The challenge of cohesive storytelling in Final Fantasy XV
For Dan Inoue, a lead writer and localization director at Square-Enix, transmedia storytelling on the blockbuster scale of Final Fantasy XV posed almost insurmountable set of challenges.
At a talk delivered at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco this afternoon, Inoue explained the difficult process of managing Final Fantasy XV’s story across a film, animated TV series as well as the game itself.
A year prior to Final Fantasy XV’s worldwide launch in November 2016, Square Enix began broadcasting an animated TV series titled Brotherhood, set within the game world. Then, in July 2016, the motion picture film Kingsglaive launched in cinemas, telling another synchronous part of the game’s story, albeit from a different set of character perspectives.
Having three separate teams from film, animation and game can result in continuity concerns, as well as issues around tonality and style, Inoue said. “The question very quickly becomes: How does this all fit together?” he said. “These were threads of a simultaneous narrative across multiple media. The challenge for us was how to tell integrated but cohesive narratives.”
Final Fantasy XV was unique in the long-running Japanese role-playing game series, in that key elements of its storyline were told not within the game, but in these supplementary, or complementary projects. It was also one of the only games in the series to heavily introduce product placement.
“The specter of commercialism looms in the game,” Inoue said. “Imports from beyond the fourth wall are difficult to explain in canon, but they do make the game more relatable.” At least, he quipped, “that’s what I tell myself to get to sleep at night.”
Inoue conceded that, at some point, maintaining continuity between the various forms of media proved an impossible task. Instead, the team focused on “contiguity” -- a term he described in this context as meaning the “maintaining suspension of disbelief at the edges of the various products.”
“The game’s tale needs to stand alone,” said Inoue, "so you write for the uninitiated audience.” The problem with this, he said, is that you risk patronizing those players who have kept up with the story exposition presented in the other forms of media. Knowing how much to show and tell at each point becomes a major challenge.
For Inoue, maintaining contiguity even reached beyond the boundaries of the game, film and TV series into the product descriptions on figurine boxes, as well as early trailers. “Each of these elements fit into a timeline and needs to be cohesive,” he said.