TGS 2014: Famitsu Interviews FFXV Director Hajime Tabata

Many announcements regarding the next-gen title Final Fantasy XV were made last month at Tokyo Game Show 2014. Famitsu Weekly published interviews with director Hajime Tabata both online and in their print magazine, where he details the development status as well as how Luminous Engine is being handled after Yoshihisa Hashimoto resigned.

He also assures readers that the change in director from Tetsuya Nomura to himself has not badly influenced development, that the game sets out to do everything and more than what Final Fantasy Versus XIII was designed to.

Read for details regarding FFXV’s battles and enemies and what to expect in the Episode Duscae demo that comes with the release of Final Fantasy Type-0 HD.

I translated the content from both versions of the interview, some was omitted from the online version and likewise, some from the print version. Both are compiled into one below, please link to my Twitter profile or this site if you quote or repost it, thank you.

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– I was surprised to hear the announcement that from now on you’ll be working as director. To start off, can you please tell me the details about that?

Tabata: Since July 2012, myself and the FF Type-0 team became a part of FFXV’s development, at the request of former Square Enix company president Yoichi Wada. At that time, it was the turning point between deciding whether to continue the game as Final Fantasy Versus XIII or change it to Final Fantasy XV. The result was a change in hardware and a revision of the game’s course of action.

– It was announced at E3 last year that the hardware had changes and that you had joined the development team.

Tabata: That’s right. When we reached the announcements at E3 2013, it was about a half a year after I joined, the demo version developed as FFXV was approved and the project had shifted officially as FFXV. The announcements we made this time are in accordance with this workflow, so even though right now we are saying that the directors changed, it really wasn’t a sudden change.

At the time when the hardware platform was being switched, the essentials of the characters and world outlook were already fortified by Tetsuya Nomura, and I discussed countless times with him, as well as the development team and the management people, working out the details of what kind of content and techniques would make a comprehensively good game as a numbering Final Fantasy title.

– Were you handed over the FFXV content that Nomura wrote as director so far?

Tabata: Naturally, each component that FF Versus XIII aimed for is being integrated into the development of FFXV as much as possible. At the same time, it’s being developed with stress on the innovative spirit and max technical strength expected of a numbering FF title. Making the game, I am constantly making severe decisions and forming ideas regarding the innumerable developmental challenges that occur, but in the end I feel that the game will be completed with a basis in what the current development team and myself think is important.

– The change hasn’t really influenced it?

Tabata: In terms of development, it’s not a demerit. However, I think it’s natural that there is a possibility fans who have been waiting so long for this game are uneasy, so besides the official Tokyo Game Show trailer, we also showed a live demonstration of actual gameplay. The demo version comes with FF Type-0 HD because I want players to experience the progress we’ve made for themselves. I think once players have seen it in action and played it for themselves, it will put them at ease.

– I see. Well, as director, tell me what was important to you in making FFXV, what was your concept?

Tabata: “Companions” and “journey” were the concepts. The game is being designed to capitalize on those two ideas thoroughly. Noctis is the main character, but it was designed so that the companions in your party are treated as main characters throughout every scene in the game. They are treated as such in the battles as well, whenever you fight, it’s in cooperation with your companions.

– Can you tell us a little more in detail about the battle system?

Tabata: A characteristic of the battles is the action system in which attack and guard are consecutively connected, like an unbroken stream of moves. There is a party co-op system where the player automatically unleashes various moves with companion party members as well as fighting using the flashy, strong warp and magic special abilities.

However, after all it’s a RPG, so it’s possible to fight systematically. You can pull up the menu mid-battle and do things like change your companion’s battle strategy or change their weapon set, varying the way that Noctis and his companions fight. The weapon sets are like forming a deck. Out of the weapons that have been set before hand, the most suitable one is chosen to attack with depending on the situation. The reachable direction and range differs according to weapon, which has a big effect on Noct’s actions.

– The customization elements seem extensive. You said “like an unbroken stream,” and certainly, from what we saw in the demonstration, the movements in battle looked natural. I also noticed Noctis avoided attacks very smoothly.

Tabata: That was the system for defending called “Guard Move.” Actually, you can move like that by just pushing the guard button.

– So you’re saying you don’t have to give a command to avoid attacks, and you can release impressive attacks just by holding down the button. Also, the flames that were caused by the fire magic didn’t extinguish immediately, something with impressive power like that stands out.

Tabata: If the flame went out, it wouldn’t be very cool. (Laughs) I wanted to make the magic seem as real as possible. For example, while the flames that occur with the fire magic are burning, the surrounding enemies also feel the heat and run from it. Magic is dealt with as a phenomenon that occurs naturally in this world. We’ve also incorporated notions of weather and time.

– The way the rain made everything wet and the change in brightness as time passed was so realistically represented.

Tabata: Yes, it’s primarily the engineers and artists on the technology team who work everyday on things like the passage of time and weather variation, the representation of the sky itself in order to make a living world you can be absorbed by. By the way, the gameplay demonstration revealed at E3 in 2013 was a version created in a development environment original to FFXV. But this time and from now on, development is progressing in Luminous Studio, which that original FFXV engine was integrated into and is the new environment which the game is operated in.

