The Future of Square's Final Fantasy

TOKYO - We recap the Square Millennium event and deliver new details regarding Square's future Final Fantasy intentions.

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TOKYO - On Saturday, January 29th, Square Soft of Japan held a massive public gathering, called Square Millennium, as a showcase for existing titles (i.e. Chrono Cross, Vagrant Story, Dew Prism, Front Mission 3, Chocobo Stallion, Final Fantasy VIII, Parasite Eve II, etc.) and to announce future titles and projects, such as Final Fantasy IX for PlayStation, and its Play-Online Internet service. Oh, a new clip from the Final Fantasy movie was shown as well.

Amidst clouds of colored smoke, laser lights, a booming techno soundtrack and a huge projection-screen, the logos for three new Final Fantasy's were revealed. While Final Fantasy IX was expected, two others were not, namely Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy XI, both for the PlayStation 2. Final Fantasy IX marks a return to the old-school FF's as Yoshitaka Amano has returned as character designer and conceptualist. This is evidenced by the designs and fantastical approach to the graphics, if you will. By that, we mean that the visuals pull back from the science-fiction motifs of recent times and steer closer to the sword and sorcery of the 16-bit Final Fantasy's. Final Fantasy X and XI, however, seem to have their character designs modeled by FF VII & VIII artist Tetsuya Nomura. We're not positive if he's responsible for FFX's designs, but the main character looks like his work, and the character sketches shown for XI are definitely his.

Final Fantasy X is significant since it is the first FF to be released for the PlayStation 2. While FFIX will be available in the summer of 2000, FFX should be ready by spring 2001. This will also be the first FF to be compatible with Square's Play-Online service. You'll be able to check your progress against an online strategy-engine, which will offer helpful suggestions if you have missed some important items for example. It was said during the presentation that Final Fantasy X will be “different from traditional play.” If that wasn't enough to sate your appetite for all things FF, the perhaps the announcement that Final Fantasy XI would ship for PlayStation 2 in the summer of 2001, not long after the release of FFX, is sure to cause a commotion. In case you're wondering why exactly Square would release these two games so closely to each other, it's because Final Fantasy XI will be released as a “complete online game.” What this means is that, like Ultima Online or Everquest, FF XI will act out its story entirely online. It's currently unknown if FFXI's game-world will be perpetual, meaning life in FFXI will go on even when you're not logged on, or if you can save and stop and have everything restart where it left off. What we do know is that the concept art that Square showed a whole pile of Final Fantasy characters in the midst of an epic battle, and every character had a different name on the top of their heads, indicating who's who and allowing you to keep track of your friends. From the logo Square displayed of FFXI, it said “Final Fantasy XI: Online Another World.” While this is a far from confirmed final title, it completely aligns with Square's plan to offer a new level of interactivity to Japanese, and later, Western, gamers.

The first words out of Square VP, Hironobu Sakaguchi's, mouth were “Good afternoon. The year 2000 has started and this is a good opportunity to explain what direction we would like to take.” What followed was a lengthy description of Square's Play-Online service which is being designed to offer features attractive to all manner of consumer, not just the gamer. These fetaures include music downloading, manga (comic-books) downloads, online gaming, chat messaging, sports info and Internet functions. While these features may be underwhelming to U.S. gamers who already have all of these features and more, it's important to remember that gaming in Japan is more solitary and less social than in the United States. PC gaming is not nearly as prevalent as it is in the States, where games like Quake III, Half-Life, Starcraft and Command & Conquer rule the bandwidth. What Square is offering is not only the ability to chat with friends, in real-time, while exploring FFXI's game-world, but to play the game, surf the net, read some comics and send e-mail. To achieve this, Square has partnered with various technology partners, such as NTT Communications Corporation, and set out to connect a generation of Japanese gamers via the PlayStation 2.

Again, it's unknown what impact this will have on the United States gaming community and how Square plans to implement this system here, since we're already familiar with what they're bringing to Japan. However, if their sheer effort is any indication, you can be sure, whether it be Sony or Square EA, an online presence will be formed to accommodate the introduction of Final Fantasy to the online world. We'll be here to report it when they do.

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