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Final Fantasy VII Remake's Slow Development Has Square Enix Back to Their Old Ways

So much for turning over a new leaf.

Opinion by Kat Bailey, .

Here's my favorite Final Fantasy VII Remake story: Tetsuya Nomura didn't even know he was directing it until well into pre-production.

As Nomura tells it, it wasn't until he saw an internal company presentation with his name attached as director that he realized he was in charge.

"So I called up [Yoshinori Kitase] and said, 'It says that I'm the director for some reason.' To which he replied, 'Of course it does,'" Nomura told Famitsu two years ago, shortly after the announcement of Final Fantasy VII Remake.

What does it say when your director doesn't even know he's in charge until the project has already started? Perhaps it offers some insight into why, two years after its explosive reveal at E3 2015, Final Fantasy VII Remake feels further away than ever.

The litany of bad news started coming in last week. First, Square Enix announced that they were staffing up for production, suggesting that there was still a great deal of work to be done. Then they announced that it wouldn't be out until "FY 2018 and beyond." And now Square Enix is taking the project back in-house after initially handing a chunk of it off to CyberConnect2, a reputable studio that was set to do much of the heavy lifting on Final Fantasy VII Remake's development.

Based on Square Enix's track record to this point, it appears that Final Fantasy VII Remake is well on its way to following the path of Kingdom Hearts 3 and Final Fantasy Versus XIII. And as anyone who has followed RPGs knows, that's a very bad path to follow.

This troubling trend of games being announced but heavily delayed goes as far back as 2004. In the wake of Final Fantasy XII's rocky development, Final Fantasy XIII was shifted over to the PlayStation 3, ultimately taking four years to be released. Its lengthy development was chalked up to any number of factors: the development of the Final Fantasy VII Technical Demo taking resources from FFXIII, the desire to build a new engine from scratch, the difficult transition to a new generation of consoles. It wound up being the worst of both worlds for Square Enix, as it was both trapped in development hell and rushed through a relatively short production schedule.

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Final Fantasy XV's release felt like an actual miracle.

Final Fantasy Versus XIII's development proved even more fraught. After being announced alongside Final Fantasy XIII, it remained out of sight for years, only occasionally popping up for a brief update. When Hajime Tabata later took on the project as it was being rebranded as Final Fantasy XV, he called it "more of an idea than an actual game."

"Because the game itself was incomplete, there really wasn't a whole lot brought over, if I'm speaking honestly. It's pretty difficult to compare apples and oranges in this case," Tabata told us. "You have something that was incomplete and never really fully formed. [Versus] was more an idea than an actual game, whereas what we've created here [with Final Fantasy XV] is a complete, finished product."

Tabata was eventually able to shepherd Final Fantasy XV to full release, but there's still one game that has yet to see the light of day: Kingdom Hearts 3.

Kingdom Hearts 3 has been famously missing in action since its original announcement at E3 2013. Even Nomura complained that it was announced too quickly. "Since the release of Kingdom Hearts II, I believe that many fans were feeling impatient due to our continuous releases of spin-off titles, so we decided to announce it at the same time as Final Fantasy XV. However, looking at the current development status, I think we may have announced it a little too early."

Since then we've received new info in dribs and drabs: a trailer here, a teaser there. Earlier this year, Square Enix released Kingdom Hearts 2.8, which functioned mostly as a tech demo and a teaser trailer for Kingdom Hearts 3. Still, Kingdom Hearts 3 won't be out until at least 2018.

And now we have Final Fantasy VII Remake, another project seemingly destined for a never-ending development cycle.

That it's been two years and Final Fantasy VII Remake has barely seen the light of day is troubling to say the least. Even more troubling is that it's ostensibly an episodic game, and we're nowhere close to seeing Episode 1.

So what in the world is going on over at Square Enix?

Cynicism or Hope for Final Fantasy VII?

When the Final Fantasy VII Remake was first shown two years ago, I remember thinking when Nomura was listed as director, "Oh no, this game is never getting done." That thought was based in part on his recent track record, and in part on the various stories that have circulated around the industry over the years.

Indeed, Nomura apparently had a strained relationship with CyberConnect2, complaining that their work on the trailer for the remake needed to be "more in the Square Enix style." One way or another, Nomura always seems to be at the center of Square Enix's development troubles.

The truth of the matter is that I don't have a lot of faith in Square Enix's old-guard leadership after a decade of misfires. That's why relative newcomers like Final Fantasy XV's Hajime Tabata and Final Fantasy XIV's Naoki Yoshida have been such a breath of fresh air: they've actually managed to get things done. As I said in my review last year, actually finishing and shipping Final Fantasy XV makes him a miracle worker in my mind.

