While we love to go hands-on with the latest RPGs every year at E3, some of the most exciting and insightful discoveries we make aren't on the show floor itself, but behind closed doors between bouts of laughter. At E3 2018, we had the pleasure of catching up with several key members of the development team behind Final Fantasy Brave Exvius, the flashy crossover mobile RPG about to celebrate its second year of service in the Western market. Read on for our intimate interview with Square Enix Executive Producer Kei Hirono, Brave Exvius Global Version Producer Hiroki Fujimoto, and gumi Asia Producer Foo Shi Hao.
RPGFan: To date, there are several mobile Final Fantasy titles currently in operation; these range from Mobius Final Fantasy and Dissidia Opera Omnia to Record Keeper and, of course, Brave Exvius. All of these provide their own unique takes on the Final Fantasy formula for the mobile audience. Among these titles, what do you think makes Brave Exvius stand apart from the rest? In other words, what is its key characteristic?
Hirono: There are two main things that set Brave Exvius apart. The first is its distinctive pixel art style, which retains the aesthetic of earlier Final Fantasy titles but increases the quality, elevating its visual appeal to the next level. Second, we wanted to create a truly new Final Fantasy title for mobile, which we think we have accomplished.
RPGFan: Building upon that answer: In Brave Exvius, we get to see many characters from early Final Fantasy games represented in a more graphically dynamic and expressive way than when they first debuted. Is there any character who was especially challenging or simply fun to recreate in the Brave Exvius style?
Hirono: That's a very difficult question! We want to be respectful of all the characters in the Final Fantasy series. Many of the characters that appear throughout Final Fantasy's history, especially in the numbered titles, have achieved a sort of legendary status. As such, there is a lot of pressure to recreate them in a proper manner. That said, we don't want to rank characters from any of the titles because we love them all, so it's difficult to say just one.
Fujimoto: Up until Final Fantasy VI, all of the existing in-game character art was already rendered in a pixelated style. However, after Final Fantasy VII, the art was no longer pixelated, so moving those 3D characters into pixel art while maintaining a 3D "feeling" was definitely a difficult challenge.
Hirono: Our overall worldview of Brave Exvius is that when a player summons a legacy character, what they are getting is not the actual character himself or herself, but a sort of simulacrum that we have created using our own feelings towards that character. Because there is a difference between, say, the "real" Cloud Strife and the Cloud Strife we have inserted into the world of Brave Exvius, astute fans may notice a difference between the two. Furthermore, there are sometimes different iterations of characters that have been around for a long time. Bartz for instance, is portrayed differently in Dissidia than he is in Final Fantasy V. The version we've made for Brave Exvius is yet another interpretation of his character, so you can think of each one as being different. It's kind of like how Napoleon, the famous historical figure, can be thought of as either an invader or a great conqueror. It all depends on your perspective.
RPGFan: There are essentially three types of characters in Brave Exvius: There are the heroes from past Final Fantasy games, the characters who hail from Brave Exvius itself and propel its story forward, and the characters who are inspired by Final Fantasy archetypes or classes. How does your design philosophy differ between those three types of characters?
Hirono: For those legendary characters, we want to be respectful by adding our own interpretation of them, as we explained previously. When it comes to the main cast of Brave Exvius, they are born from our own perception of the BE world, so they have their own sort of "culture" in tune with that. The characters from the first season are most influenced by Final Fantasy IV and V, while the characters from the second season are influenced by Final Fantasy VI and VII due to their sci-fi vibe. Finally, regarding the third category, those are characters that we imagine might exist somewhere in the BE world, whether it's in the past, future, or a different dimension. That includes characters who might appear as a result of collaborations and the like.
RPGFan: There have been many cross-game collaborations for Brave Exvius, such as the event promoting NieR: Automata and a crossover with Dragon Quest. In Japan, there was recently a collaboration for the 20th anniversary of Xenogears, which featured the return of popular characters like Fei and Elly. Are there plans to bring that collaboration to the West?
Fujimoto: We are considering it, but we have no date set in mind as of yet. We need to consider how these characters might affect the game's balance. The Japanese version of the game is about six months ahead of the global version in terms of content, so we need to take that into consideration before we release anything. Another reason why we haven't is because a collaboration is a project with a second party. While it would be great for Brave Exvius fans if Xenogears content arrived for the game, we would prefer to find a time when the Xenogears brand would best benefit from the collaboration as well. To that end, we're actually wondering: Are the global players really waiting for Xenogears?
RPGFan: Yes! (laughter) We've spoken to so many people who have expressed their admiration and love for Xenogears. Scores of fans are anticipating a revival of the series in some fashion, whether it's a remake, a new game, or just seeing its characters appear in Brave Exvius. Xenogears remains a cult classic among Western audiences. (Editor's note: Both Hirono and Fujimoto seemed interested in this information.)
Hirono: I would love to take this opportunity to ask if you think there are any other Square Enix properties that you think would be good candidates for a collaboration? Even non-game titles?
RPGFan: The first thing that comes to mind is Chrono Cross! We admit we're a little put on the spot right now, but we'd love to send you a list of candidates after this interview is over! (laughter) But speaking of things we like, the soundtrack to the game is phenomenal! In the future, can we expect any more music for Brave Exvius courtesy of Agematsu-san?
Hirono: As game creators, we always want to be adding more content, and that goes for music as well. If you've seen the Japanese version, we have been adding music little by little. Actually, to be honest, even with the game's first season, we had so much music prepared that we could not find a place for all of it in the game. Regarding a soundtrack release for those new tracks, we would love to debut a "volume two" during the upcoming Brave Exvius Fan Festa, so please hold on until then.
RPGFan: In regard to game strategy, do you have any particular tactics you employ while playing, or perhaps a tip you can share for how to excel in Brave Exvius?
Shi Hao: It's hard to choose a single team or character because the game is specifically designed to encourage experimentation. We want players to explore using different team compositions, so we are constantly assessing character strength and game balance to keep things fresh. Everyone has their favorite characters, and our goal is to let players choose their favorites. Regardless of how powerful a certain character may be, there are always new battle scenarios that favor certain compositions, so you should be able to build a team around whoever you like. We are also working to make sure that characters who players may have missed during special events will be brought back again.
RPGFan: Finally, the burning question I've been waiting to ask: In 2017, you had a collaboration with the pop star Ariana Grande, who brought her magical singing powers to the world of Brave Exvius. The crossover resulted in the excellent song "Touch It - FINAL FANTASY BRAVE EXVIUS Remix." How did that collaboration come about, and could we perhaps expect to see "No Tears Left to Cry - FINAL FANTASY BRAVE EXVIUS Remix?" We want more Ariana! (Editor's note: You'd better believe I abused my position to ask about Ariana Grande. ♪ Right now, I'm in a state of mind / I wanna be in like all the time ♪)
Hirono: (laughter) Wow, thank you so much! I'm really glad you liked it. Honestly, it started because we really wanted to work with her. We wanted to create a collaboration starring a global artist who would be popular with international audiences. Ever since Final Fantasy VIII, there has been a tradition to have a female singer perform a theme song for each game in the franchise, and we wanted to keep that alive. Because Ariana Grande is such a huge celebrity, we didn't think we'd be able to make it happen, but thanks to a series of lucky coincidences, the pieces all lined up!
Fujimoto: As far as the future goes, all we can say at this point is: Please wait for more information! (laughter) We can't say anything now, but if you will be attending the Fan Festa coming up in December, we might have some more information there.
RPGFan would like to thank Square Enix for their time and energy in facilitating this interview!