Sakaguchi developing Xbox Next RPGs

Redmond strikes deal with legendary Final Fantasy creator to create Japanese-flavored role-playing games for its next-generation console.

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Today, Hironobu Sakaguchi and Microsoft Games Studio confirmed news that had kept the rumor mill abuzz in Japan for the past 24 hours. The two parties announced an alliance that will see a pair of upcoming Sakaguchi-developed role-playing games released exclusively for the next-generation Xbox.

The news is a huge coup for Microsoft, which is leveraging solid sales of its current-generation console. It also further highlights the company's strategy to ride continued strong hardware sales to make it a contender at the outset of the next-gen race rather than having to play catch-up, as it was forced to do with the PlayStation 2.

"We are ecstatic to work with Sakaguchi-san and celebrate what this news means," said the voluble Peter Moore, vice president of worldwide marketing and publishing at Microsoft, in a statement today.

Whether or not the exclusive deal will mean Microsoft can increase its share of Japanese gamers has yet to be seen, but certainly the news will do no harm to its efforts in that market.

For Sakaguchi, the news is apparently equally sweet. "Microsoft’s cutting-edge technologies in the next-generation platform will allow me to bring to life an array of ideas that I have had for many years," he said.

Few game makers have had as many ups and down as Sakaguchi. He joined Square in 1986, first as director of planning and development, but soon rose through its ranks, at one time assuming the title of president of Square LA Inc. (now called Square Enix, Inc.).

His many years as the creative force behind the Final Fantasy series drove his popularity among gamers and his status within the Square organization. In recognition for his contribution to the game industry, Sakaguchi was awarded Hall of Fame status by the Academy of Interactive Arts and Science.

But after the release of the Square-developed, computer-animated film Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within in 2001, his stock within the company plummeted. The $137 million would-be-blockbuster's lackluster draw at the box office drove the company deep into the red, eventually forcing it into a merger with rival role-playing-game maker Enix.

Soon afterward, Sakaguchi quietly left the new company, Square-Enix. Last year, along with noted music composer Nobuo Uematsu (a former colleague on the Final Fantasy series as well), he formed his own development studio, Mistwalker. Sakaguchi also announced, via the company's Web site, that Mistwalker had two role-playing games in development. However, he never mentioned a publisher...until today.

Echoing his statements already posted on the Mistwalker site, Sakaguchi said this morning, "I want these games to be alive with a new vision for gaming and vividly depict new characters that will transcend the game, find a place in the hearts of gamers, and make time spent with my games a fond and long-lasting memory."

The news today made no mention of a release date for the games, but it did specify they were due for the Xbox Next only.

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