Final Fantasy XIII, the latest in the long-running RPG series, is one of the year's most highly anticipated games. Tech Digest recently got to have a chat with FFXIII 's director Motomu Toriyama (MT) and producer Yoshinori Kitase (YK), getting their views on western RPG's such as Mass Effect and the possibility of a Final Fantasy VII remake.
For the last decade the Final Fantasy series has been closely associated with the PlayStation brand. What influenced the decision to bring Microsoft and the Xbox 360 on board as well this time?
YK: To start with, from the viewpoint of the developing teams, our environment is now right for making multi-platform games. Also, as the Xbox 360 is becoming more popular across the world, we'd like as a great a number of players as possible to enjoy Final Fantasy XIII.
There are obviously differences in power and what you can achieve with the PS3 and the Xbox 360, particularly in terms of disk capacity. Did that cause any problems during the cross-platform development?
YK: The PS3 version will come on just one Blu-ray disc, whereas the Xbox version will be spread across three DVDs. We had a hard time allocating all the information onto three DVDs, but we feel like we've done a good job. The player will only have to exchange discs twice across the course of the game, so we feel the difference isn't too intrusive on the Xbox 360.
In a sense the disc changing adds to the feeling of progression in its own way I suppose? I can remember being very excited about reaching a new disc on the old PlayStation Final Fantasies!
YK: (Laughs) Yes, I suppose that is true!
Final Fantasy XIII feels like a strong blend between classic elements of the series and brand new mechanics. There's a far more fluid and familiar battle system, compared to the MMO feel of Final Fantasy XII. Was it a conscious decision to move away from the fights seen in Final Fantasy XII?
YK: The battle scenes in Final Fantasy XII had their own merits and were great in their own right, particularly in how seamless the transition from the field to the fight was. The downside is, because of that, both the field map data and the battle system data had to be squashed into a limited amount of memory for it to work. As a result, though it was seamless, it was sometimes lacking in the "wow" factor previous Final Fantasy games have had. We set out to create something with a greater visual impact, something more spectacular that is only possible when you separate the field and the battle data. It may not be quite as seamless as what you've seen in Final Fantasy XII, but it will be a lot more visually captivating.
With the emphasis on engaging visuals in mind then, lets talk a little bit about the characters. Tetsuya Nomura (Final Fantasy V, VI, VII, VIII, X) has designed the characters again. Is he given a tight brief when it comes to the look of each character, or is he given free reign to take the character designs where he pleases?
MT: The story and the characters cannot exist on their own, so we set up a basic concept for both the story and the characters in the beginning. We present these to Mr. Nomura and we get his feedback, and then we work out any minor adjustments to the look of each characters as each new idea or problem arises.
What drives you to make a new Final Fantasy game? The progression to more powerful hardware, or perhaps a good story or battle concept?
MT: To start with there are two important factors we have to make decisions on: what is the in-game universe that we want to depict and then, yes, what is the battle system we want to develop. Once we have those in place it all just picks up from there.
The in-game universes to previous Final Fantasy games have had pretty well defined cinematic influences. Does anything jump to mind that influenced the art direction of Final Fantasy XIII?
MT: The in-game universe this time around is quite fantasy based, but also futuristic at the same time. We never really had any particular reference points for Final Fantasy XIII, in terms of places where we drew inspiration from. That said, we're a little suspicious that the world famous Avatar movie might have take inspiration from us!
I thought that too! How about western RPGs like Mass Effect and Fallout 3? They've become very popular, particularly in western countries. What do you think of the more action-orientated direction of western RPG developers? How do they stand up against traditional Japanese RPGs?
MT: Mass Effect and Fallout allow the players to play with more freedom, and within their story-lines it is quite successful. But we're more interested in things such as first person shooters like Call of Duty. They give a better sense of tension on the battlefield. We some times draw inspiration from those sorts of games. It's not just RPGs but FPS titles that get us excited.
You both worked on Final Fantasy VII, a game very close to my heart! There are always rumours of a possible Final Fantasy VII remake, but would you personally like to see it happen? Do you think a remake is even necessary?
YK: IF it were possible that we had all the right facilities and the right environment to be able to make and prepare a Final Fantasy VII remake within a year, we'd very much like a go at it! But even Final Fantasy XIII has taken over three and a half years to create. If we were to recreate final Fantasy VII with the same level of graphical detail as you see in Final Fantasy XIII, we'd imagine that that would take as much as three or four times longer than the three and a half years it has taken to put this Final Fantasy together! So it's looking pretty unrealistic! But if any such situation came about by any remote chance, then yes, we'd do it!
I suppose we could always use a Haste spell to speed up the process! Thank you very much for your time.
Final Fantasy XIII will be released on the Xbox 360 and PS3 on March 9th.