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Square Enix talks Vana'Diel changes

Of PvP, new areas, friends lists and the Chains of Promathia?

Vana'Diel could be rocked to its foundations in the next few months, as the Final Fantasy XI development team rolls out a new area, new player-versus-player (PvP) gameplay features and potentially even a second expansion pack.

Plans for an entirely new area have been in the open for some time, and, according to a recent interview in Dengeki PlayStation in Japan, it's the focus of most of the dev team's efforts at the moment, with other upgrades and missions on hold while it comes together.

The plan is to offer a more challenging combat experience for up to 18 high-level characters, giving them a chance to let their hair down and roll out the heavy weaponry to take on new monsters and quests, which will demand more than a strong brew and a couple of energy tablets to overcome, no matter what your level.

Indeed, if Square Enix's recent trips to the trademark office are anything to go by, the as-yet unveiled new area could prove even hotter than previously imagined. The clue is buried in FFXI's back-story, which saw a nasty goddess named Promathia, originally opposed Atlana at the creation of the world, spitting legions of monsters into the darkness while Atlana wept the tears that formed each of the five player races. According to the US Patent & Trademark Office, Square Enix recently registered "Chains of Promathia" as a piece of videogame software - a move reflected at the Japanese trademark office with the registration of "Promathia no Jubaku," which we're told means pretty much the same thing.

Is Square Enix developing the geological equivalent of where Satan fell? Maybe. Yes or no though, Chains of Promathia is a very obvious shoe-in for the next Final Fantasy XI expansion pack label. We should know if "Chains of Promathia" actually has anything to do with the game's new area next month when Square Enix moves its recent hard work into the beta test phase.

Afterwards we can expect the developer to turn its attention to matters of PvP. Originally announced at the Tokyo Game Show last year, FFXI's PvP features are finally taking shape. The dev team has reportedly made it one of their main ambitions for the year to adapt the job system to make PvP work properly, and to balance classes to ease its introduction, which we can expect along with a new set of story developments.

Stepping back into the present for a moment, Square Enix has also this week launched a beta version of its Friends List Plus, open to those with PlayOnline IDs via the developer's website, which adds a number of features to the existing Friends List make-up - delivering online status checks and messaging over the web rather than just within the PlayOnline browser. Useful if you're trying to track down the bloke who borrowed your Chocobo last week and crashed it into a dragon...

Finally, Square Enix is reportedly very "encouraged" by the game's success in North America, and internally it is proposing a few balance changes (raising the level maximum, refining weapon skills to encourage specialisation) in order to cope with the substantial increase in player numbers. Whether those proposals will come to fruition is unknown at this point, but with the game launching on American PS2s later this quarter (bundled with the launch of the PS2 hard disk in the territory), and the European launch still somewhat under wraps, Vana'Diel is definitely a good prospect for growth over the coming year...