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Final Fantasy XII

At E3 in 2004, FFXII's idiosyncratic project leader Yasumi Matsuno confided to us that if his game was released on time and with 80 per cent of his vision intact, he would be happy. When the game finally reaches Japanese stores on March 16, it will be almost two years late; Matsuno, rumoured to have been hospitalised for exhaustion during the extended development, has not even been directly involved for one of them.

But handing the reins of Square's most popular blockbuster to its most indie director was never guaranteed to go smoothly, especially with its recent reinvention as an 'offline online RPG'.

Now, FFXII seems even more like an unofficial sequel to Vagrant Story - arriving in the PS2's last days as a glorious clash of ambition with hardware limitation. There are far worse titles with which to be compared, though, and it's some consolation that Square Enix has repeatedly chosen to delay, rather than hurriedly finish, its troubled crown jewel.

The company obviously intends to recoup as much of those development costs as possible with a premium pricepoint of 8,990 yen (£45), and the release of a deluxe CD-single of the game's theme played by classical violinist Taro Hakase.

In a reverse product-placement twist, foodstuff and beverage giant Suntory will launch a game-inspired soft drink, FFXII Potion, in Japanese stores in March. Potion's price has yet to be set, but like the game itself will be "more expensive than usual".

No plans have been announced for a similarly lavish western blowout, but at this stage a speedy and faithful localisation would be enough for the title - and the hope that Matsuno still has something to be happy about.

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