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The Mind And Heart Of Final Fantasy XIII

March 22, 2010 Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

Well, it's finally out.

On March 9, 2010, the ridiculously long-awaited Final Fantasy XIII was released in the Western world. Originally released in Japan in December, the game was originally announced at E3 2006, before problems in the development of the company's Crystal Tools game engine -- which drives Final Fantasy XIII, XIV, and beyond -- came to light.

Development of the game lagged, and when the game was finally released in Japan, fan reaction was mixed.

The development team had created a game that nobody had been expecting, and its design (which omits or streamlines many of the traditional facets of RPG play, such a towns and dungeon exploration) has been controversial and is much-discussed, including on Gamasutra.

During GDC, the game's director and writer Motomu Toriyama spoke frankly about the production problems in the game leading to its overall design. Before that, though, Gamasutra got the chance to sit down with him for a lengthy discussion, which is presented below.

The game has as many fans as it has detractors, and is an interesting permutation in a series best known, perhaps, for its lack of consistency. The task, then, was to find out why.

It's been a long time since the project started. What was your original goal for Final Fantasy XIII, and how close did you get to the goal you set out when you originally started the project?

Motomu Toriyama: In terms of the game's concept itself, we wanted to create an ultimate single-player RPG, and that was our main goal. To break that down further, there were two elements; the first one was to create an incredible story-driven RPG, and then the second one was to create an all-new battle system that provided speed as well as tactical battles.

In terms of this, yes, we did achieve these two goals. Additionally, we also had in our minds the number of five million units shipped or sold, and we reached that goal, as we announced, so we are extremely proud and happy about that.

I've read a quote from someone on the team saying that this game isn't exactly an RPG, or not to look at it as an RPG. What is the game, and how do you look at it?

MT: So, in terms of "it's not a traditional RPG," in the sense that an adventurer doesn't go to the town and shop and buy items and prepare and then he goes outside and he kills monsters and he comes back and then he shops again.

We don't follow that type of traditional style and model, and we just didn't want to categorize the game as a JRPG or a Western RPG or to fit into a certain mold. We instead wanted this Final Fantasy to create a brand new model for games. In terms of that, that was where that comment came from, that it didn't fit into a traditional RPG model.

Part of the reason I ask is because I feel like the RPG genre's changing a lot, and not just with Final Fantasy XIII. Look at Mass Effect 2 and Fable III. It seems like, at this point, we're starting to pick and choose as an industry what "an RPG" means. That's why I'm interested in what you think is necessary to create a game.

MT: An RPG, at the bare minimum, has characters that you can control to perform certain actions, and those characters grow. This is what's basic in terms of moving the story forward. In terms of all the games that you just mentioned, they all have that similarity in common, but, when it comes to the story or the type of world or the time period that it's set in or the different characters, those differences there are where the positive aspect of each game comes through.

I think, when I look at Final Fantasy XIII based on what I've played so far, what the game really does is it takes the elements such as story, graphics, and battle system that Final Fantasy is very good at and retains those, and it gets rid of things that Final Fantasy hasn't done much or wasn't as good at, like town simulation, NPC interaction, or the field map. Was that the goal -- emphasize what you're good at and drop what wasn't as much of a strength in the series?

MT: Personally, the Final Fantasys that I have worked on have been very story-driven, and so, in terms of the development, I wanted to of course utilize my personal strengths, which were those.

But in the past, in the Final Fantasys on previous, non-high definition consoles, we were able to kind of take everyone's ideas and include all of them in the game -- kind of a bento box system, where you have all the different little things in there. So we had mini-games or we had towns where you were able to talk to all of the townspeople.

But with a high definition console you're really no longer able to do that because it takes so long to develop. When you think about how long it's already taken us to develop this game, to have to have included all of those other aspects it would have been far too long. So what we did instead was to define what was truly important to the game and include those aspects and really emphasize those items that we wanted.

