How a Fi­nal Fan­tasy box-of­fice bomb led to the strangely charm­ing

XBox: The Official Magazine - - EXTRA -

Mi­crosoft Stu­dios The re­cent re­lease of Fi­nal Fan­tasy XV of­fers up a pow­er­ful re­minder of the strength of the Ja­panese RPG. FF’s star might not be as high as it was in the late ‘90s, but the se­ries is still an ab­so­lute pow­er­house in terms of sales and brand recog­ni­tion. At one point, it was con­sid­ered a musthave for a con­sole to have a Ja­panese RPG of its very own even in the West, and with Fi­nal Fan­tasy closely tied to its ri­val, Xbox had to look else­where. En­ter Blue Dragon: an all-orig­i­nal game with an in­cred­i­ble pedi­gree.

How Blue Dragon came to be is ar­guably just as in­ter­est­ing as the game it­self. Don’t get me wrong: the newly back­wards com­pat­i­ble RPG is a cult Xbox 360 clas­sic for good rea­son and is well worth a play even to­day, but the game also rep­re­sents a fascinatin­g pe­riod in Xbox his­tory: the bat­tle for the Xbox 360 to con­quer Ja­pan.

This tale re­ally be­gins in the sum­mer of 2001 – months be­fore the orig­i­nal Xbox con­sole would re­lease. Rid­ing high on the suc­cess of Fi­nal Fan­tasy VII, famed Ja­panese pub­lisher Square was try­ing to reach an­other block­buster mo­ment – this time in the cin­ema. The re­sult was the dis­as­trous Fi­nal Fan­tasy: The Spir­its Within.

De­bates about qual­ity aside, the movie failed to find an au­di­ence. It be­came one of the big­gest box-of­fice bombs of all time. The movie’s fail­ure was the cat­a­lyst that would lead Fi­nal Fan­tasy cre­ator and movie di­rec­tor, Hironobu Sak­aguchi, to even­tu­ally leave Square, which would later merge with Enix to be­come to­day’s ver­sion of the com­pany that’s as well known for Tomb Raider as it is Fi­nal Fan­tasy.

Come 2004, Xbox had been out in Ja­pan for two years and one thing was clear: it wasn’t work­ing. The huge ‘duke’ con­troller and over­sized Mist­walker

alex don­ald­son

Xbox 360, Xbox One box cer­tainly didn’t help, but most damn­ing for the con­sole was that it didn’t have any Ja­panese games. Mi­crosoft had part­nered with Sega on the likes of Jet Set Ra­dio and Shen­mue but these weren’t enough. In search of a fix, Mi­crosoft turned to the mas­ter. Fresh from lick­ing his Hol­ly­wood wounds, Sak­aguchi was ready to set up a new com­pany. With Mi­crosoft’s fi­nan­cial aid, Mist­walker was born.

Af­ter what then Xbox boss Peter Moore later de­scribed as ten months of meet­ings, Moore and Sak­aguchi sealed their deal over “a very ex­pen­sive bot­tle of sake”. The agree­ment: Sak­aguchi’s new stu­dio would pro­duce two RPGs for Mi­crosoft’s as-yet unan­nounced sec­ond Xbox ma­chine. These were men­tioned briefly at an event in Fe­bru­ary 2005, while the name Blue Dragon would first be ut­tered in Ja­panese mag­a­zines a few months later. One ad­van­tage of re­cruit­ing Sak­aguchi was that his name held in­cred­i­ble power even in light of his cin­e­matic mis­step. Gamers in Ja­pan and abroad recog­nised his vi­sion and de­vel­op­ers re­spected him. In this re­gard the Mist­walker in­vest­ment was some­thing of a coup for Xbox. In 1995 Sak­aguchi put to­gether what he termed a ‘dream team’ of Ja­pan’s five most pro­lific RPG de­vel­op­ers to cre­ate the in­cred­i­ble Chrono Trig­ger. In 2004 he re­united three mem­bers of that team – him­self, mu­si­cian Nobuo Ue­matsu and artist Akira Toriyama – for Mist­walker’s first pro­ject. turn the air blue Pro­tag­o­nist Shu is a like­able but stan­dard­is­sue RPG hero – and some­times has a bit of a potty mouth. Some­body think of the chil­dren! above

Com­bat is tra­di­tional turn-based stuff but has some de­cent depth.

“Xbox boss Peter Moore and Hironobu Sak­aguchi sealed the deal over an ex­pen­sive bot­tle of sake”

Blue Dragon Pub­lisher Devel­oper for­mat

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