So while it's always dangerous to assign too much of the credit (or the blame) to any one developer, decent project management can work wonders. And based on recent evidence, Final Fantasy VII Remake doesn't have that.

That has left me feeling unfortunately cynical about Final Fantasy VII Remake's prospects. I was warned that it almost certainly wasn't going to be out until 2018 at the earliest, but I had hoped that Episode 1 at least would be out in time for the 20th anniversary. Now I see that I was being too optimistic, as tends to happen with games that I'm excited to play.

If there's any reason to be hopeful, it's that Square Enix is seemingly serious about rolling up their sleeves and actually getting to work now. To that end, they've brought in Naoki Hamaguchi to serve as a development lead. Hamaguchi is best-known for his work in the high pressure mobile space, where he led development on Mobius Final Fantasy. His background is more programming than creative development, so there's a decent chance that his main task will be to keep everything on schedule.

"I've taken over the development side of the Final Fantasy VII Remake," he said on a recent Mobius Final Fantasy stream. "Up until now, development has progressed by receiving external collaboration, but from here on out, with production and quality in mind, we’re shifting to our in-house organization. This company decision was made wanting to control quality as well as keeping the schedule stable."

Hopefully he will follow in the footsteps of Yoshida and Tabata in the Getting Things Done department. We'll see.

But in the short-term, any hope that Square Enix managed to turn over a new leaf with the successful reboot of Final Fantasy XIV and the release of Final Fantasy XV appears to have been dashed for now. This is old-school Square Enix through and through.

And we're right back to where we started.

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Comments 43

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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #1 SatelliteOfLove A year ago
    "'So I called up [Yoshinori Kitase] and said, 'It says that I'm the director for some reason.' To which he replied, 'Of course it does,'" Nomura told Famitsu two years ago, shortly after the announcement of Final Fantasy VII Remake."

    JFC these guys. THESE GUYS.
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  • Avatar for benjaminlu86 #2 benjaminlu86 A year ago
    Everything Nomura touches falls into development hell. He should just stick to character design. I say that with no disrespect; even if you don't like his style, it's undeniable that he was good at it. Unfortunately, his star in the company was rising just as Sakaguchi was getting forced out and so Square management promoted him into a leadership role where he has floundered ever since (for evidence of these claims, see Matt Leone's FF7 oral history https://www.polygon.com/a/final-fantasy-7).

    Kat, next time you or Parish talk to Tabata, find out what he's doing these days! He's the Winston Wolf of SE and boy does FF7R need some cleaning.
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  • Avatar for UnskippableCutscene #3 UnskippableCutscene A year ago
    I dunno. There's been arguments to the contrary of the posts this commentary is built on. Not to promote other sites needlessly, but DualShockers had a piece more or less calling out sites that published articles like the ones published here suggesting that we'd never play any of it until 2020 and beyond.

    I kind of lean to what was said in that piece, which is that the first chapter will appear relatively quickly in Square-time (think 18 months), but the full complete game itself will probably finish in 2020. I can't imagine we'll just be looking at these same images from PlayStation Experience 2015 all the way until E3 2019.Edited 2 times. Last edited May 2017 by UnskippableCutscene
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  • Avatar for link6616 #4 link6616 A year ago
    I'm confident they'll be in time for the 30th anniversary of FFVII.

    More seriously, it is concerning just how long this is going on. DQs are never quick but I feel they aren't being stuck in dev hell since 7 for the ps1. Localization hell perhaps, but not dev hell.
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  • Avatar for Tetragrammaton #5 Tetragrammaton A year ago
    Remember how I joked that FF7r was going to be rebranded FFXVII? Yeah, I'm no longer convinced it's a crazy idea.
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  • Avatar for Kat.Bailey #6 Kat.Bailey A year ago
    @UnskippableCutscene It's fair to point out that SE's nebulous release date could be sooner than most think. That said:

    1. Final Fantasy VII R's development just underwent a pretty substantial shake-up. It's already been two years. What exactly is going on with this game?

    2. We've seen next to nothing since December 2015.

    3. SE's track record isn't great.

    Those factors were ultimately the basis for this article. And they're why I'm less inclined to give SE the benefit of the doubt right now.
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  • Avatar for donkeyintheforest #7 donkeyintheforest A year ago
    They should just be uprezzing FF7: Crisis Core. So much better than 7 imo.

