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