Square Enix's Japanese headquarters, the giant and wonderfully-named Shinjuku Bunka Quint Building, set in among scores of similarly giant buildings in the busy Shibuya district of Tokyo, almost apologetically creeps up on me as I make my way towards it from our nearby hotel base. If I hadn't known where I was going, or who I was about to see, I would never had known that some of the most successful, and loved, games in the history of electronic entertainment had been conceived and constructed within this hallowed metal and steel behemoth. Craning my neck, I see a sign at the top of the beast - PFIZER. That's right, the drug company. No mention of Square, Enix, or Square Enix, anywhere.
Inside, people to and fro as they empty out of lifts and pass by a reception desk and security guard more bothered about keeping up appearances than preventing any kind of threat. There is no card swipe system in place, no verbal or visual check. I walk in, casually, and make my way to a lift without interacting with anyone or anything, and no-one bats an eyelid.
The 12th floor is my destination. There, I'm greeted by two impossibly attractive Japanese receptionists whose English not only puts my Japanese to shame, but summons Ifrit down from upon high to burn it into oblivion. On the wall is a giant, framed picture of the Final Fantasy XI world map. The couch is adorned with Slime cushions. Games are laid out along the wall - more Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest titles than I can absorb in one glance. Discs, platinum, gold and triple platinum, aren't framed and hung arrogantly, but confidently, safe in the knowledge that Square Enix has perhaps the most impressive portfolio of games of any RPG specialist in the world. In a small enclave built into the waiting room wall sit figurines, the kind you pay good money for in Akihabara shops 20 minutes that way on the Yamanote line. Magazines from all over the world scream Square Enix classics from busy front covers. I am in role-playing heaven.
Which is exactly where Square Enix hopes to transport its fans to with its inbound RPG The Last Remnant, a brand new IP that will be the company's first to be released simultaneously in Japan, the US and Europe. Not only that, but it's been described by president Yoichi Wada as "the cornerstone" of Square Enix's worldwide strategy. It's also being released on the Xbox 360 first as part of Square Enix's three-pronged RPG partnership with Microsoft that includes Infinite Undiscovery (already out) and Star Ocean: The Last Hope (out next year), a relationship that has already helped the console somewhat surprisingly outsell the PS3 in Japan for six weeks earlier in the year. Pressure indeed.
As I wait, Square Enix's behind closed doors Tokyo Game Show 08 trailer is shown to me on a non-HD television via a Japanese PS2. As I watch brand new clips of Final Fantasy XIII, Advent Children: Complete and Fabula Nova Crystallis, all in low definition, I ponder the heavyweights I'm about to quiz. The Last Remnant team is made up of some of the most experienced, and well known game makers Square Enix has on its payroll. Director Hiroshi Takai designed the battles in Legend of Mana and the Romancing SaGa trilogy and co-directed PS2 launch title The Bouncer. Art producer Yusuke Naora's long list of credits include Final Fantasy VII, VIII, X, Advent Children and Dirge of Cerberus, among many others. Battle planner Kazutoyo Maehiro was responsible for the love it or hate it Final Fantasy XII battle system. Add to this Nobuyuki Ueda (producer), Masato Yagi (event planner) and Kazuhiro Kataoka (map planner), who have all worked on high profile SE titles down the years, and you've got an all-star cast in charge of one of the company's most important, perhaps even most important, title of 2008.
I enter the interview room and the six game makers, barely visible through a thick cigarette smoke haze, sit in a horseshoe facing a solitary chair. I introduce myself, bow, and take my seat, as do two translators, two public relations staff and a young man who seems to serve no other purpose than to smile throughout the entire interview. I thank the team for taking the time to talk to me. More bowing. More pleasantries. Then, as I'm about to unleash my first question, I'm told that all talk of the PS3 and PC versions of the game are off-limits. This interview is going to be very interesting indeed...
VideoGamer.com: What was the inspiration behind the Remnants and the storyline?
Takai-san: When we first started up the project we got the entire staff together and we started thinking about and just kicking around ideas for the feel of the world. We thought of having some sort of huge landmark type things, and so after thinking about those we thought how can we add this and make this integral to the game, so that's how we came up with the concept of the Remnants. It really was the entire staff working together to put that in.
VideoGamer.com: The main characters, the King, his generals and Rush Sykes, what was the inspiration behind them?
Takai-san: After building the game world, we first had age and sex and position to start with. We got inspiration from various materials and added more details to the characters, so it was again, teamwork.
Naora-san: We knew that Rush was the hero and so the order coming down from the planners basically was to make him a normal kid, a really accessible sort of guy. So when I was designing him I tried not to make anything too weird or wacky but definitely someone you would be able to say 'oh this is the hero', sort of an iconic character. So then the characters around him, they had more specialised things to act as supports both visually and within the story.
VideoGamer.com: The Last Remnant is the first Square Enix game to use the Unreal Engine. Why did you decide to use it?
Takai-san: We were trying to make use of a small team, and to utilise the resources that we had we decided that we should use the middleware as much as possible and using the options that we had, and we were trying to do some experiments with other game engines as well, but in the end we concluded that UE3 would be the most valuable middleware for this title. Because we were in the transition period from older generation consoles to new consoles such as 360 and PS3, we figured out that the UE3 will have the ability to combat going from one platform to another quite easily.