It was cold, it required patience, nerves, lack of sleep...was it worth it? Most definitely!
March 9th 2010, the day the newest Final Fantasy title landed in the UK, marking the first 'major' Final Fantasy title to appear on next generation consoles. Not only that, but also marking a first with a major Final Fantasy not only being released on a Sony system. Now in its 13th iteration, Final Fantasy XIII is now available to buy on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.
To re-cap from my previous post, myself along with 2 friends, Becky and Pete, departed for the launch event of Final Fantasy XIII with was being held at the HMV store on Oxford Street. To encourage people to come in costumes, the first 50 people in the queue in costume nabbed themselves a free copy of the 4 disc FFXIII soundtrack. Because of the possibility of picking up a free copy of the soundtrack, plus the possibility of the event being mega busy, it didn't take long to decide that we'd be getting into London as early as possible. After checking the train times, it looked as though we could get to the HMV store for just before midnight the day before. The signings weren't due to start until 5.30pm, which meant we had approximately 16 hours to wait, but to be one of the first *hopefully* would more than make up for that. Train tickets booked, it was time to prepare. We had a long time outside in the coldness of London to look forward too...so we equipped ourselves with 2 camping chairs and a small dome tent (cheers Mum and Dad!!), as well as snack food.
We arrived in London at around 11.45pm, and after a short taxi ride arrived at the HMV store at around 11.55pm. We had hoped to one of the first groups of people to arrive, when infact...we ended up being the very first to arrive! We couldn't help but be a little worried that we'd gone to the wrong store, even though one of the large side windows was comprised of one huge FFXIII poster of the game's lead character Lightning, and a FFXIII banner stretched across the large doorway. Choosing to hold off putting the tent up straight away we soon found ourselves being spoken to by small groups of people thinking we were there to attend a midnight launch, and were infact disappointed when we broke the news that the store wasn't opening for midnight. Chairs out, scarfs on...the 16 hour wait was on.
As time pressed on, it was becoming painfully clear that although I was wearing layers of clothing, they weren't going to be enough to keep me warm. Between the hours of 2am and 4am especially, the temperature dropped loads. The passing drunks and homeless people thought we were crazy to be sitting there in such cold temperatures. Oxford Street itself never fell silent, not a minute went by without someone walking by, a warm taxi/bus drove past or infact one of the many street cleaning machines passing us by. In the end, with the amount of people constantly going up and down the street we chose not to put the tent up. While me and Pete stayed awake for the entire evening, Becky managed a few minutes tucked in a sleeping bag in the doorway of the store.
After what seemed like almost an eternity in the cold 5am rolled around. 5am meant McDonalds was now open. McDonalds meant we could have food and drink. HOT FOOD...with a HOT DRINK. Never has a sausage and egg mcmuffin with a hot chocolate tasted so nice. It couldn't have come a second too early, as for most of the cold evening we'd hardly moved or spoken to one and another, as the coldness had zzapped away our spirits. That's right, our spirits were, in a crazy kind of way saved, by McDonalds!
We'd survived the night anyway, and as 6am arrived, so did the first person to arrive after us. She was somewhat surprised to have been beaten so early, especially based on where we'd come from! Between 6am and 9am a few more people turned up, although most hadn't come with costumes. Prior to the store opening at 9am, Becky and Pete had started to change into the main parts of their costumes, mine was relatively simple to slip on. We thought, well had hoped that come 9am we'd get to queue until 5.30pm in the warmth of the HMV store. But...as the doors opened at 9am we found out to our horror that to queue for the signing we'd have to wait round the side alley of the store, near a back door. Fantastic...more standing/sitting in the cold... In all fairness however, as time yet again pressed on, more and more people were starting to turn up and it was getting slightly warmer. Although it kept getting cloudy, we managed to stay dry throughout the night and day. With our places secured we were also able to take it in turns to wander off and have a look around our surroundings, which meant walking in and out of warm shops.
The three of us spoke to a number of other people who were waiting. Some were in costume, some were not. Most however, shared fond memories of their particular favourite Final Fantasy games, VII and X being far by the popular choices. As for the question of which version of XIII they'd bought, it was by far the PS3 that came out on top, a fair number of which were none to happy at all with a 360 copy even existing, based upon leaks/rumours/news that a 360 release in the western markets meant cuts for both the PS3 and 360 versions of the game compared to the original PS3 only release of XIII in Japan.
