Final Fantasy creator sees mobile success in download numbers

Hironobu Sakaguchi's name is credited with leading and assisting in the creation of many games over the years, from Final Fantasy to The Last Story, Chrono Trigger to Parasite Eve. The veteran designer announced his latest project in July, an action-RPG-puzzle game for iOS and Android called Terra Battle, before showing it off at PAX Prime earlier this month in Seattle.

At its heart, Terra Battle is more RPG than puzzler, but it looked like a card game-style sidequest from a Final Fantasy entry more than anything else. In it, players slide card-like icons that represent their team of fighters to a battle grid, each with a mess of unique skills and abilities. One turn consisted of selecting a teammate, then gliding it on the grid, pushing teammates around before settling in a spot within four seconds.

Depending on the enemies it was adjacent to and the fellow fighters it lined up with, it initiated individual and team attacks and spells. Within seconds, damage numbers, detailed character designs and ability names flashed on the screen in quick succession. The data stream was immediately overwhelming, then it evaporated from the screen. None of it made a lick of sense, yet the slide-and-move-on action was innate and enjoyable enough to encourage continued play.

Subsequent levels grew in complexity, and each battle offered rewards, which led to new ways to improve the squad. Being a free-to-play game, it will feature some microtransaction options, but Sakaguchi believed "the first ten chapters are actually pretty easy to actually clear" and that "the percentages of getting rare characters are actually a lot higher than other games." He noted the importance of making sure that players are "able to enjoy the game" and not necessarily be forced to open their wallets up to it.

Mistwalker also revealed a "download starter" program for the game last week. While similar to common Kickstarter project funding tiers, the campaign doesn't request money from players. Rather, new content for the game unlocks as the number of downloads for the game increases; 100,000 downloads leads to new music from composer Nobuo Uematsu and new characters are unlocked at various tiers, such as 200,000 and 500,000 downloads. The developer will even begin work on a console version of the game once two million downloads are achieved, which Sakaguchi said would likely be quite different than the mobile one.

Download starter represents a difference in philosophy for Sakaguchi compared to his console gaming roots. He left Final Fantasy series developer Squaresoft prior to its 2003 merger with Enix, forming Mistwalker one year later. "I hated Square," he admitted. "The whole business part of it." Sakaguchi defined success differently than a large publisher like Square Enix might, and while there is a "business side" to being successful, "doing it too much is actually not that good as well." That's why he emphasized having "a lot of balance in the in-game purchases" for Terra Battle.

Given his background in crafting console games, Sakaguchi believed there is still a "certain game experience that people expect" out of his games, even those on mobile devices. "There's just a lot more work and it can get really big," he said of mobile games, adding that unlike developing for consoles, the creative process never stops after launch. Terra Battle's download starter compliments this development concept, as "it's very easy for people to understand that the more downloads you do, the more content you're going to get," he said, calling it "a festival of developers."

While Sakaguchi likes the concept of crowdfunding, he was also pretty far along in development for Terra Battle and found that the "whole concept of other people paying for the dev costs" didn't suit him. The download starter project will allow Mistwalker to "get the word out" about the game's milestones and "get fans involved." Convincing a strong number of people to "download and be interested in the game," would be a success story to him. "It's not just a monetary success," he added. Terra Battle will launch globally in mid-October.

[Image: Mistwalker]