The lights are on
After years of anticipation, the release of Final Fantasy XIII is finally upon us. Few video game franchises command the loyalty and devotion of so many gamers around the world, which serves as both a blessing and a curse for Square Enix’s flagship series. A dedicated fanbase practically guarantees sales, but the Final Fantasy name also carries certain expectations. We talked to two of Final Fantasy XIII’s creators, producer Yoshinori Kitase and director Motomu Toriyama, about some of the choices and challenges involved with creating the newest entry in the revered Final Fantasy series. Final Fantasy XIII’s engine was unveiled as the White Engine, but later the name changed to Crystal Tools. What prompted the switch?Yoshinori Kitase (pictured above left): The White engine was created specifically for Final Fantasy XIII. From there, we changed the concept of the engine to make it more adaptable to other projects (such as Final Fantasy XIV), which is the reason for the name change.If you could make the decision again knowing what you know now, would you recommend building an all-new engine for Final Fantasy XIII?YK: I think that instead of developing something completely new, we would try our hand at improving upon existing technology. Tools and engines improve through a process of trial and error and countless revisions, and that’s what really makes them more efficient.Was adapting the game to the Xbox 360 a difficult process?YK: Transitioning Final Fantasy XIII to multiplatform was not a huge obstacle, as the Crystal Tools engine was created with multiplatform development in mind. The game data and CG data were shared between the two platform versions as well, so the workload for this part of development never increased. Of course, that doesn’t apply to the programming staff that was a part of developing the Crystal Tools engine, as well as engines specific to each platform – they gave up their holidays and went above and beyond in dedicating their time to development.With the increasing quality of real-time graphics, do you still see CG cutscenes continuing to play an important role in Final Fantasy games?Motomu Toriyama (pictured above right): We worked closely with the CG team, constantly exchanging data with them in order to decrease the gap between the real-time cutscenes, battle graphics, and CG cutscenes. With the advancement in technology, I am sure that the quality of real-time graphics in games will continue to progress, but it is important to note that CG technology is still evolving as well. I think that there is still room to differentiate between one or the other, depending on a creator’s vision. We never decide on the content of the cutscenes based on the graphical options available – these methods fall into place depending on what it is that we are trying to portray.When creating a new Final Fantasy, how do you decide which series traditions to keep or leave out?MT: The goal of each Final Fantasy development team has been to create something new and different every time, both in terms of systems and technology. There were even titles in which the crystal, a major symbolic element of the Final Fantasy world, did not appear, so it’s safe to say that there are no requirements that limit the creative freedom of the development staff. It is this ideology that allows the series to continue to evolve. Many of the staff working on Final Fantasy titles are fans themselves, but even they do not consider it a requirement to include Chocobos or Cid in every installment. [PageBreak]Which aspects of Final Fantasy XIII do you see as pointing toward the future of Final Fantasy?MT: The battle system of Final Fantasy XIII keeps the best parts of command-style combat alive with a strong strategic element, while also adding some fast-paced action elements. The direction of the series changes depending on the development team, so it’s difficult to say how Final Fantasy battles will evolve in the future. It’s safe to say, however, that as the technological means of expressing battles advances, the liveliness and tension associated with high-intensity action will probably become a key component.Does traditional turn-based combat even have a place in Final Fantasy anymore?MT: If we were to implement a turn-based system on a high-def system, the time that characters stand completely still on standby would seem too long, and the battle scenes would not seem visually realistic. Final Fantasy XIII’s battle system maintains the strategic element that is key to the turn-based experience with the realization of the Paradigm system, so there were no considerations during development to return to the traditional turn-based style. The team’s focus and challenge was to create a new type of strategic experience wherein players must adapt to ever-changing battle circumstances. This is not to say that style of turn-based battles will never return in the future; the battle system could change depending on the type of hardware that is selected. However, it may not be as simple as bringing back the original system as-is.At what point in the development process of Final Fantasy XIII was it decided that players would not be exploring towns in the same way as previous games in the series?MT: In Final Fantasy XIII, Lightning and the other main characters are persecuted and on the run within their world as dangerous l’Cie. The concept of exploring towns and shopping did not make sense in light of the plot, so from the very start of development we had decided that ìtownsî would be incorporated in the form of a handful of large cities. Instead of adhering to the traditional style of RPG gameplay, we wanted to involve players by presenting one dramatic situation after the other. The residents of each town are fully voiced, which is something new to the series, and something we hope fans will have fun with.The last game in the series, Final Fantasy XII, was one of the more complicated entries. Was there a deliberate effort to make FF XIII easier to play than FF XII?MT: Final Fantasy XII’s system was more about trial-and-error in the preparations prior to battle. In Final Fantasy XIII, we placed emphasis on the strategic aspect of combat, having players respond to ever-changing battle circumstances in real-time, and also implemented very intuitive controls. Both battle systems provide equally challenging and satisfying experiences, just in different ways.Final Fantasy XIII was unveiled over three years before its actual release. Is that too long to keep fans waiting, or is it the right amount of time to build up excitement for the title?YK: It’s a bit of both. We definitely don’t enjoy making our fans wait, but felt it was necessary to give players ample time to get to know the characters and the world. Lightning was probably the character that became most recognizable prior to the game’s launch.Can you clarify the relationship between the stories of the titles in the Fabula Nova Crystalis project? Do they just share common themes, or are there more direct ties between them?YK: While the characters and world of each game are completely unrelated, there is a single Crystal Mythology that exists as a backbone to all three. Fragments of this mythology appear in each title. In Final Fantasy XIII, there is mention of the deities’ names.The currently announced Fabula Nova Crystalis titles are Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy Versus XIII, and Final Fantasy Agito XIII. Do these games represent the entirety of the project?YK: Please look forward to future announcements.For a while in the Final Fantasy series, gamers only had to wait a couple years between installments. For FF XII and FF XIII, however, the wait was longer. Is the shorter distance between the releases of FF XIII and XIV an indicator that Square Enix is making an effort to deliver Final Fantasy games on a more consistent basis?YK: The development period for Final Fantasy XIII was longer than our standard, mainly because it was the first time our teams created a game for high-def systems, as well as because the game was developed for multiple platforms. Final Fantasy XIV is an online game and developed by an entirely different team, so I can’t speak on the pace of development. However, now that we have completed Final Fantasy XIII and have gained a tremendous amount of knowledge regarding high-def systems, we are hoping for an increase in development speed for future projects.
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