.
"These hunts start out pretty simple; you can actually solo most of them in the beginning," our guide said. "The more hunts you do, you get a currency called 'Scylds' that allow you to save up and purchase harder hunts to take on. You can do one hunt per hour, so you can get quite a bit done in a day's time. It's not an instanced zone—you have to go around the world and hunt these monsters. [The Hunt Registry] will indicate which zone they're in, but you might not know exactly where they are. It's kind of tricky; you actually have to find them."
As we warped into the zone and prepared for the fight, the tour guide pointed out one of the new Summoner abilities added in the recent update, which finally gave players a reason to keep their Avatars out during combat. "In the past, a Summoner would summon out their Avatar, [cast] their special move and then put them away immediately, because there was really no incentive to keep them out," he said. "When an Avatar is out, your MP drains away, so there was no incentive to keep them alongside you the whole time. But they gave the Summoner this really neat, new ability called 'Avatar's Favor,' and when your Avatar is out, it gives your whole party a status boost, and each one of the Avatars has its own special favor."
Our group's Summoner was using Ifrit's Favor, which gave all party members the "Improved Double Attack" buff, giving each attack a chance of hitting twice. "So this one caps out at around 12 percent, which is actually pretty significant," our guide explained. "When we're actually fighting Lugh, you'll be swinging twice from time to time." Sure enough, the buff was active during the fight, indicated by a little paw-print buff icon.
He also pointed out a couple of ability upgrades the Ranger job received in the recent version update. The first upgrade was a long-awaited ability to reduce Hate, to help Rangers prevent pulling a mob from the group's tank. "Rangers are notorious for being extremely powerful; their ranged attacks are super-strong," he explained. "The only drawback to that is with the heavy damage, they pull a lot of Hate from the tank and the rest of the party. To kind of negate that, [the developers] gave Rangers a new ability [via] an ability they had in the past, called 'Camouflage,' which was originally just a means of making yourself invisible and evading enemies. But now, a Ranger can actually shoot, from cover—while in Camouflage—to greatly reduce their Hate."
In addition to the new Hate-reducing Camouflage ability, Rangers also received an upgrade for the "Unlimited Shot" ability, which lets them shoot off a bolt or arrow without actually consuming it. Prior to the upgrade, if a Ranger missed its target, the ability would fall off. Now, Rangers retain the ability until they actually connect with a target, so they won't end up wasting as much ammo on missed shots.
By this time, our enemy's levels were increasing as time went on, making it stronger and more-difficult to take down (a mechanic shared by a few high-level mobs). Our guide decided it was time to end the fight with an epic one-shot-kill so that we could check out the new Synergy crafting system. (Drops include new weapon and armor bases and the Hunt Registry rewards players with Evoliths, all of which ties into the Synergy system).