– How are things since Yoshihisa Hashimoto, the person in charge of Luminous development, resigned?

Tabata: We are fine on that point. Luminous was being developed as an all-purpose engine, but currently, the Luminous development team has been integrated into the FFXV team, and it is progressing as a custom engine optimized for FFXV. Hashimoto accomplished his role for us in establishing the form of the general use Luminous engine. Thanks to Luminous being integrated, we are able to do things like convert high end 3D data for in game use and the challenge of presenting movies made in Visual Works so they move as is has become easier.

– Alright then, next I’d like to ask about the demo version that comes with Type-0 HD. Can you tell me what the subtitle “Episode Duscae” means?

Tabata: In FFXV, there is an area called the Duscae region. You’ll be scratching the surface of that area in the demo version, so that’s why we used that subtitle.

When you visit the Duscae region in the actual game it’s towards the beginning, but in the demo version the focus is on introducing the systems and including factors that will get fans excited about what’s to come. I chose to do a demo version because I thought that was the best way to show fans what they can experience in FFXV. It’s a spot where you can drive the car and wander around in an openworld field. You’ll also be able to get out of the car and run around as well as enjoy battles.

– How big is the demo, volume-wise?

Tabata: I estimate it’s about an hour worth of regular gameplay. I think if you take your time checking out the world and fighting in battles, then you can play it longer. For example, though they don’t connect to the main story, there are dungeons in FFXV with swarms of strong monsters. It’s a numbering FF title, so fundamentally it’s created so that every player follows a course leading to an ending, however the dungeons aren’t lenient. If your levels are only high enough to get by, then you’ll get your butt kicked in the dungeons. On the other hand, there are big payoffs for going into the dungeons, like a chance to obtain a really good legendary weapon.

– That sounds like an extra challenge.

Tabata: I consider the dungeons to pretty much be extra challenges. By the way, the tough monsters in the dungeons come out and wander about at night, so it’s dangerous even if you don’t go in.

– Is there a sort of ecosystem?

Tabata: Yes, the world is split in a “yin and yang” or “light and dark” kind of concept. On the dark side, the really brutal monsters are arranged to really come at you and attack with the intent to kill, there are a lot of scary monsters like that. On the other hand, daylight monsters aren’t hostile, for the most part they won’t attack even when you approach them.

– Will there be a flow of time and weather variation in the playable demo like we saw in the stage demonstration?

Tabata: That’ll be in the demo. It might be regulated in the future, but one day in the game is about 30 minutes in reality. So you could be fighting some strong monsters at night, and then oh no, it’s daybreak! (Laughs) As for weather, we are looking into various circumstances besides rain and the sorts of status changes that respond to the weather variations.

– Will the Adamantoise we saw in the trailer be fightable as an element of additional challenge?  It seems like fighting it would take substantial time.

Tabata: On in-game time, won’t it take around 30 days? (Laughs) From head to tail, in terms of kilometers, it’s a gigantic foe and even though you can damage it no matter where you hit it, you might get hurt just from it’s steps. With those kinds of factors, I think you get absorbed into the game while treating it like a realistic fight.

– Since you’re seeking realism, can’t you cook and eat the monsters you defeat? (Laughs) I am interested in the recently released CG artwork where they are having a meal, why was that depicted?

Tabata: As a matter of fact, this CG artwork was made for us by the movie team as an image important to symbolizing FFXV. The details are subtle but dramatic, this image of everyone having a meal together is very important.

– I’m looking forward to the sort of things the keyword “realistic” implies. By the way, will you be able to use the Remote Play and Share functions on the PS4 demo version?

Tabata: In the demo, you’ll be able to use the Share function for sure, but Remote Play is undecided right now. In the final product you’ll be able to use both. Also, due to the various constraints in the final production, there will not be any data carry-over from the demo.

– I’m sure there will be a lot of feedback regarding the demo version once players try it, but will those opinions influence the final product?

Tabata: Yes, that’s one of the aims of releasing a demo version.

– Is the release period of the final product within sight?

Tabata: Yes. I’ve forseen a time period about when I think it’ll be completed. Progress is at about 55%. As for components, they’re not altogether there yet, but there is enough to produce a demo version. After that, it’s a matter of how we’re going to designate all the resource material. But as for what kind of game FFXV is, that is over 99% decided.

– It feels like it’s about time.

Tabata: Indeed. The demo version was created to show all of the Final Fantasy fans what kind of shape the game is in. You have to buy Type-0 to play it, but it’s not a waste of money, so please pick it up if you can.

I’m digressing, but I have been in this business a long time and recently, not much has gotten me very excited. But the content of FFXV is something that I can be excited about. Right now one of the key phrases of the FFXV team is, “Make a game that you yourself can be excited about.” So fans, please find a way to be excited about this as you wait.