There was a time when the Final Fantasy brand was reassuringly focused. Each new sequential release was appropriately numbered and sought little more than to better the previous game's scope and technical achievements. The setting and characters changed but the rules never did: Final Fantasy, as with most long-running Japanese products, was a series of incremental evolutions, and both developer and fans knew what to expect of one another.
But in more recent years Square-Enix has become frightfully promiscuous with its most valuable IP. Tactics, Crystal Chronicles, X-2 and the various Chocobo games are all spin-offs that have sought to expand the series' gameplay vocabulary and to provide Final Fantasy-themed experiences for fans of other genres. Then, last year, the floodgates opened as the company announced an overwhelming slew of new Final Fantasy-titled spin-offs and direct sequels across both handheld and console systems.
With so many confusingly tag-lined Final Fantasys on the horizon, as well as a clutch of brand new games announced, it's been a little difficult to keep up with it all. And that's why Eurogamer, along with journalists from across the world, has been flown into Tokyo for the Square-Enix Party 2007 - a chance for fans and critics alike to try out some of these new titles and for us explain to you what the hell is going while, they hope, reassuring you all it's all going to be fine.
Over the next week we'll be interviewing many of Square's key producers and directors as well as giving you first impressions of where these forthcoming games in Square's bulging portfolio are up to. But before the show started, on a cloudy but humid Tokyo afternoon, Square explained a little about where the company is headed as well as revealing for the first time (at least officially) two new games which are currently in development but won't be playable at the show.
The big US gaming sites sat in front of Eurogamer during the conference and indulged in that pointless typing-of-the-dead race to be the first to upload their copy to the internet and win at being the first to tell everybody what the press release says. We, on the other hand, decided to take our sweet time
drinking copious amounts of sake and singing our karaoke hearts out with SE staff mulling over the details of what we'd seen with appropriate gravitas and taking time to form mature and distinguished opinions.
The key theme of both the pre-event and the party is Square-Enix's drive for expansion and domination. Company President, Yoichi Wada, was keen to emphasise that the company is entering a new era as it seeks to widen its user base by creating 'rich gaming solutions' for the new casual market that Nintendo is busy nurturing. Grotty marketing speak aside, this is interesting as casual gamers are hardly a group the company has courted in the past. Moreover, the game they're pinning these mainstream hopes on, Chocobo's Dungeon: Toki Wasure No Meikyuu (The Dungeon of Forgotten Time) might well be for the Wii, but it comes from a line of prohibitively niche games.
Chocobo's Dungeon: Toki Wasure No Meikyuu (The Dungeon of Forgotten Time)
The release of this Wii-exclusive is designed to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the release of Chocobo's Mysterious Dungeon, a Rogue-like random dungeon crawler, which never made it out of Japan. Those who played the game (and its US localised sequel) will remember the punishing difficulty common to all RPGs that randomly create their maps on the fly - hardly an ideal basis for a mainstream adventure title.
The game is set in Ville, a city of forgotten time where the town's inhabitants have lost their memories and time has stopped moving. It's your job as Chocobo to search for these lost memories, which are represented in the field as sparkling items. The video we were shown showed the super-deformed style Chocobo synonymous with these spin-off games exploring a traditional dungeon area. Overlaid was a near identical HUD as was seen in the earlier games while the few characters were all also making a return.
The game's producer, Yuki Yokoyama, was keen to promise that the game will appeal to a wide and diverse range of players and that it will borrow some of the popular features from its recent DS cousin, Chocobo Tales. However, while the jagged polygons on display might be part and parcel of the Wii's graphical delivery, the washed out colours, low quality textures and sparse particle and lighting effects are certainly not. Visually the game looked a little incongruous to its intended audience although, as is the case with everything we will report from the show, the game is obviously still deep in development and subject to change.