At PAX Prime 2015, I spoke with Final Fantasy XV director Hajime Tabata and art director Tomohiro Hasegawa about a variety of elements and inspirations that are forming the upcoming Final Fantasy XV. Tabata displays infectious enthusiasm as he chats about his upcoming project, and has no qualms firing back questions my way during the course of the pleasant conversation. There are a lot of interesting hints and takeaways over the discussion that range from Steam, the community, Tonberries, and enjoying regional delights during road trips.
GI: Looking at the new footage, can you tell me a little more about the car elements? Is this a huge element of the game? Does the car level up like a character would?
Tabata: So the game was built upon the idea of a road movie to some degree, converting that concept to a game and being able to experience it. The concept follows around taking a journey. The player really feels the world, experiences the world, along with your companions that you’re traveling with. The biggest point is that the players themselves will feel the connection to the characters and the journey, like they’re experiencing it firsthand. So, the car mechanics follow this in the game itself, but we’re really aiming to make the character feel like they are part of this larger journey – the car mechanics support that feeling as a secondary element. The gameplay will feel much different than typical offline Final Fantasy games in that sense, it’s not just following a story, you’re really thrown into a world to experience it in the form of a trip.
With his father’s car, Noctis and his companions travel around from destination to destination. You’ll have auto or manual controls to steer the vehicle and deal with other travel issues like running out of gas, like a realistic road trip. We feel it’s a unique game experience, as the car is more of a modern, realistic element that’s placed into a fantasy environment; it’s a unique take and balance. The car is really just an item that will help you enjoy the world to its fullest. You’ll be able to customize the car so you can change up the specifications of the car, and the paint job, really make it your own.
Above: Hajime Tabata
Outside of Final Fantasy XV, what’s your favorite Final Fantasy game and why?
Tabata: Final Fantasy VI. A high-level fusion of sci-fi mechanics like the Magitek armor blending into the fantasy world, a cool environment that could only be done in Final Fantasy.
Hasegawa: Final Fantasy V. I felt the drama was very strong, and I designed a lot of monsters that left a lasting impression on me.
Tabata: What’s your favorite?
My favorite is actually IV.
Tabata: We all like the classic Final Fantasies! The way that we’re creating Final Fantasy XV is kind of drawing upon all the good aspects of the classic Final Fantasy games and trying to create them in a modern landscape with the latest technology. So there should be a lot of elements to enjoy in Final Fantasy XV from these – especially from say, Final Fantasy IV, V, and VI, one of the crucial elements we felt were the dungeons. The dungeons had less order, and you could come across especially vicious monsters. So there were frightening elements to it, you may be in a water dungeon or a cave but come across creatures you may never expect, it’s an element that we loved from the classic games. The amazing, spectacular world exists above ground, but underground anything can happen.
Okay, so we’ve got your favorite games, what about your favorite monster from the series and why?
Tabata: Odin. It’s a summon but yes, I like Odin.
Hasegawa: The Ultima Weapon, because it always transforms and you never know what’s coming.
Tabata: How about you, what is your favorite?
Tabata: We’re sort of evaluating whether or not the Tonberry will show up in FFXV. What is your memory of the Tonberry?
Well it’s just sort of a really strange and unique enemy the first time you encounter it. You ask yourself what is this enemy doing; it’s not really doing anything, it’s just this little green guy with a lantern and then BAM, and someone is instantly killed. Like you mentioned earlier, it has something to do with sort of a vicious surprise in the dungeons with monsters you’re not really prepared for.
Tabata: What do you think the appeal is of Final Fantasy?
I’ve always really liked the combat systems, the summons, the characters, and the job systems. I’m not really a story-oriented kind of guy, but I think the classic style stories are just really strong, especially in the older games, backed up with excellent environments, music, and design.
Tabata: Does that mean you’re more interested in the classic Final Fantasy games than the more modern ones? I’m sorry; I shouldn’t be interviewing you!
I would say that’s accurate, I consider perhaps I-VII to be my favorites in the series, but I’m extremely curious as to where Final Fantasy XV will take the series.
Tabata: In that sense, XV does carry on a sort of a simpler narrative. Rather than focusing on human drama, it takes a step back to draw you in as a player to look at the big picture. But obviously technology has significantly advanced, so we’re trying to add more value to the experience and make you feel like you’re traveling with your companions. XV is kind of a major turning point for us, it’s our chance to make the best RPG with the best technology. So you know, in the classic games you’d play it at home and then you’d go to school and talk about it with your friends. Today, the community has shifted, it’s online. Regardless of it being console or Steam, the importance of the community has changed, and even though this is a standalone title, we want elements that play to the community that they can draw on.
Above: Tomohiro Hasegawa
So what do you like to do with your time when you’re not making games?
Tabata: I like to go on drives! Sort of what we’re creating right now. I like going into nature, experiencing the outdoors, and cooking. In the world of XV, there’s the concept of time. It’s constantly moving from morning to night there’s a time cycle. So when it’s night you can camp, and enjoy eating the regional specialty. Honestly speaking though, we haven’t had a whole lot of time to do anything but work on this title. There’s no personal time, it will come after.
What’s your favorite character from the Final Fantasy series?
Tabata: Zack from Final Fantasy VII. Post Final Fantasy VII there was Crisis Core and I liked diving deep into his character in that game.
Hasegawa: I like Tidus from Final Fantasy X. I worked on the team for X, and it was the first title that was voiced so I think it was easier to become more emotionally attached to the characters.
So what about XV, what’s your favorite character in XV?
Tabata: Regis. As the father of Noctis, the main character, he plays an important role in the story. Also with that you start to think about the bonds that you may have with your own father. I think he’s turning out to be a really great character.
Hasegawa: My opinion may change, but in the game, as it is currently – I like Ignis. He’s someone you can count on (he’s the driver), he cooks for you, and you can count on his friendship.
Tabata: One kind of unique aspect of XV is that not one particular character is superhuman, we’re taking it as the group itself and that relationship and how they come together – that’s sort of the “main” character, so it’s a new perspective on Final Fantasy. Because they’re depicted so humanly, they’re more believable in that sense. As more story becomes available, I’d like to talk about other characters, but I can’t right now.
Will there be any mini-game such as Triple Triad available in XV?
Tabata: We will have a few mini-games, we’ll be mentioning this at the earliest during Tokyo Game Show. One thing that’s kind of already been communicated is the fishing aspect; you can fish up things and eat them at your camp. There will be something else you’ll be able to play at a facility, and another available on smartphones. Also, it’s not really a mini-game, but you’ll be able to ride chocobos and jump around for leisure.
Last one! Outside of the Final Fantasy series, what’s your favorite game, and why?
Hasegawa: It’s a really old game: Romancing Saga 2. After I joined Square Enix, I really wanted to be part of the development of this game. It’s a unique title even to this day – it stands on its own and has its own characteristics.
Tabata: It’s hard for me to identify one title. Currently, I don’t have a real reason why, but I’d say it’s Legend of Zelda. But there was a time in the past where it was Civilization. I really like core PC titles.