Final Fantasy: Brave Exvius started off with a big surprise with its Ariana Grande collaboration, and continues to delight players with its endless array of Final Fantasy character and enemy appearances.
Siliconera spoke with producer Hiroki Fujimoto to learn more about how those characters and collaborations come to Brave Exvius, how the team works those players into the game’s universe, combat, and look, and how he manages to tell a grand story within the constraints of a free to play mobile title.
How on Earth did you end up collaborating with Ariana Grande?
Hiroki Fujimoto, producer of Final Fantasy: Brave Exvius – With us deploying this content worldwide, and also as a Final Fantasy title, we were considering ways to surprise our consumers and players. Looking back at Final Fantasy, we’ve had various musical collaborations within the franchise, and there’s been a lot if that with the numbered titles in the past, but we hadn’t done any for Brave Exvius yet. So, we thought this would be the appropriate time to do so.
We were also interested to know what kind of collaboration a number one artist and top gaming content could bring about. That was where the idea started.
How do you decide the attacks and abilities for a celebrity?
With regards to Ariana, she’s a top singer, so we wanted to ensure that some of her skills and abilities are based on bringing happiness to the world through her music. That’s the thinking behind her abilities.
Even in the past Final Fantasy games, we’ve had singers and jobs pertaining to singing, so we drew on those Final Fantasy-like elements, as well as creating those elements that are unique to Ariana herself, blending that together to come up with her abilities and skills.
Do you have anyone else in mind for a future collaboration like this?
We’re considering things, but we unfortunately wouldn’t be able to say anything at this point in time. That said, in regards to our collaboration with Ariana Grande, we did make this huge surprise announcement as a kick-off, but that kind of collaboration is still expected to continue for a little while longer. So look out for that.
Did you find that it brought in a lot of users you might not have gotten otherwise? That it drew in some people who might not otherwise play a title like Brave Exvius?
Yes, for sure. Ariana posted on January 1st on her social feed about this collaboration, and then we also distributed our own press releases with regards to the collaboration at that time. Then, from January 19th onward, we started to deploy the actual event that incorporated Ariana. We saw a lot of new users that started joining in and playing Brave Exvius at that time. We do believe we were able to bring in a new audience through this collaboration.
We also had a Final Fantasy 30th Anniversary event at the end of January. At that time, we were able to announce that we had exceeded twenty million downloads worldwide, and a big factor that played into that was the Ariana collaboration as well.
There’s also different sets of data which were a little bit interesting. When we were looking at consumers or players that, presumably, joined in on Brave Exvius through the Ariana promotion, and comparing the way they play the game with people who had already been playing, we could see a clear difference in play style. So, it’s interesting to see that this different kind of promotional approach brought on different play styles as well.
Can you give an example of some of the differences between them?
With people who presumably aren’t very accustomed to games in general, there’s a typical kind of data that gets exported from those kinds of players. We see people who know the franchise or know games playing more smoothly versus those who aren’t accustomed to gaming. We see clear differences with that kind of data.
Did you make any changes to the game based on that data? To make it a bit more comfortable for those who might not normally play or understand games?
Yes. This isn’t just particularly associated with the Ariana collaboration and new players who joined in from then on, but last week, we implemented version 2.0. We’ve implemented various types of features that make it easier for players to play the game.
One feature is that the UI has been refreshed so that it’s a bit easier to understand, also allowing players to more intuitively access current events that are ongoing at that moment. Also, there were various functions that you could only access by going through numerous steps previously, but we made that process easier by allowing players to access them in one to two steps. We’ve definitely increased the playability for our players with that new version.
In regards to bringing in new Final fantasy characters, which would you say brought in the most users? Which seemed the most popular?
Recently, it’s been Noctis from Final Fantasy XV. Also, because it was the first time that we released a character simultaneously worldwide, as well, Noctis has seen a lot of popularity and brought in a lot of users as well.
Which character are you getting a lot of requests for?
