Square Enix admits lots of faults as WiiWare pioneer

Posted by Mark Raby

San Francisco (CA) - Square Enix said it has been receiving comments from people surprised at its initiative on Nintendo's new WiiWare platform.  As a company so used to enormous-scale projects, a bite-sized Final Fantasy game at this day in age was actually a rocky challenge.  We have details on the game, including some you won't find anywhere else.

Square Enix's Fumiaki Shiraishi was at this week's Game Developers Conference at spoke at length about the studio's upcoming game Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King.

My Life as a King was practically the first title confirmed for WiiWare, a new online service for the Nintendo Wii that will allow developers to publish smaller games in a download-to-own format.

WiiWare was officially announced at last year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, but rumors began circulating around the industry around a year earlier.  That is actually when Square Enix first started the ball rolling on the new FFCC title.  "You don't always have time to wait for things to get 'official'," said Shiraishi.

Shiraishi noted that one of the reasons Square Enix was so eager to work on the new platform was that he personally was looking to get involved with a more low-scale project.  As an interesting aside, his original proposal was not a Final Fantasy title.

It was more difficult than it sounded, though.  "There's a lot that went wrong," recalled Shiraishi.  "We were not sure what the WiiWare audience would look like ... As a result, the game design suffered."  In fact, multiple battle systems were ultimately scrapped, nearly finalized art was never used, and an entire overworld map was cut due to size constraints.

Toshiro Tsuchida, the battle designer for Square's Final Fantasy team, was also at GDC and commented that the company "could not use high quality CG" visuals and could not apply their current development strategy for the WiiWare title.

The estimated schedule was originally seven months with just eight people on the project.  Square Enix wanted to have it finalized by the time Nintendo officially announced WiiWare.  That obviously didn't work out.  In fact, it ended up taking about 17 months and 18 people.  Shiraishi commented that, "We spent six months on fine-tuning the first hour of the game."

It basically boiled down to the fact that Square was too cavalier with its design concept, and continually had to scale back to fit to a small enough size that it would comfortably fit on the Wii's internal hard drive.  The Wii only comes with 512 MB of memory.

The end result is a game that is actually less Final Fantasy and more Sim City.  In My Life as a King, players will take the role of the king of a small town, and must oversee the creation of buildings while avoiding monster attacks from outside.  But unlike most Final Fantasy titles, there isn't a big world to explore.  In fact, players will rarely leave the gates of the confined city, and there will be no way to expand it.  It will really be a completely different Final Fantasy experience.

Shiraishi told us that the "estimated" size of My Life as a King was 32 - 40 MB, but added, "I'm supposed to say that's subject to change."  Additionally, he said the goal was to reach a price point of 500 to 1000 Wii Points ($5 - $10).  The WiiWare service will launch on May 12, and it is expected that Square Enix's title will follow shortly thereafter.