    If they spend all this time on KH:3 and it doesnt have star wars and marvel stuff (and whatever else disney buys between now and it's release) I will be disappoint. Also, they should prob just make it for Switch at this point.
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #8 cldmstrsn A year ago
    @donkeyintheforest Its a damn good game but better than VII? nah brah!
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  • Avatar for Stevegasm #9 Stevegasm A year ago
    The one big worry I would have with this game, or any game for that matter, taking too long is that by the time it comes out, the gameplay could be outdated.

    With a property like FFVII, this game can not be released unless it's great. Something tells me it might follow the same path as Duke Nukem Forever. IIRC, the big reasoning for that game's perpetual delays was that the FPS genre kept getting improved upon. The team had something that worked well, but a new game came out, basically reinventing the genre. And the developers weren't going to release a dated game, so it was back to the drawing board.
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  • Avatar for themblan #10 themblan A year ago
    They need Sakaguchi back to get stuff done.
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  • Avatar for riderkicker #11 riderkicker A year ago
    Save us Tabata! But he only helps games that help themselves.
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #12 cldmstrsn A year ago
    @themblan True. He really made sure shit got released but now that senpai is no longer there its almost like they are directionless.
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  • Avatar for LBD_Nytetrayn #13 LBD_Nytetrayn A year ago
    I find myself skeptical that they'll stick to the episodic part.
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  • Avatar for Roto13 #14 Roto13 A year ago
    I'd be 1000% fine if Nomura just went away somewhere.
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  • Avatar for CipherStone #15 CipherStone A year ago
    Good to see that they literally learned nothing from Final Fantasy XV.
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  • Avatar for donkeyintheforest #16 donkeyintheforest A year ago
    @cldmstrsn haha! i respect your opinion.
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  • Avatar for Daurben21 #17 Daurben21 A year ago
    Even though your most likely completely right, I'm really hoping SE is just covering their asses in case the development really does take 3 more years.
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  • Avatar for KaiserWarrior #18 KaiserWarrior A year ago
    @themblan They've needed Sakaguchi back for a very long time. Unfortunately, Spirits Within happened, and after that he'll never be back.

    A damned shame, really. TSW was a mistake (even if I personally enjoyed the movie), but the REAL mistake was throwing Sakaguchi out over it. He was the glue that held Square's ragtag teams together and kept them on-task. Nomura makes interesting character designs, but he is not up to the task of managing a team.
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  • Avatar for Frosty840 #19 Frosty840 A year ago
    @Kat.Bailey I think you give Square too much credit. The original Final Fantasy 7 was an utter shambles, with art styles all over the place; wildly varying quality; a thousand different ideas all pulled off pretty half-assedly; a hundred cut plot-lines; its release in Japan, then its release in the west, and then its re-release in Japan, with all the new features from the western release that hadn't been finished for the Japanese release date, with a few extras thrown in for good measure because Square hadn't stopped developing the game just because it had been released...
    To be honest, I'm surprised they even had a director in the first place.
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  • Avatar for link6616 #20 link6616 A year ago
    @CipherStone xv sold pretty well. Xiv ended up doing pretty well despite requiring saving. They might have learned the exact wrong lesson.
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  • Avatar for touchofkiel #21 touchofkiel A year ago
    These are huge games with huge production values and some devs and directors who are notoriously perfectionist (or just picky, if you prefer) about random things. I don't think they're developing them too slowly... they're just announcing and hyping them WAY too early.

    I can't really defend the pace of the games' releases, but they don't just get delayed for no reason. XIII was a case of devs handling the difficult PS3 hardware (not limited to XIII, if you'll recall), and keep in mind that XV had numerous issues, like the original console (PS3) not being powerful enough... and the bigger one, the relaunch of XIV taking away a LOT of resources from pretty much everything else. I think there's a lot more to it than just "OH, that Nomura is just slow."

    Not that I have any faith the game will be released before 2019... but that's on SE for way-too early hype.
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  • Avatar for CipherStone #22 CipherStone A year ago
    @touchofkiel I totally agree. SE needs to stop announcing games when they're still in pre-production.

