Square Announces Final Fantasy VIII

Square announced it, we were there, we saw it, and have filed this report - artwork included.

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TOKYO - Friday, May 15th was "F Day," the day Square officially announced Final Fantasy VIII. Videogames.com was in attendance at the unveiling press conference, and here's what we saw:

After a brief address from Tomoyuki Takechi (president of Square), and Hironobu Sakaguchi (vice president, executive producer of the game), we were shown a Final Fantasy VIII promo video.

At first, a huge parabola antenna appeared on the screen. Then the screen changed to sky and about a half dozen fighter jets flew in formation creating a vapor trail with moon-like stars in the background. Finally, the Final Fantasy VIII logo appeared on the screen.

Then a fleet of huge ships forged ahead in the sea. Among the fleet, standing on the deck of one of the ships was the game's main character, Squall Leonhart.

He glances at a map, reading it, possibly to see where he is headed. Then the screen showed several images as if in a flashback: memories from his past, no doubt. One flashback was of Leonhart being chased by an armed vehicle in a desert.

After the cut, lots of images flashed across the screen, including battle scenes. The video ended with a final showing of the FFVIII logo.

It was no more than ten minutes of footage, but was a good look at the game.

Needless to say, the quality of the CG is top notch, and the characters in the movie sequences looked much more natural than FFVII - meaning that they are more life-sized. They have smaller eyes, and longer legs and arms.

It's not in the style of typical Japanimation, but they move really convincingly. With the massive orchestrated sound, it was like we were seeing a full CG movie. Of course, it was just as Square had intended.

This promo video showed us only a limited look at the game's battle scenes, but it seems to have highly dramatic effects and very cool looking enemies.

During his speech, Sakaguchi told the crowd that he want to pursue a more in-depth and detailed story line for the game and that he is seeking a more effective graphical expression for the storytelling. He added that he hasn't forgotten about the interactive elements which, makes it a video game.

After showing the video, Shinji Hashimoto explained several things about the game.

Contrary to its 32-bit predecessor, the characters in the game are all texture-mapped. It means the characters will be more detailed in battle scenes. Hashimoto said that the characters are now much closer to the ones that appeared in the movie sequence we were shown. More surprisingly, all of your party members will be shown on the field screen. This is a first in the series.

Hashimoto also told us that Square's next title, Brave Fencer Musashiden, will be released in Japan on July 16, and that the game will come with FFVIII demo CD as a bonus. The demo CD will contain a playable demo of FFVIII and the movie sequence shown at the conference..

At the end of the conference, we had a Q&A session with Square.

When asked about the theme of FFVIII, Sakaguchi answered "There are lots of elements in the game, but one of the members of the development team, Tetsuya Nomura, the character designer, is saying that the theme is love."

Sakaguchi also addressed the fact that Square's overseas offices contributed to the technical aspects of FFVIII - specifically the game's CG and development tools.

When asked about FFIX, which he once said was already in-the-works and might have been announced with FFVIII, he only said, "Spare me, please."

And when asked about company's expected sales of the game, Hashimoto commented that Square is expecting sales of FFVIII to exceed those of FFVII (which sold in excess of six million copies worldwide) and that Square expects to sell seven million copies worldwide.

Final Fantasy VIII for PlayStation is expected to be released this winter in Japan. For overseas gamers who can't wait to play the game, Takechi mentioned that FFVIII is being developed with an overseas release in mind. He promised that overseas gamers will have their version of FFVIII with less of a time lag than gamers experienced between the Japanese - and subsequent overseas - release of FFVII. In the case of FFVII, there was a six month lag between the Japanese and overseas release dates.

As the press conference ended, attendees were given special gifts from Square. One was a pair of telephone cards - one with a picture of Musashi and the other with the image of Princess Filet from Brave Fencer Musashiden. The other was a small, chrome-cased alarm clock with a FFVIII logo on it.

We're going set our alarms to July, when the FFVIII demo is due from Square.

We'll have more on Final Fantasy VIII as it develops.

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