Square Enix summons Final Fantasy fans to Santa Monica

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The highlights of the first day were the two panel discussions with the game's developers, as well as demonstrations of two of the new in-game character classes in action. Following a cheer-inducing demonstration of the new Blue Mage job, the first panel started and detailed the upcoming expansion pack Treasures of Aht Urghan, and the future of the game in a broader sense.

Featured were: FFXI Producer Hiromichi Tanaka; Aht Urghan and Map director Kouichi Ogawa; prior expansion Chains of Promathia and Event director Nobuaki Koumoto; Monster Planner Atsushi Okada; and Global Online Producer Sage Sundi. The panel members were informative and in good spirits, chuckling even when confronted by the occasional booing of some of the game's less-popular features.

The announcements should (but probably won't) lay to rest any doubt that Square Enix listens to its fans: every major feature requested by fans was there, just short of adding FFVII poster boys Cloud and Sephiroth. In addition to the oft-requested addition of periodic sieges on the cities, the Blue Mage and Corsair (or pirate) classes will make their debut. The expansion pack will add a variety of minigame content for casual and hardcore players, including Chocobo raising, racing and wagering, more storage for character items and a monster coliseum. Some of these features will come in the box with the expansion; others are due to be rolled out by the end of the year for fans who take the plunge.

After an impressive demo of the new Corsair class, the second panel began. The developers covered the game's existing classes and upcoming balance adjustments to them, discussing the actual mechanics of the new Blue Mage and Corsair classes, and finally, to much fanfare, unveiled the new Puppetmaster class and a new trailer for the expansion.

Throughout the day, attendees were able to try their hand at the new "Beseiged" event and explore the new Arrapago Reef area, test their mettle in an event-exclusive arena battle on the Xbox 360 version of the game, and even participate in a "Live Quest" replete with people dressed as game characters - in professionally-made costumes - and win in-game prizes. Fans showed their love with an art contest and movie contest, and won awards. After the day's events concluded, Square Enix hosted a DJ party at a nearby restaurant, where editorial superman and FFXI celeb player James "Milkman" Mielke spun tunes.