I don’t think I would’ve wept over Cry On, but I wish I could’ve found out.
Making us weep was, believe it or not, the goal of Cry On. Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi hoped that the game would make players cry, both in joy and sorrow, and so great was his ambition that he put it right there in the title. Cry On wasn’t a weird side project, either. Sakaguchi’s Mistwalker studio announced it late in 2005, with publisher AQ Interactive and developer Cavia on board. Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu signed up for the soundtrack, the illustrations came from Drakengard artist Kimihiko Fujisaka, and the budget hovered around $8.5 million.
Cry On promised more than wailing and rending of garments, of course. Described as an action-RPG, it showed a world not that different from a rudimentary Final Fantasy spread of medieval mythic scenery speckled with airships and other machine anachronisms. Here humans live alongside Bogles, glazed golems that transform from small totemic statues to fearsome giants. A particularly intelligent Bogle partners with the game’s heroine, a young woman named Sally.
Players were to control Sally, but the Bogle may have been the real star. According to interviews, the little ceramic gremlin would ride on Sally’s shoulder as she explores and solves those environmental puzzles that every action game demands somehow. Yet the Bogle would transform into its larger incarnation, changing its general form each time, and it could accessorize itself with rubble and other debris. The Bogle would handle much of the fighting, though Sally does have that knife on her.
Cry On never showed itself in public. When AQ Interactive announced the game’s cancellation in 2008, no one had seen a single screenshot of it. Magazine previews offered Fujisaka’s artwork and websites turned up further illustrations (some of which may not even be from Cry On), but the game itself remains a mystery. It’s entirely possible that it didn’t get far off the ground, that it existed mostly in planning documents and Sakaguchi’s imagination while the developer worked on other projects. Or perhaps it really did make all who saw it sob as though they were characters beholding a statue in an awful Randian fantasy series, and Sakaguchi decided to destroy it for the good of all humankind.
It’s true that Cry On came from developers unproven. Cavia, for one, has a sketchy catalog. Their licensed games are mediocre, Bullet Witch seldom sees praise, and even fans of the first two Drakengards caution people against actually playing them (though I think the second one is unfairly denigrated). Mistwalker was coming off two RPGs: Blue Dragon aimed for unremarkable kiddie fare and found it, while Lost Odyssey tried for mature territory and…well, it made it halfway. The short stories are nice.
I think there’s more to Cry On, though. For one thing, the concept sounds intriguing; it’s a bit like Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom mixed with Shadow of the Colossus. Maybe it's even a precursor to The Last Guardian. Besides, the names involved would do better after Cry On’s demise. Cavia had few good games behind them but a great one ahead. Their last release, Nier, is a roughly excellent action title with plenty of ideas—most of them good! Mistwalker improved as well. They turned to the Nintendo-backed The Last Story for their next big project, and I really enjoyed its fusion of fairy-tale plotting and quick, messy battles. If Cry On had been anything like either game, I would’ve liked it.
Did anything survive Cry On’s demise? Well, Sakaguchi really had a thing for crying around that time, so he worked it into his original plan for The Last Story. The heroine, Calista, is your usual half-meek, half-rebellious princess in the final game, but in the original outline she was blind and constantly shedding tears of blood. Sakaguchi changed that.
Something firmer emerged: Fujisaka became the go-to artist for Mistwalker projects after Cry On. He was the main illustrator for The Last Story, and his work is everywhere in Terra Battle, Mistwalker’s brand-new smartphone strategy-RPG. It’s surprisingly enjoyable for a game where one shuffles around character tiles to enact battles, and it does a lot within that simple interface. I’d discuss it further, but it’s free to play and doesn’t even bother you much about its paid extras. You can go try it right now!
Terra Battle also makes me wonder. Fujisaka drew a lot of fantasy staples for it: lizards, rock-people, beastfolk, robot spiders, giant scorpions, and of course, archers who wear revealing, full-length dresses into the thick of combat. One older gentleman, Jennish, even resembles Octa, the elderly horndog Disciple from Drakengard 3. Did Fujisaka sneak Sally and her Bogle companion into Terra Battle with a similar flourish? I wouldn’t mind if he did. Canceled games rarely get second chances, and I think Cry On deserved one.