TOKYO - As we arrived at the Pacifico Yokohama, where Square Millennium was to take place in mere hours, the excitement was building (actually though, since the U.S. press was attending the second show time, about 5,000 lucky Japanese gamers had already seen what we were about to). Square employees, decked out in mad cool gold Square Millennium parkas, wrangled the crowd around the building as we headed inside through the press entrance.
There's one thing I gotta say: while we were tipped to the presence of at least FFIX and X, XI that was a shocker. Big shocker, at least for me. It got me really excited about the whole online aspect of Final Fantasy and what Square (clearly one of the best, if not the best, developer of RPGs consistently in the world) will do with it. But I'm getting ahead of myself
You already know the major stuff that was announced at Square Millennium, so here are my thoughts on the whole thing.
PlayOnline - good idea, but the announcement lacked any real specifics, relying solely on the target time period of 2001, and one major killer applicationFinal Fantasy XI. Sure, FFX will utilize the PlayOnline network, but I wonder if the PlayOnline service, which isn't really that different from what many ISPs already offer, can gain acceptance before FFXI.
FFIX Finally, a return to Final Fantasy's roots. Super Deformed characters, in what really looks like a throwback to the day of FFV and VI. At first I was kind of taken aback as the game looked really good - better than I would expect for the PlayStation. Considering we were viewing all this on a huge movie-type screen, it looked amazingly sharp. Sakaguchi commented that the game is nearly finished and it'll be out this summer in Japan. You have to wonder which upcoming Square game will feature a FFIX demo disc in it. Vagrant Story? Or will Square include a demo disc of it with one of its PS2 titles? The company didn't say
FFX The thing about Final Fantasy X that immediately makes you wonder, is that instead of playing this game from a fixed, far away third person view, you're playing in a viewpoint that's much more like Tomb Raider. For a Final Fantasy game, this is pretty jarring at first. It doesn't quite look like Final Fantasy sometimes. It's impressive graphically, but instead of continuing the look brought back by FFIX, it goes right back into that tall character, realistic look that VIII had. Makes you wonder why IX is even in that old school style.
FFXI This is actually something I'm really excited about - playing Final Fantasy amongst thousands of other people. The only problem is, how is there a game for everyone to play separately if you're all in one universe? Will there be virtual lines to get into the next dungeon? How fun could that be? Square didn't really elaborate on that. I really hope that the US can get FFX and XI in a relatively short amount of time, and of course it'd be nice to know if we'll have all those PlayOnline features like the in-game help systems and strategy planners. It would be harsh to have those in the Japanese version but NOT in the US releases.
As exciting as Square Millennium was, being from the US and seeing all of this stuff made me think, well, that's all well and good, but can't you at least mention when the US might see some of this stuff? No dice.
One last note on Final Fantasy The Movie. The official site for the movie will open in March, and we got a bit of a preview of it at the show. It'll feature online trailers (hopefully when the site opens), and we got a taste of one of them. It was slightly different than the trailer we were shown at the Yoshitaka Amano Hero exhibition in New Yorkwith less dialogue and more action. Let's just say that it's got lots of cool-looking explosions. It looks very Alien-like, and after the show we all theorized that the reason there wasn't much dialogue in the trailer we were shown is that probably 4,950 of the 5,000 attendees wouldn't understand the English anyway.
It's definitely obvious that Square is quickly moving from PlayStation to PlayStation2. All those rumors of Dolphin and Dreamcast seems to have been proven false at least for now. It is clear especially because of the whole PlayOnline venture that Square has chosen which system it will back in this millennium (Sega fanatics, go ahead and say we don't need Square's games anyway! Knew you'd say that).
But really, what does it matter. Those of us who've enjoyed Square's games since the NES/SNES days know that it's not the platform the game is on as much as what Square does with the storytelling. As long as they keep up that high standard, then we'll be playing fantastic games well into the 21st century.