Final Fantasy XV director talks development, open world, combat, demo, and more
posted on 09.22.14 at 12:37 AM EDT by (@salromano)
Tons of details from Final Fantasy XV's new director.

Final Fantasy XV

A plethora of new details on Final Fantasy XV have come out via press interviews with director Hajime Tabata.

Tabata, who directed Crisis Core: Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy Type-0, and now, his first numbered Final Fantasy, was announced this week as the game’s new director, replacing Tetsuya Nomura who will focus on Kingdom Hearts III.

The following information is compiled through Tabata’s sit-downs with 4Gamer, Game Informer, Famitsu, and Kotaku.

Development Progress

“In terms of development, about 50 to 60 percent of the game is complete,” Tabata told Game Informer. “We kind of started from the beginning of the game, so the first part is more complete than the others.”

Speaking to Kotaku, Tabata said the percentage complete was 55 percent. But we guess that’s more or less the same as 50 to 60 percent.

But that percentage, Tabata told Kotaku, isn’t 55 percent since the game was announced in 2006 as Final Fantasy Versus XIII. It is 55 percent during the two years that Tabata has been on the project.

Tabata told 4Gamer that the fundamental parts of the game’s systems are more or less already implemented. He doesn’t expect there to be too much of a wait after the demo is out—certainly not years and years.

Tabata’s planning since becoming a director was to have progress be in lockstep towards a set release date in his mind. The Tokyo Game Show demo this year was doable because of progress made since July 2012 when this shift to new consoles occurred.

The team works on stuff only after things have been really hashed out, so as to not waste time and resources. The framework is now solidly in place, so Tabata doesn’t expect any major scheduling shifts moving forward. The end goal is in sight.

The development team is around 200 to 300 staff. Although being billed as a triple-A game, Tabata doesn’t want 1000-plus people working on the title like western teams, as he’d rather have a comparatively small team with people who can make the most of their individual potential.

From Nomura to Tabata

Speaking to Famitsu, Tabata detailed the sequence of events leading to his becoming director.

In July 2012, Yochi Wada, the then president and CEO of Square Enix, ordered the Final Fantasy Type-0 team to join the Final Fantasy XV team in the game’s development. It was around that time that the game transitioned from Final Fantasy Versus XIII to Final Fantasy XV, and also moved to current gen consoles. Tabata’s team’s involvement was then formally announced at E3 2013.

The transition to Tabata as director was therefore not just sudden and out of the blue, and he feels there is no disadvantage in the change, development-wise. When the platform transition occurred, fundamentals for the characters and world were already in place. There was plenty of consulting with Nomura, the development team, and management to put Final Fantasy XV on track to be best it can be.

Further detail was provided to Kotaku.

“I joined the project about two years ago, and around that time, we changed platforms,” Tabata told Kotaku. “We re-examined Final Fantasy XV‘s development structure. We had the gameplay team, the cinematics or CG team, and the game engine team. And we finally merged them all together to work on this game. I think we can deliver the best that Square Enix has to offer.”

Tabata said that Final Fantasy XV will be a title for gamers who have been waiting since the game was known as Final Fantasy Versus XIII, but notes that it’s somewhat changed.

“This is not the exact same game. The director is different, and the platform was switched to the current gen. And because the platform has changed, there were things we had to re-evaluate, like what we can and cannot do or even what we have to do. The various circumstances are different.”

But that’s not to say the game has lost its core. Tabata sat down with original director Tetsuya Nomura about the direction the title is going to take.

“I wanted to make sure that characters, like Noctis, that are so important to Nomura, are maintained in the best possible way.”

The party is still male characters only, Tabata told 4Gamer. This has been true since the game was still Final Fantasy Versus XIII. The road movie vibe has also been there since those days.

“When I joined the development team, we’ve also shifted from primarily using pre-rendered CG to a mix of pre-rendered CG and in-game images that are at the quality of a pre-rendered image,” Tabata told Kotaku.

