All right, so it’s time to insert that Tyler the Creator tweet here because this is going to be something I’m talking about a lot for a while now. After five years of quiet, Final Fantasy XI has a new scenario in development, which means… well, it’s actually unclear what that means! No “scenario” has a wide spread of meanings for the game over time, and it’s important to temper our expectations about what could be a very wide spread of different possible content drops.
Of course, I say “five years of quiet” with my tongue firmly in my cheek; while FFXI had supposedly seen its last major story update, it would be a dirty lie to say the game hadn’t been updating on a monthly basis all the way through. It’s a testament to the game and the resources being used within the division (which, I’ll note, is overseen by Naoki Yoshida) that the game has kept up steady streams of things to do even while the major story updates have wound down. So let’s talk about what this new scenario might mean, which I see as possibly one of three things.
Rhapsodies 2: Rhapsody Harder
By itself, “new scenario” suggests exactly this. Rhapsodies of Vana’diel was not light on content, exactly, but the focus was very much on serving as a meta-narrative for the existing stories in the game and also mostly on providing some benefits to deal with the game in what is, frankly, its new much more quiet state. This would still be a substantial drop of new content, but there would only be a handful of new areas and a whole lot of re-used areas.
On the one hand, this does seem like the most likely and straightforward option. It’s definitely far easier to develop this even with a reduced team size, and it also ensures that the team hasn’t spent time developing bigger content that may or may not recover costs. It also allows the developers to play into their strengths. The current FFXI team has gotten to be a bunch of absolute masters of making slight turnarounds function as new content, after all.
The biggest argument against it is basically just that by and large, most of what could be done in this approach was already done with Rhapsodies itself. If you want to have a story that wraps up the entire game with a little bow on top… look, you can’t get one that does it better than Rhapsodies did. That managed to serve as an introduction, a celebration, and a send-off to every major story arc in the game! What else can you add that doesn’t feel like an afterthought or perfunctory?
It also raises the question of what could actually be made more accessible. At this point, the endgame has already shifted to be largely solo and self-contained for players who need that, just by virtue of a smaller population. While you can add new alter egos and such, those are going to likely be of limited use at this point. It’d be interesting to have, say, new jobs unlocked here… but that also seems like it might be asking far too much, in the end.
Abyssea 2: The Next Generation
One tier up is the add-on scenarios that technically do not solely consist of Abyssea, but definitely include Abyssea. There are six of these, and each one was a bit shorter and more self-contained than Rhapsodies, with distinct new stuff and a small up-front price tag. In the case of Abyssea, the whole game sort of deformed around it for a while as something like a new endgame.
It feels like at this point, the game at the level cap consists chiefly of taking on Domain Invasions, Ambuscade, and hopefully Odyssey, alongside all the other auxiliary content still kicking around. We definitely could get something new with a new scenario that has a small price tag up front, or we could get new jobs/mechanics by buying in. Ambuscade itself has always been halfway to being a half-measure as it stands, a way of producing reliable content without having to do much more than cycle in new bosses.
Of course, the big risk of heightening the endgame here is the question of whether or not players would follow. One of the big problems that the game already has for new players aside from age and population is the sense that you are inevitably going to be behind everyone; the people still playing right now are people who already have quite a bit, which makes pushing them further just makes that gap harder to climb.
There’s also the slight question of cost. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty sure that everyone who still plays the game on whatever frequency is going to happily drop $10 on new content. But does that also turn off new players? Is that even worth it? Has the investment been made to justify it?
Expansion 6: Oh, That’s A Higher Number
This is my pie-in-the-sky wish. And it feels like it’s just not realistic, like I’m hoping for nothing. Then again, it also felt like a complete pie-in-the-sky wish to hope for new content for the game at all, and here we are. So I’d be remiss not to count this one.
Let’s start by saying that any sort of new expansion is probably going to be around the scale of Seekers of Adoulin or somewhat smaller; I’m thinking a $30 buy-in with two new jobs, some new areas, and largely adding to or layering on new endgame options, not something huge and rewriting the whole game. But what a delight it would be. After five years, the game might actually get something that novel? How would you even deal with it?
It’s not like we’ve run out of places to go, either; most of the Far East and all of the north, for example, are hinted at and never actually visited. Heck, it could even cover both as something of a post-coda bit to wrap up later plot threads here and there.
Of course… you know it would be a hard sell to put together a whole expansion for the game on a smaller team and a shoestring budget, and it’s going to be really hard to justify that to anyone as a growth leader. It’s also reading a lot into the term “new scenario” that may not be intended. It seems highly unlikely, and while I’d be remiss not to count it as a possibility, it’s only a faint one.
Then again, if you’d asked me a year ago I would have said that all of this seemed unrealistic.
My personal guess is that what we’re getting is somewhere between the first two situations, something more akin to Rhapsodies but with a bit of extra spice thrown in to make it more enticing. At the same time, I can’t rule out something bigger, especially since it seems like the planning for all of this started some time ago. And while it might be one of the biggest updates for a game in maintenance mode ever to get a whole new expansion for the game… well, FFXI has been smashing those expectations for five years now. It’d be par for the course.