Final Fantasy XI: Chains of Promathia - Staff Retroview  

Cursed Be the Chains that Bind
by Cortney Stone



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   After successful launches across two continents, Final Fantasy XI received its second expansion: Chains of Promathia. While the first expansion, Rise of the Zilart, brought new areas, missions, and jobs, Chains of Promathia bestowed only new areas and missions on the citizens of Vana'diel. Some claimed the lack of new jobs was enough to declare this expansion a failure, but those who were brave enough to face the grueling challenges discovered that this expansion was truly worthwhile.

   The core of Chains of Promathia is its long, complex storyline, which has a lot to do with the theology and history of Vana'diel. It begins with the appearance of Bahamut, followed by an investigation into the Emptiness, shadowy dimensions that appear near the land's teleportation crags. This eventually opens a path to a land previously cut off after the last war Tavnazia, the location featured in Final Fantasy XI's opening movie. Adventurers are pulled into a complicated situation in which they must investigate different mysteries within the Tavnazian region and beyond. They meet many colorful and intriguing characters, each with his or her unique motives and beliefs. The best of the group is Prishe, a strange young Elvaan girl with a foul mouth, a bold personality, and powerful fists. Much of the story focuses on her, and she certainly keeps it interesting. The plot has many twists and turns, leading up to a fascinating revelation in an epic final boss battle. The problem, however, is that the story is a bit too complex, and at times the writing makes the tale very confusing.

   In order to progress through the story, players must organize balanced, competent groups and engage in many difficult battles. Unlike the missions of the original game and Rise of the Zilart, which could be completed with ease by anyone with higher level help for the most part, the missions of Chains of Promathia have a huge catch: level caps. Level caps are not new to Final Fantasy XI, but in Chains of Promathia, areas and battles cap players' levels at 30, 40, 50, and 60. The overwhelming majority of the missions are in level capped areas with level capped instanced fights. This is a great equalizer; high level players may struggle while skilled lower level players may overcome the challenges with relative ease. Unfortunately, this means that higher level players have to purchase and haul equipment of the appropriate levels for the missions. It also means that while someone may complete the first round of missions at level 30, he or she cannot finish the entire story until level 70 or higher. Combine this with Final Fantasy XI's level grind and the result is a very drawn-out mission sequence that mainly appeals to high-level characters who can hopscotch through the level caps in a shorter amount of time.

One of Prishe's gentler moments. One of Prishe's gentler moments.

   There are other tactical challenges such as the placement of truesight monsters in areas. Players cannot use items and spells to avoid detection while passing through. Instead they must take care to avoid being seen by the monsters, a la Metal Gear Solid. Another challenge in combat is that players have to bring plenty of support items such as potions, regeneration drinks, and reraise earrings. Previously, players did not use these items except on rare occasions. In addition, some difficult bosses can be made a lot easier by using special items against them. These special items can be obtained by killing lesser enemies and having an NPC process the dropped materials. Farming for special mission items is nothing new, but Chains of Promathia adds the extra NPC processing step as well as the need for player cooperation and timing in battle for usage.

   Another major component of this expansion is the new areas, many of which host the exciting missions and battles. Some zones are beautiful, others are creepy, and every one is filled with interesting details. Players may observe dragons flying overhead in Lufaise Meadows, snakes swimming through the waters of Carpenter's Landing, and manta rays gliding over coral reefs in Bibiki Bay. There are a couple of graphics flaws, however. For example, in a pristine pond in Lufaise Meadows, a mother duck and her two ducklings swim backwards. This is, of course, a very minor detail that is greatly overwhelmed by the quality of the other zones. Another bonus with these new areas is that some of them serve as alternative leveling spots, giving the experience grind a welcome change of scenery. There are also plenty of new monster models; unfortunately, there are also plenty of palette-swapped old models.

The Tavnazian Tourism Department invites you to experience the beauty of the Tavnazian Archipelago. The Tavnazian Tourism Department invites you to experience the beauty of the Tavnazian Archipelago.

   The soundtrack of Chains of Promathia features the compositions of Naoshi Mizuta. While only "A New Horizon," the theme of Lufaise Meadows and Misareaux Coast, and "Onslaught," a battle theme, are outstanding, the rest are quite good. There is really no reason to turn the sound bar all the way down in the configuration menu while playing through Chains of Promathia -- unless one's party is on its fifteenth attempt at mission 6-4 and the battle music is becoming as nerve-grating as the bosses.

   Completion time for anything in an MMORPG is nebulous, but Chains of Promathia will take much longer to complete than Rise of the Zilart, and it will require more effort and preparation than the home nation missions. While some assembly is always required for parties, equipment, and supplies, Chains of Promathia is far more demanding of the players' time than other Final Fantasy XI activities. The difficulty also increases the timesink. The missions are very challenging; it is difficult enough to assemble a competent group, much less clear the actual battles. However, this makes the rewards that much sweeter, and Chains of Promathia does provide some very useful rewards, some of which are doled out over the course of the storyline. Most completed missions bestow some badge of honor on the player.

   With beautiful zones, quality music, and an epic but bewildering storyline, Chains of Promathia is an excellent expansion for Final Fantasy XI. However, while every player can benefit from it in some degree, not everyone will enjoy the fullness of the expansion. Players without organized linkshells may find themselves perpetually stuck on certain missions without the needed help. Low level players will not reap as many rewards as high level players will. Those will the skill and dedication to complete Chains of Promathia will discover a unique experience that will change their view of Vana'diel forever or at least until they deactivate their content IDs.

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