In a world where many say predicting a trilogy is bad luck, Hironobu Sakaguchi just announced a plan to make eight new games.
Back in June, the Final Fantasy creator revealed a plan to turn his popular mobile role-playing game Terra Battle into a franchise. It starts with a direct sequel, Terra Battle 2, coming this summer. It follows with the claymation-styled Terra Wars, due later this year. Then comes a grab bag of six other games in the Terra World series — roughly one a year for six years, each with a unique setting and concept.
The idea, Sakaguchi says, is to mirror what he did with the Final Fantasy franchise, which he oversaw for nine games. And, on a personal level, he wants to tie a nice bow on this phase of his career.
“I'm sort of looking at my own calendar here,” he tells Polygon. “I'm 54 right now and 60 is the age when many people retire in Japan. There’s a ceremony you have called your Kanreki. It’s a major milestone and you have a big celebration …
“And now that I’ve announced the third Terra game, if you do the math and subtract 54 from 60, you’ll see that — if I do it right — I have just barely enough time to finish the last one before I turn 60. It’d be great to have that as a milestone where I could look back and celebrate releasing them all.”
Do the math and you’ll see he actually needs to finish the last six in just over five years — a plan with little room for error in an industry built on delays. Despite that, Sakaguchi seems confident he can make it happen, with plans to develop multiple projects in parallel and work with a variety of external studios to minimize the risk.
But, he adds, that doesn’t mean he’s going to retire in 2022.
This wasn’t always the plan.
When Sakaguchi conceived of the original Terra Battle, he had simpler goals in mind. His company Mistwalker had come off a run of big collaborations with other studios and was looking to experiment with mobile games it could do by itself — or at least more by itself, as the case ended up being.
Terra Battle seemed like a good fit — the style and design were in the team’s wheelhouse, while the grid-based strategy concept was small enough in scope that Mistwalker could see it through without a lot of help.
Mistwalker put the game into production and released it in 2014, and it turned out to be a hit. Some long-term Sakaguchi fans were put off by the game’s simplicity, but many players made positive comparisons to mobile juggernaut Puzzle & Dragons.
Then around Terra Battle’s one-year anniversary, Sakaguchi says, he started getting the urge to expand the game’s story. He found that Terra Battle’s structure clashed with that idea, so rather than overhaul the original game, he decided to move forward on a sequel.
By keeping similar mechanics but changing the wrapper around them, Sakaguchi says the process reminded him of his work on the Final Fantasy series. And from there, he decided to lean into the similarity and construct a run of Terra games.
The first of those, game three of nine, is Terra Wars. Mistwalker hasn’t revealed a lot of information about it thus far, apart from showing off its unique claymation art style, but Sakaguchi says he’s focusing on the juxtaposition of a serious science fiction story with the playful art, and compares it to the movie Interstellar.
For games four to nine, he’s staying even more quiet about the specifics. Sakaguchi says he has a rough plan in his head for the rest of the run, but not down to every last game. And he counts what some might consider spin-offs in that list.
“Anything that has ‘Terra’ in the name counts as one of the nine,” he says before joking about how easy it is to come up with ideas inspired by popular games or games he’s worked on.
“Maybe Terracraft? Terra Fantasy? Terra Tactics?”
Still, he offers a few clues about the rest of the lineup.
For one, a console Terra World game.
To promote the original Terra Battle, Mistwalker ran a marketing campaign that unlocked new features at different thresholds as more and more players downloaded the game.
At two million downloads, the campaign promised that Mistwalker would “start development on a console version of Terra Battle.” Mistwalker never specified exactly what that would look like, but for fans of Sakaguchi’s past work — which was largely console-focused — the idea generated a lot of excitement
The download count crossed that line in April 2015, and since then Sakaguchi says he’s put together a plan but hasn’t made much progress. During a panel at Anime Expo last month, Sakaguchi referred to this as his “big problem,” with a laugh, before later changing his statement to call it his “big promise.”
“I'm not going to break any promises and I did promise that that was going to happen,” he tells Polygon. “So at some point, it will happen.”
He won’t commit to a timeline or it being the fourth game in the series, though.
And while Mistwalker has referred to this as a console “version” of Terra Battle in the past, Sakaguchi says it’s best to think of it as a new game in the Terra World franchise.
He also uses to opportunity to plug Terra Battle 2. It’s a mobile and PC game, but one of Mistwalker’s talking points for it is that it brings a bit more of a console feel to its structure and presentation. It has a more expansive story, the ability to jump in and out of quests, the ability to change items while inside a dungeon, flashier graphical effects, etc.
“Some of the elements in Terra Battle 2 might carry over into the console game,” Sakaguchi says. “I see the path where we feel like we can get something working in a console game. We're just kind of working our way in that direction.”
Another potential Terra World game may end up focusing around livestreaming.
Sakaguchi has frequently appeared in promotional streams in recent years, and he mentioned back in 2016 that he wanted to design a game that wouldn’t just work well for players who want to stream it, but would be designed entirely around streaming.
Again, he sees a progression from what he’s working on with Terra Battle 2, saying that both it and Terra Wars are moving more and more social and will have gameplay that feels designed for players to stream it.
“These two will not be, you know, entirely focused on that but I think we are kind of planting the seeds for something that I want to do in the future, which is create a game built only around that,” he says.
Sakaguchi goes on to describe this project as a “tool” built for streamers, and is vague on whether it will be more of a social app or a proper game.
Will it be a Terra World product and be one of the nine releases, though?
“I think so,” he says. “Maybe.”
So if Sakaguchi is putting such a focus on finishing his current plan by the time he hits 60, what happens at that point?
In a post on Mistwalker’s Terra Battle website accompanying the announcement of Terra Battle 2 and Terra Wars, Sakaguchi is quoted as saying, “I have become old enough that some call me a ‘legend,’ of the industry, but I wish to try and remain an active creator. Until the day I retire, I (secretly) wish to expand the ‘Terra World’ and create 9 experiences.”
Sakaguchi tells Polygon the use of the word “retire” on the site is a mistranslation, though. Despite many in Japan looking at a Kanreki party as something that happens around the time people retire, and despite Sakaguchi aiming to finish the Terra franchise by that date, he says he has no plans to stop working.
He points to an 80-year-old singer and artist named Yuzo Kayama, who Sakaguchi saw perform in his 70s on Japanese television station NHK and was impressed by how young he looked and how well he could sing at that age.
“I want to be like him when I'm 70,” Sakaguchi says.
As it turns out, Sakaguchi’s wife is friends with Kayama’s daughter, and Sakaguchi used that connection to ask Kayama to contribute a painting to the first Terra Battle. He’s one of many people Sakaguchi has brought into the franchise to contribute a bit of art, writing or music — a kind of greatest hits lineup combining people Sakaguchi has worked with, well-known developers from around the game industry and mainstream artists like Kayama.
To some, it may seem like Sakaguchi is ticking names off of a bucket list, cramming in as many collaborations as he can before he hangs up his hat. But Sakaguchi insists he has plenty of new ideas of his own left.
In fact, even now, with two Terra World games on the way this year and six more in front of him over the next five years or so, Sakaguchi says he’s not ready to slow down, noting that he is also already in talks about another project that has nothing to do with Terra World.
It’s too early to say what form that project might take, but with any luck it won’t distract from his current nine-game plan.
He’s made a new promise, after all, and he doesn’t want to break this one either.