Final Fantasy XII gets star treatment in Tokyo

[UPDATE] Square Enix delves into Final Fantasy details. First screens inside.

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TOKYO--Square Enix today in Japan assembled a star-studded cast of corporate and creative talent to promote its upcoming game, Final Fantasy XII. Most notable among those in attendance was former Final Fantasy lead producer and former Square vice president Hironobu Sakaguchi and Sony executive deputy president Ken Kutaragi (who appeared via video conferencing).

Foremost, the titles release date in Japan was updated to reflect a summer 2004 target (with a U.S. release date still to be determined).

Here's what we were told concerning the storyline of the upcoming PS2 RPG:

Final Fantasy XII will take place in the World of Ivalice, which has been the background for previous titles created by the game's director, Yasumi Matsuno. In Final Fantasy XII, the Arcadia Empire, which rules the continent of Valendia, and the Rosaria Empire, which rules the continent of Ordalia, have been engaged in a long war. During the conflict, the Arcadia Empire conquers a small kingdom named Dalmasca, which has geographic significance because of its location between the two continents.

After the Kingdom is seized, Ashe, the princess of Dalmasca, joins a resistance army that has been fighting against the powerful Arcadia Empire. With her father dead, Ashe is the only living member of the royal family. Vowing to free Dalmasca from the Arciadian Empire's grasp, she quickly comes to terms with the harsh reality of its strength. Ashe is ready to admit her defeat, but pride in her being heir to the kingdom doesn't let her.

Things begin to change for Ashe after she meets a young man named Vaan, who is cheerful and optimistic despite having lost his parents in the clash between the two Empires. Their encounter, which eventually changes the world, is the dramatic beginning to Final Fantasy XII.

Matsuno, who will be producing Final Fantasy XII as well as participating in its development, commented at the press event that both FFXII and the Final Fantasy Tactics series take place in the same world of Ivarice, albeit in different time periods. One similarity between FFXII and the FFT series is the presence of the Judges. The Judges, who were protectors of Justice, brought law and order to the world of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance.

In Final Fantasy XII, their roles will be as Knights of Terror. They will also likely play a vital role in the game, as the FF XII logo pictures one of them. “The story will develop while the main characters are in constant flight, fleeing these Judges,” commented Matsuno.

According to the game's developers, Final Fantasy XII's atmosphere is based on a mix of medieval Mediterranean countries, which is reflected on the game's buildings (their architecture) and the presence of different races, such as the Bangaas and Vieras (from Final Fantasy Tactics Advance). One of the unique elements of the game will be its atmosphere--including different languages that are spoken by the various races, as well as their unique set of prejudices (introducing the theme of social classes).

In one example of this complexity Matsuno and the development team is considering adding leg irons on some Moogles. "Moogles can have classes as well. I had the idea beginning about eight years back, but I never had the chance to build it into a game," Matsuno said. "Moogles are cute creatures with balloon-like items emanating from their head. It's kind of dark image, but we thought it might be funny if they also had leg irons on their feet."

In terms of in-game graphics, graphics director Hiroshi Minagawa described how the team worked with limited number of polygons in order to implement a new system into the game. "We decided to implement a new system into FFXII, but it brought a heavy restriction [to the polygon counts]," said Minagawa, looking at samples of real-time character models on the projector screen. "We began FFXII development using the same polygon and texture count as Final Fantasy X, but we couldn't create the system we wanted with that. We had to try and create the same look but with only half as many polygons."

"If you look at these screens, they don't look too different from traditional Final Fantasy releases," continued Minagawa, pointing to the series of screenshots that are now available off the game's official site "Actually, we chose pictures that look like this on purpose."

Then Matsuno picked up the conversation, revealing that FFXII will give players control of camera movement. "One of the things about the system that we can talk about concerns the player’s viewpoint. Up to Final Fantasy X, it has been fixed. This time, the map is rendered in full 3D. That is, the player can change their point of view as they wish."

Of additional interest to FF fans is the importance of flying craft in the game. One of the upcoming title's most unique features will be its large assortment of flying vessels. They factor in numerous ways, one being that the main character, Vaan, has a dream of one day becoming a pirate of the sky. Pointing to concept art of a large aircraft, art director Hideo Minaba commented, "This flying vessel is about 340 meters in length. The WWII battleship, Yamato, was about 260 meters long. There will be even more flying vessels--many larger than this."

The music in Final Fantasy XII will be co-produced by Nobuo Uematsu and Hitoshi Sakimoto (Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story). Sakimoto will be composing the general tracks, while Uematsu will be concentrating on a single track that will run during one very important scene. The team commented that they are working on a vocal track as well, or at least something they refer to as a "substitute" for a vocal track.

"Ever since Final fantasy VIII, we've believed that songs play an important part [in the game]. But we don't want to create something that will just be used over the final credits," said Sakimoto. "Not to get everyone thinking, be we are planning to challenge ourselves and create something different than a song."

A minute-long trailer of the game then ran during the event, beginning with a scene where the main character, Vaan, wakes up in an area that looks like some sort of a prison. The scene then changes to a town square, where a gray-haired warrior is seen in front of a crowd of spectators. In another scene, a Bangaa warrior is seen in a small argument with a soldier, and later again with a judge. A number of battle scenes are then displayed--with Vaan, Ashe, and a Viera named Fran. At the end of the trailer, the Viera helps Vaan and another man escape from the prison-like area in the first scene.

Final Fantasy XII will once again be using voice actors to voice the characters. Kohei Takeda, who looked to be in his late teens or early twenties, will play the voice role of Vaan, as well as work on Vaan's motion capture. "I've been playing [Final Fantasy] since Final Fantasy V, but I never thought that I'd ever be playing the main character," he said. "I hope to work hard so that people will be happy to see me portraying Vaan."

The presentation was made to over 200 members of the press and games industry insiders today. GameSpot will have additional news from the event as more presentations are made.

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