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We quiz developers about what they think works (and what doesn't) in the design of Final Fantasy XV.

Bryant Francis, Senior Editor

December 20, 2016

11 Min Read

Now that developers are beginning to wrap up the 40-hour adventure that is the result of Final Fantasy XV's years-long development cycle, many have started to consider just what has made Square Enix’s latest title a huge success, especially in the wake of recent struggles for the JRPG genre. 

To find out what they were saying, and why developers should care about what Final Fantasy XV gets right or wrong, we polled developers from both the indie and AAA world for their impressions while playing the game on our Twitchstream. 

Read on if you’re interested in how a game designed to push the limits of its own technology somehow manages to be a human-focused story that gets players wrapped up in in the story of four friends on a road trip. 

Daniel Floyd, Extra Credits host and Game History animator

The open world gameplay can get tedious and the art design is all over the place, but I'm finding myself genuinely charmed by the camaraderie of the boys and all the game's little eccentricities. Like the fact that it makes time for peaceful drives from place to place, cooking and photography. Or the bizarrely normal off-Americana of the opening areas (including quests to "find Dave"). At this point, the weirdness is a feature. And their group combat animation system is pretty amazing.

It's a strange, bloated, expensive thing that will almost certainly not be profitable, but I like its boldness. It is the 15th in a decades-long series that is trying to please literally everyone, and yet it is also somehow the opposite of a safe bet.

Adriel Wallick, Train Jam organizer

"I spent 30 hours doing sidequests because I enjoyed hanging out with the boys so much."

To be fair, it didn’t take me long to get to the story potion up to where you are, and then I spent 30 hours doing sidequests because I enjoyed hanging out with the boys so much. That’s one of the things I’ve enjoyed about this game, more than anything else, is the relationship they built between the four of them and the way they made it feel nice to hang out with them and get to know them and be a part of that relationship and see them interact with each other. 

The whole time you’re driving around—and it makes you drive for minutes on end, you can put it on autopilot and just listen to them banter about things. I got really absorbed in that, and how it was a game about just hanging out with my four buddies.

When you got a camp, and spend the night a camp, and you make food, that food is rendered so beautifully, there are times I will play and miss dinner because of FFXV, and then Ignis cooks food and brings it out, it’s so beautiful that I just go ‘man.’

Teddy Diefenbach, creative director at Square Enix Montreal

I have a very highfalutin opinion about this. I think about RPGs a lot, and JRPGs a lot, and Final Fantasies a lot—that is the thing about RPGs. Back in the early days of role-playing games, the reason that it is defined as an RPG is it was—these were games structured so that you could focus on these characters. Other games weren’t able to do that.

But over the last couple decades, more and more developers put RPG elements into their game. You could call so many things a hybrid RPG—action RPGs, etc. I feel like that’s a way that the industry, especially in Japan, lost its way over time. All these games added  role-playing to their genres, and all the JRPG had left was its combat. 

But FFXV says—no dude, we invented this. This is about your characters, this isa bout your party, so let’s pull that and put attention on that, and when people are livestreaming that, it’s what they’re talking about. 

Rob Mostyn, indie developer

"I was immediately drawn back in time one of my favorite game scenes: The campfire scene in Chrono Trigger."

When I first heard that FFXV was being released, I didn't care much. I hadn't played any of the FF series past FFVIII and while retaining respect for the series, did not keep up. Hell, the only two consoles I still owned were a PS2 and Wii. But then I saw that this new Final Fantasy game focused a lot on friendship. There were dinners with each other. There was casual banter. There were campfires. I was immediately drawn back in time one of my favorite game scenes: The campfire scene in Chrono Trigger. ‘Maybe FFXV could recreate that feeling?’, I thought.

So I went out and bought a PS4 and FFXV. I'm currently still on my first play through but that feeling I got from Chrono Trigger? Yeah. It's there. FFXV is charming. I can forgive a lot in a game if it's charming; especially if it's due to memorable characters. It's one of those games I'm going to look back on fondly; like a point in my life where I could say, ‘Yeah! I enjoyed that.’

Having always felt this way about games, I find myself trying to make my characters in my game memorable and charming. That feels like one of the more important aspects to me and something I'm striving to do. Solid gameplay and graphics are definitely something I strive for, but when I get a compliment on the dialogue in my game or that someone found the characters endearing? That really sticks with me. I find it a difficult thing to do and quite subjective. Trying to write characters and convey a ‘feeling’ about them can be tricky since players might react differently to the same writing.

Adventures don't always have to be a solo trip!

Alexander Brazie, former Riot and Blizzard game designer

One of the things this game does emphasize is downtime, and making the downtime experience enjoyable. Recognition of the importance of downtime is underdone in the industry.

For instance, in World of Warcraft, sure it’s a game, but it’s really a chat room with a game around it. That downtime gives you a chance to interact with the people around you, and this kind of plays off of that energy and lets you get to know the team you’re hanging out with.

