Sony's E3 2006 conference is widely held to have been an embarrassing farce, spawning internet memes such as "five hundred and ninety nine US dollars" and the infamous "giant enemy crab". But while the overall reaction to the PS3's price tag was tepid at best and woeful at worst, especially compared to the more attractive Xbox 360 console and the enigmatic Wii, Square Enix undeniably helped salvage the show with their triple bombshells.
Final Fantasy XIII debuted in the form of an alleged real-time trailer. The bombastic first taste of Masashi Hamauzu's soundtrack can be heard, relentlessly punctuating the trailer sequence with a dynamic oomph that made it an unforgettable first debut. The number of reasons to be excited was countless. Here we were, feasting our eyes on the first look at a brand new Final Fantasy game, poised to lead the way for RPGs for the next generation. Its visual fidelity was unlike anything we had seen before; the battle system looked truly exotic, blending menu commands selected from a futuristic HUD with a form of Advent Children-like flash and style unseen before in the series; and our protagonist certainly raised attention. This was our first look at Lightning; a rose-haired soldier wielding what appeared to be the ability to manipulate gravity around her. The new generation was upon us and it was alien and beautiful.
But it was not alone. Nomura had just finished Kingdom Hearts 2 and it met critical and commercial acclaim. People expected his next project to be a third Kingdom Hearts game, but few expected his name to be attached as the head of another Final Fantasy XIII game. Heads tilted in momentary confusion. There was no gameplay here. Following a Shakespearean quote against a modern cityscape (Gotham City?) shrouded under the light of a full moon, a prince resembling a CG Sasuke Uchiha from the popular Naruto manga and anime franchise was perched on his lonely throne. His only company is a faint glow of light emanating from above. A disturbance rings at his door and his courtyard overrun with a bizarre combination of soldiers in medieval armour wielding modern rifles. Sasuke, unperturbed by this invasion force, conjures up swords in the air, ready to use as either a defensive capability, or to use as deadly projectiles. Either way, fans looked on with wide eyes, with minds racing, concocting all manners of potential gameplay ideas that would underpin this mysterious game. Having just seen Final Fantasy XIII itself, what on earth was this trailer?
Then the logo substantiated itself and took form: Final Fantasy Versus XIII. Once the initial confusion subsided, fans took this to mean a game to serve as the "opposite" to FFXIII. The clear visual contrast between them in tone alone spoke volumes. This, as Square Enix announced, was the start of the Fabula Nova Crystallis sub-series. Brazen in its ambition, the company proclaimed that there shall be a common mythology. The games under this banner would possess this core mythology, but would feature different interpretations and their own independent stories. In a way, it was a nascent loosely tied single universe of games that was being promised to fans of the franchise. This was to be a project double in size (100 billion yen) to the existing Compilation of Final Fantasy VII (50 billion yen).
To round off the announcements was the quieter debut of Final Fantasy Agito XIII, destined for mobile platforms at the time. A curious choice for sure, given the popularity of the PSP platform and its easy viability as the home of yet another game under the Fabula Nova Crystallis banner. After all, this was prior to the iPhone and its major disruptive effect on the old market at the time. Smartphones were rare and the games on offer at the time were hardly complex products. It required considerable imagination to speculate how a new Final Fantasy game would play on this rather underused platform. The sight of an academy and of a white-haired young man in a school uniform certainly invoked parallels with Final Fantasy VIII.
So, what has happened since?
1. Final Fantasy XIII was released in March 2010 in western territories for both the PS3 and Xbox 360, having previously been slated to be a Sony exclusive. It has enjoyed a mixed reception since its release. Divisive would perhaps be the only word we need.
2. Final Fantasy Agito XIII transformed into Final Fantasy Type-0, switching from mobile platforms to the PSP. Controversially, the PSP version of the game never left Japanese shores, with potential reasons to do with the fact that the platform had reached its twilight in the west by the time it was ready to hit store shelves. At E3 of 2014, an HD port of the game was announced for PS4 and Xbox One, with the eventual release of the elusive spinoff game in March of 2015, accompanied by a code for Episode Duscae - an actual playable demo for the even more elusive Final Fantasy XV.
3. Final Fantasy Versus XIII has seen the most dramatic journey of the three. After a troubled period of minimal appearances, its death was officially made evident at E3 2013 and replaced by Final Fantasy XV, jettisoning the PS3 entirely. Controversy continues to this very day as to how faithful this new mainline installment is to Nomura's original conception for Versus, as well as the latter's sudden departure from the project for Hajime Tabata. FFXV is due on the 30th of September for the PS4 and Xbox One.