April 23, 2007 - Square Enix is all set to release its biggest DS title yet, Final Fantasy XII Revenant Wings. Japan's gaming press has been covering the gambit out of the game leading up to its Thursday Japanese release, with previews, interviews and even the first spoiler-filled strategy guides.
We'll hold off on our own preview until when we have the game in our hands later this week. But prior to that, we thought we'd translate a few bits from a recent interview with the monthly Nintendo Dream magazine in which Square Enix's Shinji Hashimoto shared some thoughts on the future of the Final Fantasy series, with particular attention to how it applies to Nintendo.
Nintendo Dream first noted that this was Hashimoto's first appearance in the magazine. Hashimoto himself admitted that he hasn't appeared in an all-Nintendo magazine for quite some time. In fact, after jointing Square Enix in 1995, his first work with the series was as promotions producer for Final Fantasy VII. This was, of course, the first time the series moved away from Nintendo platforms.
Moving away from the history lesson, Nintendo Dream asked Hashimoto to comment on what makes Final Fantasy what it is. "For Dragon Quest, we're developing DQIX with the series founder, Yuji Horii, in the central role," responded Hashimoto. "But Final Fantasy has a different producer and director for each title, which is why we've been able to release up to part 13. However, with the director and producers continuing to change, when asked 'What is Final Fantasy?', it's hard to give a clear, concise answer."
The current set of Final Fantasy projects can be divided into four groups, explained Hashimoto. There's the Fabula Nova (Final Fantasy XIII) group, the Ivalice Alliance (Final Fantasy Tactics, Revenant Wings) group, the Chronicles group (working exclusively on Nintendo hardware, Nintendo Dream states) and the Final Fantasy XI group.
For its followup question, Nintendo Dream revealed an interesting bit of trivia about Nintendo. According to the magazine, Nintendo has a gathering which one can think of as a "Zelda Steering Council" of sorts that discusses what's appropriate and inappropriate for Zelda games. According to Hashimoto, Square Enix does not have something like this for the Final Fantasy series. Even the design of the Chocobo characters, for instance, changes with every game.
So what, in the end, is Final Fantasy? Hashimoto attempted to give an answer. "If forced to give the essential common points for FF, there are Chocobo-like living creatures, there's travel via air ships, there are items such as potions... and the genre is RPG. While there are some exceptions, in general there aren't 'sequels,' so the games that are part of the 'numbered series,' will always come to a self-contained conclusion. VII's sequel is not VIII, and VIII's sequel is not IX."
As for the games that did have sequels, including the various Compilation of Final Fantasy VII products, Hashimoto noted that these are developed under the eye of those who made the originals. It's not the case that Square Enix has handed off the FFVII world to an unrelated team.
Although speaking with a Nintendo magazine, Hashimoto brought up Final Fantasy XIII as a comparison for Square Enix's decision to expand upon the FFVII storyline through the Compilation project years after the game's original release. "Different from something like VII, which we expanded upon afterwards, with Fabula Nova FFXIII, we've thought about an expansive world setting from the start. Under the idea of wanting everyone to be sucked into the world for 10 years, we're preparing a number of categories." He likened this approach to films like Star Wars, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings.
Moving on to Nintendo specifics, the magazine asked Hashimoto for some of the selling points of Revenant Wings. "We're centering it around the story of a new adventure involving the heroes who appeared in Final Fantasy XII. There's content that will make people who played XII happy, and we're also making it easy to get into the world for those who are entering XII for the first time with the DS. The gameplay systems are also made to be easily played on the DS."
Other high-profile Square Enix titles for the DS include Final Fantasy Chronicles and Final Fantasy Tactics A2. "The DS version of FFCC is, in terms of development, further along," said Hashimoto. "I believe that when you play it, you will think to yourself, 'there is an action RPG this beautiful.'"
Hashimoto made brief mention of the Wii version of Chronicles. "Recently, I was able to check the progress on the Wii version. It's coming along extremely well. However, developing a game that makes use of the Wii remote is difficult. For our Wii game Dragon Quest Sword, adjustments related to the remote took a long time."
As for other Nintendo-based Final Fantasy product, the magazine began by asking about possible Virtual Console downloads for the series. Things look bleak, at least in Japan. "We feel that the Japanese game market still requires media," explained Hashimoto. "Also, FF and Dragon Quest are played by a wide range of users, from children to adults, so there are limitations when you consider the problems that we would have with billing systems."
Hashimoto wouldn't specifically comment on future Final Fantasy games for Nintendo systems. When asked about the possibility, he noted the DS's success, but also pointed out that this doesn't necessarily guarantee that a game will sell. "We have to consider how we can make something that will be easy for casual users to get into."
The magazine closed off by asking Hashimoto about the Square Enix Party, a fan event set to be held in Japan on 5/12. Square Enix recently took out an advertisement for the event and the Final Fantasy 20th anniversary in Japan's widely circulated Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper. The advertisement listed 10 Final Fantasy games that will be shown at the event. While these had already been announced, a message at the bottom of the ad read "And, a Final Fantasy that's not known by anyone will make an appearance."
"The titles that were shown in the newspaper are the games that we can announce at this time," explained Hashimoto. "Of course, there are many unannounced titles that we're working on behind the scenes. We should be able to announce these at our big three domestic events, the Square Enix Party, Tokyo Game Show and Jump Festa."
Will Nintendo product be included in the announcements? Hashimoto wouldn't say for sure, but he did finish the interview by saying, "Look forward to the events as Nintendo fans, or, even better, as Square Enix fans."