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E3 06: Square Enix announces trio of Final Fantasy XIII games

[UPDATE 3] Japanese RPG magnate begins a week of E3 festivities with its lavish press conference, bearing the promise of electrifying next-generation development details.


LOS ANGELES--Today, Square Enix kicked off E3 week in style with a preshow press conference at the Los Angeles Palladium. The venerable concert venue has hosted decades of blockbuster shows, so it was a fitting location for Square Enix to fire its own triple bombshell.

The company announced that not one, not two, but three Final Fantasy XIII titles are now under development; two for PlayStation 3 and one for cell phones. The company also unveiled two Wii games, including one launch title--Dragon Quest Swords: The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors. Furthermore, US role-playing game fans will be pleased that FFXII finally has a North American release date: October 2006.

The three FFXIII games currently in development are: FFXIII and FF Versus XIII (both for PS3) and FF Agito XIII for cell phones. All three titles are part of something that Square Enix has labeled the Fabula Nova Crystallis Project, which it describes as "numerous original titles that run parallel with one another" and share a common mythology. Square Enix promises additional projects in the Fabula Nova Crystallis Project beyond the three games announced today. Given the company's expressed commitment to "polymorphic content" it's a safe bet that some of those additional projects will be in non-game media like film.

The Square Enix press conference.
The Square Enix press conference.
Square Enix also gave some love to the Wii, announcing two games for Nintendo's new console. Those games were Codename: Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Crystal Bearers and the previously mentioned Dragon Quest Swords: The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors. As noted above, the DQ game will be a launch title for the Wii, and a brief concept film made it clear that the Wii's motion-sensing controller will be used to swing an in-game sword.

Attendees mingle.
Attendees mingle.
Beyond that, Square Enix was stingy with details on the four next-gen games it announced today. Although there were concept films for all four titles, gameplay footage was in short supply. The preview of FFXIII, for instance, featured just a few seconds of actual gameplay.

Similarly, the preview for the Wii FF: Crystal Chronicles game included a brief section that looked as though it may have been in-game footage. If so, the Wii is very capable--its performance may exceed what its specs suggest on paper.

Square Enix's next-gen games show a laser-sharp focus on the company's classic franchises, and the company's upcoming games for current-generation consoles share that focus. New titles in the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest franchises make up the bulk of the company's impending releases, with new entrants in the Valkyrie Profile and Mana series also claiming a share of the limelight.

After some welcoming remarks from Square Enix president Yoichi Wada, Square Enix showed showed concept movies and/or gameplay from all the titles it had previously announced for E3. Each of the games was introduced by its producer or another member of the development team--though unfortunately their remarks were closely scripted and there was no opportunity for Q&A.

For PS2, the company showed Valkyrie Profile 2 Silmeria, Final Fantasy XII, Dawn of Mana, and Dirge of Cerberus. Dirge of Cerberus got a North American launch date of August 22nd and Square Enix executive Shinji Hashimoto promised exclusive missions and content developed for the North American market. Sony's PSP got previews of Valkyrie Profile Lenneth and FF: Crisis Core.

Turning to Nintendo's portables, Square Enix announced a new DS title today, Codename: Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates. The company also showed previews of three other DS titles, Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime and Final Fantasy III--both of which are launching in September 2006--and Children of Mana, which will launch before the end of 2006.

Meanwhile, for the Gameboy Advance, Square Enix showed Final Fantasy V and VI Advance, both of which will launch before the end of this year.

The company also presented Final Fantasy XI: Treasures of Aht Urhgan, which has already been released for the PlayStation 2, Xbox 360 and Windows platforms.

Square Enix has also found a home for the classic titles it acquired with its purchase of old-school arcade publisher Taito. Square Enix will be bringing a number of Taito's classic franchises to mobile phones, including Elevator Action, Space Invaders and Chase HQ.

Today's press conference was all about new iterations of classic franchises, driving home just how firmly Square Enix believes in its "polymorphic content" strategy. The company discussed this strategy at E3 last year, explaining how leveraging is franchises across multiple platforms and media could help it be profitable while continuing to innovate. Rather than investing in creating and marketing new brands, the company has chosen to stick with proven winners--especially the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest series.

The Compilation of Final Fantasy VII is an explicit effort at developing polymorphic content that Square Enix announced last year. It consists of four projects: the Advent Children CG movie, the Before Crisis game for cellular phones, the Dirge of Cerberus PS2 game, and the Crisis Core PSP game. Wada sounded pleased with the results of each of the component properties and of the group as a whole. In his words, the compilation has answered the question of "whether synergy between products can be achieved." It looks like we can count on the company for more Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest games in the future.


1:02 pm The conference is starting with a cavalcade of announced products on video--Dawn of Mana, Final Fantasy V and VI for the GBA, Rocket Slime (!), some mobile stuff. President Yoichi Wada's now taking the stage, wasting no time talking about the promise of next gen and telling us they've got some hot secrets for us today. So let's have 'em already!

1:06 COO Daishiro Okada is now on stage discussing the upcoming lineup. Final Fantasy XII will be out October of this year. Finally. Also some mobile stuff. Space Invaders? Elevator Action? Dirge of Cerberus: Lost Episodes also on mobile this summer.

