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Final Fantasy Masterminds Reminisce About Their Favorite Moments

The Final Fantasy series has been running for nearly 30 years, spanning 14 mainline entries and a slew of spinoffs. Come September 30, it will celebrate its long-awaited 15th entry, which we’ve been looking at all month alongside our May cover story. There’s no denying Final Fantasy’s legacy, and everybody has their favorite characters, summons, and moments that defined the series for them. While we were at Square Enix’s offices in Tokyo, we talked to many influential people who have worked on the franchise, from Takashi Tokita, who’s been with the series since its beginnings, to Yoshinori Kitase who’s had a hand in some of the most popular entries, like VI, VII, and X. With such a great opportunity, we asked various Final Fantasy developers to share their favorite aspects. Here are their responses.

Yoshinori Kitase
Current Project: Final Fantasy VII Remake producer
Known For: Director on Final Fantasy VI, VII, VIII, X

Favorite villain: “Considering that I am working on the re-make right now, if I had to bring someone up it’d be Sephiroth. When we were creating him originally, we wanted it to be kind of like a mystery novel. This entity that appears mysteriously, so it would create the impression of this big evil force. That was received well and he has been thought of that representative villain of the franchise. I really like that aspect of him, and also because we’re working on him and revisiting VII for the remake again, it makes me like him even more.”

Takashi Tokita
Current Project: Holy Dungeon (mobile title) writer
Known For: Lead designer on Final Fantasy IV, director on Chrono Trigger, Parasite Eve

Favorite characters: “IV is one of the most memorable projects that I’ve been involved in; my favorite would be the children Palom and Porom. In a world where the adults are always contemplating a bunch of things, the children still always remain positive and serve as a light in a dark story. They bring an energy to the situation. In terms of production, I was saved by those characters, so those would be my favorite characters. But they were only in the game for an instant and then they turned into stone. In the sequel we were able to give them more light, make them a little more grown up and put more focus on them.”

Favorite villain: “I like Golbez from IV, but also in terms of Sephiroth, there’s this whole story and drama as to why exactly he turned out the way he is, so I really understand why he’s so popular among fans.”

Favorite opening: “It was actually Final Fantasy I. It was very impactful when you cross the bridge and the adventure begins. You start off playing the game as is, then you cross the bridge and the adventure starts in this whole expansive universe. The opening just starts suddenly. It’s not the best graphics obviously, but the emotion and sentiment I got for getting into this deeper, expansive world, I really liked that. In terms of when Cecil and Kain (in IV) depart part ways in essence in the opening sequence it was partially in an homage to FF I.”

Hajime Tabata
Current Project: Final Fantasy XV director
Known For: Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core, Type-0

Favorite opening: “Final Fantasy VI, because as you start up the game you’re thrown into this world, which is completely different from what you expected, so it’s truly an unexpected entry type into the game. That part is where it stands out for me.”

Favorite character: “I have no idea why because I don't necessarily like him or not like him, but the one that came to mind was Vincent, but it's not Vincent. Rather than Vincent, I would like to bring up Zack, which is one that I created [for Crisis Core]. I don’t really know much otherwise.” 

Hiroki Chiba

Current Project: World of Final Fantasy director
Known For: Final Fantasy VII, VIII, X event planner, Final Fantasy Type-0 lead writer

Favorite moment: “I like quite a lot of moments. It’s so hard to choose, but what comes to mind is the scene from Final Fantasy VIII where Squall and Rinoa are in the space environment and they have this romantic moment with Fey Wong’s 'Eyes On Me' music in the background. It was a little embarrassing creating it because I was adjusting it frame by frame so that everything would match and be in sync with the track, so I listened to that Fey Wong song numerous times just so I could everything right. From a production standpoint as well, that scene comes to mind.”

Favorite villain: “If I say Sephiroth, I’m sure everyone else is saying that. The villains that stand in the way of the main character in their own unique fashion are always the ones that stay in the memories of the players. It’s hard to [pick] one particular villain, but in terms of impressionable villains, they always seem to be those villains that take away from what players are already emotionally attached to, so VI’s Kefka, VII’s Sephiroth, all of them share those characteristics.”

