On the scene at Square Enix Party 2005

The Square Enix faithful descend on the Nippon Convention Center as the publisher parties through the weekend with its upcoming wares.

CHIBA CITY, Japan--The Chiba area in Japan is no stranger to the games industry. The Makuhari Messe Convention Center is a massive collection of several different convention halls that have played host to all manner of industry events, from the annual Tokyo Game Show to Nintendo's Spaceworld festival. This weekend finds a new games event hitting town: the Square Enix Party 2005, a two-day shindig open to the public that finds the respected Japanese developer showing off its wares to fans and even doing a bit of commerce on the side, with a plethora of different games-related goods for sale.

Though Square Enix fans would have roughly the same opportunity to check out its games this September at the Tokyo Game Show, the company has opted to host its own show this month to get some quality one-on-one time with its fans. In many ways, the modestly sized party is a mini-TGS unto itself. The first day of the weekend-long event had all the hallmarks of the TGS experience: huge crowds of people waiting in line to get into the convention hall, stage shows, game-related swag at the various booths, small theaters that were showing game trailers, and, of course, people walking around dressed as chocobos.

The stage shows, a staple of any game event in Japan, are offering a good mix of what the people want. There are actually several different stages at the festival, one large stage, and several different ministages built into the game-specific booths that all feature unique content for people to check out. The big stage is obviously the centerpiece of entertainment during the party. Saturday's lineup included a live music event that traced the history of the Grandia series. The concert featured voice talent and musicians who had worked on the various games in the series, and it marked the first live music event from series composer Noriyuki Iwadare.

Later in the day, a Square Enix Music Live performance, produced by the Square Enix music department, drew fans with tunes culled from the company's massive catalog. The capper of the stage events was a live performance from vocalist Angela Aki, following the official announcement of Final Fantasy XII's theme song at the event, which will be titled "Kiss Me Good-bye." Sunday's mega stage show promises more love for FFXII, with a panel featuring composer Hitoshi Sakimoto and a special appearance from voice actors working on the project.

But the large stage isn't the only game in town. If you wade through the crowds you can catch a Front Mission Online special event at the game's booth, pitting attendees against one another in a contest for prizes. The Final Fantasy XI booth features events where attendees are challenged to defeat three non-player characters in the game within a certain time limit to win a prize. The EverQuest II booth (Square Enix publishes the game in Japan) features "rescue mission" events for attendees to try. The goal is to rescue NPCs and reach a set goal before time runs out to win a prize. The Code Age games booth features a live music and light show. The Mobile stage offers Chocobo Racing contests to let attendees try out the minigame that's been recently introduced in the Final Fantasy VII: Before Crisis mobile game. Diehard fans can also linger to check out an appearance from cosplayers dressed as the Turk characters from the game.

Arguably, the coolest booth event at the show is the downloadable minigame for the Nintendo DS at the Slime MoriMori 2 booth. Attendees can simply roll up with their DSes and download themselves a minigame from the upcoming title that will stay in their DSes until it powers down. Finally, what would any game show be without some booth babes? That requirement is filled out by the "Tokyo Metal Dolls," who are on hand to promote Heavy Metal Thunder at the Love Heavy Metal Expo booth.

Less salacious meet-and-greets were available Saturday when beloved Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu kicked it at the onsite Square Enix Music Store to chat with fans. Sunday will find popular manga author Hekiru Hikawa hanging out to meet with contest winners chosen through the monthly Gangan, a popular manga periodical. Beyond all that, booths containing playable versions of various Square Enix games, such as Final Fantasy XII, Kingdom Hearts II, and Dirge of Cerberus, are, of course, on hand as well. The highlight of the assembled host of Square Enix-related fun is a good-sized booth at the far end of the hall that offers the finest in goods for fans that can't live without merchandise relating to their favorite games.

From the looks of things, Square Enix's party has gotten off to a good start if the company decides to make it a yearly thing. Fans were able to both check out the upcoming games and offer feedback, which reps from the development teams will no doubt carefully disseminate as work on the various games continues. It's a win-win event for Square Enix, and it offers a potent reminder of the company's substantial pull in its homeland.

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