Just when Final Fantasy XI was feeling more stale than leftover Christmas cookies, Square Enix announced plans for VanaFest 2010 -- the game's premier Japanese fan event -- to occur Feb. 28 in Tokyo.
Of course, the real news isn't that VanaFest is happening. What makes this interesting is the third paragraph of the short announcement on the PlayOnline Web site. In case you haven't seen it yet, it reads:
“But save your awestruck faces for the special announcement… and be sure to hang on to your seats when it comes!"
Buckle up, folks.
For better or worse, we're all about to leave our seats. It will either happen with a collective groan, as we facepalm ourselves so hard that we topple over backward, or the news will be so good -- so amazingly good -- that we won't be able to stop ourselves for jumping up and cheering.
The problem is, Square Enix has given us little reason to expect the latter.
When Final Fantasy XIV was announced last July, the development team assured us that Final Fantasy XI isn't dead, that new content is coming, that the story of Vana'diel will go on. They pledged not to abandon us. As long as there's interest in the game, they'll keep working on it. That's what they told us.
Guess what? Many people have left the game since then, yet Vana'diel's population remains strong. There is still interest in the game. Just by paying our monthly fees, we're continuing to send a message to Square Enix that yes, we are still here.
Where is Square Enix?
These days it seems easier to talk about what Square Enix isn't doing. They weren't planning a North American Fan Fest, which usually happens in December but never materialized last year. They weren't producing new avatars, which were promised to the player base but never delivered. They weren't finishing the Walk of Echoes, or wrapping up the Wings of the Goddess story. They weren't posting in our forums to let us know what the heck was going on.
Since last summer, this is what Square Enix was doing for its players:
-Some job adjustments
-Two mediocre add-on scenarios
-Moblin Maze Mongers improvements
-The Synergy system
-More WoTG missions and quests
And now, here comes the VanaFest announcement: "Development and operation team members will engage in a talk session and divulge juicy pieces of information such as new content scheduled for upcoming version updates, planned job improvements, and other exciting milestones for the year 2010. The evolution of Final Fantasy XI is far from over, folks!"
That's all well and good, but can you blame me for being a bit cynical? I see the words "juicy pieces of information," but my brain reads it as “cool things that might never happen." I'm also thinking the development team has adopted the secret code "upcoming version updates" to signal revisions to Moblin Maze Mongers.
Which brings us to the issue of this "special announcement." This is something new. Square Enix hasn't dangled anything in front of our noses like this since fall 2008, before the last Fan Fest.
This had better be good, SE.
The words you choose in Tokyo on Feb. 28 will reverberate through all of Vana'diel. This special announcement, one way or the other, will reveal your true intentions for Final Fantasy XI.
The news you deliver will either cause people to leave or give them reason to stay.
We all know this game needs a new expansion. I know it. You know it. Your mailman, who has probably never played Final Fantasy XI, somehow knows it. The spirit of Final Fantasy has always been about storyline and exploration. We've run out of areas to explore, and have been craving new lands for a couple of years now. The add-on scenarios weren't all that bad, but they simply cannot fill the giant void left by the absence of true expansions.
Square Enix has a moral obligation to tell us their intentions for this game. Thousands of us are still paying our monthly fees, but let's face it -- we're not getting what we've paid for. Square Enix got us hooked by continuing to give us new areas to explore and new obstacles to conquer. Without those things, Final Fantasy XI just isn't Final Fantasy.
This special announcement at VanaFest will reveal where Square Enix stands.
Will we finally get the one thing the player base unanimously wants, which is a full-fledged expansion to breathe life back into the game?
To announce an expansion would affirm Square Enix's commitment to Final Fantasy XI. It would give players a reason to stay put for years to come. Square Enix would also send a strong message to anyone considering Final Fantasy XIV -- that those who invest their valuable time in the new MMO won‘t be left high-and-dry when the game starts to age.
Or, will Square Enix announce another shoddy add-on, essentially promising more of the same? More of the same is no longer good enough, SE -- unless that's what you‘ve been planning all this time.
VanaFest 2010 will be interesting. We'll be on the edge of our seats.
Let's hope we don't fall out of them.