The spirits within Mass Effect

I must be in a very small group of people who actually enjoyed Square Enix’s CGI flop, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within but at least some of the people in my gathering include BioWare’s art team. Derek Watts, Mass Effect 3’s art director, chatted with Xbox World 360 magazine about the franchise’s influences which pretty much owes a lot to the 2001 movie.

“Yeah, you know we actually reference a lot from Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. We used a lot of their GUIs and the way they did their ship – that was kind of like in some of the early designs for the Normandy.” Of course! It’s so obvious once it’s pointed out! The funky holographic GUIs on Shepard and his (or her) compadres look a lot like those in the film. Blade Runner is the usual comparison but come to think of it, that’s a bit too gritty. Watts wasn’t shy of just how much he and his team use Final Fantasy as a well for concepts: “Our attack helicopters are loosely based off that movie. There’s some great stuff, especially their glowing GUI screens; we used those a lot. I keep a folder of that stuff and I still actually tell the guys ‘just go back and look at that. Change it like that!'”

What particularly tickles me about an off-shoot of the Final Fantasy franchise is how the end of Mass Effect 2 made me cancel my pre-order of Final Fantasy XIII. I completed an incredibly action orientated sci-fi space opera that still resinates to this day and shortly after began watching a new trailer for the Japanese RPG. The complete difference in style and execution left me wondering if a traditional JRPG was the kind of game I wanted to play at that moment in time (I have played it since then…). So to think one of the reason why I love the Mass Effect series – its art – is so heavily influenced by a frequently ridiculed aspect of Final Fantasy amuses me so!

Finally, a sequel

UPDATE: Square Enix has confirmed a winter 2012 release for Europe and an evolved battle-system to boot.

Amidst rampant hype and years of thumb-twiddling from fans, Final Fantasy XIII was finally released last year and divided opinions worldwide. Regardless of the questionable quality, Square Enix made oodles from the multimillion-selling FFXIII so are developing another game set in the same universe. No, not Versus or Agito but a direct successor, side-stepping the now convoluted numbering convention. Final Fantasy XIII-2 has been announced with only the logo to serve as information about the game. From it, you can see Lightning is back with the introduction of a new unknown character but that’s about it. The story comes from Kotaku who pointed out Square’s fondness for tipping convention with their numbered Final Fantasy releases. None of the main games follow on from each other but Final Fantasy X received a sequel called Final Fantasy X-2 and since XIII was made by the same team, it shouldn’t really come as a surprise for that to get a sequel too.

The news will no doubt be as divisive as the game itself with those burned by a mediocre experience of Final Fantasy XIII clashing with fans who accepted its problems and loved it. I didn’t finish so am unaware of the greatness it’s said to possess after 12 hours of playing but I do have around eight hours under my belt and that was enough for me. In that time I got to see some stunning graphics and sampled an innovative battle system but became soured by the story and repetitiveness. One day I’ll surpass the point of tedium and get to the excellence beyond but hopefully the sequel won’t have to contain one long tutorial segment at the beginning and drop players straight into the best bits, leading on to even greater things.

From the outset, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is set for both PS3 and Xbox 360 release, so no allegations of PS3 exclusivity to be smashed at this year’s E3 then. And no lengthy wait either as it’s scheduled to be coming sometime this year. I’m cautiously optimistic…

Final Fantasy Versus XIII, exclusive or not?

Last night, the internet almost imploded in on itself with the rumor that Final Fantasy Versus XIII was no longer a PS3 exclusive and would be ported to the Xbox 360. The story came about because Square Enix boss Yoichi Wada was questioned at a investors meeting about the benefits of making Versus XIII multiplatform. Wada responded with “We’ll be looking into it internally until right before the formal announcement.” Because Wada set the world alight he thought it best to clarify his comments via twitter this morning: “It looks like the ‘net is heating up. Versus on Xbox? What I said at the earnings press conference was just that until a formal announcement is made at the announcement time, all points about all titles are not finalized.” But doesn’t that just mean the same? He hasn’t actually said it isn’t happening and it sounds more like we’ll be getting a ‘surprise’ announcement at Microsoft’s E3 conference. If a Xbox 360 port is in the works, lets hope it’s treated with greater respect than Final Fantasy XIII which was notoriously weaker on the 360 thanks to some rather questionable coding from Square. So Versus XIII is still set to be a PS3 exclusive. For now.

