Rumours are spreading rapidly on the Internet that mighty Japanese developer Squaresoft will side with Microsoft in the ongoing console wars. Apparently, the developer of Final Fantasy and other titles plans to announce some sort of alliance with Microsoft to produce several exclusive games for Xbox. If true, such a deal could be the keystone in Microsoft's bridge to the Japanese market, which until now has looked flaky at best. We're often told that the Japanese market is very different to the US and European markets, but for console manufacturers the overall outlook has to be the same. They still need exclusives to sell their loss-making consoles, and popular games give way to sequel upon sequel upon sequel, which means lots of money. The difference is in software; the unrestrained popularity of RPGs for example, and dulled impact of Western sports franchises and mindless action games. For Microsoft, Japan is a big problem, because most of their games are Western sports franchises and mindless action games. There are next to no heavy-hitting RPGs on the company's release schedule, and far fewer developers for Japan than any other country. Which brings us back to Squaresoft, a name synonymous with RPGs of exceptional quality, and one of the battle standards of Japanese RPG fans. If Microsoft has wooed the company into some sort of lucrative development deal, it can be almost assured of success on Japanese soil. The games we are hearing about are no ordinary RPGs either. Final Fantasy XI, which will appear on several consoles, Xbox perhaps amongst them, Chrono Cross X, the sequel to the devastatingly popular PlayStation title, which was in turn a follow-up to one of the Super Nintendo's best RPGs, supposedly an exclusive, and not content with that, Seiken Densetsu 4, which Westerners would recognise as Secret of Mana 3, also exclusive. Further rumours concern Bushido Blade X and other titles. The question on everybody's lips is, what on earth would possess Squaresoft to side with Microsoft? The answer, quite simply, is PlayOnline. Once again Squaresoft have elected to dump their minder, just as they did with Nintendo when they clapped eyes on the N64, and the reason for this is that Sony was planning to stifle PlayOnline in order to push its own online gaming network forward. It's highly likely that Microsoft promised not to restrict their online plans for Xbox RPGs, and offered an enormous sum of money at the same time. Of course, at present this is all rumour and hearsay. Another rumour that has been kicking about is that Microsoft aren't the company involved, but Nintendo are. As ever, more on this as we get it. Related Feature - PlayOnline trials in Japan, but service is threatened
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