It?s nearly impossible to walk away from a Square-Enix E3 presentation and not be fairly impressed. Square-Enix always has a very strong presentation and this year is no exception with their strong lineup of PlayStation 2 and mobile titles.
The game thrust foremost in the limelight was, surprisingly, not Final Fantasy XII or Kingdom Hearts II but rather, Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King. Yes, apparently there will be no "Dragon Warrior" this time around; the name will stay "Dragon Quest". The Dragon Quest series has never been nearly as popular in North America as it has in Japan, but Square-Enix is confident that Dragon Quest VIII will be well received. Since this is the first game in the series to be released under the combined Square-Enix banner, Dragon Quest VIII will combine the classic gameplay of the Dragon Quest series with the superb artists of Square. For the first time since gaming went 3D, Dragon Quest will be beautiful again.
After Dragon Quest VIII, there is, of course, Kingdom Hearts II which was finally playable this year. Set one year after the events of Kingdom Hearts, and briefly after Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, Kingdom Hearts II begins in the city of Twilight Town following the exploits of a mysterious young boy that remains unnamed for now. Fear not though, Sora clearly remains the main character of the game.
While gameplay and combat remain similar to the original game, there are two major additions worth mentioning. The first is combat forms. Depending on the characters in your party, you can use drive power, a gauge that goes with your health and magic, to merge with one of them. In the demo I played, I was able to merge with Goofy and achieve a Valor Form. Doing so turned my costume red and gave me two keyblades to wield in combat. Suffice to say, I was quite a bit more potent in combat. The second new addition is what I like to call Triangle Triggers. During battle, you may see a green indicator in the shape of the triangle button focus in on an enemy. Pressing the triangle button when you see this will cause something special to happen. This is used extensively during boss battles, allowing you to do things like use the keyblade to stay out of Cerberus' mouth, or hold onto a flying heartless so you don?t fall off when it spins around. One other surprise was the revelation of a level based on "Pirates of the Caribbean", complete with Captain Jack Sparrow in your party. We can all expect to be enjoying Kingdom Hearts II soon; Square-Enix expects a North American release this winter.
Square-Enix has clear plans to expand on the Final Fantasy VII world. At long last, we have a release date for Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children; its slated for release on September 14th in Japan, so hopefully we can expect a release soon after. In addition to Advent Children, there are three mobile phone games planned. Before Crisis is a prequel that follows the adventures of The Turks, Shinra Inc.?s wet works mercenaries. Dirge of Cerberus occurs after Advent Children and focuses in on the character Vincent as he battles a group of soldiers known as the Deepground Soldiers, who have been trapped under the ruins of Midgar for three years.
There was also a mobile title called Crisis Core. There was very little concrete information on this title, but it appeared to center around the character Zach and the events surrounding the town of Nibelheim when Sephiroth first began to lose his mind.
Tri-Ace, the developers of Valkyrie Profile and Star Ocean: Till the End of Time are creating a new game called Radiata Stories. It is very similar in play style to Star Ocean, an RPG with a real-time battle system that allows you combo your enemies and combine attacks. Radiata Stories also boasts 150 playable characters. Those who join you will be determined by your decisions.
Final Fantasy XI will finally have a friend as a second major title joins the PlayOnline family. Front Mission Online will take the turn-based mech battles of the Front Mission series into the online arena. With fully customizable mechs and pilots, you can choose to join the O.C.U. or the U.C.S. Missions will affect the battle for Huffman Island. Enough victories will allow you to issues missions to other players, giving you greater control over the fate of the island.
The creative SaGa series continues in Romancing SaGa. I was not able to get extensive playtime with this title, but with their new ?sketch motion? visualization, it should prove to be as original and interesting as every game in the series.
Fullmetal Alchemist 2: Curse of the Crimson Elixir is not exactly a proper sequel to the original game, but rather attempts to follow the story of the anime series more closely. The gameplay is close to the original, but Square-Enix promises more action and a larger role for Alphonse.
There was also another name in the lineup, but all we have is a title at this point, The World of Mana. Also, it was revealed that Final Fantasy XI: Online will be released for the Xbox 360.
So you?re probably wondering by now, what about Final Fantasy XII? Sadly, Final Fantasy XII wasn?t playable. The expected release date at this point is 2005 for Japan and 2006 for North America. So we?ll be seeing it soon, but not just yet.