Final Fantasy XIII Launch at HMV, London

When one of London’s biggest and busiest entertainment stores closes off aisles for an event you know you’re in for something immense. It’s not every day that HMV’s flagship store on Oxford Street plays host to an autograph signing, as it’s usually a privilege reserved for rock stars. With that said it seems quite fitting for the gaming royalty it’s unveiling today, as many could argue that this event is for a Rolling Stones or Beatles of the gaming world. Today, HMV ushers in the release of Final Fantasy 13, the latest offering of a series that can easily call itself one of the biggest selling game franchises of all time. Needless to say, being a complete geek for the series, I headed to HMV with bells on to get a taste of the action!

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As part of the event launch, fans were to be granted with a rare treat: a signing with Producer Yoshinori Kitase and Art Director Isamu Kamikokuryo. As a result, a queue hundreds of people long began to develop early in the day and continued to grow as the hours drew on; on a bitterly cold day in March that is real dedication for you! The appreciation for the series is no new thing; Final Fantasy fans are as fanatical as you can get for a game series, and despite overcast skies and threatening rain the result was a host of elaborately costumed and sometimes skimpily clad characters lining the streets for the chance to meet and greet the creators.

Throughout the afternoon the interior of the HMV store had slowly been turned into a Final Fantasy melting pot with large television screens throughout the shop showing trailers, the title song featuring UK singer Leona Lewis blasting through speakers and giant banners with the game’s artwork plastered over the walls. As the clock hit 5.00pm, and with only 30 minutes left before the big event, the fans were finally led into the store to line the miles of barricaded walkways through the shop floor.

At 5.30 the shop came alive with celebrity host Alex Zane taking the stage to start proceedings. With the crowd now extremely pumped, the first of the night’s special features took place – the ultimate Final Fantasy quiz! Considering most of the questions revolved around the latest title, it was overwhelming to see just how much the fans knew; the 5 contestants left me hanging my head in shame as they answered round after round of tough trivia, with cosplayer Terri finally coming out on top and bagging herself a Final Fantasy XIII Xbox 360 bundle – lucky girl!

What must have seemed like an eternity for the eagerly waiting fans after hours of queuing, Kitase-san and Kamikokuryo-san finally took the stage to overwhelming applause, having been delayed in a taxi thanks to London traffic (no change there then!). The extra wait did nothing to dampen spirits as the first in line finally graced the stage to get their game signed! As the queue slowly began filtering through, I took the opportunity to speak to some of the die hard fans that had been waiting so patiently throughout the day.

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Sam Barham, Kara Hook and Emma Clapp rise to the challenge of Final Fantasy Cosplay!

The first clan to capture my eye were a trio of cosplayers with incredibly detailed costumes. Super fans Sam, Kara and Emma may have been queuing for hours, but had spent even longer perfecting their outfits! Dressed as Tifa from Final Fantasy 7, Emma had spent days stitching in foam to get the perfect pummelling gloves for her costume, while counterpart Kara, dressed as Cloud’s love rival Aeris, had spent weeks getting her staff weapon just right. The fact that the characters they had chosen could fight back as well as any masculine hero from the series was a big factor for them as female cosplayers and gamers alike. In fact a large proportion of the room were enthusiastic gaming girls; a refreshing sight when most of my previous game launches have been spent surrounded by burly men! The appeal of Final Fantasy knows no bounds!

Final Fantasy 13 has been in development over the past four years; since its unveiling at E3 ’06 it has definitely felt like a long time coming having been one of the longest gaps seen between Final Fantasy titles. As any devoted fan of the series would tell you, this kind of timescale for development is to be expected and usually appreciated by the supporters of the games if the end result means yet another mind blowing experience in the Final Fantasy universe. However with many early reviews showing an unusual amount of criticism for a Final Fantasy title, there is an air of uncertainty amongst the fans; cosplayer Emma remained hopeful, “I don’t think it’s necessarily going to be bad, it’s just going to be different. It’s a step up so some things have to change, it’s not going to be the same as what has come before”.

Although Final Fantasy 11 Online has been on a next generation console for some time, this is the first classic styled Final Fantasy game to hit PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. The last major jump was for Final Fantasy 7, a game which exploded into homes around the globe, and is still their highest selling title in the series despite being 13 years old (anyone seeing a link there?). With that in mind there was one question I just had to ask – would the rumoured remake of Final Fantasy 7 ever happen, and more importantly would the fans want it to be done? Ask that question near any Final Fantasy fan and you’ll soon discover, as I did, that you get replies screamed at you from all angles!

Jaqueline, Amy, Sean, Laura and Kay with their newly inked games!
Jaqueline, Amy, Sean, Laura and Kay with their newly inked games!

The second group of cosplayers I encountered were divided on the idea. While most people soon became incredibly excited and vocal about the subject, Vincent Valentine aka Sean was sceptical about the possibility and argued “I want the title left how it is, not have it ruined any more than it has been!”. Kara had expressed similar concerns, “I can see it from both points of view. Fans want to see their favourite characters looking as good as the games do now, but on the other hand people are worried that as a result the story would get changed or it would be a let down. If they did it, it would have to be true to the original to please everybody, or finally resurrect Aeris like they should have done in the first place!”

With autographs in hand, and a much anticipated game dying to get into their consoles, the crowds headed for the local Underground Station, eager to start playing sooner rather than later. As I headed home with my own copy I was buzzing with the excitement of the night, from an event that is now being called the biggest games launch that HMV has ever seen, even beating that of World of Warcraft – take that Mr Lich King, Chocobos FTW!


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