[IMGW]http://media.1up.com/media?id=3296279[/IMGW] The Venue: Square Enix HQ in Shinjuku
The Event: Square-Enix Party 2007 Pre-Conference Meeting
On a cloudy, windswept afternoon in Tokyo's Shinjuku district, media from all over the world gathered in Square Enix's corporate headquarters to witness their pre-E3 event, in preparation for their two-day Square Enix Party 2007 event at the Makuhari Messe convention center this weekend on the 12th and 13th of May.
The first speaker was SE president Yoichi Wada, who opened by saying "Thank you very much for participating despite your busy schedule. We'd like to share with you a lot of the initiatives we have embarked on today." The usual dry stuff, but as he explained, one of the key issues on SE's collective mind is satisfying the needs of not only the Japanese market, but the International market as well, the upcoming game Last Remnant leading the charge. He informed us that we'd be able to play the games shown at this private media event at the Square Enix Party, which is, incidentally, also open to the public, but based on the state of some of the games shown today, at least a few of the games will probably only be on display, with rolling video as all there is to see.
The first franchise they showed was Star Ocean, which came as a surprise to the collected media, less because of the series itself and more because they revealed three 'new' titles. Producer Yoshinori Yamagishi came up, said a few words, and then let the video do the talking, revealing the games Star Ocean: First Departure (a full remake of the first Super Famicom Star Ocean game) for PSP, Star Ocean: Second Evolution (a remake of Star Ocean: The Second Story that originally appeared on PS1) also for PSP, and Star Ocean 4. "Star Ocean 4 is currently under development to meet the highest specifications, and is being developed by tri-Ace," said Yamagishi, and while they didn't state the platform or the release date, you can surmise that SO4 will be released on PS3, although a multiplatform release is not out of the question.
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Executive producer of the Chocobo franchise, Shinji Hashimoto, then mounted the stage and declared "In honor of the 10th anniversary of the Chocobo series, I'd like to announce that a new Chocobo Dungeon game is in development for the Nintendo Wii." The title in question is Chocobo's Dungeon: Toki-Wasure no Meikyuu (tentative title), a follow-up to the recently released Chocobo Tales game for Nintendo DS. Next, producer Yuki Yokoyama took the podium to show off the title designed to celebrate this anniversary. Ostensibly an expanded version of the groundwork laid in Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales, Toki-Wasure no Meikyuu shares some elements from the DS game, such as the starting hometown and a familiar cast of characters, but then quickly establishes that this is a dungeon-based action game (as opposed to a collection of mini-games) in the same vein as previous 'dungeon' games developed by Chun Soft. Yokoyama closed out his presentation by stating "Finally, a word for those who enjoyed Chocobo Tales, we are including something special that should be very familiar to you to discover, and I hope you're looking forward to this title as much as I am."
Next up was Final Fantasy Chronicles: Ring of Fates and Final Fantasy Chronicles: The Bearers. Akitoshi Kawazu, executive producer of the FF series, walked up to the microphone to describe the latest developments in the Chronicle games. "Ring of Fates will come to the Nintendo DS, and the positive aspect of this is that everyone can play together, using the DS's communication capabilities. With the GameCube version, users found some dissatisfactory elements, but with the new game, people will find new storylines to enjoy." Ring of Fates is being directed by the original character designer for the first Chronicles, Toshiyuki Itahana, and while his distinctive character design are visible in the fully 3D models, the game appears to be less sprawling and open than its GameCube predecessor, and more like a traditional action-RPG, with smaller, more focused levels, and some impressive special effects. Some boss battles, like a fight with a massive, fiery turtle, require distinct strategy, as the turtle must be flipped on its back to expose its weak underbelly. The game is scheduled for release on August 23rd in Japan, later than everyone at Square had hoped, but time that they need to get the game just right.
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Once the video for Ring of Fates was finished, Toshiyuki Itahana - in a rare appearance - walked up on stage to reveal The Bearers for the Nintendo Wii. Featuring a much more adventurous feel than any of the Chronicles games before it, The Bearers featured sky ships and other elements that draw instant comparisons to Sega's classic role-playing game Skies of Arcadia. Looking nothing like the teaser trailer shown last year, The Bearers looks less like the other Chronicles games, and more like a true adventure game. While the video demonstration was very short (around 30 seconds at most), it was notable in that it featured real game footage of the title in action running on Nintendo Wii.
