TOKYO - At Square Millennium in Yokohama, Japan, we got a glimpse of not only the next Final Fantasy, but the next three - Final Fantasy IX, X and XI. For those of you not down with the Roman numeral thing, that's FF nine, ten and eleven!
The three were shown in sequential order, and with less and less to show as they went on - but this was still a stunning revelation. Final Fantasy IX marks the return of Yoshitaka Amano as principle character designer for a Final Fantasy game since FFVI, and it shows. Looking more like a sword and sorcery style game than a science-fiction opera is the first thing you'll notice. The second is the promotion of older FF characters to significant roles (the Dark Wizard being one), although a new character with either a tail or a long pony-tail (can't be sure which it was) seemed to be in the lead role. The character graphics rely less on the super-realism favored by FFVIII and look like a compromise between FFVII's and Chrono Cross's. Spell effects look great and appear to be slightly improved from those in FFVIII, but on the whole, it appears as though FFVIII truly maxed out the PlayStation's capabilities, because there is no quantitative leap in quality. The difference is in the design, and it looks great.
Final Fantasy X, on the other hand, was moving at a steady 60fps, while featuring immaculately constructed 3D backgrounds. Much in the way Resident Evil: Code Veronica took the pre-rendered backgrounds and tossed them in the trash, so too does Final Fantasy X. While the demo shown only featured one character running around (a Squall clone in skate-punk clothes), the environments looked amazing and showed a production value that would make other developers weep. Another demo shown during the Play-Online session showed a Final Fantasy-like group of characters running around on pre-rendered backgrounds, but it is unknown if that was a tech-demo for display purposes only, or if it was related to one of the new games.
Final Fantasy XI was shown in concept art form and no moving footage was displayed. What was shown were a series of sketches by FFVII, VIII and Parasite Eve artist Tetsuya Nomura, along with a series of renders that displayed a group of FF characters in battle. The battle scene hinted at what FFXI was all about, with numerous characters featuring names floating over their heads. If what was on display is any indication, gameplay will be similar to an Ultima Online or Everquest environment, at least in the sense that multiple gamers can participate in online games at once. Whether they are part of a perpetual environment hasn't been revealed, but it might be hard to maintain a semi-linear storyline that way, which is an integral strength of the Final Fantasy series.
Sadly, the glimpses we saw of the three new Final Fantasys were all too brief and left us wanting more. Any of you who were disgruntled by the recent Final Fantasy trend of style over substance may find FF IX's combination of old-school styling and technology a refreshing cure. While the FF X and XI won't arrive until 2001, FF IX for PlayStation looks like it could be a triumphant return to form. More on this as we get it.