Naoki Yoshida
Current Project: Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn director
Known For: Dragon Quest X

Favorite summon: "The Bahamut summons from VII and XIV. The design we used in Final Fantasy XIV where Bahamut came down and with his fire destroyed the old Final Fantasy XIV and created the new A Realm Reborn… We pretty much got that from the Final Fantasy VII summon, where he comes down in his meteor and megaflares. We took that and brought it directly into XIV."

Favorite villain: “Sephiroth. I want him to remain as he is. You look at someone like Cloud and back when he was released, he was a very catchy and unique character, so he had a lot of fans. Because of that, he’s been used in a lot different products since Final Fantasy VII, and his history didn’t end at VII; it’s continued on and he’s evolved. However, with Sephiroth, I don’t think he should change at all. You should keep him where he is, let me him be big and let him be just that. I love Sephiroth’s humanity. He wants to destroy the world like any villain, but he has his reasons for doing it and his reasons are very similar to the trauma regular people have and because of that humanity it made him a very unique type of villain. I also like that he looks very cool and he’s holding a Japanese Katana as well.”

Takeshi Nozue
Current Project: Kingsglaive director
Known For: Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children co-director, Final Fantasy XIII CG movie co-director

Favorite character: “It may be a little unfair because we’re working on it right now, but King Regis or Luna because I don’t think that characters have been depicted in this depth until now and it really depicts the human struggles and their determination.”

Akio Ofuji
Current Project: Brotherhood anime producer
Known For: Final Fantasy IX, Parasite Eve, Kingdom Hearts II publicist

Favorite character: “My favorite is Cloud from FF VII because of that moment where his identity essentially breaks. I was shocked that this type of thing would be depicted in a game in that given moment in time. It was also really interesting to see Cloud himself recover, rebuild, and regain his strength. But then thereafter through Advent Children, you still see his struggle with his inner self being depicted. So just overall, Cloud and the interesting character that he is, has always been impressionable to me.”

Takaharu Aono
Current Project: Final Fantasy XV lead technical animator
Known For: Dissidia: Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts II battle animator

Favorite summon: "Odin and the reason is really simple: He’s a knight on a horse. How cool is that? I’m not sure if you know of the XI Odin, but there was a game bug, so there was that instant-kill kind of attack, but you could avoid it by healing, so it was fun to dodge it."

 

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Behind The Scenes Of Final Fantasy VII’s Gold Saucer

Final Fantasy VII has many memorable and iconic moments, ranging from the silly to the serious. Though the Gold Saucer may not be as epic as the final confrontation between Cloud and Sephiroth, its mixture of goofy distractions and minigames holds a special place in fans’ hearts.

We talked among ourselves about the appeal of the Gold Saucer in the second episode of our Final Fantasy VII Game Club. However, during our visit to Square Enix for Final Fantasy XV, we were able to talk about it with the developers themselves, providing some additional insight and context to this strange and entertaining area.

Hiroki Chiba (now the director of World of Final Fantasy) was officially an event planner on Final Fantasy VII, but those duties included overseeing the entire Gold Saucer. “I actually ran free with Gold Saucer,” Chiba says. “They let me create it in the way I wanted to. Of course, I didn’t create everything myself. It’s not just my idea.”

In a game with heart-wrenching deaths and the threat of planetary annihilation, the Gold Saucer might seem like a light-hearted anomaly. That’s not an accident.

“In terms of how the idea developed, we were thinking of it from the adventure standpoint – what you see when you enter this desert area,” Chiba says. “And then, for some reason, we came up with amusement parks. Obviously, there are fun and weird events that happen in that area, but then moving forward, you start to go into the deeper and heavier story elements. So, we created it to give players a bit of a break. And if it was to be a break, we wanted players to enjoy it to the fullest, so we implemented different kinds of features that would fulfill that goal.”

Those different features come in all forms in the Gold Saucer: chocobo races, snowboarding, a battle arena, and more. “We tried to implement everything – all the ideas that popped up,” Chiba says. “Some people developed a minigame and brought it forth, and then we implemented it, and packaged it within the Gold Saucer. I don’t recall any of them being removed or rejected. I myself really wanted to do the chocobo game, so that’s what I pushed for.”

One of those minigames, Mog House, came from Square Enix’s Takashi Tokita (who has been working on the series since the original installment). He didn’t have an official role on Final Fantasy VII, but got roped into the project by chance. “I was actually working on Parasite Eve in Honolulu at the time, but I was coming back to Japan to renew my visa,” Tokita says. “I was just supposed to stay here for a week, but I got caught by the FF VII team and ended up helping for three months.”

