When word hit this morning that Final Fantasy XV would not actually be shown at E3 2014, it was easy to wonder, "Will this thing ever get made?"
After all, Final Fantasy XV has been kicking around Square Enix in one form or another since before 2006, when it was introduced as Final Fantasy Versus XIII. Square Enix has been tight-lipped about its developed about its development over the years, only occasionally breaking the silence to confirm that it was in fact still being made. That is, until Square Enix's Shinji Hashimoto took the stage last year to reveal that Versus XIII had shed its spinoff status and become a full-fledged numbered sequel.
Hashimoto's announcement offered cause to be excited that maybe Square Enix was ready to put the whole Fabula Nova Crystallis mess behind them. But a year later, Square Enix is once again being cagey about Final Fantasy XV's status.
In a piece that appeared today on Famitsu, Hashimoto said, "I'd like to mention that the development of FF15 is going smoothly. At the company, we are constantly assessing the best timing for delivering new information regarding FF15 to our fans. Amidst the process of reviewing our promotional plan, we determined that this year’s E3 was not the best time for delivering information regarding FF15. Instead, we’re planning, and currently preparing towards disclosing new information during this year’s post-E3 events.
"We appreciate that our fans hold high expectations for FF15, and I, myself, am excited about providing new information at the next best opportunity. We’d be very happy if everyone, too, could look forward to that moment."
While disappointing news, FFXV’s absence at E3 probably doesn't mean anything. Then again, maybe it means Square Enix has completely scrapped their previous plans and we won't see Final Fantasy XV until Christmas 2017. Who can be certain at this point? Two of our Final Fantasy experts weigh in.
I suppose this is a good opportunity to go on the record and say that I've always considered Final Fantasy XV to be a mistake. I don't know what happened behind the scenes with Versus XIII, but I would have rather they had swallowed hard and just started fresh. Using a failed eight-year-old spinoff as a basis for a next-generation numbered sequel is just asking for trouble in my opinion.
It is what it is, though. There's not actually a lot to glean from Hashimoto's comments from E3 other than that development is evidently going well and the team is just considering its promotional strategy; in which case, it should be expected to appear at Gamescom, TGS, or one of Square Enix's own events sometime later this year. If it fails to appear at all in 2014, it'll be easier to believe that Square Enix's reluctance to show it is symptomatic of some larger behind-the-scenes issues.
All things considered, I'm not actually that worried about Final Fantasy XV. After Final Fantasy XIII's painful development, Square Enix seemed to go back to the drawing board and reconsider their entire process. It remains to be seen whether that restructuring will pay off in the long-run, but it's resulted in what seems like two relatively painless sequels to Final Fantasy XIII, both of which were dramatically different from the original game in some way.
There's also the case of Final Fantasy XIV, which remains one of the industry's great turnaround stories. I don't believe Naoki Yoshida is involved in Final Fantasy XV's development (I wish he were); but after the rousing success of Final Fantasy XIV, I imagine that Square Enix would be eager to hear his input on their internal development process. It may be a stretch to say that things are looking "up" over at Square Enix, but they at least aren't as dire as they were in 2011. Even Square Enix learns from its mistakes sometimes.
Anyway, even if I don't necessarily agree with Final Fantasy XV's direction—I don't like action RPGs and I dislike Kingdom Hearts even more—I'm still willing to believe that development is in fact going well and that Square Enix is just trying to figure out how to market the thing. It certainly can't go any worse than it did with Final Fantasy Versus XIII, right?
Final Fantasy XV’s absence at E3 this year sure doesn’t send a good message, but I bet Square is wagering that it sends a better message than a rushed showing would have. The game’s been in the works for nearly a decade now… will a few more months of uncertainty really matter that much in the long run? Silence is the norm for this game at this point, and the world will carry on, but a lousy demo would be a disaster.
I posited a few weeks ago in an examination of Final Fantasy's recent ups and downs that both the franchise and the company have a great deal riding on FFXV, and to me this news simply reinforces that belief. I can’t begin to imagine how much money has been sunk into this one title at this point, even if the first five years of its development consisted of fairly low-key planning work. It’s a hugely symbolic project, and actually I think the game’s shift in identity from a XIII spin-off to the next numbered entry in the series has greater meaning than a desire to recoup the investment or leave behind the Fabula Nova Crystallis project. It speaks to Square’s conviction that Final Fantasy’s future lies in action-oriented gameplay and design that touches on the big-budget extravaganzas of the modern game generation. This real-time cover-based approach to role-playing was seen as the series’ outlier eight years ago; now, it’s the series’ future.
I’m not entirely sold on the change, but as someone who first started playing Final Fantasy almost 25 years ago, I’d rather they take the time to get it right than rush it through production. A big part of what many people dislike about FFXIII resulted from that game being rushed to completion, and I think Square learned a lesson about where to make comprises there. In a perfect world, Final Fantasy games would be both timely and excellent at the same time, but if that’s not in the cards it’s better to make sacrifices to timeliness and maintain the excellence.
Square Enix really did miss a great opportunity here, though. If they could have gotten FFXV out the door this fall, they’d basically have had the entire autumn release schedule to themselves. At this point, what’s even coming out this fall? Another Assassin’s Creed… some sports franchises… and what else? Nothing. Everything is delayed until 2015. I guess that puts FFXV in good company, but man, they could have owned the fall.
I’m definitely taking a wait-and-see approach with FFXV — hopefully the "seeing" part will happen at Tokyo Game Show, if not sooner — because there’s much about the game that leaves me feeling uncertain. I do feel the Final Fantasy brand is in the process of reclaiming the ground it's lost in recent years; but, given the next big entry’s absence at E3, I suppose that process will take a little longer than I’d hoped. On the other hand, it does mean that whatever big announcements are in store for FFXIV at E3 — version 3.0, perhaps? — will have more breathing room. And even though I’m not an MMO player, FFXIV is definitely my kind of game, so that suits me fine.