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Square Talks Final Fantasy

Hironobu Sakaguchi made several announcements today concerning Square's three upcoming Final Fantasy titles, in the wake of the company posting a financial loss in the most recent fiscal year. Square is blaming the loss chiefly upon sluggish sales of Final Fantasy IX, which was hurt by the restrictions Square placed upon the release of walkthroughs and strategy guides, a move made in an effort to increase the popularity of their online service, Playonline.com. As a result of these numbers, Square has confirmed that Final Fantasy X will have the wide range of strategy guides and walkthroughs that helped popularize Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII.

These developments aside, Final Fantasy XI was high on the agenda during Square's annual shareholder meeting. At the conference, pricing information and availability for the game were revealed. The company has revised their estimate of how many users the service would require to break even downwards, dropping the figure from 480,000 users to 300,000. Reasons for the decrease included some cost-cutting on development and preparation for Final Fantasy XI's arrival, and the announcement of some rather lofty pricing. Final Fantasy XI itself will sell for between 6000 and 7000 yen(or roughly 50 to 58 dollars US), which, though lower than the 8800 yen(approximately $73.00 US) the company plans to charge for Final Fantasy X, is still somewhat steep for an online game. On top of this, Square plans to charge 1200 yen, or roughly $10 US, every month to users of Playonline; thus, if 300,000 users sign on to Playonline for a four-year term of service, the company will be able to offset the roughly 10 billion yen it projects will be spent on development and maintenance of Playonline and Final Fantasy XI.

Square plans to have alpha and beta testing concluded for the online component of Final Fantasy XI by early next year. What this means is that Final Fantasy XI will likely be released March 2002, as Square announced their plans to start billing users of Playonline in April 2002. At that point, the service will be targeted to support 100,000 users simultaneously, and is developed to support low bandwidth users connecting at 56kbps. Final Fantasy XI will be exclusively online, the first such title in the Final Fantasy series. The beta test will commence in November. In a further announcement, Square revealed that Final Fantasy XII will be both online and offline. No further elaboration was made upon this information, but it is likely a wise choice at this point, since the company has no assurance of how well Final Fantasy XI will do.

Finally, Hironobu Sakaguchi, the director of the Final Fantasy series, announced his intention to make future Final Fantasy titles available for all platforms. At this point, however, Square and Nintendo have no official relationship, and two years of negotiations with Microsoft have gone nowhere yet. Thus, for the time being, Square will continue to work on the three upcoming titles. Final Fantasy X is due out in July in Japan and early next year in North America, and Final Fantasy XI is slated for a Spring 2002 release in Japan, with no confirmed release date in North America. Final Fantasy XII has no firm release date in either region.


by Andrew Long    
Sources: [IGN]
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