Mog House was one of the many miscellaneous things Tokita worked on during his time on the project. In it, players feed a moogle in order to help him fly, which eventually leads to his having a family and a happy life. Think of it as a very simple Final Fantasy Tamagotchi pet – and it only came about because an artist made the background with no idea how it would be implemented in the final product. “At the time, the graphic designer had already created the visuals in advance, but they didn’t really think about what we would do with it,” Tokita says. “So, I thought it might be interesting to create this growth/nurture kind of game, where you feed the moogle and it would breed baby moogles.”

The development atmosphere that gave rise to the Gold Saucer was unique, because the area wasn’t carefully plotted in advance. Though Chiba is responsible for a majority of the area, various members of the team across multiple disciplines contributed ideas, making it easy to experiment. “At that time, it wasn’t like we had a rigid, set plan that we just followed,” Tokita says. “Mog House was a great accident, in essence, and one that wouldn’t have come about without that collaboration.”

That freedom and cooperation resulted in the Gold Saucer being one of the most memorable aspects of Final Fantasy VII. Sure, not all of the minigames and activities are fantastic, but the mere fact that they exist is part of what makes Final Fantasy VII so special; the team was able to play around, take chances, and be spontaneous. “Today, we have a more clear and proper pipeline in place,” Tokita says. “In terms of percentage chance of something like that happening, it’s lower than before. That said, it’s likely to happen in the initial concept stages, or at the end when we’re doing everything we can to make a product better. There are still people who think that way and want to do that; there are always interesting things that come about from not setting things in stone. That’s the fun of game development.”

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The Art That Shaped Final Fantasy: Thoughts From Famed Artist Yoshitaka Amano

Many great artists have helped define Final Fantasy over the years, but Yoshitaka Amano’s work is the most recognizable, and has become closely associated with the series as a whole. Amano draws the iconic logo illustrations for every title, and is also responsible for the unique visual style that distinguishes many memorable monsters and characters. 

During our visit to Tokyo for our Final Fantasy XV coverage, we had the opportunity to visit Amano’s office and chat with the legendary artist (also known for his work on Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics) about his process, specific illustrations, and the significance of Final Fantasy in his personal artistic expression. Below are the thoughts Amano shared on this broad range of topics.

On beginning a new Final Fantasy illustration:
It’s in development when these requests come up, so there’s not much documentation to go by. But with the information we do have to work with, I take that and interpret that on my own and try to incorporate that and create an illustration out of it. Of course, main characters are very important. So even if we progress through development, not much of the important aspects would drift or change significantly.

On the Final Fantasy VI illustration:
I’m not quite sure if I’m the one who decided to move forward with Terra, or if it was a request to move forward with her. But what was memorable at the time was that she was one of the first female main characters in the series, and that kind of stood out on its own. Also at this time, it was just the silhouette that was being drawn; now you get actual faces and lines. Previously, it was more simplistic, and it gradually become more illustration-like over the years.

On creating art, not logos:
Because the title logo is monochrome to a certain degree, I don’t really illustrate because of the title logo. Moreso, I illustrate so that it will be a standalone piece of art. It won’t be fun unless we’re creating that art piece. So, regardless of the request, that is the one thing prominently in my mind when drawing these illustrations.

On the Final Fantasy VII and XI illustrations:
The most challenging logo illustration was Final Fantasy XI because there were so many characters. And it was on a huge piece of paper, so it was very tedious. But I also have to bring up Final Fantasy VII. It was based on Meteor, and when I looked at it, I wasn’t sure it would become the illustration – if it would become a piece of art. I drew a lot of different variations and concepts around that; there’s not a lot of instances where you’re drawing a lot of stone-like objects over and over again! I wasn’t quite sure if it was good or bad, so I said, “Here, you guys choose” in the end.

On working from text:
Rather than receiving visuals, it is more about receiving text-based information, like age and the role they play. I’m not a character designer, but an illustrator, so there are more instances where I’ve worked off of text I’ve gotten from the team.

This is going back to an example from something I created in the past, but there was a sci-fi novel written from the perspective of a robot, looking at humans and observing them. Written in that text was details about the humans. If you puncture them, they bleed. They have two eyes. Those kinds of details. And what was interesting was how they were depicted as weak living specimens, and that’s what you can draw from the text…Anything that’s written in text builds and expands your imagination. Whereas, when you have a visual asset to review or look at, that’s the end of it.

