Fortress was the codename of a formally-unannounced video game developed as a spin-off of Square Enix's Final Fantasy series, envisioned as an action game set in the world of Final Fantasy XII, Ivalice, intended for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Windows platforms, where the player would have played as Basch fon Ronsenburg. Although not officially announced, the project's existence was revealed after the closure of the original developer, GRIN, by former members of the development team and sources in the video game industry.
The title was never formally announced or publicly acknowledged. At E3 2011, Motomu Toriyama, director of Final Fantasy XIII and Final Fantasy XIII-2, is said to have told the website videogamer.com "behind closed doors" that Fortress will "never be released".
The game was meant to be a third-person action game with a heavy emphasis on weapon interaction, evasion and countering, in a vein similar to Dark Souls, Devil May Cry or Dirge of Cerberus -Final Fantasy VII-. A leaked design document shows a number of possible interactions between the player and the enemy, including ways to disarm the foe or take advantage of weaknesses in their weapon or fighting style.
Within the fortress players could interact with other characters and make decisions to determine the flow of things. Failing or succeeding at tasks during combat, and making choices in dialogue-driven events, would impact everything from the cutscenes to the resources available. Resource management was a big part of the equation, with players venturing onto land outside to scavenge for materials, go on hunts, and fight random encounters.
The story would have played out in seasons with the fortress visually changing over time. Battles would have wrecked parts of the fortress, and if certain set pieces contained resources, like if a destroyed tower had contained food, its destruction would cut into the player's supplies. Storytelling-wise the game was to be non-linear but still "carry that drama that Final Fantasy needs.
The game began with Basch and a small squadron of soldiers traveling to and defending the fortress from waves of enemies crawling up from the sea. As the game would have progressed more of Ivalice's populace would have become aware of the imminent danger and sent more soldiers to help, among them other heroes from Final Fantasy XII, as well a handful of Archadian Judges both sympathetic and antagonist to Basch's cause.
Boss fights were a major feature and the game's story was planned to span over eight in-game seasons—or two years—with a giant boss fight per season. One boss entailed crunching through an army marching up to the fortress, with another involving enemies freezing the sea and walking across the ice to climb the walls with players running out onto the ice to beat them away and disable massive siege machines. The biggest boss battle was planned against the Malboro, which included one of the Judges turning traitor mid-battle. The boss fights had elements of action, strategy, and some tower-defense, with players dealing with waves of enemies that got increasingly harder with a giant monster at the end.
The only things known about the game's story is its setting in the Ivalice of Final Fantasy XII and that Ashe would have made an appearance. Two outfits were designed for her, and are less revealing variants of her original Final Fantasy XII outfit.
Since in one of these designs she wears a headdress similar to the one that was worn by King Raminas, Ashe was likely to be a slightly older queen at this point in Ivalice history. This would seemingly set Fortress some time after Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings. Two more characters that seemed set to appear were Basch fon Ronsenburg and Larsa Ferrinas Solidor.
The eponymous fortress appears to have been the game's central location, although various other landscapes, such as plains, forests, deserts and snowfields, were also featured. The fortress appears been built on a mountain cliff next to a large tomb and included a court yard, stables, a memorial area, a cathedral and a giant tree at its top. A "floating core" of some kind flew above it.
The fortress was to be an abandoned, magickal and ancient place that had been defending the world from the king of the sea who rose up to try and invade the world, the only thing stopping him being the actual fortress. Nobody in the world seriously believed the king would show up until he did.
According to a design document, the game was divided in at least seven chapters and focused on the invasion of the fortress.
