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The day the Earth stood still

by Rick Powers - March 8, 2002, 2:19 pm PST

One cynical bastard takes a look at the news that’s shocking the videogame industry …

I’ll be the first to admit. I didn’t see it coming. At least, not this soon, and certainly not spearheaded by the one man responsible for Square’s absence on a Nintendo platform for this long. Until today, it was widely accepted that until “Old Man Yamauchi” retired, there was no way we’d see Square develop for Nintendo. And in some way, that’s still true.

I should have known that something strange was in the offing when it started snowing. In Seattle. In March. Four inches at my house just last night alone, and more today. Surely it was an omen, but I was too blind to see it.

But clearly, today’s big news has been in the works for quite sometime. All the clues were there. Why else would Yamauchi have set aside this money, with no real direction or plan? Why else would Nintendo have been delaying its “internet strategy” when Sega’s Phantasy Star Online is pretty much ready, and when games like Tony Hawk 3 and others could have used it?

The answer is now shockingly simple. XI.

That is, Final Fantasy XI, or Final Fantasy Online. Square has been very vocal about getting this title onto every console, and what bigger impact could a single game make than to have a company pinning its internet dreams on it, and turning around a company’s entire view of Square at the same time?

It’s all coming clear, now. Square wanted to get its tentpole online game on every console. Nintendo wouldn’t allow them on GameCube without some sort of a major concession. Then there’s the issue of the Sony stake in Square. A master plan was formulated.

Yamauchi starts Fund Q as a way to pay Square to develop for Nintendo, without the money coming from Nintendo directly. Square starts this “affiliate” in order to accept the money and develop for Nintendo without having to get into the Sony mess. Square gets FFXI on GameCube, Nintendo gets games from Square that leverage the GameCube/GBA link (did you miss that part of the news?), and Nintendo has a nearly guaranteed way to leverage the Internet on GameCube. And if it fails, Nintendo has a perfect scapegoat to blame for the “internet strategy” collapsing. And now, Nintendo can relatively “safely” release Internet-ready games like Mario Party, Mario Kart, etc. without having to figure out how to convince GameCube owners to buy into it.

It’s amazing that while some fans had this figured out (including some under our very noses), every analyst and website missed it. It’s certainly making me think twice about the things I hold as certain truths in the gaming world.

There are still a million unanswered questions, and it’s likely we won’t see solid answers until May at E3. Will we get the old FF games on GBA? What about recent Final Fantasy games, like X? Mario RPG? Xenogears?

It’s all pointless. The only thing that matters is that it’s all a possibility now, where before it was just rumor and wishful thinking. Square, in whatever form, is developing for Nintendo again.

And it’s COLD in Seattle.

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