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Robert Ericksen
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Im only halfway thru Fail Fantasy 13, and so far I am not impressed. I love the art, most of the writing, but the gameplay is pretty dumb. Oh look another long skinny corridor to run down before I hit the auto battle button a bunch. Sweet. I feel like I am having the EXACT same gameplay experience as everybody else. The reason I am such a FF fan and love playing the games so much is that I love feeling like i am playing it in MY way and not just like 5 million other people have. Too linear and no way I can "take time to be tactical" cause the ATB just doesnt support that at all. If I do that I get my arse handed to me every might as well hit auto battle as fast as possible.

Ian Schopa
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"But with a high definition console you're really no longer able to do that because it takes so long to develop. When you think about how long it's already taken us to develop this game, to have to have included all of those other aspects it would have been far too long."

What a terribly disappointing answer! I haven't played the game yet, but from what I've read, the lack of towns, etc. is due to poor planning, not lack of time. I was just watching the documentaries on the God of War 3 disc, and I think square could learn something from the team that made that game. In their game, the player has no control over the camera. That allowed them to smartly devote their resources to making some truly amazing environments, because they only focus on one part. All the pre-final fantasy 10 titles controlled the camera for you, and no one complained. So why did they decide to invest so heavily in the scenery? That would be a good interview question...

Corey Sharpe
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"But what's important to me is to have a combat system that offers players the ability to be strategic and to really think about their next move and use their brain in order to proceed in the game. "

This is funny. This goes with what Robert was saying. I'm also about half way through and my brain has been in cruise control the entire time. Everything is just too simple and it takes far too long to open everything up. SquareEnix made everything to simple. I know they were trying to get new fans interested in the series and that is all well and good, but I hate it when games lead the player by the hand. I feel that they insulted my intelligence by making everything so damn easy.

Stephen Pick
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It seems every Japanese RPG developer is continuously struggling to mesh the strategic focus of a turn-based battle system with the dynamism of real-time fighting. I wonder why this should be. The real-time additions either feel awkward or perfunctory to me, and it seems like turn-based with real-time elements is as difficult to elegantly achieve as FPS with RPG elements or story with free player agency.

Has anyone else noticed this trend and if so can anyone explain it? I feel as though JRPG developers are trying to add AI and timers to Chess when they should be thinking about making Go.

Thomas Puha
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Good interview Christian! You are trying so hard here to ask them the right questions, why does the game take so fucking long to become fun and why it really is so rubbish after five years in development.

ken sato
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A common reason is to keep a fixed budget and focus on 'deliverables' that you can maximize on.

For example, increased visual qualities in production means either you ramp up budget wise on artists, animators, and art managers. You can out-source this, which increases either the number or responsibilities of your art team. But a fixed budget means you're going to have less development time on code and design (apart from character, level, and art) which can also reduce the number and amount of hours on QA. Since visuals, particularly the review for quality, are done by art and FX directors, you can have management do the quality review as to visual presentation since the goal is consistency of art style and set presentation.

Japanese development and organization has a tradition of following trends as opposed to establishing them. Most titles prior to western release had a long standing history and model before being localized to outside markets. An effect of this process is that rising costs to development, much like in the west, increased dramatically with little consensus on how to leverage the power of consoles beyond graphical thru-put. While motion controllers can be considered a 'new' concept, you have to remember how little developers actually use it in their titles. This is in direct opposition to Microsoft / Xbox 360 with NATAL where the emphasis is to do away with the controller entirely.

Finally, established brands and IPs. There is A LOT of discussion that goes into development and with franchises and IPs, not all opinions are equal...or the voices of those in the process. Quick check! Who here wants to kill a successful IP and cost the company several million dollars? This becomes more critical when you understand the company / corporate structure where PRODUCTIVE success is more important than informative failure. Poor, low-growth markets means that every dollar of every hour has to be assessed and taken responsibility for since even a successful project can now be assessed as being to costly to produce / develop.

Final note:

An interesting note is SE's crystal tools which focused on in game development of cinematics and the announcement of SE's next generation engine--whatever that means. Since most studios have already developed a solid core set of code for current consoles (and I am really looking forward to IDs Tech 5 engine and seeing if the 60 fps across SKUs is sustainable!), it's up to SE to correspondingly make the toolset design and code open and modifiable. This is something the western developers already understand, continue to make innovations on, and develop titles on the drawing board!

