February 25, 2008 - When Nintendo announced WiiWare, the downloadable games service for its latest console, President of Nintendo of America Reggie Fils-Aime said, "Independent developers armed with small budgets and big ideas will be able to get their original games into the marketplace to see if we can find the next smash hit." So it was surprising when we learned that one of the launch titles for the platform would be a new role-playing game from monolith developer Square Enix. The name of the game is Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King.
The FFCC series has been serving Nintendo systems since the company and Square Enix made nice in 2004 after a long separation. With a full-sized Crystal Chronicles game already set for retail Wii release sometime this year (Crystal Bearers), FF fans are going to have their hands full trying to waggle through all these adventures.
We were granted some quality time with Toshiro Tsuchida, producer for My Life as a King, during the Game Developers Conference last week. He told us a lot about what developing a WiiWare title is like and just what we can expect from this downloadable quest.
Tsuchida told us Square Enix definitely wanted to be one of the first developers out of the gate for WiiWare.
Toshiro Tsuchida: We hope that being one of the first ones out there will get us more attention. Because we were trying something new, any attention we could get we thought would be good.
My Life as a King is described as a "country-building RPG."
IGN: What was your initial inspiration to make My Life as a King? Why did you choose to make a Crystal Chronicles game your initial WiiWare offering?
Tsuchida: We wanted to give the player the perspective of a king rather than a hero. That was the original concept. We chose Crystal Chronicles because there is a lot of interaction with the villagers. There's a lot of talking. There are a lot of simple AI movements where the NPCs move on their own, depending on what they're looking for and what they want to do. We felt the characters in Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles would best fit that kind of setting. Some of the other assets we had we didn't think would fit that movement very well.
The Producer explained that development on My Life as a King began before the final WiiWare tools were given out.
Tsuchida: We assumed from the beginning it wasn't going to be all that different from other Wii games, except for the memory limitation. So, it actually wasn't that difficult. Nintendo has a pretty good environment set up to develop games. The small things were a little bit different in the end, but for the most part it wasn't that difficult.
Battles in My Life as a King take place off-screen. The player won't be directly engaging in combat themselves. Tsuchida discussed some of the difficulties this presented the team as they tried to engage the player.
Tsuchida: One of the biggest difficulties was the major battles. Until now all the major battles you saw directly. But this time someone is off fighting a battle on their own and you don't get to see that. So it is kind of hard to build up tension, and also write dialogue that talks about it. Also, we have a lot of NPCs moving on their own. Traditionally in our cut-scenes we knew who all our NPCs were and it was easy to construct cut-scenes. But this time we had a lot of problems talking about the story and some guy comes walking in front of the camera. So we had to adjust all of those little things. I think some of the Western developers have had some more experience with that sort of thing.
IGN: Can you give us an idea of how long the game is?
Tsuchida: If you just play straight through very quickly it's not that long. We're hoping that someone who likes games will play it for about 10 hours.
Even though this is a smaller Crystal Chronicles game, the team didn't have to leave anything out.
Tsuchida: If anything, we imagined the game to be a lot simpler. Once you start making a game you start getting more new ideas. I think we ended up having a lot more stuff in it than we expected. Sometimes when you have restrictions you get more ideas. In one sense that kind of helps us make new games. On the other hand if we have a game that we can't fit in 40MB we'll just release it as a normal package game. I think we just have another choice, it's not really a restriction.
The game is currently sitting at just under 40MB, but that is subject to change. We asked if My Life as a King would be seeing additional downloadable content, or if WiiWare even supported DLC. Tsuchida and his handlers respectfully declined to comment on this "edgy" question.
Gaze upon your kingdom.
IGN: How large was your team?
Tsuchida: I think we had a core staff of six. In total about 18 people. But we had a group of guys who ate lunch everyday and talked about the game, and that was about six people.
Even though this is a different Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles game than we're used to, Tsuchida thinks fans will be pleased.
Tsuchida: The loyal fans, I think, will get mostly what they're expecting from a Square Enix game. But the game design and gameplay are a little bit different.
The game is described as a "country-building RPG." Many fans have been wondering how much flexibility they'll have in creating their empire.
Tsuchida: One of the design decisions we made are that all the roads are fixed. You have slots you can fill in. So in that sense there is not that much freedom. There are different size buildings. In terms of what you actually build in there, such as houses or stores… Some of those things are kind of required to get past certain parts of the game. But for the most part we tried to keep it as free as possible. One of the difficulties we had while making this game is on one hand you want to give as many choices as possible to users. At the same time if it's too wide open they don't know what to do in the beginning. Because this is our first time making this kind of game we do some hand-holding, at least in the beginning, such as "you should build this first, something like this next…" But the final layout of the city is pretty much up to the user.
Manuals for WiiWare games will be kept online, viewable from the Wii Shop Channel. Tsuchida says it shouldn't be necessary for players to read the manual first, as they've tried to include tutorials in the opening moments of the game. He also made clear that while many of the offerings on the Wii are casual-friendly, this may be more of a hardcore title.
Tsuchida: We actually kind of struggled with that a lot. In the end we stuck to our guns and made a game we would play. We're kind of gamers, so maybe it's not all that family-oriented. To make up for it we tried to work on the tutorial, to try to make it as user-friendly as possible. We worked on the tutorial and the user-interface so that more casual users could play it. Also, one of the reasons we chose Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles is we hope that style would probably be better for the Wii target market.
It doesn't look like Nintendo will be offering free trials of its WiiWare offerings, and there won't be one for My Life as a King. Look for this Life to begin alongside WiiWare on May 12.