It's a simple matter to peg this year's E3 announcement that Final Fantasy XIII would cross the platform boundary onto Xbox 360 as the moment when Square Enix's long-running franchise blew the doors off fans' expectations.
But the teams behind Final Fantasy have been quietly and subtly evolving their formula for the past few years, broadening traditional mechanics Final Fantasy XII, and in Crisis Core and Revenant Wings, the developer explored the art of the spin-off, a strategy it plans to continue with Final Fantasy XIII.
Speaking to Gamasutra, Square Enix producer Yoshinori Kitase explained, "Final Fantasy XIII, the series -- which includes XIII and Versus XIII, and also Agito XIII -- they are all based upon the same legend and mythology of a crystal, and the different directors have interpreted that in their own way, and created their own freely-interpreted games about that myth."
According to Kitase, FFXIII director Motomu Toriyama is "more of a traditional, 'command-style' director, so that will be incorporated into XIII." Longtime Square-Enix designer Tetsuya Nomura, renowned for a somewhat more stylistic approach, is behind Versus XIII, and Kitase says the "action-based command" style seen in Nomura's Kingdom Hearts work will prevail in that title.
As for Agito XIII, director Hajime Tabata will handle it with what Kitase calls the "merging of action and command" seen in Tabata's previous directorial work on PSP title Crisis Core.
"These three XIII titles will all take familiar gameplay styles and evolve them further, to create an entirely new experience for everyone," Kitase says.
The recent trend of spinning off Final Fantasy titles now sees three in the pipeline for FFXII -- how much is too much? When we asked producer Shinji Hashimoto whether there's a "right" number of games per numbered Final Fantasy, he laughed.
"Well, when it comes down to it, it's up to the fans' needs, and we don't feel that there's actually a certain number that we should stop at," he says.
"But each Final Fantasy series has a lot of unique characters, and a world, and we receive lots of feedback from fans, saying, 'We want to see more of this character!' or, 'We want to see more of this situation!' So, we take those into account, and try to create new side stories based on that. So we're not necessarily conscious of a certain limit that we have to stop at."
And is Final Fantasy eternal? Will there ever be a "final" Final Fantasy?
Says Hashimoto, "The term 'Final' in the title doesn't mean 'last,' but the teams behind it see it as a term for 'ultimate,' and as long as there are creators that are wanting to make Final Fantasy games, we will probably keep going."
Interestingly, we've seen Square-Enix's Dragon Quest series move a full-number title onto the DS with Dragon Quest 9 -- is such a step in the cards for Final Fantasy, where a full franchise installment appears as a portable title?
"At this moment, I actually haven't even thought about that," says Hashimoto. "There are no plans that are concrete and set for the future, but as you are probably aware, Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy are both made in completely different ways."
"Final Fantasy has been traditionally been made so that on top of moving story, we are also always going for the latest expression in graphics as well. So I don't know if the DS is the ideal place to express the graphical element -- but you never know what's going to happen in the future!"