The next game SE showed those in attendance was Final Fantasy XII: International Zodiac Job System (an odd title, but hey, we're just the messenger), scheduled for release on August 9, 2007, which will feature a 'secret DVD' (at least that's what they showed on the video screen). Producer and director, Hiroyuki Ito, then came up to explain a little about the title, which is based on the North American version of the game, which features the excellent English voice-acting, and not the original Japanese voice-overs. "There's a new [to Japan] 16:9 widescreen mode and the Zodiac Job System now enables players to create characters that adhere more closely to classic Final Fantasy job systems, like White Mage, Red Mage and Black Mage." While the addition of the Zodiac Job System is a nice touch, this seems like a less than compelling import purchase since little else besides the 'Secret DVD' will be added to warrant playing the game with all-Japanese menu text.
The last title which Square Enix revealed today was billed as a 'Square Enix RPG for the world,' which according to Yoichi Wada would "become a cornerstone for their worldwide strategy. Square Enix RPGs are in a league of their own, and in a world of new technology, we need to expand our portfolio and The Last Remnant is a brand new franchise being designed by a new generation of developers, scheduled for a simultaneous US/Japan release." Producer Nobuyuki Ueda then stepped up to describe some of the game's elements. A brief trailer, however, was shown, using the Unreal game engine, with bump-mapped trees, detailed character models, and sharp background animation, all running in real time. The scene begins with a young man wondering aloud "Damn, where is she?," a query which is soon punctuated by the sounds of soldiers shouting, some heavy drums and music, in which the young man runs to the edge of the clearing before stumbling upon an unfolding skirmish.
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The sight of the two massive armies approaching each other was reminiscent of both Ninety-Nine Nights' large-scale battles and Star Wars Episode One's Gungan epic showdown with the Trade Federation's droid army. With both human and inhuman soldiers (one race looked like a race of wolf people) charging towards each other, our man on the hill sees the woman he was looking for, racing down to the field shouting "Marina!!!" With that the trailer ended and a real-time demonstration began. Using an overhead map, Ueda cycled through a number of destination points on the map, similar to the way a Kingdoms Under Fire game breaks areas up as map selections. Once he chose one, though, the game quickly loaded up a fully 3D, real-time environment that looked similar to the opening city from Final Fantasy XII. Using a free-look camera, Ueda scanned the area to show off the immense detail of the area. After that he went into a dungeon area, in which a transparent map in the upper right corner was visible, and all battles take place between the character and the easily-seen monsters onscreen. Last Remnant will not suffer from random battles, which should please more than a few gamers.
While the framerate was occasionally choppy in areas, the game is still early in development, and yet, based on what was shown, quite accomplished-looking already, with gorgeous architecture and detail in the environments. Another scene in the aqueducts beneath the city were also slightly reminiscent of the sewer areas from Final Fantasy XII, but there is seemingly no relation between Last Remnant and the Final Fantasy continuity. The aqueduct level featured some nice, bump-mapped water effects, random treasure chests, and impressive detail in the rocky mountainside. Another area shown was an open plain, filled with creepy-looking monsters (large in size), cool lighting effects (sun shining through 3D clouds), and swirling dust effects. Hiroshi Takai, the game's director, then took to the podium, and explained that players would be able to use simple commands to control enormous amounts of characters at one time, introducing large-scale battles to RPGs. A sample battle revealed a lifebar to indicate the relative 'health' of the opposing armies (labeled 'allies' and 'enemies'). The success of character attacks seems to be based on timing, as onscreen button prompts (think quicktime events from Shenmue) compel the gamer to press the appropriate button. Depending on your skill, a different declaration fills the screen, like 'Rear Assault!" or 'Terminated!'
The demo battle then revealed a huge roc-type monster augmenting the enemy forces, which titled the lifebar heavily in the enemies' favor, since they suddenly had a strong new ally on their side. With that, a new selection of menu choices appeared, revealing that while this is a new initiative that Square Enix is banking on, the game is still rooted in old-school RPG mechanics and values. Last Remnant is unique, in Square Enix's canon, as it is multiplatform for both PS3 and Xbox 360. No release date has been set.
As Last Remnant faded from the screen, the announcer stated that this was the end of the presentation and that everything else would be revealed on the show floor this weekend at the Square Enix Party. We'll have hands-on reports of all of the games this weekend, so make sure to check back for up to the minute updates and interviews here on 1UP.
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