Skip to main content

Flight of Fantasy

Square Enix talks Final Fantasy, next-gen gaming and the MMO market.

These are busy times for Square Enix - and profitable ones. Released back in February, PS2 title Final Fantasy XII has proved to be a huge hit with gamers and critics alike. Anticipation is already building for the PlayStation 3 sequel despite the fact that a release date has yet to be announced.

But the publisher isn't just enjoying success on Sony consoles. Last month saw the release of a 2007 edition of MMO Final Fantasy XI on PC and Xbox 360, and a remake of FFIII is due out on DS in May along with Chocobo Tales.

In short, this may be the most prolific period in Square Enix's history - at least when it comes to the Western market. sat down with Hiromichi Tanaka, senior vice president of software development, and global online producer Sage Suni to find out mroe about the publisher's future plans.

Obviously, the Final Fantasy franchise has been hugely successful for you. But is Square Enix perhaps too reliant on it? Do you expect the series to remain as popular as it is in the long term?

Hiromichi Tanaka: Personally, I think it doesn't necessarily have to have Final Fantasy as part of the title. You can see when you look at the series that every title has a different story, each game has used a different engine, so it's not always similar.

We often get asked, 'What is Final Fantasy?', and we don't really have a correct answer. We always concentrate on making the best game for that time. But yes, perhaps because it's such a huge brand, we are reliant sometimes.

Maybe it's harder to see from abroad but in Japan we are constantly working on new titles, like Dragon Quest. So it's not only Final Fantasy, we're always [trying] to add new titles to our company's catalogue.

What are the differences between Western and Japanese gamers? Why do you think titles like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest work in the West, while other Japanese RPGs don't?

Hiromichi Tanaka: It's a pretty difficult question to answer, but one thing we notice is that Japanese games tend to be closer to comics. Like Super Mario, it's got a very comic feel. Whereas in Europe - especially in the PC market - games seem to ask more for realism, so that is one big difference we notice.

Sage Sundi: But at the same time the market is changing; Western markets are becoming more familiar with Japanese cartoons through cartoon channels. So I think they're getting used to that kind of cartoon style which they didn't notice before.

What's your opinion of the next-gen consoles? It seems that PS3 is doing well in Japan, but Xbox 360 hasn't really taken off despite the release of games like Blue Dragon. Will Square Enix be supporting the platforms equally, or will you focus on PS3 if it proves to be more successful?

Hiromichi Tanaka: Up to PlayStation 2, all consoles had roughly the same concept of how to enjoy the gaming experience. With next-gen, each has different features and is targeted at a different audience.

So, we have to make different titles for different platforms, depending on what sort of game we want to make and what the users will be expecting; we can choose which platform we want to go for. This is completely different from the old games industry.

Also we now have Vista and the Nintendo DS, so it's not only those three next-gen platforms but a whole variety of different platforms. It's hard having this variety but it also gives us lots of opportunities.

Sage Sundi: Online games might be slightly different. Players can have so many different options - FFXI is a cross-platform online game so you can play from 360 or PS2 in Japan and also Windows. So for our next MMO, we'll also consider this cross platform feature. Regardless of the platform they're playing on, for online games, it might be pure content which attracts the player.

What plans do you have for the MMO market?

Sage Sundi: Well, Final Fantasy XI has been out for nearly for five years now, so with online games one of our targets is to continuously provide content as long as we have users. But we're also working on the new MMO titles which we announced at E3 two years ago.

Where do you see the development of Final Fantasy XI going now? Are there still teams working on development, or are you at the point where you just want to let people continue playing?

Sage Sundi:We're 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.

FFXI was one of the most popular games on the market - but that market has obviously changed with the huge success of World of Warcraft. Do you see that as an opportunity or a challenge?

Hiromichi Tanaka: The number of subscribers to Final Fantasy XI didn't really change with the release of World of Warcraft. 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.

Sage Sundi: We've seen other online games in the last few years also being successful 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.

With your next MMOs, will you be looking to achieve the same number of subscribers WOW has?

Hiromichi Tanaka: Certainly it would be nice to reach 8 million players, but we're not really trying to beat 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.

Sage Sundi: We don't have a clear target of 8 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 MMOs are still only a small part of it.

Hiromichi Tanaka is senior vice president of software development Sage Suni is global online producer at Square Enix. Interview by Rob Fahey and Ellie Gibson.

Read this next

Ellie Gibson avatar
Ellie Gibson: Ellie spent nearly a decade working at Eurogamer, specialising in hard-hitting executive interviews and nob jokes. These days she does a comedy show and podcast. She pops back now and again to write the odd article and steal our biscuits.
Related topics