Tiny things are really what players hook onto—these small moments. Look at all the things we’re discussing in this Twitch stream. Combat systems, boss fights, the plot of the game... we’re literally just talking about the little details they threw into this game to bring it to life.

Lucy Blundell, indie developer

I’ve loved the Final Fantasy series ever since I picked up Final Fantasy VII when I was 11 years old. I followed up by playing 8, 9 and 10, but lost interest afterwards when turn-based battles were swapped for the more MMORPG-like battle system. I much prefer strategy games to action, and I disliked Final Fantasy XII, so I wasn’t particularly interested in playing XV. That, the all-male cast, and the long, unsteady development didn’t fill me with confidence. It was actually my partner who bought the game and loaded it up. About an hour in, I was watching intently and asked to have a go. I tried the battle system, and although it’s no longer turn-based, I enjoyed it, but for another reason… Instead of feeling smart and calculating my next move, I felt powerful and agile. There’s a certain sense of satisfaction when you warp-strike into an enemy and destroy it. We now both take turns with the controller!

"A highlight of mine is choosing which new meal for Ignis to cook at camp, and browsing through Prompto’s funny snaps from the day."

Although the battles feel different from what I expect from Final Fantasy, I'm really enjoying them. I like how the enemies drop in from the sky, or cross the road whilst your driving, and t tere aren't too many encounters, so it feels like you can get where you want to quite easily, unless it’s night time of course. Night is something I love about XV… Actually having to stop and rest up. It seems so simple saying that, but, in most games where day and night feature, the characters never go to sleep, and instead of it being an annoying hinderance, Square Enix have made this tactical. Where you stay and what you eat can effect your stats and experience points. It also makes the four characters feel way more real and relatable. A highlight of mine is choosing which new meal for Ignis to cook at camp, and browsing through Prompto’s funny snaps from the day. This photography feature, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a game before, is so much more fun than taking your own photographs. You see through the characters’ eyes, not your own. This helps strengthen the bond you have with them, but also the bond they share themselves.

How much I love the main characters has been a shock to me. I initially thought they looked tropey and samey, a step back from other Final Fantasy titles almost, but I was totally mistaken. Although I think the portrayal of women in XV is poor, the main brotherhood more than makes up for it. Each one of them really feels like they care about each other… There’s a sweet moment where Prompto opens up to Noctis about his past and fears, something you don’t often see men do in games or film. I couldn’t help but want to reach out and hug him! Even the gruff (and handsome!) Gladiolus shows signs of passion and vulnerability at times, and I think it’s a delight to see men opening up in this real, human way.”

Although the dialogue can often repeat itself whilst you’re questing, I think it’s timed exceedingly well. Last night, I accidentally swiped my spear in Ignis’ direction and he yelled at me for it, just like you’d expect someone too. Whenever Noctis moans about something, I roll my eyes, but then Gladiolus mocks him for it too! Sure the dialogue is limited and some of the English voices are a little off, but they’ve got the timing perfect.

Being a long-time Final Fantasy fan, I love the work of Nobuo Uematsu. Knowing that he wasn’t doing the score for XV also made me a little hesitant, but I have to say, I love the soundtrack! It’s very epic, energetic and exciting whilst still sounding like a Final Fantasy game. I think Yoko Shimomura had big boots to fill and has certainly filled them.

It sounds like I’m in love with this game, but I do find the quests unoriginal, the driving dull (though, at least I can listen to my favorite Final Fantasy tunes on the radio) and the story is, so far, not particularly inspiring. But none of this matters too much for some reason. I’m 35 hours in and just enjoying being in that world with it’s calming music, exciting battles and beautiful friendship. The gameplay is well-balanced and broken up with enough cute moments that make it charming and delightful to experience.

Andrew Allanson, creative director, Studio Ackk

Final Fantasy XV is an incredible game. Much like Metal Gear Solid V, there is something unfinished about the game in some ways, but the underlying genius of what the team was trying to accomplish really shined through and moved me. It’s hard to talk about what made the game so great without spoiling anything, so I’ll be as vague as possible.”

We all have times in our life that we look back fondly on as the best times of our life. Whether it be family vacations, road trips with friends, or personal triumphs. It would be wonderful if we could live in those periods for the rest of our life, but sadly everything has to end. Final Fantasy XV works so well because it establishes a feeling of being in the best period of your life, only to take it away from you, and make you pine for it.

The structure of the game changing in the second half is extremely effective in doing this. While I could that being lost on some people, the feeling of having to grow up and face reality wouldn’t be as effective if Noctis and his friends got to keep road tripping and having no serious responsibilities throughout the game.

By establishing this great rhythm and formula, the player feels connected to the world and truly free. By stripping this away, it becomes so much more meaningful.

About the Author(s)

Bryant Francis

Senior Editor, GameDeveloper.com

Bryant Francis is a writer, journalist, and narrative designer based in Boston, MA. He currently writes for Game Developer, a leading B2B publication for the video game industry. His credits include Proxy Studios' upcoming 4X strategy game Zephon and Amplitude Studio's 2017 game Endless Space 2.

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