Ten long, long years. Ten years since Square Enix unveiled the sequel formerly known as Versus XIII and now, following a fairly significant overhaul, Final Fantasy XV is primed to emerge from its prolonged and troubled development at some point in 2016.
Set to be unveiled at the FFXV Uncovered event on March 30, early reports have stipulated that the open-world JRPG will touch down towards the end of September on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Putting speculation aside for the time being, however, Square has rolled out piecemeal slices of gameplay and new story details via the Active Time Report video series, shedding light on just how the long-gestating title is shaping up after all those years.
But what has changed in that intervening decade? First showcased during E3 2006, Final Fantasy Versus XIII was initially pitched as a PlayStation 3 exclusive, one which would have been situated under the same umbrella of Cocoon, Lightning and all the other idiosyncrasies of FFXIII.
Please Be Excited
Then, Versus XIII had its roots in the Fabula Nova Crystallis Final Fantasy, a sub series within Hironobu Sakaguchi’s time-honoured franchise that is tied together by a common mythos. Essentially, each new entry revolves around divine crystals, their innate magic power and the intersection between deities and humans — despite existing in totally separate universes.
Towards the beginning of its decade-long development cycle, Tetsuya Nomura took point for development on Versus XIII — a Game Director synonymous with the Kingdom Hearts franchise. Not surprisingly, gameplay elements from Nomura’s stint aboard KH began to seep into the embryonic FFXV, including the ability to control multiple characters simultaneously. Couple this with early concepts for a first-person viewpoint, not to mention the non-existent HUD, and it is pretty clear that Versus XIII was put through the wringer early on in development.
Pre-production spanned long into 2011, and it was only then that, after concluding that this was a tale that grew immensely in the telling, Square began to question whether the title once considered to be a spinoff to FFXIII would be better served as its own numerical installment.
One factor that helped seal the deal was the oncoming release of PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. By this stage in the timeline, Final Fantasy XV was already half a decade in development, and with every year that passed, yet more questions were raised regarding its status as a PlayStation 3 exclusive. It may boast a considerable install base — and still does to this day — but at a technical level, it wouldn’t be long before Sony’s last-gen system was rendered obsolete under the shadow of the PS4.
Besides, Final Fantasy is a franchise that in many ways defines itself on its ability to push console hardware to the absolute limit, from the apocalyptic scope of Final Fantasy VI on SNES to the inclusion of full motion videos in Final Fantasy VII onwards. After all this time, Final Fantasy XV must uphold tradition.
And so, development migrated over to the then-unannounced PlayStation 4, though it was during this transitional period that the PS3 version was eventually cut from production, as Square harnessed the Luminous Studio game engine.
Behind the scenes, Hajime Tabata and key members from his Final Fantasy Type-0 team were brought aboard to help shepherd FFXV’s development towards completion. At the time, approximately 20-25 percent of Versus XIII was finished before the official rebranding and a JRPG spinoff became a JRPG bearing its own fully-fledged world, with a story ripe for the telling.
Indeed all throughout this creative changeover, both Tabata and Tetsuya Nomura maintained an open dialogue so as to ensure the retail ready version of XV would remain true to Nomura’s original vision — a fantasy based on reality. When Kingdom Hearts 3 inevitably came calling, though, Nomura was drawn to his beloved RPG franchise, handing over the reins to Tabata who has overseen development during the final stretch.
Dusting itself down from another internal switcheroo, the publisher fired up FFXV production in earnest in July of 2012. One year later, scathing rumors that suggested the team at Square threw out the baby with the bath water when overhauling Final Fantasy XV were quietly dispelled when, seven years after Noctis and his crew first lit up the LA stage, the game was unveiled as a full-fledged sequel at E3 2013.
A Fantasy Based on Reality
It was triumphant moment for the developer. Here it was reintroducing its troubled AAA title to the masses after seven years spent in the shadows, and yet those accusations of vapourware still lingered.
However, slowly but surely, Final Fantasy XV became a tangible RPG experience, one we could genuinely get excited for this time around. Those embers of excitement sparked into life with the release of the Episode Duscae demo in 2015. Included as a pre-order perk for Final Fantasy Type-0 HD — once known as Final Fantasy Agito XIII — the vertical slice introduced fans to the free-flowing, real-time combat system, Noctis’ warp ability, and a reworked progression system that all takes place after the core group pitch a tent for the night.
Upon spending time with the sharp-suited, rebooted FFXV, fans quickly began to realize the fundamental differences from not only its Final Fantasy brethren, but also the fabled Versus XIII. That said, Square’s 2016 JRPG will still orbit around a prince’s quest for revenge, after “his country is invaded by an enemy power to gain control of the world’s last crystal.” Therein lies the loose connection to Fabula Nova Crystallis series, with Noctis partnering with Ignis, Prompto and Gladiolus to lock horns with the Niflheim empire.
Other minor tweaks to note as FFXV nears release include Square’s decision to switch out female protagonist Stella Nox Fleuret for Lunafreya, a childhood friend to Noctis who will be playable as a guest party member at various points during the open-world adventure.
It’s Been a Long Time — Too Long
Now rounding the final corner, Square Enix recently sought the help of Just Cause developer Avalanche for flight capabilities and designing aircrafts — a core staple of the franchise — and we can expect to learn more of the final, consumer-ready version of Final Fantasy XV.
It’s been quite the long and meandering journey. Our timeline represents a compressed version of that prolonged development — artists, developers and scenario writers came and went in what was once a revolving door for Square during the formative years.
On March 30, though, the legend meets its match. Final Fantasy XV, a fantasy based on reality, will be slated for a release in late 2016. But after all those years, does Square’s JRPG sequel still have your attention?