“The Final Fantasy XV trailer was all in-game engine, except for the part with the spaceships flying. That was pre-rendered.”

Tabata’s personal concepts for the game are “friendship” and “the journey,” he told Famitsu. The game design takes advantage of both of these. Noctis is the main character, but the party itself, Noctis’ friends, should be treated as main characters in all scenes of the game.

According to Tabata, the graphics are currently at about 70 percent of what they’re aiming for.

“I think we can get the demo’s graphics at about 80 percent of what we hope to achieve,” he said. “By the time the game is released, we hope to achieve 100 percent.”

The Car

In the trailer released Wednesday, we saw Noctis and his crew travel across the continent in a sleek black car.

“Even though it’s a single player game, we want you to feel like you are actually going across the continent with your companions in the car,” Tabata told Kotaku. “It’s as if they’re real people traveling with you.”

Players will be able to drive the car themselves, or go from A to B on auto-pilot. You won’t be able to modify your car in any way, but the team did look at games like Need for Speed in making the driving mechanics.

“We certainly made the driving so it’s enjoyable and fun,” he said. “The driving replicates the feel of controlling a car, but doesn’t go into the nitty-gritty of it. Still, it was designed to feel real. Myself and other members of the staff are very much into cars.”

According to Tabata, players should consider the car a member of the party, as one would consider an airship of previous Final Fantasy games also a piece of the party.

Players will travel mostly by car, Tabata told 4Gamer, but it’s also possible to go by foot. But going on foot is generally not advisable because some places can be far off. Walking is primarily for getting into places that can’t be entered by car.

Open World

“Whether it’s driving or combat, you can do what you like in the game,” Tabata told Kotaku. “There is that freedom. It’s open world, and it’s possible to go where you want and explore.

“That being said, if the game is totally open world, it kind of defeats what makes a Final Fantasy game Final Fantasy—which is the dramatic and cinematic storytelling. The game is balanced to ideally satisfy those fans who like traditional Final Fantasy storytelling so they can feel like they’re following an epic story.”

Speaking to Game Informer, Tabata added, “Not literally everything is open world, but it is pretty vast, and you will be able to freely explore. You may have noticed that they’re traveling in a car. You can technically walk around the world, but we recommend using a vehicle, and it’ll be a journey driving through the continent.”

Tabata told 4Gamer that the game can be considered an open world RPG since areas are seamlessly connected. This is related to the narrative focus of travelling by car, which is meant to evoke road movies and the appeal of travelling by road.

The open world aspects will not be at expense of character growth and plot progression, though. While the design documents call it an “open world-style Final Fantasy,” it is not purely such because the point isn’t to just wander off to wherever aimlessly, Tabata said.

The world is essentially fully explorable, according to Tabata, but there is still a specific path to go down for the narrative to progress. Tabata cites Skyrim as the sort of game Final Fantasy XV isn’t. You don’t just wander into a place, go get a random quest, and away you go into the ether. It’s more like Red Dead Redemption in that there are clear objective markers on the map to help players remain cognizant of how to keep progressing core storyline without getting lost on tangential stuff.

Weather and Combat Impact

Speaking of the world, weather patterns will change over time in the game, Tabata told 4Gamer.

Weather has a tactical impact on battle conditions, with different types of magic having varying effects depending on weather patterns. Using fire on a clear day, for example, will not only hurt monsters, but also ignite surrounding area, make allies feel hot, and the like. As such, using magic can be a liability to Noctis, too.

Day and Night

One day in the game world is about 30 minutes in real time, Tabata told Famitsu.

You can fight the Adamantoise seen in the trailer, but according to Tabata, it might take 30 in-game days to defeat.

You will mostly camp out during the actual game, he told 4Gamer. And camping out is important. Since time is a real factor, characters who don’t sleep will do worse in battle.

When a day is over, accrued experience will be calculated in an effort to give players an idea of how much they’ve accomplished over that stretch of time.

Monsters in dungeons will also wander above ground during night, adding extra impetus to camp.