{Thanks Andriasang}

New Enslaved images plus Ninja Theory’s theories

If you’re wondering why Ninja Theory went from PS3 golden boy to a multi-platform developer the reason is simple. Money. Or more like a lack of it as the beautifully choreographed PS3 exclusive Heavenly Sword failed to sell enough to make a profit. Co-founder Temeem Antoniades told CVG “It’s difficult. Heavenly Sword came out pretty early on the PS3, and we sold, I think, a million and a half copies, and that’s still not enough as an independent studio to break even,”

A million and a half copies and still no profit? That’s some major development costs to soak up! In order to stay afloat, Ninja Theory are currently working on Enslaved for both PS3 and Xbox 360 adding “Half the market or more has Xbox 360s – why limit yourself to one platform?” It’s hard to argue with such logic, unless of course the ported version doesn’t live up to the lead sku (PS3’s Bayonetta and 360’s FFXIII for example). So while it’s doubtful that fan of Heavenly Sword will ever get a sequel, Enslaved maybe able to fill that Nariko-shaped gap. To recap, Enslaved is set over 150 years in a post-apocalyptic future where you control Monkey, a brutish loner who partners up with AI controlled Trip who looks remarkably like a well known red-haired lass (more images found after the break).We have a few months to wait for that as it’s not scheduled for release until Autumn 2010 but it’s something to look forward to.

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Avatar ‘inspired’ by Final Fantasy XIII

I sometimes get the feeling Final Fantasy XIII director Motomu Toriyama likes the sound of his own voice. He recently made some questionable comments regarding the lower western review scores for his RPG and now believes that James Cameron ‘borrowed’ a lot of ideas for Avatar from Final Fantasy XIII:

“The in-game universe this time around is quite fantasy based, but also futuristic at the same time. We never really had any particular reference points for Final Fantasy XIII, in terms of places where we drew inspiration from. That said, we’re a little suspicious that the world famous Avatar movie might have take inspiration from us!” He said to Tech Digest (via That Video Game Blog)

Cameron first started work on Avatar back in 1994 but the things didn’t stat to come together until 2005/6. Final Fantasy XIII was first shown off in 2006 but the idea that Cameron would have pinched concepts from the game after nearly 11 years of planning sounds a bit far fetched. I do understand where Toriyama is coming from though in terms of similarities. Avatar focuses on a resistance group lead by a guy named Snow with the aid of a woman called Lightning while Final Fantasy XIII shows the plight of the Na’vi as they battle with humans for their home planet… or is that the other way around? They’re so close I often get them mixed up…

We’re too western for Final Fantasy XIII

With the release now only weeks away, reviews of Final Fantasy XIII are trickling onto the net but it looks like us westerners aren’t as mouth-foamingly hyped for the game as our Japanese counterparts. Gaming mag GamesMaster scored a decent 81% whereas PSM3 felt 70% was more appropriate. The Official PlayStation Magazine trumped them both giving it 9/10 and were suitably pleased with all it had to offer. Yoshinor Kitase produced the game and had a few words to say about the varied scores:

“We try not to listen to the critics too much. Most of the criticisms have come because the first half of the game is very linear. But we’ve got a story to tell, and it’s important the player can engage with the characters and the world they inhabit before letting them loose…” he said to Xbox World 360.

Linearity in a game is not always a bad thing if it’s used properly. Director Motomu Toriyama supported Kitase’s comments saying: “We think many reviewers are looking at Final Fantasy XIII from a western point of view. When you look at most Western RPGs, they just dump you in a big open world [ooh bitchy!], and let you do whatever you like… [It] becomes very difficult to tell a compelling story when you’re given that much freedom.”

Um really? I’m sure BioWare would have a few things to say about such a generalising comment. Both Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age were driven by a deep and compelling story and allowed the gamer to approach the situation however they saw fit. I’ve had numerous conversations with a friend about how our experiences with ME2 differed dramatically yet resulted in a similar conclusion. In fact, the last Final Fantasy XIII trailer on Xbox Live actually dampened my excitement for the game as the anime cliches and over-acting became all the more apparent after spending so much time with BioWare’s way of story telling. It begs the question of whether Japanese RPGs have become a parody of themselves after all these years.

Final Fantasy XIII 360 port equal to PS3

When Microsoft announced their new found friendship with Square Enix would lead to Final Fantasy XIII coming to the Xbox 360, Sony fanboys foamed with disgust. After the anger came the arguments of how it would run on the PS3 but according to Jeremy Parish of 1up fame, this isn’t the case. After playing a fair chunk of the PS3 version, he recently got to play the 360 version and to his surprise, it was just as good:

FFXIII runs just as smoothly on 360 as it does on PS3. It’s a brisk, action-packed RPG with tons happening on the screen at any given time (and the series’ requisite flashy visuals cranked up to full throttle), yet I didn’t see a hint of slowdown or choppiness or screen tearing or any of the other visual hiccups that serve as hallmarks of a sloppy port. Admittedly, I didn’t see the two versions running side-by-side but I honestly saw no tangible difference from my time with the PS3 version.”

Wow, pretty impressive stuff. There’ll no doubt be some differences like audio and textures but nothing that will make a massive difference to the overall experience. The biggest advantage of the PS3 version is how it’ll be a single Blu-ray whereas the 360 port has to be spread over multiple discs. The retaliatory response for 360 gamers is whether getting up to change a disc will be more annoying than the obligatory install that comes with most PS3 games. For the full story, check out Jeremy’s report here.