A Look Back At Square Enix Fan Fests

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With details emerging about the upcoming Final Fantasy XIV Fan Festivals, I thought it might be nice to talk about memories of the 2006, 2007 and 2008 Fan Fests that were held for Final Fantasy XI.

Some players in the community might be seeing other players getting excited over the mere mention of “Fan Fest” and have no idea what it’s all about. Take a trip with me as we look at the previous events hosted by Square Enix so that you might get an idea of what to expect when these new events kick off in October.

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Fan Fest 2006- The Santa Monica Pier
Official Website

Unfortunately, I wasn’t at the first North American Fan Fest. However! An old acquaintance of mine, Kieran, who people might remember from our old Final Fantasy XI podcast Pet Food Alpha was in attendance- and in full Corsair garb I might add. I asked him if he could help tell the tale of the first Fan Festival to hit North America.


It was early March in 2006, a time when FFXI had begun it’s ascension into the world of MMORPG’s with over 500,000 players logging in from all over the world with the majority of it’s player-base still in Japan. The concept of a Fan Festival was truly a foreign thing to US players, with the only comparable event being that of Blizz-Con, full of fanfare for FFXI’s major competitor World of Warcraft (~7 million subscribers at the time.) Square-Enix, in an effort to reach out to it’s players state-side, was to hold it’s first Fan Festival outside of Japan in Santa Monica, California located right on the Pacific Ocean on the Santa Monica Pier. To grab the attention of it’s player-base and the Fan-Fests potential attendees, SE promised new information on the recently announced expansion Treasures of Aht Urhgan, including a new job announcement and a multitude of other goodies. The event, I should add, sold-out fairly quickly.

As an avid player in the US… how could I resist? Sure I lived in practically the EXACT OPPOSITE CITY from where it was to be held (ATL>LA), but this wasn’t something I could miss. Where there is a will, there is a way, and that way was to drag someone else along. A real-life friend of mine and also a Linkshell mate decided to make the journey with me. Upon racking up some serious credit-card debt on a flight and the hotel, these two players from Remora began their journey.

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I’ll forego the travel shenanigans and the general sightseeing info and get right to the point: we had no idea what to expect. There was a buzz about the place that even the locals weren’t accustomed too. Lines, MASSIVE lines surrounded a large tent that encompassed the majority of the Santa Monica pier area behind the carousel. Cosplayers (myself included) were drawing lots of attention from players. Photo opportunities and conversations were rampant. Everyone was in high-spirits. As if the interactions while waiting in line weren’t enough, the moment we entered the tent we knew we were among our peers. Banners from every nation could be seen hung from the rafters, meet-up areas were forming beneath posters representing each Server, and people of all types were milling about. If you were a fan of FFXI, not only did this feel like home, but it felt like you just hit the jackpot.

Upon verifying your attendance you received a stylish Gobbie Bag, full of various info about the Fan-Fest (with a schedule for its Developer Panels, Art Contest, Movie Contest, Announcements and Tournaments), a 2006 Fan Fest hat, a copy of the FFXI Atlas, a free copy of the Chains of Promathia expansion, raffle tickets for tons of FFXI merch and a plethora of other items including codes to access the exclusive in-game item the Moogle Rod.

In addition to all this booty (I cosplayed as a Corsair, can you tell?) you received and Adventurer’s Coupon, Tarutaru Tarot Cards and several Moogle Tokens to be spent at the booths as part of a sort of a Scavenger Hunt, which was more akin to any FFXI quest you’ve ever been on. Vague hints were supplied as you went along on this quest as to where you were to head next. Conveniently (and inconveniently) located NPC’s, beautiful models gloriously cosplayed as Mithra were there to aid you on your quest to get more freebies, more raffle tickets and more Moogle Tokens.

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On the second day of the event, there were even more announcements, followed the Ballista Royale Championship and other tournaments and more playable ToAU.

