Fi­nal Fan­tasy XV

PS4, Xbox One

EDGE - - GAMES - Pub­lisher Square Enix De­vel­oper In-house For­mat PS4, Xbox One Ori­gin Ja­pan Re­lease TBA

You’d un­der­stand if Ha­jime Ta­bata were feel­ing the pres­sure. Here, af­ter all, is a man who has spent his years at Square Enix work­ing not on the main Fi­nal Fan­tasy se­ries, but its spinoffs, and not on con­soles, but hand­helds. Now he finds him­self at the helm of Fi­nal Fan­tasy XV, helm­ing the de­but proper on mod­ern con­soles of a se­ries whose name is, if not mud, then not what it once was. Yet he in­sists he’s not feel­ing the strain.

“I get asked this a lot, but I don’t feel un­der any par­tic­u­lar pres­sure,” he tells us. “A big part of it is that I am very busy, so I don’t re­ally have time for it. I have many valu­able com­rades in the team to whom I can del­e­gate, and there are also many, many fans sup­port­ing

FFXV. See­ing peo­ple’s sup­port for what you do is a huge mo­ti­va­tor – want­ing to de­liver for th­ese peo­ple, and meet their ex­pec­ta­tions, out­weighs any pres­sure I might feel.”

Yet as highly as he may speak of his team, Ta­bata ad­mits a few mem­bers also cre­ated prob­lems dur­ing the devel­op­ment of both the full game and the demo, Episode Dus­cae, which was re­leased in March along­side the HD re­make of the Ta­bata-di­rected Fi­nal Fan­tasy:

Type- 0. “Some of the devel­op­ment staff had set them­selves lim­its as to what they [felt] they could achieve. This re­sulted in neg­a­tive ap­proaches that held the team back.” The worst, he says, was “con­ser­va­tive think­ing that did not recog­nise the need to evolve, or over­es­ti­mat­ing some of the tech­ni­cal risks in­volved in do­ing so. The thing I have spent the most en­ergy on in devel­op­ment is clear­ing away all th­ese no­tions about the lim­its of what Fi­nal Fan­tasy can achieve, cre­at­ing a strong team that can con­fi­dently take on this, the great­est chal­lenge fac­ing Square Enix.”

This is un­com­monly can­did for a Ja­panese dev, but that Ta­bata is pre­pared to be so open speaks vol­umes about how con­fi­dent he is in the project it­self. Play­ing Episode Dus­cae, it’s easy to see why. On this show­ing,

Fi­nal Fan­tasy XV is a game that takes not only a gen­er­a­tional leap in terms of vi­su­als, thanks to Square Enix’s new Lu­mi­nous En­gine, but makes sev­eral fun­da­men­tal ad­vances in terms of the struc­ture of the big­gest JRPG around.

It’s quite the list. There’s a con­tem­po­rary set­ting in an open world with a day/night cy­cle and dy­namic weather. There’s real­time com­bat, mul­ti­part quests, recharg­ing health and mana. There are notes of stealth and per­madeath. And that’s just the demo. There’s even a jump but­ton. Ta­bata says that he sees

Fi­nal Fan­tasy the se­ries as “a game that was made by Square Enix chal­leng­ing it­self to its lim­its”. On pa­per, at least, FFXV is that game.

Some­time those lim­its show, how­ever. It seems strange, given its nu­mer­ous lit­tle

nig­gles, that Episode Dus­cae was deemed ready for public con­sump­tion; there are sev­eral mo­ments in the demo where we in­stinc­tively ex­pect to hear a nearby PR rep’s as­sur­ance that things are still be­ing op­ti­mised, that bugs are be­ing squashed and kinks ironed out. Fram­er­ates fluc­tu­ate, the cam­era oc­ca­sion­ally strug­gles to keep up with the real­time bat­tles, and NPC dia­logue whiffs of the place­holder. We hope it does, any­way: when we re­vive a downed ally in com­bat, pro­tag­o­nist Noctis tells him, “You owe me one.” “Thanks,” he says as he gets up. “I owe you one.”

