E3 2008: Final Fantasy XIII Roundtable Discussion

Square Enix answers questions about development and the vision for Final Fantasy XIII.

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Following the bombshell announcement regarding Final Fantasy XIII's platform expansion to the Xbox 360, Square Enix has been hosting some cozy question-and-answer sessions to chat up the upcoming installment in its flagship series. We got to sit down to the roundtable with FFXIII producer Yoshinori Kitase and Square Enix executive Shinji Hashimoto to talk shop about the role-playing game and its development. We were warned at the beginning that it's still quite early in the development process and so details would be scarce, and this was true. Details are still pretty scarce. However, even mere droplets of information about new Final Fantasy games are delicious, so we were unperturbed.

The first query had to do with scheduling, and whether the PS3 version of the game was being delayed to accommodate the newly announced 360 version. The reply was that the PS3 version is on track to be completed as scheduled and that the 360 version will be ported from it. According to Square Enix, there should not be a delay in order to bring both versions to release.

Next, the team was asked about the possibility of additional content when FFXIII reaches US shores--content that is usually added to the overseas releases after the game first comes out in Japan. The answer given was that the typical Final Fantasy release schedule ends up staggered between territories, with gaps of at least 6 months between the initial Japanese date and releases in the US and Europe. Currently there's no extra content planned, since the team is anticipating lessening the gap between the Japanese release and the worldwide unveiling.

The next question was regarding the technical limitations of DVD media as opposed to Blu-ray and how that would affect the visuals of the Xbox 360 version. The response was that while nothing has been decided yet, the plan is to optimize compression for the disc-space hogs, which are prerendered cutscenes and voice work, so the quality would not be adversely affected.

When asked why Square Enix made the decision to produce an Xbox 360 version for the Final Fantasy series, we were at first gently reminded that the massively multiplayer Final Fantasy XI made its way to the 360. So while this isn't technically the first Final Fantasy game on the system, for this installment the team wanted to make it available to as many fans as possible. They recognize that there are many fans floating around out there with interest in the game who do not own a PlayStation 3. We inquired about whether there were any tentative plans for 360 achievements for the game and received the somewhat cryptic answer that the team didn't want the gameplay experience to be noticeably different between the two versions but that there would be details where they would diverge.

A question about the characters shown in the trailer and a request for their names and backgrounds was quietly declined. Square Enix isn't ready to share those details yet. However, it was reiterated that the main character is called Lightning by the people around her and that this is not her true name.

The next question was for Kitase, who is returning to Final Fantasy development on FFXIII after not participating on Final Fantasy XII. He was asked to describe changes in the gameplay. He responded that Final Fantasy X had random encounters with a battle environment that would load and that Final Fantasy XII had enemies that were onscreen with seamless transitions to battle. In Final Fantasy XIII, a version of the active time battle system will return, and the team hopes to combine the best of FFX's and FFXII's systems. Kitase said that there will be monsters in the field but that the encounter system will be different from how Final Fantasy XII's turned out.

When asked what the gameworld was like, Kitase and Hashimoto declined to give much detail, but they did reveal that "Pulse" is the name of a region in the game. The name is said to derive from the Fabula Nova Crystalis mythos that pervades the world of both Final Fantasy XIII and Versus XIII.

Another question requested details on the game's soundtrack and Japanese voice-over talent. The response was that the voice actors are being cast right now and that the team is seeking actors who not only have skillful delivery, but have voices that truly fit the vision of each character. As far as the game's music goes, we were told that the music will be recorded once all the cinematics are completed and that the sound will have a lot of choral influence.

Kitase was then asked how the tone and theme of Final Fantasy has evolved over time and whether or not he felt like he'd carried on former producer Hironobu Sakaguchi's legacy. Kitase said that there was nothing he felt he had to protect or maintain. The teams that work on the Final Fantasy games always look at the previous games, and there's always a link between the games.

Questioned on whether the gameplay would be more free-roaming or more structured and linear, the team answered that it couldn't talk about it yet. However, the people in charge of crafting the story and managing the gameplay are devoted to their respective views, we were told, so their aim is that the game will have a good balance.

Finally, we talked about Lightning and how she seemed like quite a strong character, but also isolated and alone, and asked how that would come into play in the story. We were told that this is one of the major themes of Final Fantasy XIII. There's almost a categorical rejection at the beginning where characters refuse to fight alongside others, and then gradually they come together and become close. The trailer is meant to illustrate this.

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