Combat

According to Tabata, combat isn’t about pressing a button once for a single action to happen.

“Rather, they are a continuous flow of movements,” Tabata told Kotaku. “It’s more about the movements that are associated with the buttons and building upon them for actions through the combat system.”

Playing it will feel “very natural,” Tabata said. “The way a game play has to feel good.”

To Game Informer, he said, “We won’t go into too much detail, but you can switch between an offensive stance and a defensive stance with the push of a button.”

At the Tokyo Game Show, Tabata shared few combat details, but said that holding down the attack button creates a string of interlinking attacks, while holding down the defend button will guard enemy attacks.

The “Defense Movement” system will allow players to move around while defending, Tabata told Famitsu.

Speaking to 4Gamer, Tabata said gameplay is less about focusing on menus and more about playing around and navigating 3D spaces, albeit with predetermined moves. He describes it as similar to Final Fantasy XII‘s Gambit System.

There are no menu commands in combat. It controls like an action game where players switch between offense and defense. You can only control Noctis, but you can give orders to other party members. And you can call up the menu screen to give commands to everyone, swap out weapons, etc.

Weapons are set in a deck. During battle, the deck will choose the most appropriate weapon for the battle based on the situation.

Noctis can teleport around battlefields by throwing sword and getting it to stick in places, Tabata told 4Gamer. There are existing conditions that limit how it can be used, although they can change depending on battlefield conditions.

The effects of magic can also affect enemies in more abstract ways, Tabata told Famitsu. Fire, for instance, can make enemies run away from the heat.

As for enemy encounters, “it’s all seamless.”

“You’ve got enemies that are roaming around in all areas…there’s not an ‘encounter,’ per se. It’s all seamless,” Tabata told Game Informer.

Creating a Benchmark

“Before I joined Square Enix, I always looked at Final Fantasy games as the benchmark for game consoles,” Tabata told Kotaku. “Each new game showed what was possible on video game hardware.”

According to Tabata, the goal is the same for Final Fantasy XV. He wants to make a great game that will impress gamers.

“If we don’t do something that people think is amazing, it’s meaningless,” Tabata said. “If we don’t do something that’s challenging, it’s also meaningless.”

The Demo

The demo, “Episode Duscae,” which is included with copies of Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, is named after one of the areas in the game. It will last an hour long if you just proceed with the story, or up to four hours with exploration and dungeons.

The demo will naturally limit open world aspects, but still be wide-ranging, Tabata told 4Gamer. It is set to take place around the meteorite seen in the trailer. Players can fight monsters and explore dungeons. As mentioned above, dungeons are optional, but have strong enemies and best items.

The passage of time and weather mechanics will also be present in demo.

Tabata teased at the Tokyo Game Show that the demo will include ‘something amazing’ that Final Fantasy fans will appreciate. Speaking with Game Informer, he elaborated a bit more.

“In creating a new game, if you throw in familiar elements just to please the fans, it gives an impression that we’re very shallow. I’m very careful that. With each element of a familiar Final Fantasy icon that I include, I have to think about how it applies to the setting of the particular Final Fantasy numbered title, and make sure that it’s there because it’s necessary. In Episode Duscae, there is a sort of surprise element incorporated toward the end.”

The demo will be focused on battle, Tabata told 4Gamer, but there are also towns and such players can visit.

As for why there’s a demo in the first place, Tabata told Game Informer said he wants let players see whatever portion is currently available and understand that the game is coming and is still being worked on.

Tabata’s Next Project

“If I could do anything I’d like, I’d want to make Final Fantasy Type-1 first,” Tabata told Kotaku.

Tabata added that if he were making another numbered Final Fantasy on current gen consoles, though, that development would be fast.

“We came this far in two years, so I think we could develop it quickly.”

Final Fantasy XV is in development for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. A release date is not announced, but the demo will be included with Final Fantasy Type-0 HD when it launches in North America on March 17 and Europe on March 20.

Story by Sal Romano and Thomas James.

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