On February 16th I was lucky enough to meet Hironobu Sakaguchi at BAFTA. He was there as part of an intimate Q&A session to promote his latest game from studio Mistwalker; 'The Last Story'.
Famed for creating the Final Fantasy saga at square (now squaresoft) in 1987 while still a student, Sakaguchi effectively gave birth to the highly lucrative 'JRPG' genre.
Seemingly hundreds of roman numeralled sequels and off shoots later, almost every major studio and publisher in Japan has at least 1 franchised JRPG. Some studios ONLY make RPG's. In fact, JRPG's are so popular in Japan they can make or break a console as Microsoft discovered when trying to pitch a flag with the xbox360 without any defining JRPG's to pimp it early in the console's life.
As a result, it's no surprise that this genre has now become very formulaic and can be criticised for being boring and unimaginative in their need to incorporate staple mechanics of previous hits. It can be argued that many of today's JRPG's aren't doing anything new or different to what Sakaguchi was doing in 1987.
With 'The Last Story', He is attempting to pull away from all of that. Released in Japan way back in January 2011, The battle mechanics of the game sees players fight opponents in real time.
The gameplay revolves around the player delegating to their team the strategy for battle on the fly via 'strings'. This way as you fight you can also puppeteer your support to your own means and can position them wherever you want as well as command them.
Battle is a more engaging and satisfying experience and protagonist Zael, can leap in for a melee or use a stealth approach given the right situation. 'The Last Story' is an 'JRPG' this generation has waited for and deserves - a new one
What else is Sakaguchi got in the works? Confessing to being an ardent Apple fan, Mistwalker are branching out to other platforms with 3 ios games in development. 1 is about surfing. The only games I can think of about surfing are California Games and that pikachu surfing minigame from pokemon yellow. Definitely a new direction.
Sakaguchi was chilled out and cool to all the fans and when I got to talk with him he was pleased to see I'd bought a copy of his co-designed masterpiece Chrono Trigger with me.
Although he said he grew tired of hearing about Final Fantasy, I told him IV was my favourite. I had to!
Recently Megaman creator and Former Global Head of Production at Capcom; Kenji Inafune spoke out at the GDC conference this month against the declining innovation in Japanese Games stating:
"Back in the day, our Japanese games were used to winning and achieved major, major success," he said. "We celebrated many victories and walked down all sorts of avenues as winners. However, at some point, these wins became losses and not realizing, acknowledging and accepting that fact has lead to today's tragic state of Japanese games."
"When I look at Japan from the outside I feel we're behind the times. There's a limit to how much business you can generate with just those memories."
Inafune like Sakaguchi also had his first videogame successes as a young man in 1987.
This seems to be a sentiment not lost on Hironobu Sakaguchi who with 'The Last Story' has developed innovations and a new take on this genre that other developers, working from his original blueprint, have allowed to stagnate.