How 'Final Fantasy XV' Could Break The Series' Slump

A worldly development approach and doubling down on narrative might make the next, long-awaited 'Final Fantasy' a winner. 

Up until fairly recently, it wouldn’t have been unfair to say that Final Fantasy had lost its way. The main numbered entries of Square Enix’s long-running JRPG juggernut, with the possible exception of Final Fantasy XII have arguably been tepid or overly convoluted in recent years, topped with a wholly unnecessary Final Fantasy XIII trilogy of games. A seemingly endless glut of spin-offs only furthered to water down what, traditionally, Final Fantasy was known for – a rich world, interesting characters and a good story.

Though there are admittedly few series that may be more vulnerably rose-tinted by nostalgia (sorry, FFX hasn’t aged well), things may be headed for a major seachange with the impending of release of Final Fantasy XV, arriving after a torturous decade in development that originally began life as part of FFXIII’s spin-off conglomeration dubbed Fabula Nova Crystallis. Perhaps amazingly, the game has a lot of potential. And a lot riding on it.

It’s easy to pin the hopes and dreams of something so long-awaited – and, once upon a time, so beloved – on a single developer, but in the case of FFXV’s director Hajime Tabata, it seems his leadership and vision make for an appropriate assessment. When it comes to reality of Final Fantasy’s current popularity, Tabata is nobody’s fool; he is well aware what’s at stake, and is doing a number of things to restore it to its former glory. Here are a few reasons why Tabata and his team may well succeed.

#### Taking feedback

FFXV's Episode Duscae gave players their first taste of the game.

Square Enix

As he as expressed in several interviews, Tabata loves to get feedback about the state of FFXV, which has evolved quite a bit since he took over directing duties from Kingdom Hearts creator Tetsuya Nomura in 2013. It started with the release of FFXV’s Episode Duscae, a rather lengthy demo players who picked up the PS4 re-release of Tabata’s Final Fantasy Type-0 in 2015.

Demo players could take a survey about the game after they finished it, and Tabata and his team took the feedback to heart so much they patched the demo to reflect the changes to combat and other elements. Since then, Tabata has listened closely to feedback pretty much across the board, from casual players to industry pros; FFXV received a second demo, this time available to everyone, and the game has continued to receive adjustments throughout. It’s a very good sign.

’Waking from the dream of FFVII’

Compared to many developers, Japanese or otherwise, Tabata is incredibly frank when speaking about the goals and pitfalls of the next major Final Fantasy. In a recent interview with Ars Technica, he said that Square had finally “woken up from the dream that was Final Fantasy VII – realizing that the incredible popularity the series commanded in 1997 when FFVII hit the PS One has greatly diminished in the intervening years.

It’s a surprisingly honest quote coming from a game creator, particularly in how it speaks to the Japanese heads-down attitude that resulted in the increasingly Japanese-centric entries that have come in the past. Because FFXV is the first major series entry Tabata worked on, he’s stated he had no problems accepting where the series actually stands – and what it needs to be fixed.

The team knows fans are disappointed

Who wouldn’t be disappointed with how Final Fantasy has gone? Between two MMOs and the FFXIII quagmire – not to mention the unapologetic cynicism of botched Steam ports and soulless cash-in mobile games using the series name, it’s been at least a decade since Final Fantasy felt like Final Fantasy.

With the knowledge that fans of the series have been let down repeatedly, FFXV’s team have completely overhauled the game – not being afraid of tinkering with classic, expected features – to appeal to players on a global scale. For a project as expensive as this one, it makes sense that you would want to reach a larger audience – and Tabata has not beaten around the bush saying that the goal for the game’s sales is 10 million copies. That FFXV’s team is taking a wordly-approach to development will undoubtedly make FFXV a better game in the long run.

The promise of a good story

It hasn’t been very apparent over the past several years that no Final Fantasy game has tried to tell a good story. For a series that’s traditionally been known to be driven by its characters, the overarching machinations of whatever impenetrable plot have often left its characters in recent games shallow.

Evidently, FFXV’s team is taking an opposite approach. Apparently the plot, or at least the premise, is easy to digest, allowing the characters to have real arcs of growth. The game focuses, of course, on Noctis, the protagonist and prince of the kingdom of Lucis, and particularly his relationship with his father, his friends and a “bond with the world,” – FFXV’s three story pillars, as Square has put it.

Good character drama is obviously key to strong, dynamic narrative, and with any luck will be a welcome departure from the archetypal sketches the series been relying on for some time. Design aside, this alone could make FFXV great.

Have you seen this game?

Not for nothing, but Final Fantasy XV is beyond gorgeous. True, this sounds like a shallow observation, but if Tabata and his team want to compete with the institutions of triple-A, it’s a necessary one. Tabata has also pointed out that a technological focus is actually important because of Final Fantasy VII, which Square infamously brought to the PlayStation in spectacular fashion once they realized there was no way that their ambitions would fit onto an N64 cartride. So there’s so precedent there – and FFXV certainly is a jaw-dropper.

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