"I'm very tired," Hajime Tabata, director of Final Fantasy XV, tells me. But he looks relaxed, grinning ear to ear as he leans comfortably back in his chair. We're sitting off to the side of a massive projection screen where, in 12 hours, he'll reveal more details of the long-awaited role-playing game, a title out of time.
Announced 10 years ago as Final Fantasy Versus XIII, the game--and the team--have come a long way. Tabata took over XV from previous director Tetsuya Nomura in 2012, and has been hitting the pavement ever since. He runs a tight ship, and is in constant contact with the game's fans; monthly digital presentations called Active Time Reports are the hallmark of his tenure as the head of Business Division 2, the subsection of Square Enix that makes Final Fantasy. He is always listening, always moving, and always willing to take time out of his busy development schedule to share a few new bits of information with the hungry audience.
After meeting with Tabata at various events over the past two years, with Final Fantasy XV's release date finally in sight, he looks more energized than ever. Sitting next to longtime cinematics director Takeshi Nozue--he worked on the Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children CGI film as well as cutscenes for Final Fantasy IX, X, X-2, XIII, and Dissidia, and is now heading up the Kingsglaive feature film--the two look calm, but very happy. Below is what I learned from them, from details about individual characters to comments on the theme and purpose of the tie in film and anime. "We've done everything we can, everything we could," Tabata says. "There are no regrets. There is no looking back."
1. The Platinum Demo will tie directly into the anime.
In the new free demo, players control Noctis as a little boy. He is in a deep sleep, and moves through a dreamscape at the behest of a mischievous little creature called a Carbuncle. Episodes one and five of the anime, Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV, will tie directly into this demo's story, which explains a major injury Noctis sustained as a child. However, the team stresses that these additional pieces of media are just still backstory: you don't need to watch all of them to understand the in-game events of Final Fantasy XV (though you may want to).
2. To avoid shipping Final Fantasy XV as multiple games, the team decided to make the story a multimedia property.
"It's an idea that evolved over time," Tabata says. "That being said, initially, I did have an idea of this sort in my mind. Nozue-san joined Business Division 2, and as we communicated and discussed things, Kingsglaive started to formulate. Brotherhood, the anime, is something that we started to develop in discussion with [Akio] Ofuji-san, the producer. Since Ofuji-san is the marketing producer on Final Fantasy as well, those types of discussions started to really develop. The idea was there from the get go, but all these projects really developed over time."
"The initial starting point [for Kingsglaive] was when we had the idea to really complete Final Fantasy XV within one installment, and restructure everything and optimize it so it would be a story that's told within that one installment," Nozue adds. "We really focused on Final Fantasy XV's main game being from Noctis' perspective, about his kingdom and taking it back, and his growth as a king. When we had that discussion, we felt that it would be best to separate out the story of Regis and make it its own independent piece."
"We want Kingsglaive to be an entry point into the Final Fantasy XV universe."
3. Kingsglaive's main protagonist is Nix; he won't appear in the main game.
According to Nozue, the team didn't want the feature film to also use Noctis as its main focus. Instead, they chose to portray events surrounding Regis and Luna through the eyes of a totally different character, one that would be completely removed from the events of the main game. Enter Nix. "Final Fantasy has a very unique universe and the idea with this movie is wanting to bring the story down to a level more easily understood by a wider audience. We felt that rather than make the main character someone who is part of the main story, telling the story through someone who is a few steps away from the core cast allows us to better show things that are happening within the world that are more easily understood from afar."
4. Kingsglaive is nothing like Advent Children.
Advent Children was meant to be treat for players hungry for more stories in the Final Fantasy VII universe. Kingsglaive's intended audience isn't just Final Fantasy XV players, Nozue says--which is why the film will launch in summer, ahead of the main game's final release. "Advent Children was for people who had played the game and know the game, whereas the sole purpose of Kingsglaive is to get more people to get to know the universe of Final Fantasy XV," Nozue says. "People who may not know much about Final Fantasy or XV can get interested through Kingsglaive, which is meant to garner a wider appeal for the game. In that sense, the way we've developed Kingsglaive is closer to that for a true theatrical release. We want Kingsglaive to be an entry point into the Final Fantasy XV universe."
5. Some characters overlap between the main game and Kingsglaive.
Namely King Regis, Luna, and Ardyn. All three play very crucial roles in the story, and will have major screen time in both the game and the film. Tabata and Nozue not-so-subtly suggested that the audience should keep a close eye on Ardyn, especially.
