There’s a lot riding on Final Fantasy XV (yes, there have been 14 other FF games, and that’s not even counting the spin-offs, sequels, movies, etc.). The last few games in the series, though they have their sets of fans, haven’t had the same impact as the ones that made “Final Fantasy” a household name—entries like Final Fantasy VII and FF X. Number 13, in fact, wasn’t well received at all, and the fourteenth was a massive multiplayer online game—the same genre as World of Warcraft—whose original 2010 launch was so thoroughly botched that Square Enix had to totally redesign and re-release the game as something different three years later.
So what’s riding on FFXV? The fate of the entire series, it seems—and maybe more.
Just look at this quote Final Fantasy XV Director Hajime Tabata gave Kotaku back in 2014: “So in terms of whether console games will be received moving forward, it’s not to say that I don’t have any concerns at all, but I believe that it’ll really depend on how Final Fantasy XV does…if Final Fantasy XV doesn’t do well, perhaps there’s not much of a future for console games. It kind of really depends on how that goes.”
So at the very least, if FFXV flops it will probably be the last big Final Fantasy game on a console (like the Xbox One or PlayStation 4, as opposed to the handheld Nintendo 3DS, or phones, both very popular gaming platforms in Japan and beyond).
In another Kotaku article posted a couple of weeks later, Tabata said he’s more looking forward to the game coming out than feeling “pressure.” But that was almost two years ago, and the game still isn’t here, and when I spoke with him last month, his tune had changed a little.
“Yes, [I] feel a lot of responsibility,” Tabata told me through a translator. Publisher Square Enix was hosting its annual event to give press a look at the games it would be showing off at E3, the year’s biggest gaming convention—games like Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Hitman and, of course, Final Fantasy XV.
I played the game for a little while, but honestly I was more interested in speaking with Tabata. It’s hard to get a sense of a game this big and important even after an hour playing it, much less just a few minutes, and I had plenty of questions.
I asked him if he feels the weight of this responsibility, of the whole series and possibly more resting on this one game—one way or the other. “If I didn’t feel that responsibility I wouldn’t be here today,” he said. “And as you said, we’re not sure which way it will fall in the end, but we are creating Final Fantasy XV with the hopes that this will kind of be the stimulant—be the opportunity to grow once more as a franchise.”
Like the other games in the series before it Final Fantasy XV looks like it will span dozens or hundreds of hours of exploration, story and combat across a wide and varied world full of enemies and secrets. But so far all we’ve really seen is the road trip section.
That’s the part I played at Square Enix’s event. I was Noctis, prince of a city called Insomnia. Noctis sets out on a journey with three friends and protectors, driving his father’s sleek black hot rod through a desert that looks like it’s straight from a Western. When it breaks down, they push it to the nearest gas station, where a shockingly buxom attendant (yes, it really is shocking, and I hope in the final game there’s an explanation for why the auto mechanic is wearing a bikini) sends them on simple quests (go here, kill this, come back) while they wait for the fix. I don’t know what shape the game’s story will take by the end, but for a chunk at least it’s all about broing out with your bros on a bro trip.
[I] hope that there will be people who will say ‘I actually really like 15—that’s my favorite,’
“We really want the players to feel like they’re actually traveling with the gang, in essence—the comrades, the friends—and really feeling a part of that journey, feeling really close to them,” Tabata said. In other words, yeah, bros 4 life.
But I think there will ultimately be more to it than that. Final Fantasy XV has been in development for eight years, since it was first announced as Final Fantasy Versus XIII, a spin-off from the not-well-received Final Fantasy XIII. Over the years and with Tabata’s arrival it morphed into the next main FF game and what it is today: a melding of Japanese and Americana themes and aesthetic that the developers hope will bridge gaps between East and West and across generations of gamers.
Final Fantasy VII was huge because it broke out of gaming culture—it was an overall cultural event. I didn’t have a PlayStation and I had no idea what an RPG was in 1997 when it came out, but I wanted it nonetheless. If XV turns out the way Tabata wants it to, it won’t just revitalize Final Fantasy—it will be a cultural event.
“When you really look back to Final Fantasy VII they did break out of the trend, in essence. It’s something that really went leaps and bounds [above] what was the status quo at that time…there is something similar to what we’re trying to aim for with Final Fantasy XV,” Tabata said.
I asked him what his favorite Final Fantasy games are. He answered the original, released in 1987, and 1994’s Final Fantasy VI—my personal favorite as well. But he concluded with a wish: “If players are put in a similar situation, to identify what their favorite Final Fantasy title is, [I] hope that there will be people who will say 'I actually really like 15—that’s my favorite,’” he told me.
That’s a tall order, but given how much has gone into this game and how badly gamers around the world truly want it to be good—for it to be the Final Fantasy we remember, and the one future generations will remember—not an impossible one, I think.
Mike Rougeau is Playboy.com’s Gaming Editor, in charge of all things video games. His favorite Final Fantasy games are 6, 7 and 10, in that order. Follow him on Twitter @RogueCheddar.
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