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'Final Fantasy' creator tapped for Xbox 2

Microsoft partners with influential game developer Hironobu Sakaguchi in renewed bid to crack Asian market.

Microsoft announced Thursday that is has signed a deal with the creator of the influential "Final Fantasy" series to produce two new titles for the next version of the Xbox.

Hironobu Sakaguchi will create a pair of original role-playing games for the successor to the current Xbox, widely expected to be released late this year. Microsoft Vice President Peter Moore characterized the move as part of a new company strategy to boost Xbox sales in Asia.

"When we think about our plans for the Asian market over the next decade, the investment in intellectual property we own is absolutely critical," Moore said.

As expected, the Xbox has had a tough time in Japan and other Asian territories, which have accounted for 1.8 million of the more than 20 million Xbox consoles sold to date worldwide.

Japan, where the Xbox has been stuck with single-digit market share against Sony's PlayStation 2 and Nintendo's GameCube, has been particularly difficult, thanks to a product design considered big and clunky by local standards and software selection that doesn't cater to distinctive Japanese tastes such as subway simulators and samurai combat.

Moore said both factors will be addressed with the next version of the game console. "We're going to knock down some of the barriers that got in our way," he said. "One thing we do well at Microsoft is learn from our mistakes."

Sakaguchi is widely regarded as one of the most influential thinkers in the game business. The 11 installments in the "Final Fantasy" series have sold a combined 60 million copies worldwide and spawned many imitators.

Sakaguchi left game publisher Square last year to start his own development studio, called Mistwalker, after the commercial failure of a feature film based on "Final Fantasy."

Moore said both of Sakaguchi's new games will be exclusive to the next Xbox. He declined to speculate on release dates but said both titles are already in development.