On the Final Fantasy XII illustration:
Between my office and the Square Enix office, there was quite a bit of distance at the time. Maybe about an hour or so. I drew up another piece while the Square representative was on the way to pick up the pieces – and the one I drew within that hour was the one that ended up being selected!

When we receive requests, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s best to do it formally or properly. It’s because we had that baseline of what was created properly that we were able to break it a little bit. At that time, we were creating in Japanese-style ink, and it was kind of like watercolor, so you have those brush marks. That’s the touch and style of that particular piece. It had this kind of forward-thinking brush effect, and that’s something that can only come about when it’s not calculated. That may have been what was necessary for XII at that time, and came across as something that was refreshing. So, there are moments when it’s not necessarily about following the request; sometimes things come about spontaneously.

On consistency within the Final Fantasy series:
Simply put, the Final Fantasy brand name and its history are what tie everything together. It’s kind of like a fashion brand; whoever the designer is, Louis Vuitton and Gucci are still Louis Vuitton and Gucci. Anyone who joins in on a Final Fantasy project joins in on that name, and it’s their duty to help it develop and grow. So they’re a part of continuing that history and helping it evolve. It’s the responsibility of the individuals that have the opportunity to be a part of it. So, Final Fantasy itself is kind of like a living entity.

On the Final Fantasy IV 3DS illustration:
This was created new for the port. It wasn’t a concept that pre-existed from the original. This illustration is one that I drew, but the designers at Square Enix put the image and logo together, every time I look I look at this, it looks so cool. The designer did a really good job merging it together. This was originally ink art, but it now has some red in it – those kinds of touches were done by the designer. The coloring is very cool. I personally like these dark, boss-like characters and tend to lean toward these types of illustrations. It’s a shape and form that I really like.

On his first reaction to the tweaked Final Fantasy XV illustration:
The impression I had was “Oh, it’s finally being realized after all this time.”


Amano (center right) meets with Square Enix about an illustration for the Uncovered: Final Fantasy XV event, including FF XV director Hajime Tabata (far right)

On Final Fantasy’s impact on his career:
First, it’s what made me famous! [laughs] I’ve done a lot of different types of work, but even in my personal works, it all comes back to me as an artist. When I think about what’s important to me as an artist, the pieces that I’ve worked on for Final Fantasy come back to me.

There’s an interesting book that puts together the modern art history of Japan, and one of my personal art pieces was placed in this book. You can see several familiar Final Fantasy characters and illustrations spread across the piece – they’re existing as Final Fantasy characters within the art as a piece of expression.

In that sense, Final Fantasy is very important to my career, not just in name, but also in terms of the visual pieces and art expression. When you look at Andy Warhol using Marilyn Monroe, for example, or other famous people as a piece of art – for me, these characters emerge as my own expression in my personal art form.

 

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Ask Us Your Final Fantasy XV Questions

We've been talking about Final Fantasy XV a lot recently here at Game Informer, but now it's time for you to have some direct input. In this week's podcast, we're going to answer your biggest questions to the best of our ability based on our experience at the studio and time playing the game. However, before we can do that, you need to ask us some questions!

What do you want to know about? Story? Combat? Characters? Controls? Technical performance? You can either leave your questions in the comments below, or email them to [email protected], and we'll select some to answer when we record the podcast later this week. 

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An Inside Look At Modernizing The Art Of Final Fantasy

With our trip to Square Enix in Tokyo for our extensive cover story on Final Fantasy XV, we were lucky enough to speak with several long-time developers that have worked on the beloved series. Yusuke Naora has been an artist on the team since Final Fantasy VI, going on to contribute background art for things like Midgar and the Northern Crater in Final Fantasy VII. Naora is one of three art directors on Final Fantasy XV, and one of his early tasks on the project was to update the look of the characters from their incarnation in Final Fantasy Versus XIII. We spoke with Naora about what it was like to be amongst the team developing classics like Final Fantasy VI and the three guiding themes for updating the characters in Final Fantasy XV.

Watch the video below to learn more about Yusuke Naora's work on the art of Final Fantasy.