I now live in Los Angeles, and I frequent the Santa Monica Pier. I have to tell you that it is an absolute mind trip every time that I do. Because every single time I go there I can still look back and see that giant tent there and remember the wonderful experience I had at the first North American FFXI Fan Festival. It was a mind blowing experience that I will never forget, and I highly suggest any fan of the Final Fantasy series to attend the next festival SE brings our way. I’m absolutely certain it will be something you will cherish for a lifetime, and SE will not fail to impress you.

 

 

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Fan Fest 2007- Anaheim
Official Website

The 2007 event was held prior to the launch of the Wings of the Goddess Expansion pack and allowed players to actually get hands on time with both Dancer and Scholar before they were released. It was also the event where the Cheese Sandwich rose to an absurdly high level of popularity because it was brought up during a Developer Q&A.

This was also the first Fan Fest that I attended and to say that I was excited would be a huge understatement.

Just two years out of High School, I wasn’t a big traveler and the trip out to California would be my first of many to come.

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Two friends and myself decided that we would make the trip and given the popularity of PFA at the time I sort of deputized them as official PFA representatives for the event. We even had Pet Food Alpha t-shirts that we sold prior to the event in the hopes to scrounge up a little extra money for the trip and joke at the idea of seeing a crowd of people wearing our shirt so we could say “oh wow that’s pretty awesome!”

Sure enough, as we went up the escalator in the hotel where the event was being held, one of the line operators took one look at our shirts and said “huh, I’ve seen other people wearing those, you guys in a linkshell together or something?” After getting checked in, getting our Gobbie Bags (a bag full of sponsor swag and booklets of event info) we actually ran into other people wearing our PFA t-shirt. It was… well, it was weird. When we had started our FFXI podcast we always joked about how there are probably ten people listening and how we’d never get to 100 episodes and here I was at an event with people coming up to me and saying how much they loved the show. Humbling, but weird.

IMG_0020The funniest part about the first night was when we saw Final Fantasy XI Producer, Hiromichi Tanaka come out of one of the side doors to hit up the mini bar. Of course being the talkative, podcast host that I am, I was incredibly nervous and couldn’t bring myself to actually go up to him and say hi. Instead, one of my friends went up to greet him and asked for a picture! My friend handed his camera to one of the staff and Tanaka sidestepped so that the minibar would be out of the picture. I couldn’t help but laugh while at the same time being jealous of my friend who now had a picture of himself and the man in charge of Final Fantasy XI.

The next morning we grabbed a seat in the front row and waited for the days festivities to start. The curtain fell as Awakening blasted over the speakers revealing Hiromichi Tanaka who welcomed all of the attendees. As the opening ceremonies commenced, we found that Square Enix had a lot of surprises in store for us. One of the first announcements of the day was that Final Fantasy XI was finally getting a windowed mode and it would be available in less than a week. As you can see from our “high quality” 2007 camera, the crowd was very excited:

FanFest 004Afterwards we began our Live Quests. In the materials given to us in our Gobbie Bags there were a series of challenges that once completed, could be turned in to receive exclusive in-game items that would let you challenge special battlefields only available to Fan Fest attendees (and later Mog Bonanza winners).

Some of them were harder than others, ranging from simple word puzzles to the slightly more difficult challenge that asked members of your group to post as monsters from Final Fantasy XI.

I felt a bit stupid when I was asked to pose as a Flan in the middle of the hotel hallway but thanks to 2007 digital camera technology, the red-eye really helped sell it and we were able to finish all of the quests.

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We participated in the special battlefields that were set up for attendees, posed with the lovely Mithra models and attended each developer panel with an unhealthy amount of anticipation. We later watched the amazing cosplayers emote across the stage during the costume contest.

One of the other attractions was the hallway of carnival games. Attendees could participate in things such as a ring toss and walk away with special Fan Fest 2007 swag! I still have everything I won from those games including a notebook and some pencils.

At the end of it all, we were treated to a concert by a group known as the Smash Brothers who played a variety of arranged music from Final Fantasy XI which was then followed by a piano performance from Kumi Tanioka- who I actually got to meet after the performance! I had her sign the back of my badge!  I even ran into Hvinire on the way back to our room (Who was just plain old Robert back then before the launch of the official forums). I didn’t even know who he was at the time but I had seen him run some of the events on-stage and so I figured “Hey! He’s important! I’ll get a picture with him!”

