Fantasy Reborn • Page 2

Square Enix VP on bringing FF3 to the DS.

Connected Fantasies

Turning the conversation briefly away from Final Fantasy III, we ask about Tanaka's main role at Square Enix - overseeing the company's happy band of half a million Final Fantasy XI addicts, and developing the rest of its MMOG business. Actually, we just ask the rather obvious question that kicks off any discussion with an MMOG operator that isn't Blizzard; namely, how does he feel about the change to the market since World of Warcraft turned up and grabbed over 8 million paying subscribers, and does he feel threatened by Blizzard's rumbling behemoth?

"The number of subscribers to Final Fantasy XI didn't really change with the release of World of Warcraft," Tanaka responds. "We think that means that we're targeting a different type of audience. At the moment, MMOs are still relatively new compared to console games, so everyone is trying to poach players from World of Warcraft and get them into their games - but that's because the market is still so small."

Indeed, Tanaka doesn't just claim that World of Warcraft isn't threatening - he actually sees the teeming millions who are adventuring in Azeroth and taking part in the Burning Crusade as almost completely irrelevant to what Square Enix is doing with FFXI.

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"We've seen other online games in the last few years also being successful," he says, "so it's not just World of Warcraft, there are other new games which players like as well. That doesn't necessarily mean that those games are taking players from World of Warcraft - they're creating new markets for their own games, and I think Final Fantasy XI will continue to target its own audience and discover new markets, rather than trying to get people from other games."

"Certainly, it would be nice to reach eight million players," he muses, "but we're not really trying to reach World of Warcraft, because we consider it to be a totally different game. As long as our players are happy, that's what we're trying to achieve. So we don't have a clear target of eight million, or of trying to poach players from World of Warcraft - even if we succeeded at that, they would try to get those players back! We don't think that's really efficient - we would prefer to target a new market. We take the wide view, that there is a huge market for games and MMO is still only a small part of it."

Final Fantasy XI, of course, is a five year old game at this stage - and while it's still going strong, Square Enix has acknowledged that it has other MMOGs in development which it hopes to launch in the relatively near future. So what does that future hold for Vana'diel, the fantasy world of FFXI - is there active development still ongoing on content for the game, or was the most recent expansion pack, Treasures of Aht Urhgan, also the last?

Tanaka hands over to Square Enix' cheerful global online producer Sage Sundi for the reply. "We usually make those kind of plans up to a year in advance," Sundi explains to us. "That does change, but we try to have milestones for a year into the future. What we're actually doing is working together with our community and with the users, so we're very flexible. If they all ask for expansion packs, then we might consider more expansion packs - it really depends on how it goes with our users." In other words, nothing is guaranteed, but nothing is ruled out either - and if an expansion pack looks like it'll make money, Square Enix will make one.

Truly Final?

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While in Japan, Square Enix is noted for other game franchises - most notably Dragon Quest, the largest property which Enix brought to the table in the merger between the two RPG giants - there's a risk that in the west, the firm might be dismissed as "the Final Fantasy company", a perfect example of a publisher whose other products are little more than a snack between meals compared to its headline franchise.

When we ask Tanaka about that, however, one of the fathers of the epic RPG series seems unconcerned that his creation has come to define Square Enix to such an extent. "First of all," he says, "I don't think our games necessarily have to have "Final Fantasy" as part of the title. When you follow the series you can see that each game has a completely different story and even uses a different engine, so it's not necessarily something similar. Only the spells, for example, are sometimes the same, and there are common features to the worlds - but each title in the series is different."

He pauses for a second to consider. "You know, we often get asked the question, 'What is Final Fantasy?'" he says. "And we don't really have a correct answer for that. We just focus on making the best game possible for the time, and that's the only thing in common - the thing we concentrate on when we make a Final Fantasy game."

Back in 1990, Final Fantasy III was the product of such a labour of love - and players in Europe will be able to enjoy that for the first time when the DS version, sporting beautiful new video and lush 3D graphics, but still a nostalgic blast from the past of the genre, lands over here later this Spring.

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Rob Fahey

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