The document lists the events of chapters two to seven as follows:
- Chapter 2: Enter Fortress
- Chapter 3: First Charge / Ladder Event / Centipedes / Defend Gate / Duel in Front of Gates
- Chapter 4: Siege Towers & Hornets / Big Enemy through Gate / Ride the Chocobos / Run with Bombs / Courtyard Fight / Friendship Duel
- Chapter 5: Elevator / Catapult Rush / Clearing Ambush / Planting Bombs / Boats / Dragon Event / Assassination + Duel
- Chapter 6: Saving Grahm / Boarding the Floating Core
- Chapter 7: Rush Out on Ice
The sea king, Loemund, would rise every 10,000 years and try to make landfall, but the fortress had power to stave him off. Only one man believed the ancient story, and traveled north with an army to meet the king head-on. Camped out at the fortress, players would need to fend off the sea king's forces, orchestrating attacks and defending the massive structure from being overtaken.
Loemund had lost his magickal helmet in the fortress the last time he attacked thousands of years ago. He was slain, but after being resurrected he vowed to kill his killer. Since the man he lost to was long dead, Loemund would have to settle for his descendant, Ashelia B'Nargain Dalmasca, the Queen of Dalmasca.
Basch fon Ronsenburg, the disgraced knight from Final Fantasy XII who became a Judge Magister under his twin's identity at the end of it, would have been the one man who believed in the legends of the ancient sea king. Everyone in Fortress would have addressed him as "Judge Gabranth" bar the friends who would have known his true identity. Ashe, now several years into her rule as Queen, would come to Basch's aid to join him on the battlefield, and Larsa Ferrinas Solidor, Basch's charge, was to play a big role. Other Judges, including Zargabaath, were planned to appear. Zargabaath would initially present himself as Basch's enemy, but come to his aid out of respect.
The sky pirate Balthier was planned to show up towards the end to save everyone. Airships could not be used around the fortress due to a floating island, but at one point the heroes, or perhaps Balthier himself, would open up the airspace leaving room for him to "swoop in and save the day." A new ally would also join Basch's fight, named Laegd, a demigod beaten into submission by Loemund thousands of years ago. After being defeated by Basch, Laegd would have volunteered to fight against his once-master.
There would have been an initial romance between Ashe and Basch, but towards the end she would have developed feelings for Larsa while Basch was engrossed in his fight against Loemund, and the relationship would have fallen apart. The decision to make them grow apart was to show that romances can fail in the face of duty and passion.
Basch would have faced challenges when defending the fortress, allying the demigod Laegd, and become torn between his self-appointed duty and his growing feelings for Ashe, who was developing feelings for Larsa. He would have come into conflict with Zargabaath after his true identity was revealed, resulting in his temporary imprisonment. In the end, when he had the chance to escape, Basch decided to stay behind and defeated Loemond at the cost of his life. Back in Arcadia's capital, Queen Ashe would wed Emperor Larsa and the nations of Arcadia and Dalmasca would join in this act of holy matrimony. The epilogue would have seen Laegd take Basch's body to Loemond's castle, where he would have been resurrected and become the new Sea King.
The project's beginning
Preproduction work for Fortress began in the second half of 2008, when Square Enix paid a visit to GRIN, which was one year into development on action platformer Bionic Commando Rearmed, which impressed the touring company. Square Enix invited GRIN to pitch a game based on the card game Lord of Vermilion, but it turned out the company ultimately had another project for GRIN: a spin-off for Final Fantasy XII. Ulf Andersson, the head of the Fortress project, has described it as "a test," and identified Square's problem at the time was trying to understand the Western market.
The development team, based in Stockholm, began creating concept art, 3D models and a game engine, thinking of Fortress as a "game with an epic scale both in story and production values". Some outlets reported on sources claiming Fortress began its life as an entirely different game, only becoming a Final Fantasy title after Square Enix's involvement.
Many of the people involved on the project were unfamiliar with Final Fantasy XII, while others had no experience with the series at all. Some team members began researching the game and other Square Enix titles set in Ivalice in Wikipedia and YouTube, taking up a lot of development time. The localizer is said to have served as the lore expert. There was also the problem of redesigning elements that already had existing designs to decide how much can or should be changed.