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Naughty Dog Drops One Last Uncharted 4 Trailer Before Nathan Drake’s Final Adventure

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End is the final installment of the series starring Nathan Drake. Will the series go on? Quite possibly given its premier standing in the PlayStation exclusive line-up, but it won't be easy saying goodbye to the franchise's lovable rapscallion.

In the lead-up to this last dance with Nathan Drake, Naughty Dog as released a final trailer that shows what's at stake for the veteran treasure hunter. You can watch it here:

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Uncharted 4: A Thief's End is coming to PlayStation 4 on May 10. 

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Meet Final Fantasy XV’s Legendary Composer

You might not know the name Yoko Shimomura, but you should. Shimomura is one of the most prolific and influential composers in the game industry, whose resume includes classics like Street Fighter II, Super Mario RPG, Kingdom Hearts, Xenoblade Chronicles, and much more. She started working on this project back when it was called Final Fantasy Versus XIII, and now she's found herself tackling the music for the next numbered Final Fantasy. While visiting Square Enix for our extensive cover story on Final Fantasy XV, we sat down with Shimomura to discuss the secrets behind her writing process, what she's learned from Nobuo Uematsu, and what she has in mind for the musical tone of Final Fantasy XV.

Watch the interview below to see new gameplay and learn all about the talent behind Final Fantasy XV's music.

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Opinion – Stop Making Terrible Final Bosses

A sense of dread always hits me when I confront the final boss in a game. A lifetime of death and despair has conditioned me to expect the worst from these encounters – the one-hit kills, the enemy that blocks every attack in your arsenal, and the beast that dies and reanimates in more violent and grotesque forms.

Game developers want players to feel anxiety when they enter a boss’ lair. The last act of a journey should be monumental in scope and challenge, especially if it factors in a nemesis that has been a thorn in your side since the beginning. These finales are often feverish in pitch, longer than your typical skirmishes, and if designed well, conclude with the player feeling like they accomplished something great. I love it when my heart is still racing a couple minutes into the credits scroll.

After reflecting on the games I thought handled final conflicts well, I was surprised to find Nintendo has a long history of creating fair and balanced battles – some of the best in gaming. Most Mario, Zelda, and Metroid games wrap up with fights that are a true test of skill, and a culmination of the gameplay that led up to that point. My favorite of the bunch is Link squaring off against Ganondorf in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. The water gushing on the outskirts of the arena is the perfect reflection of the journey up to this point. Ganondorf towers over Link. Each of the two swords he carries is roughly twice the height of Link. This conflict screams “David versus Goliath.” Princess Zelda is intertwined in the strategy beautifully, and most of the combat pits Link’s sword skills against Ganondorf’s. The final blow (pictured below) is surprisingly violent for a Nintendo game, but was so powerful in the moment that it made me cheer.

Kratos’ bloody exchange with Ares in the first God of War is another conceptual masterpiece, and one of the coolest showdowns I’ve had in a game – two mountain-sized giants raining death down upon each other as the world burns in the background. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater’s finale against “The Boss” is also a work of art thematically and visually. It’s one of the most memorable battles I’ve had in a game, and it wasn’t a battle I wanted to be a part of. Hideo Kojima masterfully played off of our emotions in this moment.

But for every game that handles boss fights well, we run into someone like Mike Tyson, a foe turned legend solely from the staggering difficulty of his fight. While we can say Nintendo accurately captured the sheer dominance of Iron Mike at the time, few gamers raised their gloves in victory against him.

Tyson may be the ultimate destroyer of controllers for the history of this medium, but he has company in the camp of characters players never want to see again. All too often the lesson of Tyson being too difficult is forgotten. Even to this day, fighting games deploy a major difficulty spike for just the final fight. Street Fighter IV’s Seth is often held in the same breath as the words “rage quit.” He’s the definition of a cheap opponent. To a lesser degree, Mortal Kombat’s Shao Khan has proven to be a thorn in the sides of gamers, especially in Mortal Kombat 2 and 9. Yes, many of us took these foes down (dozens of times even), but ask yourself this: Did you ever enjoy any of those fights against these titans?

Is a spike in difficulty the best course of action for fighting game bosses? Sure, they can hit harder and have more health, but they shouldn’t make the player feel like they are getting punished for no reason, especially after they work their way through a series of foes, and feel like they have a degree of ownership over their characters and their respective move sets.

