If there is a game that was as eagerly anticipated and then as roundly criticized as Final Fantasy XIII, it's hard to call it to mind. The game took years to develop in what was, the team has admitted, an extremely troubled process -- both design ideas and technological hiccups resulted in a game that was far from what it could have or should have been.
It's surprising that producer Yoshinori Kitase and director Motomu Toriyama -- the same pair behind the original game -- are as contrite as they are about it, simply because it's unusual for Square Enix to take such an attitude publicly.
It is clear, however, that the pair want to win back the series' fans, Moreover, it's also clear they're making an effort to address the game's issues not only with words but with actions, in the form of Final Fantasy XIII-2, a direct sequel to the original, which is set to ship in January 2012 in North America.
In the following interview, the two discuss how they have tried to satisfy the complaints of FFXIII players, and answer rumors that have persisted since the release of the original game.
When you gave your GDC presentation about XIII, around when the game came out, you showed a lot of metrics from focus testing. The biggest question in my mind is: how much of that feedback went into XIII-2?
Motomu Toriyama: We actually set out with a concept for XIII-2. Our ultimate goal is rectifying every single point in Final Fantasy XIII that has been criticized by the users. The main criticisms, I suppose, were: one, it was too story-driven and therefore was quite linear, and, two, that there weren't that many towns and cities to explore, and also that there was no matching interaction between the player and the gameplay.
We actually took those criticisms very seriously, and you'll notice that we tackled them completely and thoroughly. This new game is more player-driven, as opposed to story-driven, so that you can explore different locations and fields to get information and explore towns and other types of locations, as well. So we are very determined to rectify all of the problems, and we think we have.
Even if some elements carry over, Final Fantasy typically introduces new gameplay design for each game in the series. That's good because it things keep evolving, but it doesn't give you a chance to refine stuff before moving on, generally. Does this game give you more of a chance to actually refine the ideas that you introduced with XIII?
Yoshinori Kitase: As you know, XIII introduced a completely new battle system. Because it was so new, we wanted to give each player time to get used to it, and to get the hang of it. Before, with XIII, we just wanted the stages to be quite long, where you have to go quite carefully and slowly and which would look like very lengthy tutorials, which a lot of people didn't like at all.
Because this is the sequel to XIII, we took the basic concept of the Paradigm Shift, for example. The basic idea is the same; but we actually refined it and added new elements to it to make it even better.
So, as you said, the refining process is something we've enjoyed this time around. This time we didn't have to make the game from scratch, so we just have to pursue more product quality and add some extra depth to the game. We feel that we have achieved a very high-quality game.
I remember an interview came out around the time the game was released in Japan saying that there was a volume of content created for the original XIIIthat was more than could be used in the game. Was that the genesis of where this project came from? Did you end up using any of the content as you moved forward?
YK: I think this idea was derived from one comment made by one of our staff, and I think it has been quite widely misunderstood or misinterpreted. It is true in any game, in the process of making it, that obviously you have to come up with lots of different ideas, and obviously you can't materialize every single one of them. You have to try them out, and eventually you're left with the best ones for use. It's only that because there are lots of ideas and content that we could have included in XIII where we didn't; but we didn't actually recycle any of them for XIII-2. It's certainly not that XIII-2 came from the idea of how to make any use of the rejects; that's not how it happened.
XIII-2 consists of two parts. One part is the elements and parts that we created from scratch, and the other part is that we took the basic materials from XIII, like the characters, universe, and locations; but every single aspect has been revised or has had new some elements added into it. For example, characters are now presenting completely different, with new costumes, and when it comes to the field map, we now put the element of seasons into it. So it's either completely brand new or the elements from XIII but all differently revised or reworked.
One thing you talked about in your GDC presentation that I thought was interesting is that, in the past of the series, a lot of people could offer ideas into Final Fantasy and they could be incorporated.
But, as development got more complex, that couldn't happen as much. Is that something that you've been trying to move back towards? I know it led to a lot of the interesting concepts -- things that people remember very much about the series. I talked to Tokita-san as well, and he had a similar opinion that it would be great if you could incorporate more of the staff's ideas in a collaborative development style.
MT: It's not just as simple as making a game in an old-fashioned way; it's more than that. But what we did do with XIII-2 is that we completely separated the concept phase and actual development phase, and all sorts of ideas that we discussed during the first phase have been taken into XIII-2. One of the criticisms that we received for XIII was that there weren't enough mini-games, for example, so we implemented more mini-games. One of the concepts behind Final Fantasy, and one of the priorities behind XIII-2 is that it's a bit of a melting pot; you can enjoy all sorts of different types of gameplay in one game. That kind of concept is back in action with XIII-2
One of the things that I found really, really interesting is that, in the Game Developer magazine postmortem for XIII, there's a sense that, until the demo with the Japanese Advent Children Blu-ray was released, there was no vertical slice of the game -- no way to get the team to understand what they were making. From a production standpoint, how have you addressed that, moving forward?
MT: At the beginning of development, we set out to, as we said before, look at all of the problems and criticisms we received about the gameplay of XIII. Also, as the development process of XIII was criticized, we wanted to tackle that issue, as well. So we did introduce a vertical slice; the playable version you've just seen at E3 was the first vertical slice version that we've created, so that vertical slice issue has been tackled.
So you're changing the way the team's process works as well? Addressing audience complaints is one side of it, but the other side of it is actually changing the process of the development team to be more effective.
MT: Yes, we have changed a lot of things in terms of the process, and details will be disclosed at GDC next year, maybe. (laughs)