Over the last year, Final Fantasy XV has evolved from a rather ambitious entry in the JRPG franchise that may have bitten off more than it could chew, into a expansive game that will soon add a new online game mode, DLC Episodes featuring lengthy adventures with its supporting cast of characters, and general quality-of-life updates to smooth many of the rough edges from the initial launch. With the Windows Edition coming early 2018, the developers at Square Enix are looking to wind things down with FFXV, but are ready to offer PC players the complete experience.
During PAX West 2017, we had the chance to talk with the game’s director, Hajime Tabata, about what’s coming up for Final Fantasy XV, the focus on creating value for the game post-launch, and what could be next for the development team after work on the PC release is complete.
GameSpot: This particular game had the longest development period of any entry in the Final Fantasy series. It initially started as a spin-off, but it eventually became a core entry in the series. What are your reactions to seeing how it’s evolved into what it is now?
Hajime Tabata: From a business standpoint, we’ve achieved over 6.5 million units, and the fact that we’re still going to be putting out content till the launch of the Windows Edition–and then we have the Pocket Edition–this project has been very successful for us. But from a personal level, and from a dev team standpoint, what really resonates with us is the fan feedback we got from the day one release. A lot of the major criticisms was that they felt the story was lacking in certain aspects. So for us, we did our best to give back and supplement those areas where people felt it was lacking.
When those fans who were complaining about the story from the early days are now completely satisfied with the overall experience, that’s the moment when we can say as a team that we’re pleased with what we did for Final Fantasy XV. And obviously, we don’t plan to draw this out forever. At some point we’re going to have to mark the end of the journey for Final Fantasy XV. With that said, we’re still listening to what the fans want and expect for this game.
It’s unusual to see so much post-launch support for a Final Fantasy game that’s not an MMO. What was the mindset the development team had when creating these new updates?
Hajime Tabata: We always had the plan of showing what happened with them in the DLC. Our goal is to give back to the players and give them content that they’re gonna love. When you’re playing as Noctis, your three allies are going through this journey with you, and their experiences throughout that adventure aren’t shown. We tried a lot of new things for this, and it has allowed the dev team to really grow, develop, get stronger, and become more experienced. So in the long run, it all panned out for us. We’re so happy with how it all worked out.
Was the desire to create more content in such a large space what led to the online mode? There are a lot of new features and support happening in FFXV, and an online component is a bit of an ambitious addition.
Hajime Tabata: We always had a plan for the multiplayer expansion. When we announced the DLC lineup, we started really thinking about how do we take on that project, and we needed a mission to have the players really feel like they’re part of the overall story. It takes place during the 10 years that wasn’t told in the main story. So we wanted people to really feel like they had a part in the story. Once we started thinking about the actual multiplayer, it became bigger than what we had initially anticipated.
Even before launch, we worked closely with the community and were open about our plans, addressing fan feedback. That’s sort of what led up to the online service, where XV is a living, breathing world. Our approach was that we wanted to give back to our fan base, and we’re seeing that support pay off. A month after the game had launched, about 30% of the people had beaten the game. Now, after several months, that’s been continuously improving. We saw that rise to 60%. We’re making the game more accessible to people and we’re probably bringing in more fans. So as an overall kind of experience, we like this is a lot, but we still have a lot we learn from doing it this way.
Not including the MMO titles, this is easily one of the larger single-player oriented entries in the series. What would you say was the largest lesson you learned from making a game of this scale?
Hajime Tabata: The biggest takeaway we got from creating an open-world Final Fantasy game is that we understand why the big western developers that make these massive open world games require that much manpower. For FFXV, we made a lot of progress from a technological standpoint. We were able to push the boundaries, but we also streamlined our internal process to keep up with that pace. Looking back, there’s still a lot to look back on, what we were lacking experience in, and what we didn’t have the knowledge for. But there was still a lot that we were able to see and were aware of to make good progress on. When it comes time to work on our next project–taking everything we did–we’re gonna do it even bigger and better, when that time comes.
So are you and the development team on XV planning on pursuing this style of open-world game for your next project?
Hajime Tabata: It’s hard to say at this point if the entire game is gonna be based on an open world. But I would say that the overall experience that users get from playing in a massive area, that overall game experience is something that we’re gonna make sure is in the next project as well.