Outside of fighting games, we also frequently see final bosses that are designed to be entirely different than everything else in the game. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots concludes with a fistfight between Solid Snake and Liquid Ocelot. I appreciate the intimacy of this moment from a storytelling perspective, but the action suddenly transitioning to a fighting game was jarring and the exchanging of fisticuffs went on for far too long.

I could have posted this opinion piece at any point in my 20-plus years of game writing, but I was actually spurred to write it recently after playing Quantum Break. I enjoyed the hell out of the game (one of my early favorites of the year), but it concludes with a miserable thud.

Rather than seeing Jack Joyce and Paul Serene, two characters gifted with time powers, throw down in spectacular fashion, Serene sits on a balcony and lets his heavily armored henchmen take on Joyce. Defeating these adversaries on their own wouldn’t be difficult, but in my playthrough, Joyce inexplicably kept dying. I had no idea what was happening. The screen would turn red (just like when he gets shot) and a second later he would fall over dead (you can see the red in the image above). It turns out Serene is launching area-of-effect blasts at Joyce. If you see red, you are inside of the blast radius, and must dash instantly away or suffer instant death.

This attack is never described or seen previously in the game. It completely changes the gameplay from being a cover-based shooter to running and gunning. If you stop moving in this fight, you’ve probably signed your own death certificate. None of this is information is delivered to the player. I voiced my frustration about this battle on Twitter, and I was bombarded with similar complaints from other players. Some people said the fight took them several hours to complete; others stopped playing the game there altogether. Since I was playing the game on the hard difficulty level, I even took to YouTube to learn a few tips. The person who provided the video guide doesn’t stop talking about how difficult this battle is. Although there are two phases to the fight, no checkpoint is offered.

For a game that is so nicely balanced up to this point, this conflict is surprisingly awful, not just from a design standpoint, but for the story as well. The bad blood between Serene and Joyce is not showcased in a meaningful way. No time powers are used here. You just pump a couple of bullets into him from afar. It’s a downer of a fight that left a bad taste in my mouth.

All too often games lean on the crutch of boss fights including add-on adversaries. In Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II, battling Darth Vader wasn’t apparently enough of a challenge. Additional force-powered foes are thrown into the fray to make it a miserable mess. A fight against Vader, the guy with the highest midi-chlorian count in the cosmos, should be more than enough. LucasArts simply didn’t come up with a creative way to make that fight have impact.

After completing Quantum Break, I moved on to Far Cry Primal, another exhilarating adventure that concludes with two overly tedious final encounters. Both of these conflicts unfold amid swarms of enemies. One foe requires you pepper her with dozens of arrows, which would probably turn her into an unrecognizable meat pincushion, and the other adversary needs to be beaten over the head for far too long. Again, these fights lack the heart and soul of the game, and are long and challenging just for the sake of being long and challenging.

A final encounter should be one of the top highlights in a game, as it is the culmination of the story and gameplay. I’m shocked how often games stumble with these important, send-off moments. Square Enix outsourced the boss fights for Deus Ex: Human Revolution, then later admitted it was a mistake. These bosses, which I call “horribly repetitious arena fights” in my review of the game, were later fixed by the core development team in the Director’s Cut version. Outsourcing boss fights makes them sound like an afterthought. Why even bother with them at that point?

I think Quantum Break is one of this generation’s most interesting games, and when I tell people to play it, I always attach the warning that it ends horribly. The last boss is often the last thing gamers experience. If a movie has a horrible ending, it can ruin the entire picture. The same goes for games, especially when these boss battles drag on and on. For the last two games I played, I’m not left thinking about the great time-bending gameplay or the thrill of exploring a prehistoric world – my thoughts hang on the horrible boss fights and the annoyances tied to them.

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Square Enix Reflects On Final Fantasy’s Drive For Cutting-Edge Tech

Final Fantasy has been around since the 8-bit era, and the series has adapted to every wave of new hardware the gaming industry has seen since. Not only has the franchise survived these transitions, but it has also used them as opportunities to take new chances in the role-playing genre. With Final Fantasy XV on the horizon – the first entry exclusively on PS4 and Xbox One – we take a look back with some of Final Fantasy’s key figures at what moving to new technology has meant for them, the individual games, and the series as a whole.