Yet if a demo is in­tended to be in­dica­tive of a full game’s po­ten­tial, rather than its pol­ish, then Episode Dus­cae de­liv­ers. Com­bat, as the way­ward cam­era sug­gests, is dy­namic and pacy. It’s also cus­tomis­able; you’re able to de­fine which weapons Noctis sum­mons from the ether for each stage of a combo. This is hardly Bay­o­netta – the re­quired in­puts are never more than a sin­gle but­ton tapped or held in place, while a de­fen­sive stance dodges at­tacks au­to­mat­i­cally and sig­nals parry op­por­tu­ni­ties with slow­down and a but­ton prompt – but it’s fast and fran­tic. And even given the demo’s limited weapon set, it’s var­ied: the same battle rarely plays out in the same way twice, thanks in large part to Noctis’s three AI com­rades, who sync up smartly with your in­ten­tions. Run away, and they’ll run with you; stick around and they just about strike the bal­ance be­tween help­ing out with­out steam­rol­ler­ing ev­ery­thing in your way. Ta­bata ad­mits that this, too, has been a chal­lenge, and is a work in progress. “We’ve re­ally fo­cused on hav­ing them feel like ac­tual living com­pan­ions – and not just for their be­hav­iour [in battle], but the whole game. Even though there’s still pol­ish­ing to be done on both tech­ni­cal and me­chan­i­cal lev­els, I feel we’re get­ting closer to our ul­ti­mate ob­jec­tive.”

The demo’s main quest sees Noctis, a Hara­juku-haired prince, and his three menat-arms seek out a Be­he­moth, on which a bounty has been placed that is sus­pi­ciously al­most to the Gil the same value as the re­pair costs for their bro­ken-down car. They track it, tail it to its lair, try and fail to take it down, then find a more suit­able weapon in a nearby cav­ern at the sug­ges­tion of a Cho­cobo farmer. Fi­nally, a few hours later – three, if they get dis­tracted – the group put it to death with a gen­er­a­tional leap in Sum­mon cutscenes, a gi­gan­tic light­ning bolt oblit­er­at­ing the Be­he­moth and scorch­ing much of the land around it. It’s a thor­oughly mod­ern take on RPG quest struc­tur­ing, though we sus­pect that Ta­bata and team will be keep­ing a close eye on The Witcher III, which is ap­proach­ing quests in a sim­i­lar way.

While the idea is Square Enix’s own, we see an­other nod to CD Pro­jekt in FFXV’s camp­fire sys­tem. Set up for the night at one of the pre­or­dained camp­sites on the world map and you can use in­gre­di­ents found dur­ing the day to whip up a hearty meal that grants the team cer­tain buffs the fol­low­ing day. It’s a lit­tle like the Witcher se­ries’ use of po­tions: you’ll spend a day gath­er­ing sup­plies for the meal that grants the boosts you need to tackle a boss the next morn­ing. The com­par­isons end, how­ever, when you re­alise that you also level up at th­ese camps, spend­ing all the day’s XP gains in one go. Die be­fore you make camp, and you’ll lose what­ever you’ve ac­crued since day­break. Yes, there’s a bit of Souls to it.

Later, as our party jogs across open grass­land, fight­ing small wildlife and avoid­ing the big­ger threats, our eyes peeled for glint­ing pick­ups along the way, it is not Cloud Strife we think of but Xenoblade Chron­i­cles’ Shulk. Sud­denly, it be­comes clear that Square Enix’s big­gest chal­lenge is not sim­ply drag­ging Fi­nal

Fan­tasy into a new con­sole era, but do­ing so with­out com­pro­mis­ing its iden­tity. Cho­co­bos wan­der­ing about and recog­nis­able themes will only get the com­pany so far.

“If you com­pare it to car man­u­fac­tur­ing, then Fi­nal Fan­tasy is not a run-of-the-mill car but an F1 racer,” Ta­bata says. “This is the kind of prod­uct you can only get by push­ing be­yond ex­pected stan­dards.” There is an aw­ful lot to like here, but much re­mains to be done if Fi­nal Fan­tasy is to re­claim its right­ful place at the head of an in­creas­ingly crowded grid.

“This is the kind of prod­uct you can only get by push­ing be­yond ex­pected stan­dards”

Ha­jime Ta­bata, direc­tor, FFXV

Noctis, a de­posed prince, clearly isn’t as battle-worn as his com­rades, with a lower start­ing level and much weed­ier stats. Luck­ily, HP and MP now re­fill over time, and he can speed up the process by tak­ing cover or seek­ing high ground

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