Worldwide, it’s Cloud from Final Fantasy VII. At least in the Japanese version, Cloud was released last month, so a lot of the passionate global fans have been asking, quite frequently, where Cloud is and when he’ll be released overseas. We haven’t really determined that time frame on when he will be released, so we can’t comment on that, but he will, for sure, be released at some point in time.
When you’re bringing in a new character, what thoughts go into their attacks and abilities? To preserve their history and iconic moves while meshing them with Brave Exvius?
We ensure to bring the skills and abilities that they’ve had in the originating title, trying to recreate them as best as we can within the Brave Exvius universe. We also have some original characters within Brave Exvius, and with them, we ensure that we’re paying attention to the overall balance of the game.
For example, if there are too many characters that are strong with physical attacks and abilities, and if we feel that we’re lacking in characters that are stronger with magical abilities, we try to supplement and add more characters that would be able to fit the latter – what’s missing – and supplement it to make sure the overall balance is steady within the game.
Besides balancing, what thoughts go into designing your own characters? In creating a personality that fits with the wild cast of Final Fantasy that you’re pulling from?
First and foremost, because there are various types of characters already existing within the Final Fantasy series, we want to ensure that they don’t overlap – so that they are different. We want to make sure they’re not the same as those characters that pre-exist. Also, we want to ensure that we have familiar jobs from the series, like white or black mage, and that we still use them as a base line to build up the characters.
Aside from that, we look at the overall main story and universe of Brave Exvius, and consider what types of characters would be meaningful within that world. Also, we factor in characters that we haven’t seen at all – completely new types of characters – as well as those that might have two sides to them. So, we’re constantly considering those elements when developing characteristics and personalities of those original characters.
At the same time, given this is an F2P game, we continually operate on the game. This is a continually-evolving game, and so we ensure that the character we’re deploying is a fit for that time. Al of those factor into how we generate and come up with those personalities and characteristics of the original characters of Brave Exvius.
In regards to its story in a mobile title, when you have players playing quickly, you have to tell your story quickly. What challenges do you face in telling your narrative within this constraint?
There are two sides to this. There is the story that the creator and developers want to tell through this game, but also that they need to express it through mobile devices. With this being a Final Fantasy title, we want to have a proper storyline that can deliver that emotional experience to players. In terms of developing that story, it doesn’t really have much of a difference from the console titles. We put in the same amount of effort and work.
Because it is a mobile title, and an F2P title, it all comes down to how we communicate that with the restrictions we have. For example, we are restricted in terms of text count, or, because the art is in sprites, obviously there are limitations in what we can communicate through that. So, we really need to think about how simply we can pare things down but still express that – how we can ensure that our story is communicated with the minimal amount of taps, or the minimal amount of lines per text box. That we ensure that we shorten those sentences but that the same message is still being communicated even within those limitations.
So, we set our own rules, and then ensure that we work within those rules, figuring out creative ways to communicate that message within the set of rules that we’ve prepared.
How does it feel when you manage to communicate that story in the shortest, most straightforward possible way?
We do have a community that follows us – goes on Facebook and Twitter – and when we see comments from people mentioning they felt that the story was extremely fun and we get positive feedback in regards to it, it’s a positive experience. Given that we release a new story every single month, and when we see that people are looking forward to the next month, we do feel inspired, and get a sense of satisfaction that we’ve successfully made sure that story was communicated.
We also feel kind of relieved at the same time when we know that the story we wanted to communicate did get relayed to fans.
This may come off as a recommended way of playing this game, but because people are playing within a short amount of time, and there’s less words to express and communicate all that, we do also put a lot of work into the music of the game – really create a blend of visuals, text, as well as the music. All that comes together to make it easier for people to get further drawn into the story.
Given that this is a mobile game, a lot of people don’t sometimes listen to the music – they have all that sound shut off as they play. If it’s at all possible, the sound and the music is extremely high quality as well, so we would love for players to turn it on, and it will help them get drawn even further into the game, and it will be easier to feel that emotional connection with the storyline.
