Seven years into the life of Final Fantasy XI, the development team at Square Enix decided to try something radically different -- three add-on "scenario expansions" instead of an all-out expansion pack. The first of these mini-expansions, “A Crystalline Prophecy,” was released in early 2009. The majority of reviewers seemed to disapprove of the new add-on, and the playerbase had mixed reactions to the mini expansion.
As we prepare for the release of the second add-on, titled "A Moogle Kupo d’Etat: Evil in Small Doses," we at ZAM decided to take a look back at what worked -- and what didn’t work -- in "A Crystalline Prophecy."
What Failed -by Vlorsutes
For every positive aspect that this first add-on possessed, it was plagued by just as many negative aspects that significantly hampered the potential it had. For having been active for over seven years with four very successful expansions under their belts, the developers should have had a firm grasp over what the player base would like, but "A Crystalline Prophecy" could at best be considered an annoying time sink and rewards to hold together a mediocre plot. To avoid spoilers, I shall refrain from mentioning any aspect of the actual story as best I can, and focus more directly on the other issues there were.
When Square Enix first released information regarding "A Crystalline Prophecy", it was suggested that the content would be significant enough that it would take the more hardcore players well over a week to complete all that there was. However, with no new zones to be had, and the relative ease it takes a player to get from one zone to another with outpost warps and the like, the minimum time requirement ends up being little more than a gross overstatement. Apart from two "Burning Circle" style battles and a single "stealth" mission, none of the missions pose any challenge to a level seventy-five character, as they're comprised of little more than either fighting extremely weak mobs for the sake of special items or running around entire zones searching for items to pick up.
Personally speaking, I approached one of the first notorious monster fights with no knowledge of the difficulty of the monster, so as a level seventy-five Blue Mage I spent several minutes properly buffing up by gaining full TP, giving myself Diamondhide, Refueling, and Utsusemi, and even went as far as using a charge from my Reraise Hairpin. To my annoyance, the NM proved to be incredibly weak, as I was able to dispatch it in far less time than it took to actually prepare for the fight. What could and should have been at least a somewhat challenging fight in reality turned out to be a nuisance and a joke, nothing more. Sadly, that's how the majority of this add-on ended up feeling.
The final fight of the add-on, on the other hand, is by and far a very cheap battle to where players seeking others to help participate in it will exclude a large portion of the jobs out there because the pre-requisites for the battle are so annoying that players refuse to risk anything but a specific setup. This hearkens back to Promyvion runs when Chains of Promathia was first introduced, which literally forced some players to level new jobs just so they would be able to participate in the battles. This bias serves to alienate a large portion of the player base, suggesting that the developers favor certain jobs and blatantly ignore others.
There wasn't enough content added to warrant the $10 price tag to flag your content as being useable. Content updates in the past have released a comparable number of missions of similar or greater difficulty without requiring the player base to pay anything more than the existing monthly fee to access it, so why did they feel that making us pay for something that can at best be described as subpar? If this is what we're to expect from the upcoming add-ons, then Square Enix will have a very hard time convincing even the most die-hard of fans to purchase them.
What Worked -by Thayos
Let’s face it -- "A Crystalline Prophecy" was not a shining moment in the history of Final Fantasy XI. That said, the add-on wasn't a total failure, either. The add-on was small compared to previous expansion packs, yet ACP included some significant innovations that will hopefully be carried on in all future additions to the game.
The most basic improvement in "A Crystalline Prophecy" is the ability for anyone to help out with missions regardless of their own progress through the storyline. Gone are the days when friends can’t help each other because they're not on the same mission. The ACP add-on continues the trend started by Fields of Valor and Level Sync, adding ease and convenience to encourage people to participate in the new content. As Final Fantasy XI continues to age, this improvement to the mission system will allow players to continue progressing through the game’s storyline in years to come.
The ability for anyone to help with missions ties in with the most groundbreaking feature of ACP -- the mini expansion's unique rewards system. Players who complete missions can choose between key items that progress the storyline or special keys that can lead to valuable items or rare, augmented armor pieces. Upon completing the add-on, players are rewarded with an augmented level 72 ring and their choice of a customizable level 75 body piece. Never before have players been allowed to choose their stats on a piece of gear, let alone one of endgame caliber. Although specialization prompted many players to choose identical stats for their gear selections, the opportunity to personalize a piece of endgame gear was a very refreshing addition to FFXI's reward system. Imagine if you could have added magic skill to a Tamas Ring or chosen an additional stat for an Ulthalam’s Ring?
Square Enix should also be commended for finding a way to utilize existing areas of the game. Vana'diel is full of beautiful zones that we don’t get to visit often enough. The harrowing climb up Delkfutt's Tower was a creative use of something that had been in the game for several years. True, the climb became extremely annoying after more than a few trips to the fulcrum, but the concept of turning Delkfutt’s Tower into a Chains of Promathia-style dungeon crawl is worthy of applause.
The storyline of ACP wasn't great -- with such a small expansion, there simply wasn't time to develop the plot. Time was the only insurmountable obstacle faced by "A Crystalline Prophecy." A scenario expansion that‘s beatable in a few days can never compete with a full-scale expansion pack. Still, the storyline was just good enough to provide hope for future add-ons. If the development team can learn from the shortcomings of "A Crystalline Prophecy," then perhaps future add-ons can provide us with tastes of the depth and lore we've come to expect from Final Fantasy titles.