As the next face of Final Fantasy, XV is quite ambitious. Nomura’s vision is explained further in an extended interview with Famitsu magazine in which he highlights his gameplay philosophies as well as a retread on important information gathered from E3 – including the decision to rename the game much earlier than initially speculated.
Final Fantasy Versus XIII was announced in 2006, however internal discussion for a title change into FFXV began as early as 1-2 years following the original announcement. “By that time, a fair amount of time had already passed since the announcement and Versus was a well-known title, so it wasn’t a given that this would be XV; it could have still been Versus,” said Nomura. The final decision made after FF Agito XIII became Final Fantasy Type-0 in 2011.
The current reveal timing was set due to the next generation hardware announcements. “As for the timing of the announcement,” Nomura explained, “given that we were changing platforms as well, the timing wasn’t something we could decide on our own discretion. We worked together with other divisions to get it announced at this E3.” The change to PS4/XB1 hardware happened about two years ago – at that time it was decided to target next generation hardware rather than pursue the existing PS3 version of the game.
“There was an actual plan to announce FFXV as of last year actually,” explained Nomura. Because of various reasons, it had to be delayed – including the abnormally long life span of the current generation platforms. “This meant that the lifespan of the current generation of consoles was starting to pose a problem to us. If we were a year later, other companies will have more time to research the next generation, and releasing the game against their products on the older generation could have caused us to look inferior when people inevitably compared us.”
As the game has always been overly-ambitious, there was a lot the team wanted to do on current generation machines but just couldn’t. “There were more and more things that we would’ve had to change the form of,” according to Nomura. “However, the assumption was that we’d go ahead with a current generation release, so went through a trial-and-error process to do as much as we could. We built an alpha version about a year ago, and the company response was ‘If you remained bound to the current generation, will it will be the product you envisioned?’ They suggested shifting fully to next-gen, and that was the spark that led to the move.”
In regards to what the team wants to do, it’s all about visual quality. “I wanted FFXV to be as seamless as possible, and to achieve that, we needed to have all the actions you could potentially do always be available in memory,” said Nomura. “Since this is FF after all, you have lots of potential factors, from the varied weapons to the party members’ individual actions and magic spells. Keeping this massive amount of RPG character data around, and having them fight all kinds of monsters on a large map, is a lot to process. To that we’re adding light sourcing, physics, filters, and other graphical elements, but there’s only so much we could display at once, so we were forced to go through a selection process.”
So why is FFXV an action RPG? There’s always been a desire to do one in the FF universe it seems. The idea is that the focus of control is centered around Noctis, with the user interface being minimalistic. However, the team didn’t forget that this is a Final Fantasy title.
To be considered FF, the battle must revolve around party members and numbers. This means that numbers display both damage and HP, the player can switch between each of the three party members freely, a lot of chain actions and even characters outside of the active party will have some sort of role.
As for next generation developments – it’s clear in the gameplay trailer that Noctis has the ability to warp to high places around the map and environments are also destructible. “The trailer we showed at E3 has battle scenes that make use of a wide swath of space,” Nomura explained, “like how Noctis warps up to a higher area. Characters can go around this large yet intricately-detailed space, and it feels like an FF battle. This presentation takes a lot of processing. Trying to do it on current-gen systems would mean that the display of objects may not be able to keep up within a world map-sized space. The map changes and destruction we showed in the video was also something we really wanted to do.”
Final Fantasy XV is being developed with DirectX11 as a base and then being ported to different hardware – to develop and fit the hardware is reverse thinking for Square Enix. Because both PS4 and XB1 both have blu-ray capacity, there is no difference in that department. With the base XV being developed on DirectX11, Nomura isn’t sure how close the specifications will match up with actual hardware. The overspec PC version has been optimized, but he can’t say if there will be any difference in the end between the two platforms. “Previously we proceeded with development based on the capabilities of consoles like the PS3,” he said. “Now, though, we’re developing on DirectX 11, not based on the PS4 or the Xbox One. This lets us develop with full specifications without worrying about individual platforms – then we can port it to each console in the most appropriate way. As a result, the original FFXV runs on a fairly high-end PC, and how close a console gets to this original depends on its specs. The idea is to keep our options open; if a console comes out in the future that can recreate the original, we can handle that. It’s the opposite approach from your typical multiplatform project which bases itself on the specs of a single console.”
