E3: Final Fantasy XIV Online

The next next Final Fantasy, which might come to Xbox 360 after all.

Things get distorted when you're at an E3 conference. One minute, Microsoft is making weird imaginary children feel guilty about not doing their homework. The next, Nintendo is introducing the Wii Thimble, for extreme virtual crochet. Then, up pops Sony, with an exclusive new Final Fantasy game, which won't be appearing anywhere else, anywhere. At the short-notice press conference called by Square Enix, that's the first thing Senior Vice President, Shinji Hashimoto wants to clear up.

"I want to emphasise that it will be available for PS3 and PC - and we are considering all our options for other hardware - including Microsoft." This makes sense. They did, after all, decide to make FFXIII available across PS3 and Xbox 360 in the noble cause of reaching more people.

The press conference is without ceremony - that one statement is the only introduction we're given, before the floor is opened to questions. It's the safest way to do it - if they were to talk without prompting, they wouldn't have any questions to avoid, and might end up telling us something.

First clarification: all those characters in the trailer looked pretty similar to FFXI - but this isn't the same world. FFXIV's director Nobuako Komoto makes it clear that this is a completely new world. "The reason we made it similar, was so that the players of FFXI can choose a race that they've become accustomed to." It's implicit, then - but no-one would admit to it at this early stage - that people will move from XI to XIV. You won't be able to port your characters, but you will be able to create a similar one.

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Which brings up the odd relationship between FFXI and FFXIV. Will FFXI be phased out? Isn't there a danger that the new game will split the Final Fantasy online crowd - which is already fairly modest?

FFXIV's producer, Hiromichi Tanaka, assures players of FFXI that their game is safe - for a year, at least. "The development team of FFXIV started four to five years ago, and have worked alongside the new content for FFXI. There's no reason for that to stop now. We have a year plan of new content, and no plans in the near future to stop providing that."

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FFXI struggled quite publicly with solo play - with an early emphasis on party play that underestimated the public desire to feel individually powerful. Over the years, Square has adapted the game to make solo play possible, and made grouping and levelling less punishing with features like Level Sync.

But still, a lot has happened since FFXI first came out, in 2002. Not least of which, Azeroth. Will the new game reflect the more populist, less grindingly difficult world of MMOs? "We do want to put some of that more casual appeal into XIV, but we don't want to copy that," explains Hashimoto. "There will be play modes to suit people who want to play for 40 minutes a day, and people who want to play all day. Solo play will be possible from the beginning of the game, and so will party play."

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