2pm onwards saw a large increase in activity, as a fair number of people were starting to join the queue. At this point people up and down the queue had started to take photographs of other people waiting, so at this point the three of us had changed into our cosplay outfits:
Pete had decided on Zell (Final Fantasy VIII), Becky had gone for Yuna (Final Fantasy X) while myself had gone for Vincent (Final Fantasy VII). A big thank you to my friend Emma's friend Adam, who kindly lent me the Vincent Valentine costume at the last minute! Pete's and Becky's had been made by themselves.
Around 4pm the media had started to arrive, and it wasn't long before word spread that we'd spent the evening camped outside the front of the store. We were interviewed by several people, from several different websites and magazines. Some were filmed, some just involved being photographed. Ether way, I'd never imagined being treated like some kind of crazy gaming-related celebrity, it was certainly a quite bizarre experience! At one point we had cameras queueing to speak to us! We've managed to track down a couple of online videos, but I'm sure their are more out there, I'll ether add them to this post, or post any new ones I find in future blog posts. Videos found thus far can be found at the end of this blog post.
Just before 5.30pm a group of Square-Enix related folk appeared infront of us and started handing out the promised free soundtracks, as well as for all those at the beginning of the queue (costume or not) a free large XIII poster, which was a nice surprise. Moments later, at last...after all the waiting...we were allowed in. Pete taking the lead, followed by Becky, and then myself.
I really didn't know what to expect as we entered the store. I certainly didn't expect to walk down the queue barriers that had been formed in the store with so many people watching on, camera flashes going off in a way you'd expect at something like a film premiere, as we walked towards the built-up stage area.
Stopping at the queue barrier, we again got interviewed and had more photos taken. With the store filled up, the event started with the appearance of the launch events host, Alex Zane (a popular DJ and TV presenter). He went on to talk about the title, and ofcourse mention who we were there to meet before walking off the stage towards us. He asked Pete a couple of questions, before asking Becky some questions as well (sadly, he wasn't interested in talking to me!). He went on to talk to other people down the queue before pulling 5 random folk out of the queue to take part in a special Final Fantasy XIII quiz. The runners-up prize was a Final Fantasy Elixir each, 2nd was 3x XIII action figures, while the winner nabbed a Final Fantasy XIII Super-Elite package (which was greeted by some boo's in and around the store, like I said, some people clearly none too impressed with the Xbox 360 port!).
With the quiz out of the way, it was time to bring out the 2 people we'd queued for 16 hours to meet, the videogames producer Yoshinori Kitase and the game's leading art director Isamu Kamikokuryo.
After taking their seats, we were all informed that we could get only the one item signed, due to the amount of people who were waiting in the queue and time constraints. Again walking up in-line , but only after the HMV V.I.Ps had been up to grab their autographs Pete led the way. He got his shiny very limited edition XIII branded slim PS3 signed:
Becky on the other hand, somehow, got 2 items signed. The first being a copy of the game and second the free soundtrack she'd been given:
I on the other hand was back to just getting the one, of which I'd gone for getting my limited edition of the strategy guide signed:
And with that, we were quickly moved on out of the way. Sadly we didn't get to really speak to ether Yoshinori or Isamu, but we did have their autographs! After managing to leave the HMV store we grabbed a taxi back to London Euston so that we had plenty of time to catch our train back home.
And that was that! A long wait for what seemed like a split second meeting of 2 of the games creators, but one I felt was well worth it. I'd have liked to have done a spot more 'journalism', however a mixture of not preparing well with my questions and business cards (my printer dying last minute not helping) as well as being completely amazed at being one of the first in the queue for an event like this, of which I'd never really attended before distracted me from taking more photos/videos and asking more questions.
Would I do something like this again? Probably not, atleast, not to the extent we'd gone to for this one. What it did do however, was add to my keen-ness of being one of those games journalists who arrived to speak to both Yoshinori Kitase and Isamu Kamikokuryo as well as taking time to talk and interview other attendees.
If you're planning on doing anything like this yourself, trust me when I say wear thermal clothing, do not underestimate how cold a place like London can get over night!
As promised, I leave this post with videos we've currently found online. If you come across one not featured below, please please send me an email, or post a link to it in the comments section of this blog post. I particularly like the end one, posted by ITN's Game On! YouTube channel:
That's right...Heroes!!...with our own montage to 'My Hands' by Leona Lewis (which has been picked as the games western theme song).
Thanks for reading!