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@ Corey and Robert

I find FFXIII to be the most difficult FF in the series. Auto-battle isn't good in a lot of situations, and is good in others. I only use it when I know what it is going to give me. For instance when I change to medic paradigm I will sometimes use auto-battle because I know the computer is going to queue 5 cures on the lowest HP teammate. If I were controlling it I would do the same thing. There are other times however that the computer will decide to cast cures on a teammate when the main character needs it more, in those situations I manually do it. Point I'm trying to make is that the auto-battle button really isn't an auto-battle button, it's just another way to enter the commands you intended to enter.

Also you can't blame a game for including an optional game mechanic, I see a lot of people do that. No one has to use auto-battle, but those that want to are welcome to.

David Glenn
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At the risk of sounding like a fanboy, I think that SquareEnix has the perfect tool and talent! After they put FFIV out, I think they sould do soming differnent! Not nessary another Disney varent, but something new based on a local (Japanese) Idea. I've always been a AIC fan. It would be nice to see something done in the same theam as El hazard or Tenci Mayo! It would pump some new life in a market that has grown rather stale lately!

Anthony Charles
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"However, for Final Fantasy XIII, unlike past games, we really tried to broaden the appeal and bring in new users, whether it's people who like action games or people who really only play shooters. We created a new battle system that would appeal to them and really bring in new fans."

Call of Duty players are never going to play Final Fantasy. If you're going to make a Final Fantasy game, including all the japanese art styling and story peculiarities, you have already lost the shooter fans. hell, you probably lost them as soon as you named it final fantasy.

Andre Gagne
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Erm... Okami anyone?

From what I hear it seems like they're trying to push the realism too hard on this one; if they took an art direction that would allow them to not waste time on useless super realistic items then they could get stuff out on time...

Rik Spruitenburg
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"The first is to deliver a game with the newest graphics and the newest technology for the newest hardware"

"The second one is to deliver a story that's truly universal."

Well, that explains it, you wanted pretty graphics and a good story. Next time try adding "fun game" as a goal, clearly that feature got cut making way for the HD. Add me to the list of people who thought the first 20 hours were a tutorial.

John Gordon
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I appreciate his honesty about not being able to include towns, but it is something of a shame in my opinion. I don't think a lack of towns is bad in of itself, but it's bad that he would have included them if he could have. We're at the point where even very successful franchises like Final Fantasy have to cut basic gameplay features in order to make room for cutting edge graphics. If Final Fantasy has to cut gameplay for the sake of graphics, then where does that leave the typical studio? I think we've reached the limits of graphic improvement in a practical/financial sense even if there is still room in a technological sense.

Ayotunde Ayoko
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i am just not 'feeling' this game...i don't know (i haven't played it - and don't intend to). i think Square and Nomura lost it sometime around X-2...ach...what do i know. i'll just wait for Versus 13...maybe it will save the JRPGs :/

Stanley Meyer
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I am wondering what happened to the old traditional turn based RPG idea. Is it a lost art or just something over looked with all these new platforms wanting to bring real time combat to your console. Final Fantasy in my mind and will always be a turn based RPG, not saying you need to dungeon crawl or go to towns every so often. I am asking why developers feel the need to push this real time combat down RPG throats. I mean the game is a RPG not a Action game. And in that the creative designers and programmers need to take a step back and rethink the approach to a RPG.

Christopher Furniss
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It is mind boggling to me to think that he expects us to believe that it is more difficult to make a series of well-made towns than it is to make environment after environment for their long series of corridors in that game. There's so much over-decorated shit that you don't even notice because you're blindly moving in one direction the whole time. I never have a chance to stop and just absorb this world they've created. The pacing is completely off. I miss the days of an intense boss battle followed by a nice relaxing trip to a town where I can go do side missions or just shop with my new-found winnings.

And his definition of an RPG could describe pretty much any game. You control a player and they grow. That could be Mario.

