Square, the company that is synonymous with console role playing games, has shocked the world. The Square Millennium event had been called an event "that would change the way RPGs are viewed, made, and played." That was an understatement, as Square not only made some very special announcements about their next Final Fantasy games, but also announced the systems they would be on, and how they would take advantage of online networking capabilities.
The games being referred to are Final Fantasy IX, Final Fantasy X, and Final Fantasy XI. Yes, you read that correctly. They have announced not only that these games are in development, but that at least Final Fantasy IX and X will be out before the end of next Summer in Japan. It's possible, although unlikely, that the world might have THREE more Final Fantasy games before another new Star Wars movie comes out.
Final Fantasy IX for the Playstation has been described as a step back into the older world of Final Fantasy. The characters are shorter and less realistic in appearance. Another flashback to the older Final Fantasy games seems imminent as for the first time on a Playstation Final Fantasy your party can consist of not three, but four characters. Perhaps Square has been looking back to see why some of their hardcore old-school RPG fans are not as happy, and are possibly trying to create the best of both worlds. Expect more details on this game soon, as the game comes out in Japan this Summer, and very little is known about it still.
Final Fantasy X was then announced to be the first Final Fantasy for the Playstation 2. It is already in the early development stages. Videogames.com describes it as "Shenmue for the Playstation 2." While it is hard to speculate what exactly that really means, one has to wonder if Square thinks they can outdo Sega at the genre that Sega just created. Then again, it could simply be a graphical comparison. Final Fantasy X is slated for a Summer 2001 release in Japan.
Square made a very interesting announcement about their online plans. Their annoucement was "Play Online," Square's online game network. What will you be playing on this online network? Triple Triad? Probably, but the only game they formally announced that you will be able to play on this network is Final Fantasy X itself. The game will have online multiplayer features of some kind. The game will come equipped with the Play Online software that it will need to play on Square's upcoming network, which it is co-developing with NTT Communications, a large Japanese communications company. "Play Online" will feature full support for most people's favorite web activities, including instant messaging, e-mail, chat, and web browsing, but also includes online games, comics, and shopping. The site will launch in Spring of 2001. As of right now, the Playstation 2 and the PC are the only platforms that have been announced that can access this network. It is not known whether this is a service you must pay for or a format similar to Blizzard's Battle.Net, which is free to gamers who own the games that have the software. Hopefully it is the latter. It is also not known at this time if a possible PC version of Final Fantasy X would be able to play with Playstation 2 versions of the games online.
If you thought that Square's adventures into cyberspace were exciting when you read that other stuff, wait until you get a load of this. Square announced preliminary plans for Final Fantasy XI, and as of right now the game will be completely online, and is for the Playstation 2. Although it is not surprising that Square has announced that they are planning an online game, it comes as a shock to find out that they are calling it one of the Final Fantasy series, as online games tend to be continuous worlds. The game will run on the Play Online network. One has to ponder over a PC-compatible version of Final Fantasy XI as well. The tagline for the game was "online another world." Hironobu Sakaguchi, the President of Square, mentioned that two non-Final Fantasy online games are possibly, but they are still brainstorming ideas at this time. No specific date was placed for Final Fantasy XI.
Contractual obligations to Columbia Pictures blocked all but the lucky few in attendance from seeing some scenes from the upcoming Final Fantasy Movie. However, in March they are launching the movie's official website, and there will be several screenshots and clips then. Keep watching the site for more details.
Square seems gung-ho about the future, but one has to wonder how nice this will be for those outside of Japan. Localization for online games is difficult, and surely an online title with the natural complexities of a Final Fantasy would drastically complicate such things. Add to that the fact that Square also might have to deal with compatibility issues and language barriers around the world. That would mean the time between the Japanese release and the release elsewhere will be even greater than usual. Only time will tell.
When it comes to role playing games, Square is the master. In the '80s, they reinvented the RPG. In the '90s, they claimed the RPG world. Now, Square seems poised and read to take claim to the next millennium.