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'Father of Final Fantasy' signs for Xbox 2

Hironobu Sakaguchi will lead the creation of two RPGs exclusive to Xbox 2.

Microsoft Game Studios has gained significant ground in its battle to establish itself in Japan this week with the announcement that Hironobu Sakaguchi, long-time director of the Final Fantasy series and Japanese development legend, will lead the creation of a pair of Xbox 2-exclusive role-playing games.

That Sakaguchi-san is now allied exclusively to Microsoft's next-generation platform - expected to launch worldwide at the end of 2005 - is a major coup for the company, trumping even its highly successful alliance with fellow Japanese developer Tecmo. Sakaguchi-san's credentials stretch back to the birth of the Final Fantasy series, which he directed from the outset during his time at Square and subsequently Square Enix.

He ended his spell at the Japanese RPG developer in February 2001, having been inducted into the Academy of Interactive Arts & Science (AIAS) Hall of Fame a year earlier, and last year announced that he had set up a new independent developer along with former Square collaborator and composer Nobuo Uematsu.

Mistwalker has previously announced that it's working on a pair of role-playing games, but the choice of platform is bound to raise some eyebrows and neither game has yet been unveiled. Nor has Microsoft indicated when it aims to ship the titles, although given its stance on its own next-generation plans, which sees virtually any request for comment on any related matter met with a refusal to comment on "rumour and speculation", that's hardly surprising

But the publisher is clearly thrilled that Sakaguchi-san "has joined with Microsoft" (sounds very Evil Dead) and couldn't wait any longer to make the announcement - which is bound to be considered a prelude to a GDC Xbox 2 unveiling by some observers - with the company's corporate veepee of worldwide marketing and publishing Peter Moore admitting the company was "ecstatic" to be working with the developer.

He further paid tribute to the way Sakaguchi-san had "taken role-playing games - traditionally a niche market - and introduced them to a broad and diverse audience across the globe". In the context of this deal, however, Microsoft will be hoping he can take Xbox - traditionally a poor performer in the Far East - and help establish the brand in his homeland. There's no question that Mistwalker's games will be of interest to a global audience, but, if you'll excuse the dreadful pun, this deal is aimed squarely at capturing the hearts and Yen of Japanese gamers.

Sakaguchi-san, for his part, said he was "excited" about the two "epic game titles" under his direction. "A number of talented creators have signed on to help develop these games, and I'm confident we will be able to create games that provide gamers with a new kind of thrill," he said.

"Microsoft's cutting-edge technologies in the next-generation platform will allow me to bring to life an array of ideas that I have had for many years," he added. "I want these games to be alive with a new vision for gaming and vividly depict new characters that will transcend the game, find a place in the hearts of gamers, and make time spent with my games a fond and long-lasting memory."

We'll bring you more on both Xbox 2 titles as soon as we know more.