Disagreements on art direction
In early 2009, Fortress began to take shape as an action RPG with a Scandinavian art style with an entirely new area of Ivalice complete with an ancient Viking-esque aesthetic and exotic environments. However, a few months into production in spring 2009, Square Enix wanted the art style altered to tone down the Nordic aesthetic and to add more Final Fantasy influences to represent the Ivalice players were familiar with. The design overhaul required disrupted development as most assets had to be redone and whole environments were scrapped.
Till summer 2009 GRIN had received mostly positive feedback, but the Nordic art style, which the team did not want to totally scrap, was still not well received for not being "Final Fantasy XII enough", but GRIN maintained it could pull it off by making it a new region of Ivalice. Square Enix thought the style had potential but struggled to make the aesthetic work within the universe, with GRIN arguing the concept could work because other parts of Ivalice were already based on real-world Middle Eastern countries and cultures, like Egypt and Syria.
In addition to original characters and locations, concept art made for the game notably depict Ashe and a Judge who looks like Gabranth, and chocobos and other recurring creatures of the series, namely Bombs, Ghosts, Malboros, Moogles and Tonberries.
The art direction for enemies and other creatures to take a Final Fantasy element and make it gritty as the game was to look grim. Many of the invading forces had armor or physical features based on other creatures; e.g. the invaders from the sea were designed to resemble sinister marine life.
The project's cancellation
The team working on Fortress ballooned as most of the studio was dedicated to working on it making Grim reliant on money coming from Square Enix. GRIN would communicate with Square Enix's headquarters through its London office, sending all content through the European branch for review. There were problems with communication and wires were often crossed or answers wouldn't come. The development eventually drifted further and further away from what had been agreed on, and the Japanese developers saw it, it was different because they weren't as much involved in the development process as GRIN would have preferred.
Some associated with the project claim that several months into the project Square Enix hadn't paid GRIN what had been agreed upon leading to GRIN laying off plenty of staff and closing its Barcelona and Gothenburg offices. At this time there was no overwhelmingly negative feedback from Square Enix on the development of Fortress, although they were not keen on the game's art direction. The game never really entered "heavy development" and the development of the actual gameplay remained in an early phase.
In August 2009 Square Enix pulled support for Fortress and a week later, with no way to pay its employees, GRIN filed for bankruptcy. The head of GRIN, Ulf Andersson, identifies the story of Fortress's cancellation and GRIN's closure as more complicated than a disagreement over art style, suggesting that Square Enix examined the project's milestones, determined that GRIN wouldn't be able to deliver, and deemed Square's investment lost. Andersson personally feels the accomplishments of the project "outweigh the drama," saying that games often get canceled, and that Fortress happens to have gotten attention because it was attached to a widely beloved series.
It's not on Square, I would say it's just how lawyers work. I don't think Square is an evil company, I think they’re awesome, and in my mind, their reputation should stay intact. I don’t think they made something really bad, I think it's just how business works. When you have to cancel something, it's always going to be a bit nasty, and when you hand something over to lawyers it'll be even nastier. I understand why they canceled. I would have done the same thing.Ulf Andersson from Grin speaking with Gamespot
In the years since the project's closure concept art surfaced in the online portfolios of many former GRIN designers, and on February 18, 2012 composer Erik Thunberg released a track for the game called "Crystal Theme" on his SoundCloud page (an arrangement of "Prelude"). A tech demo surfaced along with an image containing a summary for a game called "Valiant Saga" referencing Final Fantasy XII directly with logos for Square Enix and Eidos Montreal, suggesting Eidos was developing its own Final Fantasy XII spin-off. However, an Eidos Montreal spokesperson has denied that the studio had ever worked on Fortress.
- The Canceled Final Fantasy XII Sequel: Narrative and Gameplay Revealed (Accessed: April 21, 2018) at Gamespot
- The Story Behind Fortress, the Final Fantasy Game That Never Was (Accessed: April 21, 2018) at Gamespot
- The Story of Fortress, the Canceled Final Fantasy XII Sequel (Accessed: April 21, 2018) at Gamespot