After three 8-bit entries (though only one released in North America), Final Fantasy IV was the first time Square faced the prospect of using new technology to update its approach. While the SNES certainly provided additional options, most of the improvements were steps forward on familiar fronts – it’s not like the series was moving to 3D or adding voice acting yet. “Since we were just moving from NES to SNES, it’s not like we were drastically changing,” says Takashi Tokita, Final Fantasy IV’s lead designer. “But where we were limiting ourselves previously in terms of colors or amount of story we could implement, that drastically improved. Rather than challenges, there was much more freedom that enabled us to do more.”

Even with that newfound freedom, the team was still working with a limitation: the maximum capacity of a cartridge. Developing expansive, narrative-driven adventures can be challenging when you only have so much space to work with. “That was something we always struggled with – all the way up through Chrono Trigger,” Tokita says. “I was writing the scenario [for FF IV], but I had to cut down one-fourth of what I had written to make it fit. Also, if we create everything in full color, we just don’t have enough memory to work with. So, airships, bosses, and main characters – we would create those in full color. But all the supplementary aspects, we would cut down the colors by half to fit everything in.”

The move to disc-based games on the original PlayStation opened up new frontiers in terms of storage space, but moving RPGs into 3D presented bigger problems to solve. Hiroki Chiba was an event planner for Final Fantasy VII (and is currently directing the upcoming World of Final Fantasy), and he can’t remember a lone aspect of development that was the most challenging, because almost all elements were uncharted territory. “[Final Fantasy VII] was our first 3D title, so to be completely honest, everything was difficult and challenging,” Chiba says. “It was testing things to see what would work, having discussions, and trying things.” However, the technical solutions aren’t necessarily the hardest part of developing a new Final Fantasy; just creating a new entry in such a significant and long-running series adds pressure.

“Creating a mainline Final Fantasy was always a new challenge,” Chiba says. “At that time, [Final Fantasy creator Hironobu] Sakaguchi was still heavily involved in the development of these titles, and his motto was essentially, ‘It doesn’t make sense to create the same thing. We always need to create new surprises.’ That was always the challenge, and the sentiment that all of us shared. It wasn’t that because we were creating for new hardware or a 3D game – it was because we were creating a new, mainline, numbered Final Fantasy title.”

Chiba also worked as an event planner for Final Fantasy X, and echoes the same sentiments with regards to moving to the PS2 hardware. That title added voices and broader exploration, but despite working with new technology, the hardest part was creating new surprises for fans. Regardless of the specific installment, the technology plays an undeniably large role in facilitating those surprises.

“Personally, creating titles at that transition the change in hardware is a big driving force – a wheel that turns to create something new,” says Yoshinori Kitase, who is currently the producer on Final Fantasy VII Remake. However, Kitase has been involved with the Final Fantasy franchise since the early ‘90s, serving in leadership roles on hardware-transition titles like Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy X, and Final Fantasy XIII. “Whenever we’re releasing a Final Fantasy title on new hardware, there’s always the desire to create a new RPG style that would hopefully become the standard of that generation,” Kitase says. “That’s the sentiment we uphold when we’re creating and developing the titles.”

That may be the goal, but some fans would debate whether the Final Fantasy series has completely delivered those industry-leading experiences in recent entries. Good graphics and impressive feats of technology don’t make a great game by themselves, but help impart a sense that players are participating in something new and exciting. Unfortunately, with long dry spells between installments, the ability to stay ahead of technological advances and deliver that sensation gets more difficult.

“My personal opinion is, up until Final Fantasy VIII, the games were always on the cutting edge of technology,” says Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn director and producer Naoki Yoshida. “As a fan, it does leave you a bit disappointed when you expect that and it’s just not there. But a way to get that back – and our company should try to get that back – is to not fear failure. To get back to the cutting edge, you have to keep creating and keep trying. You can’t just do this with one project, though; to regain that spirit of challenge, you have to keep trying.”

Square Enix knows what fans think about the current state of the Final Fantasy franchise, and Final Fantasy XV is a major part of moving forward in the right direction. The project may have begun as a PS3 exclusive called Final Fantasy Versus XIII, but today the game is positioned to take advantage of what the PS4 and Xbox One offer. Director Hajime Tabata sees technology as one of the three pillars that define a Final Fantasy title (the other two being a willingness to challenge the status quo and provide out-of-the-ordinary experiences), and has made it a focus for Final Fantasy XV.