Is Squeenix and the FF franchise just too big for its britches? I really think they're missing the point when they talk about the need to push for HD. Back when getting a game on a cd-rom was a novelty, sure, we drooled over cutscenes and the technology required to create them. But they are no longer an effective storytelling device. Look at a game like Heavy Rain, which is basically one long interactive cutscene. That game is WAY more of a role-playing game than FF13.

Chris Sigma
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Goddamit Christian! Nice Interview! You asked ALL the right questions. The only Other one I feel was worthwhile to have been included might be

'Why does FF have to cling to the tradition that they are 50hour games?'.

I feel S/E's insistence on creating Final Fantasys which are 50hour affairs may be what's holding the game back. All this excuse about No time to make Varied Content like minigames, towns and sidequests breaks when you ask them why the game has to be so long. They've scrapped SO MUCH tradition in their game that they may as well sacrifice the longevity of the game for a more varied and enjoyable experience. Did it not cross their minds that the world has changed - and that there are a group of us who are FF fans who do not mind Final Fantasy being shorter games? I guess the main target demographic is younger than you and I think.

Blaine Whited
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"... and [Final Fantasy XIII] gets rid of things that Final Fantasy hasn't done much or wasn't as good at, like town simulation, NPC interaction, or the field map."

WHAT? This is the only question I cannot see your point of view on. Every sub-X (FF1-9) have had great NPC interaction and an extremely well done open environment (FF8 also had one of the best 'town simulations' of any game i've ever played). They decided for FFX (I guess) to mix it up, and it worked for them. And since then, they haven't revisited this, and to some degree have moved further from it. I can't pretend to know their thought processes or why they thought the community didn't want these. I personally believe that this open environment was one of the major factors of 7's success.

The idea that I could play the game in 20-30 hours and rush through the story, experiencing the honors of saving someone/something important while overcoming struggles both internal and external and then spend as much time as I was willing to give the game, finding as many extra content was the hallmark of the franchise (Going so far as to replay the game, attempting to complete it all). Somehow I feel cheated by not being able to really make the game my own.

As it stands now, I'm on course to finish the game in 35 hours and I frankly feel as though I haven't accomplished anything of significance.

'Change simply for the sake of change is an abdication of leadership.' -John Luke Jr, Chairman and CEO of global packaging giant, MeadWestvaco

Nils Haukås
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Hi there, great interview layed a neutral tone in order to just set the stage for the developer.

Many of the commenters pick on SE for taking so long to develop the game, and then continue to complain about the lack of content when in the interview the developer points to both the challenge of building a new engine and sacrificing some FF cornerstones in order to speed things up:

"MT: (Laughing) You can wait longer for the game so that we can improve those... (everyone laughs) The next title that we create will have those elements -- the improvements to those elements that you had mentioned. However, it's important for us to choose what we can and cannot include, and that's the role of a director: to have to decide what we can accomplish within a certain period of time."

I think this is a great retort for the complaints aimed ait the dev. time and the sole focus on story and the battle system. Getting things done and out the door is preferable to tinkering with a game for to long and risk becoming rpg's Duke Nukem Forever.

The groundwork is laid. On the next game they'll be able to move much faster if they decide to keep going with this battle system, and honing it for at least another game. (Which I hope) I'm not an FF-guy, (yet), but what I'm hearing about a fast paced turn-based battle system that punishes people who try to brute force it intrigues me. Some of the games I've enjoyed thoroughly for their hardcore-ness are Bayonetta, Ninja Gaiden 1&2, Devil May Cry and so on. Dare to be hard I say. :)

Another happy aspect that might sell it for me is that the whole "in-your-face-surprise-battle" has been removed. Walking around FF-X and seing the cracking screen for the nth time, made me quit midway. Giving the choice to players when to fight does feel freeing (even though there's still the need to grind). So, I celebrate that simple touch.

Don't know where I was going with this, but I think it's a good feat for this game to spark controversy and love/hate responses. They did some bold and seemingly necessary dev. choices which MT is totally upfront about, and delightfully proud about even. Perhaps this will even increase sales to people who's not already converted to the "FF-religion", like people going "what's all the 'hubbub' about this new FF game? " (People like me)


(At least this game isn't being bashed for being uncreative and not trying to push the genre)