    That e3 reveal was pretty good though...
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  • Avatar for FalcoT #23 FalcoT A year ago
    I wouldn't be surprised if they're basically blowing it up and starting from scratch. That's what happened with XV, right? I could even imagine them doing away with the episodic structure and just offering one release.
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  • Avatar for Kat.Bailey #24 Kat.Bailey A year ago
    @touchofkiel Right. It's a systemic problem.
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  • Avatar for ChronosCross #25 ChronosCross A year ago
    Sorry but FFXV was absolute trash. One of the worst FF games I've ever played. It has one of the most shallow and boring hold button down to win combat systems, it had the most shortest and rushed storylines in the entire franchise, the writing was terrible, 90% of the game was MMO extremely low quality junk quests(collect frogs), the game was full of glitches / camera issues, the open world felt largely the same, boring, cut and paste gas stations, like 1-2 towns across the entire game, you can't talk to NPCs. So you see Tabata isn't the savior of this franchise, far from it. He took someone elses work, scrapped it and rushed together something that was barely of average quality. His track record for his previous games isn't that great at all. Type 0 lol(terrible game). Nomura has worked on most of the masterpieces in the franchise, he's got the KH franchise on his plate(which screams quality control). I would rather any day have a Nomura seal of quality game over a Tabata rush job experience.Edited May 2017 by ChronosCross
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  • Avatar for sylvan #26 sylvan A year ago
    It seems like everything post-Sakaguchi at Square Enix has suffered from the same foibles. Long development cycles, mixed or luke-warm critical reception, and usually a handful of poorly executed or half-baked ideas that make it into final releases. I realize the guy lost the company a boatload of cash, but he clearly had leadership and vision that has yet to be replaced by any of his peers or newcomers. I wish Yoshinori Kitase was still directing games and not so far up the totem pole over there. Being so close to the original I think he would execute brilliantly on FF VII remake.

    Nomura has done a lot for the series, but I agree that he seems to lack the project management skills that are needed to ship these huge games. And I mean, who is telling them it's OK to build a new frickin engine every time they start up development on a new game? And why is the marketing so out of step with the actual development cycles? Honestly, what is going on over there?
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  • Avatar for Kat.Bailey #27 Kat.Bailey A year ago
    @ChronosCross I guess we'll have to disagree on this one.
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  • Avatar for Arvis-Jaggamar #28 Arvis-Jaggamar A year ago
    @Kat.Bailey There's a very (VERY!) vocal minority group out there who genuinely believe and promote the idea that FFXV is not only the worst Final Fantasy ever, but sometimes they go as far as proclaiming it the worst game ever made. I see it all over GameFAQs, but now I see it here in these comments, too.

    Completely off their rockers, all of 'em.

    EDIT: Incidentally, I think Nomura gets a bit too much blame. He wasn't in charge of when KH3 got announced and he wasn't really allowed to work on just VersusXIII during his time leading up that project. And obviously he had nothing to do with VIIR prior to its announcement. So.......... any other examples of Nomura screwing up games? Or does it just happen that he's the biggest name attached to the only high-profile issues we've had to deal with? The company keeps having him direct Kingdom Hearts spinoffs and re-releases and he gets like one of those out a year, every year, for like a decade now.Edited May 2017 by Arvis-Jaggamar
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  • Avatar for jeffcorry #29 jeffcorry A year ago
    I remember when they could release a brand new Final Fantasy game almost yearly or every other year...as well as throw Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger/Cross, Brave Fencer, and whatever else as they went along.
    Of course HD gaming hurt this a bit, but many other studios can throw out amazing games in much less time.
    Let's be honest. Breath of the Wild did take a while...but not near as long as FFXV.
    ...and honestly, which one provides the more interesting world and story?
    I give my vote to Breath of the Wild...and I will play it many times before I get to try Kingdom Hearts III or Final Fantasy VII Remake.
    Who knows? Maybe the next Zelda will be out before then...
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  • Avatar for Arvis-Jaggamar #30 Arvis-Jaggamar A year ago
    @jeffcorry Assuming it's true what Tabata said, that XV was "just an idea" after the first 7 years, then its dev cycle was 3 years. Breath of the Wild was 5 years.

    Still based on assumption, though.
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  • Avatar for Kat.Bailey #31 Kat.Bailey A year ago
    @Arvis-Jaggamar Project management. It's a problem at SE.

