The French apparently love Final Fantasy. This Tuesday, there where hundreds of people waiting in line at an electronics store at the famous Champs Elyssee, hoping to be one of the few to walk away with a signed copy of part XIII. A few hours before the game went on sale, I spoke to producer Kitase and director Toriyama about battle systems, western RPGs and the possibility of a Final Fantasy XIII-2.
After some slight confusion (“We thought you worked for Dutch TV?” “Nope, I write about games.”) and a very long wait, it is my turn to talk to Kitase and Toriyama. The two Japanese men seem relaxed and smile, but I’m sure they are at least a bit anxious about the fate of their latest creation. Reviews from Western outlets are trickling in, and I ask Kitase what he thinks about the sometimes unfavorable comparisons to more freeform RPGs like Dragon Age Origins.
“Yes, Western RPGs are more about freedom. But Final Fantasy is a different sort of game. It is much more akin to watching a movie, where you appreciate the world and are immersed deeply in the story. You get to experience dramatic moments and big events. In that sense, the concept of FFXIII is much more like a first person shooter such as Call of Duty.”
This mention of one of the West’s most successful franchises isn’t accidental. This latest installment of one of Japan’s most recognized series seems to be built around pleasing the West. “We are very excited to see how gamers respond. We have created a completely original world. This was a huge challenge. Working for a HD system like the PS3 asks a lot of our designers. We had to model every object with so much detail, so you would believe these things where real and existed somewhere.”
High quality graphics are very important to the creators. They see it as a way to please that huge and recently discovered group of ‘casual gamers’. “We hope they will be engaged by the graphics and the story. We realize this means some of our fans, who like the more traditional games, might be disappoined in some ways. But we hope they will take this journey with us. If we keep creating traditional games, we stand still, and we want to make steps forward.”
One of the most apparent changes is the battle system. Conflicts with assorted monsters are no longer resolved by issuing orders to all party members. Just one character is under your control, but the roles of your support staff can be changed on the fly from damage dealing to healing to magic and so on. “We showed a demonstration of our vision of battle at E3, three years ago. We wanted combat to be speedy, but also tactical. We told our battle director we wanted these elements to be combined. This is a difficult challenge because tactical and speedy seem to be a contradiction. They have worked for three years on coming up with what we have now. Our need for speediness resulted in the automatic behavior of the other party members. We shifted a lot of the tactics to the preparations before battle, where you assign roles to your characters. Team building has become much more important.”
While building teams is now in the hands of the player, the responsibility of building the unique worlds of Pulse and Cocoon rested firmly on the shoulders of the Final Fantasy creators. Even after playing a mere five hours, it feels to me that there is much more to this universe than this story. It seems obvious to continue adventures on these two worlds in a direct sequel. So, will there be a Final Fantasy XIII-2? The men laugh and begin to answer very diplomatically: “That depends on how well the game sells in the West!” But after pressing a bit, Kitase concedes he would very much like to do a direct sequel. “In the past three years we worked both on the world and on the various systems. Creating these systems isn’t very glamourous and can frankly be a bit boring. If we could do a XIII-2, we could direct all our attention to the story and refine what we have already built.”
This is an advantage which will not exist for the team that might create Final fantasy XV (XIV is already announced as an MMO). Every numbered Final Fantasy game stands on its own, and is created starting with a blank slate. Still, elements carry over to become canon, like chocobo, crystals, and archetypcal spells. What elements of FFXIII would Kitase like to carry over into future Final Fantasies?
“We do not know if there will be a XV. This depends a lot on the success of XIII. Also, it is difficult to pinpoint elements that are typical Final Fantasy. They are mostly invisible: part of the DNA of the game, that everyone recognizes as typical Final Fantasy. But if there is a XV, I hope the way we wrote our characters carries over. We strived to create believable people of flesh and blood. They are not robots. And they are not super heroes. I hope this humanity is something we will see again.”