“Especially when it comes to Final Fantasy, a lot of times our consumers are expecting exceptional graphics,” Tabata says. “In comparison to other titles, open worlds – when you look at the screenshots – their graphical quality won’t be on par. We set out to overcome that barrier, to ensure that we are using the technology that will enable us to overcome that stigma.”

From the jaw-dropping summons to the vast world, Final Fantasy XV is clearly built on an impressive technological backbone, but being at the forefront isn’t necessarily the goal by itself. “It’s hard to define what ‘cutting edge’ is when it comes to games,” Tabata says. “Right now, we say FF XV is developed with the latest cutting-edge technology. But if we move a little forward in time, the latest technology differs. So, from a developer’s standpoint, it doesn’t make sense to define what is the ‘latest.’ The way I approached it was asking what would be important to make consumers feel like this is a modern RPG built with high-end technology, and what needs to be done to make them feel that way?”

Nailing down such a broad and lofty goal is certainly a challenge, but it’s clear that the lessons of the past are influencing the future of the franchise, so fans can still hold on to hope.

 

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How Final Fantasy XV Is Redesigning Your Favorite Monsters

The Final Fantasy series has had its share of iconic monsters. From the adorable Cactuar and Moogle to the vicious Malboro and Behemoth, these classic creatures have made multiple appearances, often redesigned to fit into each entry’s universe. Stumbling upon one in a new game is part of the fun, since not only do these famous fiends spark a feeling of nostalgia, but seeing them take new designs and forms is exciting in its own right. The Final Fantasy XV team put a lot of thought into creating monsters to fit its universe, and this extends to some of its most popular beasts. While at Square Enix’s Tokyo offices, we chatted with the art team about recreating monsters for Final Fantasy XV’s more open world, while they walked us through redesigning the Catoblepas.

Note: Click on images for full size versions

Right Out Of National Geographic

One of director Hajime Tabata’s big goals for Final Fantasy XV was to create a living, breathing world that felt natural to explore. Creatures need to inhabit the world, move realistically, and be fun to encounter for battle. Since Final Fantasy XV’s world is much more grounded in reality (it gets more fantastical as you go on), the art team was tasked with creating authentic wildlife, which includes iconic monsters, to match it.  

As a frame of reference, Tabata set a high-bar for their creations. “What Tabata san said was that our goal was National Geographic – think of a Behemoth that we could have a documentary program about,” says art director Tomohiro Hasegawa. From here, the team thought about how these creatures would explore their natural habitat, from finding food to protecting itself. The team went to zoos and watched documentaries to study various wildlife for inspiration, emulating their actions and physical traits for some of Final Fantasy’s most famed enemies. 

Giving The Fantastical Catoblepas A More Realistic Bent 

(Final design pictured above)

As an example for how the team has transformed the series’ beloved monsters, we saw the different phases to their approach of recreating the long-necked mammal, Catoblepas. The Catoblepas has been featured throughout the series’ history, and the enemy has been a wide variety of colors throughout Final Fantasy’s run, from blue to purple. In Final Fantasy XV, the beast has more realistic coloring to blend in with its surroundings. 

To help get a balanced mix between a classic form and modern form, the artists used Catoblepas’ Final Fantasy V design as a starting point and reference. While some of its features, such as the long neck and one eye, are still present in the new design, the team knew it had to make adjustments to reach its goal, which was to model it as, “a living organism in real life.” 

These are early sketches, showcasing two different ways we’ve seen the Catoblepas (on all fours and standing on two feet). The team thought about the world of Final Fantasy XV and saw the benefit of having a long neck to allow it grasp things underwater. They also focused on the tusks as a way for it to rustle plants. The left design became the prototype slated for XV.

The team even went as far as to map out its bone and muscle structure, thoroughly examining its movement and shape. The inspirations for the bone structure came from giraffes, elephants, and rhinoceroses. “In order to support its long neck while searching for food, it uses its tenacious front leg muscles, long backbone, and low center of gravity to balance its neck like a suspension bridge while walking,” says artist Chihiro Hashi. It even has several large ears that it can flap to control its body temperature.

After the team settled on the final design, they had one last idea – to change the coloring depending on each region. In desert regions, it will have a sandy color, while cold regions will use bluer hues. 

What do you think of Catoblepas’ new design? Let us know in the comments!

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