    "So while it's always dangerous to assign too much of the credit (or the blame) to any one developer, decent project management can work wonders. And based on recent evidence, Final Fantasy VII Remake doesn't have that."Edited May 2017 by Kat.Bailey
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  • Avatar for jeffcorry #32 jeffcorry A year ago
    @Arvis-Jaggamar Probably true. Though we had seen PS3 footage of what became XV. The other thing to consider with Breath of the Wild is that it was mostly complete before they added more development time to it for Switch conversion (which I am grateful for!).
    I think my point, and what seems to be the point of the article and those commenting is that SE can't seem to focus their efforts. Their vision is grand, their implementation of said vision struggles. I, personally enjoyed Final Fantasy XV, but the cobbled together story and incomplete world was hard to stomach. I would have preferred a smaller world, with more focus.Breath of the Wild is the perfect size and density for a guy like me. I'm still finding out secrets, but it's not a slog hiking from place to place.
    Final Fantasy XV just feels barren after playing Zelda. While Zelda's polish is even more appreciated. The story in the latest Zelda wasn't as in depth as Final Fantasy XV TRIED to be, but I feel it did justice to the world and characters. XV would introduce a character as being quite important and then dump them for the rest of the game. Then they use the excuse that "it's from Noctis' perspective". That's fine, but -
    Where XIII erred on the side of interactive movie, XV is the other extreme - plus a train ride. XII had a great balance. But let's be honest: IX, VII, VI are the pinnacle! ;)
    Oh...and loading times.
    Seriously. Final Fantasy XV is horrible.Edited 2 times. Last edited June 2018 by jeffcorry
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  • Avatar for nadiaoxford #33 nadiaoxford A year ago
    @ChronosCross Man, don't talk shit about FF XV frog collection sidequest.
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  • Avatar for Number1Laing #34 Number1Laing A year ago
    The E3 2015 reveal always had a whiff of Bioshock Vita to it.

    Maybe the FF7 remake is out by 2023. I would take the over.
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  • Avatar for theinternetisodd #35 theinternetisodd A year ago
    @nadiaoxford BOOM. #threadover
    @Kat.Bailey hit the nail on the head with "Now I see that I was being too optimistic, as tends to happen with games that I'm excited to play." EVERYONE screamed for a FF7 remake for years so of COURSE Square announced it regardless of the actual state of the project. If they had kept on denying it for another year or two and announced it at this years E3 saying "FF7 Remake is real and Episode 1 will be released in 2018" it would be a very different story...of course things could still all fall apart after that.

    Also, I fear this will suffer the same fate as 8; sky-high expectations that can not possibly be met.Edited 2 times. Last edited May 2017 by theinternetisodd
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  • Avatar for Vonlenska #36 Vonlenska A year ago
    At this point, I'm kind of half hoping FF7R never actually sees release? Everything that's been teased so far just looks...bad. Bland. Green. Brown. It's the post-Advent Children angsty fanfictioning retcon version of FF7, and I have zero confidence in Square Enix to acknowledge or do anything interesting with the spirit of the original game.

    If it does see release and makes it far enough in it episodes, I'm honestly expecting a Revive Aeris Aerith DLC.
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  • Avatar for Woogity #37 Woogity A year ago
    Well...see you all on PS5 I guess.
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #38 SatelliteOfLove A year ago
    It's still all self-inflicted injuries. That's what makes it so bad. There's no bombas or loss of talent or what have you, it's all pratfalls and hubris and it never stops, even after a very good and functional 2016.

    And they still have Ito chained up in the mobile dungeon.

    @Frosty840

    FFVII was also doing like a bajillion codifying or new things at once at a scale never-before-seen in like, in a years time, that thrust an entire genre into the forefront. It's good to remember that.
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  • Avatar for touchofkiel #39 touchofkiel A year ago
    @jeffcorry I won't argue about XV... I'm in the middle of it and so far I enjoy it, but not love it (I mostly just hate the combat... specifically the camera).

    But if you're going to knock it for its load times and then say IX is the pinnacle... well. IX had the most plodding pace of any FF game, in my experience, and that's largely due to the molasses combat and related loading times.
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  • Avatar for Frosty840 #40 Frosty840 A year ago
    @SatelliteOfLove Oh, I realise that and I'm not complaining about the game itself. Regardless of the quality and impressiveness of the outcome though, it was still a complete shambles and an unsuccessful software project (even though it was nonetheless a very successful software product), and in a thread about game production that's still the important thing.
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  • Avatar for jeffcorry #41 jeffcorry A year ago
    @touchofkiel IX does have pretty bad load times...
    But XV is nigh to ridiculous. Especially "fast travel" in the car. I can check Facebook, scroll my email, fix a sandwhich, and probably get a good nights sleep before loading is over.
    Maybe a slight exaggeration...but it's not pretty. The Final Fantasy IX revisions on iOS and Steam are pretty sweet with 4X speed.
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  • Avatar for docexe #42 docexe A year ago
    @SatelliteOfLove Project management at Square is a comedy of errors at this point. There is no other way to describe it.
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  • Avatar for docexe #43 docexe A year ago
    @FalcoT Yeah, considering the revamp of the development team, I imagine the episodic structure has been discarded as well. Of course, now I don't expect the remake to arrive until 2025 at the earliest.
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