I didn’t know it at the time, but traveling out to LA, and meeting the people I did- these would be things that would set me down a path for many years to come.

 

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Fan Fest 2008- Hollywood
Official Website

The last Fan Festival in North America was in 2008 in Hollywood. After my attendance in 2007, I was excited and ready to go for another trip out to LA to be with so many other people that were into the same thing that I was.

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This year was different for a couple of reasons. The way that people covered events using the internet had started to change and with live blogging now being very popular, we were up to date on every single piece of information that came out of the Japanese Vana Fest the week before. As a result of this, much of the information that was given to us during the presentations was already old news with exclusives being limited to things such as Dancer group 2 merits.

The other difference was that PFA had risen even more in popularity and this time we were given… a booth! We had a place to sit down and chat with fans of the show. I still remember when someone asked me for my autograph and I looked at them and said “Sure!…. do I sign my real name? My character name? What do I do here?”

The first full day of the event was more challenging for some members of our group than others. Steak, one of the hosts of Pet Food Alpha decided that the open bar during the Friday night reception wasn’t enough. He went out drinking with some staff from both the NA and EU premiere sites. At one point I had texted him and told him to take it easy- we were there as press that year and we had to cover the event for the site. The next morning I hear that upon receiving this message he exclaimed “What? Is Fusion my Mom now?” I’ll spare you the additional details but he went straight into the bathroom upon returning to his hotel room that night and ended up sleeping on the floor next to the porcelain throne.

The next morning is when the event had its opening ceremonies. One of the things attendees would get to try out was Moblin Maze Mongers before it went live. At the first presentation of the day they explained the system to us. The creator of Moblin Maze Mongers, Yoji Fujito attempted to enter his customized maze but kept running into technical difficulties. At one point, the message that appears when you are unable to enter the maze appeared in the game’s chat log and he just laughed and said “Oh hey! I wrote that!” The presentation moved to a power point back up after that point so that the show could continue. I remember walking around later that day and seeing staff in the hallways trying to pull people in to play more of MMM- sadly, it appeared that there wasn’t much interest after the initial rush of people.

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Across the hall from MMM was another battlefield known as The Swarm that allowed players to try out the new Mythic Weapons that were introduced in the Aht Urhgan content. Being “press” that year, I was able to skip the line and simply walk around and see what everyone was doing. I remember going in with Ganiman from FFXIClopedia has he walked up to a Warrior and asked him to open up his stat window so he could write down the types of bonuses he was getting from the weapon. Ah… those were the days.

After the final presentation we were treated to a lovely piano performance from Kumi Tanioka to close out the Festival.

My memories of that years event feel almost independent of the Fan Fest itself. There simply wasn’t as much to do as in previous years and because of the information that came from the event in Japan the week prior, the 2008 event fell behind its predecessor.


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And so here we are.

The first Fan Festivals for Final Fantasy XIV have been announced for Las Vegas, London and Tokyo- all within a couple months of each other.

At PAX Prime last year, there was a Final Fantasy XIV launch event which gave me warm fuzzies, making me remember the larger Fan Festivals in years past. To finally get another larger scale event after all these years is something that excites me to my very core.

I hope that after reading about the previous Fan Fests that you can take away some of our excitement for these events. Hopefully they’ll give you better look at what you might expect from an event like this if it’s something you’re thinking about attending. Above are just the fond memories that Kieran and myself have. I hope you’re able to attend the upcoming event in Las Vegas and make some memories of your own!

See you in Vegas!

 

2 thoughts on “A Look Back At Square Enix Fan Fests

  1. You left out some of the best parts of 2008… you mention the open bar like it was a bad thing with connotation that Steak is a bad person or something. Get over yourself Fusionx, you aren’t the cool kid you think you are. You are in fact, pretty lame, as is this write up. The way most people would remember Fanfest 2008 is… Fusionx is being a little bitch, I didn’t realize he was like this in real life. Everyone else seemed to be having a whole lot of fun… except for you.

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