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Last Updated: Monday, 23 May, 2005, 00:07 GMT 01:07 UK
Xbox 360 aspires to break Japan
Alfred Hermida
Technology editor, BBC News website, in Los Angeles

Panellists in session at the E3 games expo
Hironobu Sakaguchi, the "father of Final Fantasy" had to take time out
Hironobu Sakaguchi is a name unknown to many outside his native Japan.

But he is something of a legend in his homeland, having created the original Final Fantasy games.

The fortunes of Microsoft's new console, the Xbox 360, in Japan, rest largely on his shoulders.

The original Xbox has fared badly there, struggling to sell in one of the world's liveliest video games market.

Only 1.7 million have sold in Asia.

That compares with more than 13 million in the US and another five million in Europe.

Microsoft has turned to Mr Sakaguchi to help make the sorts of games that will ensure the 360 meets a better fate.

While the top-selling Xbox games in the US are shooting titles such as Halo, in Japan, the big hitters tend to be role-playing and adventure games.

The boxy, bulky design of the Xbox also proved a turn-off for the Japanese.

Turning Japanese

Mr Sakaguchi has been described as the "father of Final Fantasy", which he created at Japanese games firm Square before it merged with Enix.

The game has spawned numerous sequels and a big budget movie.

But he dropped out of the games scene two-and-a-half years ago, spending the time listening to music and considering permanently retiring from the games industry.

"I put a lot of effort into Final Fantasy and was empty inside," said Mr Sakaguchi during a preview of his forthcoming games at the E3 expo in Los Angeles.

"I had no creative energy inside," he said, speaking through a translator.

Now he is back and charged with creating the types of titles that will appeal to the Japanese gamer.

Magic and tears

Under an exclusive deal with Microsoft, he has developed two fantasy role-playing games for the 360 of the type that sell well in Japan.

In a game called Blue Dragon, the main characters have a specific shadow such as a dragon or a phoenix.

Microsoft's Xbox 369
Two Japan-friendly fantasy role-playing games are planned for 360
The shadow is intended to reflect their inner being, providing them with magical powers.

His other title, Lost Odyssey, is the story of a man who has lived for 1,000 years, which Mr Sakaguchi hopes will move players to tears.

The games will spearhead efforts by Microsoft to grab a bigger chunk of the console market in Japan with the 360.

Neither game is expected to be ready in time for the machine's launch in Japan towards the end of the year though.

Uncertain fate

Microsoft has sought to plug the gap by making a deal with the Japanese games company now responsible for the Final Fantasy franchise, Square Enix.

It means that Final Fantasy XI will be out around the time of the 360's launch.

Screenshot from Final Fantasy XI for the PS2
Final Fantasy has been a big hit and is on the way for the Xbox 360
Microsoft is under no illusions about the challenge it faces in Japan.

The man running its operations in Japan, Yoshihiro Maruyama, is also a former Square man.

"I knew it was a challenging position," said Mr Maruyama, "as the Xbox was not doing so well in Japan."

"I was aware that we needed high quality games for the Japanese market."

Microsoft will be hoping that recruiting two games veterans and investing in titles aimed at Japanese gamers will be enough to ensure the 360 does not suffer the same fate as the Xbox.

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