1:10 Now we're getting into the meat with a long trailer for Final Fantasy XII, all in English. Sounds like they're sparing no expense on the voice acting for this one--it's all appropriately haughty, in line with the tone of the story.

1:18 More trailers for announced, current-gen stuff like Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth and the latest FFXI expansion. Now it's Final Fantasy on mobile--I knew my nerd sense was tingling for a reason.

1:24 Looks like their mobile strategy rages unabated--Dirge is the standout since it's all in 3D. Now we've got Final Fantasy III for the DS, billed as "the only Final Fantasy never to reach Western shores." They're urging us to "complete the fantasy" with this 3D remake--fine by me since it looks like the best DS RPG yet.

1:28 Final Fantasies V and VI for GBA--not the biggest news, but near and dear to many hearts for sure. Promised to have new surprises. Now it's Mana time, starting off with the sorta middling Children of. But what's this? Ten years before Children of Mana, a 3D game: Dawn of Mana, of course. More CG than gameplay, but it looks pretty good.

1:32 Once upon a slime! It's Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime, which is the most bafflingly adorable name I've ever heard. Apparently, "it's payback slime." So cute, I'm sold. Now Shinji Hashimoto is taking the stage to talk about the utterly unsurprising massive success of the many Final Fantasy VII projects, from Advent Children to Dirge and the mobile games. Hey, and a US date for Dirge: August 22, with new features included.

1:43 Still showing off the Compilation of FFVII stuff, all of which is out here or in Japan. Bring on the next-gen games!

1:49 I spoke too soon: Here's our first real footage of FFVII Crisis Core for the PSP. Stars Zack of Soldier fame, apparently, and there's a ton of Sephiroth in here (down, boys and girls). No gameplay footage, only real-time cutscenes, but it looks amazing for a PSP game.


1:51 Here we go--Dragon Quest is coming to the Wii. Some dude is fighting a stone golem in a forest. Dragon Quest Swords: The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors. Launch title for the Wii! No real footage of the game, but still, big news.

1:54 The hits keep on coming--now we have Akitoshi Kawazu, exec producer of Crystal Chronicles. Two new games from that series: one DS, one Wii. The DS game is Ring of Fates, and it will have Wi-Fi multiplayer (duh). Looks a bit more whimsical than the Cube version, same basic sense of style though. They're showing four players at once, like you'd expect. Yay DS!

1:58 And here comes the Wii title. That Final Fantasy theme still makes me all misty-eyed. Wow, these visuals are nice--random shots of CG-style little dudes fighting bombs and other monsters. If any of that was real-time footage of the game, the Wii graphics ought to do us just fine. Hard to say if it was just CG, though. Code name: Chrystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers. No major details on the game available yet, though.

2:02 Final announcement! For PS3! E3 is so damn exciting sometimes. What is it?!

FFXIII director Toriyama.
FFXIII director Toriyama.

FINAL FANTASY XIII. FINAL FANTASY XIII. They pulled a serious bait and switch on us. Sword-and-gun-wielding heroine who looks like Yuna, flipping her way around a high-tech, futuristic world. No idea what it was until the end when that NAME popped up. Yoshinori Kitase directing! This is the guy behind all the best ones--VI, VII, VIII, X. Be still my heart.

2:08 Sorry, I jumped the gun--Mr. Kitase was merely presenting. Motomu Toriyama will direct the game. And apparently FFXIII isn't the only game coming out of this universe--there's a, uh, mobile game too. Oh. It's Final Fantasy Agito XIII.

Now it's Fabula Nova Crystallis--"the new tale of the crystal" in Latin. They're big on the Latin today. Whoa, wait, another new game? Another PS3 game?! Final Fantasy Versus XIII? They're emphasizing that in Latin, versus means "to change direction." This is a Tetsuya Nomura game, and he's taking the stage now.

2:17 Nomura is providing more details. The CG movie we just saw, featuring a spiky-haired character (natch) squaring off against machine-gun-wielding soldiers, was created by the Advent Children team, but the game itself will be made by the Kingdom Hearts team, and will feature "extreme action elements." He says "bonding" will be the primary theme of the game.

2:20 The conference draws to a close with a comment from Hashimoto that this should demonstrate Square Enix's commitment to next-generation gaming, but that it's "only the beginning." A final movie showcases the name Final Fantasy XIII, as if each new installment in this mega-enormous series is now a franchise unto itself.

Square Enix creative force Nomura.
Square Enix creative force Nomura.

Finally, Mr. Wada has retaken the stage. "How did that grab you?" Laughter and applause. Some more commentary on SE's commitment to supporting the next gen. Speaks more about the "synergy between products" being a proven formula with Compilation of FFVII. Looks like they're taking the same tack with FFXIII.

Some more info on FFXIII (can't type fast enough!): The game was begun by the FFX team for PS2, but the team was then derailed to make last year's FFVII PS3 tech demo. They were so happy with the hardware, they decided to then shift development to the new platform. Apparently the game will run on the "White Engine" and will feature the most technologically advanced civilization ever featured in a Final Fantasy. The storyline will center on "those who resist the world." Yeah, OK.

2:27 The conference is officially over, but E3 (and GameSpot) is just getting started. Stay tuned for screens of all this FFXIII madness, and a lot more. And to think, the actual show is still two days away.

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