6. Regis was redesigned because of the film.
When Versus XIII was announced, King Regis looked very different. He was redesigned because of his growing involvement in Kingsglaive. The technology allowed the team to make highly-expressive character models, and they wanted Regis to look powerful in battle and regal in the film. "We changed his design up so we can really express his stature as the king, or his true nature in battle, and as a father. We wanted to hone in on that and up the expressive quality of that character," Tabata says. "That was happening on the Kingsglaive side, and to draw on that kingly aspect of Regis we redesigned and tried to get that image of Regis in the game closer to what was in the movie."
7. Final Fantasy XV has a theme song: Florence and the Machine singing a cover of Ben E. King's "Stand By Me."
The indie rock artist's rendition debuted with the latest trailer for the game, and plays over a montage of Noctis and his friends and family spending time together and battling. It's a surprising choice: typically Final Fantasy games that chose to adopt a song to represent them have gone with Japanese artists---Angela Ak sung Final Fantasy XII's "Kiss Me Goodbye," Faye Wong VIII's "Eye On Me", and Rikki "Suteki da Ne?" from X.
"I didn't know much about Florence initially," Tabata says of choosing the artist to represent his game. "When we were looking for an artist that had their own unique world in their own right, we wanted someone who would fit the world of Final Fantasy XV. We had a bunch of people come up with suggestions for artists to look into, and among those that popped up, we really felt that Florence would really flesh out the world and make it even more beautiful and bring in new fans and interest to the game."
Tabata also confirmed the song will play somewhere in the game--but it definitely won't be while our boys are on their road trip. It's not an appropriate song for a car ride, he says.
8. Cellphones, cars, branded camping gear... It seems like Final Fantasy is taking a Western slant for XV.
But Tabata says not quite, it's more a move to make the game globally accessible. "It's not that we were shifting from something so infused with Japanese culture into something significantly Western," he explains. "Of course, the people developing the game are Japanese, and to a certain degree the mindset and culture and the way we grasp things: these elements will definitely be infused to a certain degree in our product. That's why when we're looking at the world's setting, we wanted it to be something that anyone from anywhere from any country at any age would be easy for them to pick up and enter to world, that it would be familiar to them. That's why we have so many culture and influences dispersed through Final Fantasy XV: we wanted it to be accessible for everyone."
9. But like the tagline initially introduced alongside Versus XIII, this is still a fantasy based on reality.
"What's different from Versus XIII is, with Final Fantasy XV, we're really trying to modernize Final Fantasy to a certain degree. We're trying to express fantasy as if it was reality within this world," Tabata says.
10. Get comfortable with Aranea.
You'll be seeing a lot of Aranea, the beautiful dragoon in iron armor introduced in the last Active Time Report. According to Tabata, she won't be pushing forward any major plot points, but you will encounter her frequently during the main story--and after. "Unrelated to the main story, you'll have numerous contact points with her throughout the game," he says.
11. The partnership with Roen clothing line is still in place.
When the game was still called Versus XIII, Square Enix announced a partnership with Roen, a high-end fashion brand. Most of the original clothing designs from Roen are still living in the game: the clothes on Noctis and Regis, and any kind of official attire in the Kingdom of Lucis, are all from Roen.
12. Whose dogs are those?
Those are Luna's dogs.
13. Why does Ardyn wear a fedora?
My exact question was, what is up with Ardyn's outfit? Tabata said Ardyn's appearance is all tied back to his personality. Think Kefka's clown outfit in Final Fantasy VI. "Ardyn has a really important role within the main story," Tabata explains. "He has his own unique mood and essence. Even within the world of FFXV he's kind of a hard-to-grasp character. But he's not just a little offbeat, he's an interesting and strange character. He is extremely smart and he has an amazing mind. That's why he has an important post within the Nifelheim forces. His attire helps to express the type of character he is."
14. You will not be able to play as Luna in combat, or fight alongside her.
Despite her large role in the story, Luna will not be your pal in battle. But the team hopes that people find her lovable, and they feel she will appeal to players easily. She will play a huge part in Kingsglaive.
15. There will be Moogles, and they're totally adorable.
"Within reasonable means, from a developer's perspective, as well as something meaningful for our players: yes, Moogles will be there," Tabata says with a laugh. "As you may know from game development we are always strapped on time, but we really worked out brains to figure out a reasonable way of incorporating Moogles into the game."
The he leans conspiratorially over the table and said with a straight, serious face: "I wanted to give you a note that they are very cute. It isn't cheap or anything."