Colin Burns
Feeling Uneasy About Final Fantasy XV
Do you ever yearn for the days of SquareSoft?
12.19.15 - 10:52 AM

Final Fantasy XV has been in development for a long time. Through its tumultuous 10-year development, the game has undergone many changes, and the Final Fantasy XV we will be playing in 2016 is nearly unrecognizable from the footage Square Enix showed off in 2006. Even now, when the game is approaching release, FFXV seems to be suffering from a lack of focus, confidence and clear direction. Square Enix is fully aware that they are on thin ice with a number of their fans, and FFXV feels very reactionary; I don't want a Final Fantasy designed by fan feedback and recent trends, I want a Final Fantasy designed by Square.

The problems with Final Fantasy XV stem from its roots. Announced during E3 of 2006 as Final Fantasy Versus XIII, the game was originally part of Square's new plan of attack for the HD generation, the infamous Fabula Nova Crystallis project. The other two parts of this initiative were Final Fantasy XIII and Agito XIII. After the realities of developing for HD consoles became apparent, Square needed to delay and make numerous changes to Final Fantasy XIII, which in turn knocked Agito and Versus off course. Agito, now known as Type-0, shipped late and there were very few signs of life from Versus XIII until its grand unveiling as Final Fantasy XV at E3 2013.

Final Fantasy XV

For its entire life as Final Fantasy Versus XIII, the game's director was Tetsuya Nomura, a long-time Final Fantasy character designer and director of the Kingdom Hearts series. Versus XIII was Nomura's action-packed take on the Final Fantasy formula. He drew a lot of inspiration from his experiences with Kingdom Hearts, and several major design choices that Nomura made at the game's conception are still relevant today. The game always featured an all-male cast. The combat was always meant to be action oriented. The "fantasy based in reality" aesthetic has always been there.

Though some of these surface-level things remain the same, the game was almost completely scrapped and rebuilt when it landed its new title of Final Fantasy XV and fell into the hands of Hajime Tabata in 2013. Hajime Tabata directed Final Fantasy Type-0 and Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, and one of the most important skills he brought to the project was his ability to ship games. The game was no longer a spin-off; it was the next numbered entry in one of gaming's most venerable series. The game needed to become more than it was ever meant to be.

Tabata is a self proclaimed fan of Western RPGs, and he aims to bring their signature open worlds to Final Fantasy XV. This change in design sounds a lot like a direct reaction to the negativity surrounding the linearity of FF XIII. I can picture an executive at Square saying, "People didn't like FF XIII. Why don't we try one of those open worlds that are all the rage?" Final Fantasy used to set the trends, not conform to them.

Final Fantasy XV

Square Enix has little to no experience with single-player, open-world RPGs and they may have bitten off more than they can chew. Sure, games like Fallout have massive worlds, but they also have tons of reused assets, an overall unpleasant presentation, and more bugs than you can count. Square would never make a big, ugly, busted Final Fantasy game. The visual quality that fans have come to expect from the series will be difficult to maintain consistently throughout the massive world they are trying to create in Final Fantasy XV.

I'm also not exactly sure who they are making this open-world for. I would argue that many Final Fantasy fans, myself among them, would prefer not necessarily a more traditional RPG, but surely not an open-world one. The market is flooded with open-world games, and RPG fans already have plenty to choose from if they are looking to spend countless hours questing. Final Fantasy is known for its focus on narrative and character development. I worry that these elements, which made the series such a large success, will be overshadowed by tons of filler and aimless wandering.

Are they looking to capture a new audience by stamping "VAST OPEN WORLD" on the back of the box? I'm pulling these numbers out of thin air, but I think about it like this: 10% of people are Final Fantasy fans who will really enjoy the open-world gameplay, 40% are Final Fantasy fans who will be turned off by it, and the other 50% of people will continue to ignore Final Fantasy and all other JRPGs. Sure, a big bustling world with tons of quests may be attractive to a different kind of player, but I don't really see Noctis and his uber-stylish entourage going over well with fans of the gritty realism found in Skyrim.

Final Fantasy XV

The story has undergone several changes since Tabata took over, most notably the deletion of a major character, Stella. Tabata said that after the adjustments he and his new leadership made to the plot were implemented, Stella just didn't fit and instead, she has been replaced by the nearly identical, Lunafreya. A good story is not without its revisions, but revisions in the middle of such a long development are incredibly costly. Changes this late in the game are troublesome, but hopefully Tabata will surprise me and the story will be amazing. Naughty Dog famously "perfected" the story of The Last of Us in the final months of its development.

On a more inflammatory note, I am 100% against Square Enix taking so much fan feedback about FF XV. Many people like to dub Final Fantasy XV "the last chance for JRPGs," and Square Enix can't afford to screw this one up. Taking in so much fan feedback is a sure-fire way to muddy the waters and create something half-baked. Can you imagine if Square had polled fans about whether or not to kill Aerith partway through Final Fantasy VII? I know Tabata isn't asking fans for input on major story beats like that, but the hyperbole demonstrates my point; fans don't always know what's best. Did Sqaure really need to survey their fans to figure out that the lock-on system was rough in the Duscae demo? The need to constantly reaffirm that they are doing the right thing doesn't exude confidence.

Final Fantasy XV

Final Fantasy XV is lacking a true auteur calling the shots like Hironobu Sakaguchi or Yasumi Matsuno from Final Fantasy games past. I don't see a lot of confidence in the media that they are feeding us. A lot of it is, "Hey look! Chocobos! Do you like big Behemoths and Marlboros? Look at these! You like these, right?" A lot of it feels like safe, known quantities.

There are Moogles in Final Fantasy XV. Why? Because fans asked for them! Not because they fit the world of the game or serve any real purpose, but because Tabata asked if fans wanted them and the answer was an overwhelming "yes." This is the definition of vapid fan-service. I don't need a Moogle to prove to me that I'm playing a Final Fantasy game. (For the record, I love Moogles, but still!) If Moogles weren't part of the initial vision, leave them out.

It's a small example that is emblematic of the overall uneasiness I feel about the game. This kind of pandering is trying to take advantage of my fandom. If players don't become more discerning, the level of fanservice will continue to rise until Final Fantasy is nothing but an empty husk in the shape of a Chocobo with a buster sword.

Final Fantasy XV has a lot to live up to, and I'd be lying if I told you I was feeling optimistic. I love the series, and I hope this game succeeds, but it's hard to be excited about XV. The game has been through hell and back, and it has some battle scars. The change in leadership and the general climate of RPGs at the moment have impacted FF XV in major ways, and in my eyes, it is shaping up to be one of the most misguided and anomalous numbered entries in the series.


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