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.