What about a PC version? Well, that depends on the need. Right now the game would require a very expensive PC to play it. Of course, the team is aware of a dedicated group that would like to play the game at its full quality. Development is currently being done on both parts of Luminous Studio and the team’s original tools as well as a middleware solution. Eventually they want to move over to Luminous Engine completely, but the engine itself is still incomplete and it would be too late for them to start the game anew if they waited for that moment. Both Luminous Studio and the FFXV team are working simultaneously to create an engine and a game at the same time.
Luminous Studio is focusing on the parts of the game that involve camera placement, scene flow and of course pre-rendered movies.
Not only has the title changed, but there has been some movement amongst the staff as well. Hajime Tabata – of FF Type-0 and Crisis Core fame – is now co-director alongside Nomura. Takeshi Nozue has seen his position upgraded to Total Visual Director. Even though Nozue is head of Visual Works, right now he is working together with the development team. The goal is to make the real time cutscenes look as close as possible to the pre-rendered movies. Using techniques like that of Agni’s Philosophy to create the visuals for FFXV, Visual Works develops a pre-rendered movie which is then ported to real time by Luminous Studio – it’s a technique called “Look Development.”
In the E3 trailer, it should be noted that Noctis is fairly high level at this point – he can control multiple weapons at a time and warp freely. The game will not actually begin with such luxuries.
The starting point was to imitate the simple but fast action control from the Kingdom Hearts series, as well as something not difficult that can be done with following the feel. Currently, the team is discussing hardware-specific control mechanisms.
Party members will assist with attacks – as seen in the trailers. Situational moves will also take place, such as Gladiolus stepping in to protect Noctis, or Prompto warping in to fire on an enemy in his stead. Characters have the ability to free run, not only on the map, but also during encounters. Larger enemies will allow for tactical riding and attacks on targeted areas of the body.
Leviathan is a boss battle and he creates a typhoon during battle. The player will have to jump through destroyed buildings one by one in order to fight. Not just Leviathan, but other boss battles will feature grand situations as well.
There is an emphasis on speed in the battle system and although the player can manage movement, those simply watching may have no idea what’s going on. Motion capture has been difficult. In a sense, using real people to capture animations can be easy, however problems can also arise. Nomura stressed there needs to be a balance between that of realism and that of a game.
The E3 trailer mentioned the idea of “the fifteenth coming.” Nomura said this is something they’ve used for the announcement only and has nothing to do with the story. FFXV will move toward a climax as a whole, however the story will continue as planned. The target is “never before seen epicness” – as such, FFXV has been designed as a continuing story from the beginning.
But what form will the sequels appear as? Apparently the wait for that information won’t be too long. Nomura is aware that for large scale console development projects, there might be a need to keep people interested in the long term with online elements (multiplayer) rather than just offer a short term single player experience. There are no concrete plans as of yet but he’s looking at all possibilities to see what fits.
Square Enix is also interested in expanding new FF experiences to the PS Vita – note that XV will be playable through it by Sony mandate anyway – as well as possible elements for smartphones and tablets.
Unfortunately, Nomura was unable to comment on any sort of completion status or release date. He asks that fans please look forward to that news in the future. “I’m truly sorry for having kept you waiting such a long time. I hope that the presentation this time has met the expectations of everyone who has been waiting. From here, the quality will become much greater. I want to take advantage of events like this one and put out new information at every big event to come like Tokyo Game Show, so please watch out for the evolution of Final Fantasy XV from here on out.
“Some have said that this generation, Japanese developments have fell short overseas. In the next generation, I don’t want this to be the case at all. I want to showcase this title.”