True Fantasy Live Online
What better way to start this blog but by discussing the game that introduced me to the concept of a video game being cancelled. While I have played video games for most of my life, until I purchased an original XBOX in 2003, it was only a small pastime, something I engaged with once in a while. I did not reading magazines to find out about upcoming games, I didn't track development over months or years, and at no point previously had I ever considered it possible that a game simply would never come out. When I bought an original XBOX, that all changed and gaming became my number 1 hobby. As such, I took a great interest in the industry, pouring over reviews and previews in magazines and online. True Fantasy Live Online was the first title I ever came across that was confirmed cancelled.
An ambitious title under development by the JRPG-juggernaut Level-5, it was an attempt to create a console MMORPG to work with Microsoft's XBOX Live service that had been launched in 2002. At this point in time, there had already been several MMOs on consoles with titles such as Phantasy Star Online (which would find it's way to the XBOX in due time), so the concept wasn't entirely new. Unfortunately, at that point Level-5 was inexperienced working with networking code, which likely led to the extended and troubled development. In particular, Microsoft was adamant that the game include voice chat, as that was one of the key features of XBOX Live, but Level-5 was unable to implement it into the game. Initially announced in 2002, the game would spend two years in development only to be cancelled in 2004.
There doesn't appear to be any significant, concrete details about the game. It had been stated that the game would support up to 3000 individual players at one time and would take place in a anime-styled fantasy setting filled with monsters, quests and other usual fantasy tropes one expects from the genre. There would have been substantial character customization, with one article even suggesting that one could take up a profession as a cook to provide other players with meals over the course of their adventure. There appeared to be a mechanic where your character's physical appearance would change based upon actions, for example if you didn't eat often enough, your character would become slim and frail, so think something similar to C.J. from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Microsoft also were committed to providing additional regions to explore via future downloadable content; initially the game would start off with four countries you could choose to start out from and the world was said to contain your typical fantasy fare like forests, deserts and cities to explore. At this point it seems that the game wasn't going to try and do anything radically new with it's setting, though that certainly could have changed had development went smoothly.
Ultimately, as talented as a developer Level-5 was, they simply could not produce the game to meet Microsoft's demands. It was last seen in any significant manner at the Tokyo Game Show in 2003, after which it mostly vanished from the public eye. The relationship between Level-5 and Microsoft broke down as the time spent on the game continued to grow, partially due to Microsoft's lack of experience working with Japanese developers. Microsoft was frustrated with the lack of progress made on the game and there were significant differences on the overall vision of the game between them. Level-5 wanted to pursue a more casual experience, but Microsoft wanted something more hardcore, a game that would keep players invested for months at a time. Ultimately, things never improved and Microsoft officially cancelled the game in 2004. Lucky for us, it was not a death-blow for Level-5, and the company continues to produce fantastic PRGs to this day. Microsoft, for their pair, never seemed able to pull together their own MMO, as they also ended up cancelling a Halo MMO years later and Sea of Thieves from Rare being the closest thing in their portfolio.
Given the early state that the game was shown in, it's hard to say what kind of legacy it may have earned had it actually released. It's quite possible it would have ushered in a new era for console RPGs had Microsoft followed-through on providing a substantial amount of post-release content. The XBOX never had a significant MMO on it's system and the XBOX 360 suffered the same fate until Final Fantasy XI hit the system, despite a number of other projects trying to establish the genre on it. Had True Fantasy Live Online actually released, it could have served as the test case to convince other companies to make a better effort towards establishing MMOs on consoles. It wasn't until Final Fantasy XIV on the PlayStation 3 where you really started to see more substantial efforts, resulting in the likes of The Elder Scrolls Online and Destiny with dedicated communities. On the other hand, the anime style and a generic fantasy setting might not have drawn the audience needed to sustain the game long-term and it's unlikely it would have managed to change Microsoft's fortunes in Japan, where the company has always struggled to be relevant. In America, it also may not have appealed to the kind of gamer that typically flocked to the XBOX for games like Halo or Forza Motorsport. Given that Microsoft would also launch the XBOX 360 only a year after the cancellation, it might not have received the support it would have required to maintain a dedicated player base. Whatever the case may have been, True Fantasy Live Online will remain a curiosity of the time when XBOX Live was just getting started and the potential for online gaming was endless.
Edited by Inzoreno