Well, another Japanese developer came out with a rather notable open-world game this year with Breath of the Wild, which many fans have enjoyed. Have you all gotten the chance to play it, and if so, did anything stick out for you?
Hajime Tabata: So I personally haven’t been able to get my hands on a Switch yet because they’re really hard to find in Japan right now. [Laughs] It’s embarrassing to say. I do have the game; I bought the game already so that I could just pop it in when I do get a Switch. But I’ve heard a lot from the dev team and their reactions to having played it. But just from hearing the stories and the feedback, you know, we can tell that it’s a really complete game. It’s very polished, almost a perfect game in that regard. And our goals are probably to take that experience that players felt with Breath of the Wild, but with our own technology and our own knowhow. We have in our disposal to create a very, very high-quality game with a strong visual element to it, while creating a world that’s really immersive and really beautiful. That’s probably our goals in terms of what we want to be with our next project.
We actually got the chance to check out the PC version of XV, and it’s quite an improvement over the original in terms of visuals. We’re actually seeing more developers in Japan take on PC releases for their games to solid success. What’s impressed you with working on the PC release, and is this something you hope more developers in Japan will dive into?
Hajime Tabata: With the Windows Edition, the platform is already beyond what we did for the console version. Even our in-house engineering with the Luminous Engine has moved up a step in development. So we’re at the next level in terms of our environmental creations. That’s a little bit of a showcase of what we’re capable of, but it’s still something that we’re still continuously working on. We’ve incorporated a lot of improved technologies for physics simulations and made it more natural and realistic. So we’ve tried to kind of elevate our game in a sense.
Obviously, we couldn’t do a simultaneous release for console and PC for FFXV, as we were focused on getting the console version right first. So it’s hard to say if that’s gonna be a trend for more Japanese games in the future.
We saw with Nier: Automata, they released the Steam version pretty much alongside the console version. We saw that they had a massive reaction from their Steam user fanbase. So as a trend, moving forward, we think that means publishers and developers are gonna put focus on the PC and make sure that that’s part of their overall strategy. We’ve made some great strides with the PC release of FFXV. From technical standpoint, to run the Windows Edition at a native 4K and 60 frames per second requires a beefy system. We understand that, there’s certain things that PC gamers hold a lot of value for, like turning up all the graphics options to run the game how you want. But being able to experience this in 60 frames per second, it is really a genuinely rich experience.
One thing that PC gamers are really into is on the modification side of things. Many developers release tool-sets and design kits for their games on PC. While many people are anticipating mods to make the characters nude, there’s likely going to much more than that with actual gameplay creations. What’s your stance on PC mods, and are you OK with fans going at it with the game?
Hajime Tabata: Well, we’ll definitely be allowing user-generated content for players. We know that that’s a common thing. We’ll provide a level editor so that players can create their own quests and their own mini missions. So that’s at least one type of thing that we want to contribute and give to the players. But as far as the other stuff, we’ll look at how the PC audience reacts to the Windows Edition with these and how many of them actually engaging with it. And depending on that, we might start thinking about what to contribute or what other tool sets to provide. We have plans for months, but we we want to see how this takes off first. Before we start thinking about okay, maybe if people seem to like this, so let’s give them this tool set.
So you’re pretty open to what fans plan to make?
Hajime Tabata: We want players to enjoy the experience, and that’s part of the PC gaming world. So we understand that that’s something that people are looking forward to. We definitely have concerns at how extreme people might take the mods, however. But we hope that people take advantage of it in good taste. Depending on how that turns out, is actually going to determine what kind of tool sets we end up providing. We’ll be hands-off and just see what happens. What content that comes from PC mods, it’s there for the players to use. But we’ll be keeping an eye on the Steam workshop page.
Again, work on Final Fantasy XV has been going on for a long time. Looking back on the time you’ve spent with the game, what stick out most to you as something that you feel most proud of accomplishing?
Hajime Tabata: Well, it might not be one particular thing, but the fact that throughout the course of the development for Final Fantasy XV, we constantly made an effort to try new things and try new challenges, and also challenge ourselves to do something at a higher level than what we’d previously done. So being able to do that, you know, through all this time is the one thing that I’m really proud of.