With 2007 being the 20th anniversary of Final Fantasy and the 10th birthday of Final Fantasy VII (the series' prodigious child), Square Enix celebrated the massive milestone by throwing a huge bash in Japan. And CVG was there to celebrate in style and take loads of pictures.
Square made a big fuss about its legacy of classic games. Timed to fall immediately after its new announcements at a press conference last Thursday (which we'll get to in just a minute), Square Enix put on a huge show in two halls of the Makuhari Messe (which is used each year to home the Tokyo Game Show) and made a lot of noise about almost everything it's ever done.
There were museum areas dedicated to the histories of Final Fantasy and Star Ocean, which gave everyone a nostalgia buzz, but we were really there primarily to enjoy the fan fervour and see Square Enix projects for 2007 and 2008. We weren't disappointed.
What about that press conference, though? The one where loads of new games were unveiled? Well the new Wii Chocobo RPG looked cool in a Mysterious Dungeon kind of way (the PSone original was decent), but on a technical level it's yet another Wii game that looks -- at this stage, anyway -- like something from a previous generation.
Sensing this, the game's producer even apologised for its technical simplicity while reminding us that it's not yet the finished item. (A young girl dressed in a huge Chocobo outfit was given the cue to enter the press conference at this point, but tragically she tripped in the doorway.)
We then saw a trailer of Last Remnant, followed by some in-game sequences. Last Remnant is being developed for the 360 and PS3, and Square Enix even promised a simultaneous Japan-US launch. But with its awkward position somewhere between Lord of the Rings and Final Fantasy XII, this seems to be more of a compromise than a solution to the problem of creating a new RPG that will appeal to a global audience.
Fortunately, though, it has what looks like a killer battle system: rhythm-action elements increase user involvement, and the scale of battles in Last Remnant is such that each side can call for reinforcements until the job is done.
Also, instead of simply having to tap away until enemies' HP plummets to zero, the game introduces a beat-'em-up style gauge that shows the morale of both teams. Victory is gradual and looks thoroughly satisfying. It could be that, in Last Remnant's case, the battles make the game.
Before the conference ended, Star Ocean PSP remakes were announced and we received confirmation that Final Fantasy IV would receive a DS makeover along the lines of the splendid Final Fantasy III remake (read our review here). Then, come Saturday morning, we started to party.
The big draw was a (partly) new Final Fantasy XIII trailer that was being looped inside a closed 'mega theatre', which was stunning, managing in real-time scenes what most other games struggle to display in pre-rendered form. We saw Pulse, one of the game's main locations, and Lightning and her male comrade pulling off all sorts of silly-good attacks. Do believe the hype.
As the weekend's Square Enix party was a public shindig, we took the opportunity to canvas the opinions of Japanese Square Enix fans. Surprisingly, but not unreasonably, most of the people we spoke to were not particularly enthusiastic about Wii: "It doesn't interest me at all, because it's all about action", said one young man. Instead, the majority of Final Fantasy fans seem to be content with the PSP and PS2 (and the PS3, "when it becomes cheaper") because of their suitability for playing traditional RPGs.