With the constraints of mobile, do you enjoy the creativity it forces out of you? To tell the story more concisely? To work beautiful music into that short play time?
We definitely find it fun. We love the kinds of challenge that we’re faced with. Putting it in perspective, smartphone devices and mobile devices – the installation base is probably the greatest when you look at it worldwide. This means that when releasing a game on those devices, there’s a lot of potential – the most potential – to have many more people play the game. That, in itself, is challenging, and taking on that challenge is exciting and fun.
So, finding that optimal Final Fantasy expression with those constraints that we do have and within the mobile device is extremely challenging, but a challenge we were willing to take and continue taking because we enjoy it very much.
It’s really fun, because, excluding China, we’re releasing the game in approximately one hundred and fifty countries or so. I can tell that, even in countries we rarely hear of, people are playing our game. That is really fun and exciting to see.
How do you decide what characters you’ll bring into the world next?
We do have an overall plan and want to ensure that, at any given time, it’s not necessarily skewed to one particular title within the series. So, there are various titles within the series, and everyone has their favorites – it differs between every player – so we want to ensure that all players will be able to enjoy the game. We are cautious of that. That said, we have just released Final Fantasy XIV characters for the worldwide version.
We do have a lot of respect for the Final Fantasy numbered titles, and we, of course, also have a drive to release those titles within Brave Exvius as well, but another importance that we place is in Brave Exvius’s original story and characters and universe. So, we see it as two pillars, and we give them equal weight in the game itself.
We do want to deploy everything in a well-balanced way, and so there will be times when we won’t see any series favorites or characters from them released at a certain time. We ask for you to wait during these times and enjoy the original story because it is our hope that people will be drawn into the original story within Brave Exvius as well. Ultimately, hopefully, the original characters from Brave Exvius, will show up in some other worlds or other games. That would be great. So, we do place importance on both pillars, and that’s what we take into consideration when deploying all of these characters.
So, are any of Square Enix’s other titles planning any collaborations with you any time soon?
Speaking of the Japanese version, yes, we’ve collaborated with some other companies. In regards to the global version, in the past, we collaborated with Brave Frontier, where Brave Exvius characters appeared in that game and vice versa. So, there are plans and desires to want to do this going forward, but at this moment, we don’t have anything to announce. But I’d like to collaborate with Resident Evil (laughs).
Is it fun to have fans of another game come visit your world through these collaborations? Having these new players with different expectations?
It’s definitely great to see those visitors within our game and our world. That’s where the meaning of collaborating with other titles really lies – with users from our game visiting their world and vice versa. We’d love to keep on expanding each other’s universe and world and our user bases as well, and that’s something we enjoy doing.
What drew you to the pixel art style?
The reason we decided on moving forward with pixel art, backtracking a bit, we know that everything started with pixel art. Everything, from Final Fantasy all the way up to Final Fantasy VI, was done in pixel art, and then from Final Fantasy VII onwards, it’s been 3D models.
So, in developing a new Final Fantasy, and exploring these different forms of expression, we thought that if we were to do it with 3D and the latest technology, that’s something that can be done in the console realm. Even if we tried to do the same thing, we can’t compete with that within the mobile sphere.
So, the idea came about by considering that, if we had continued the Final Fantasy series and franchise in this kind of pixel art expression and if we were to do so with the latest technology, what would the outcome be. That’s why we decided to move towards utilizing pixel art expression.
Also, from just a technological side of things, the size of the assets are very small in comparison to 3D models, so it makes it easier for us to develop for a variety of mobile devices. In terms of the direction we want to move forward in, as well as the expression and breadth of expression that was made possible with the size of the data being lighter by utilizing pixel art, it all kind of came together.
What challenges do you face in changing characters who weren’t designed with pixel art in mind into the pixel art style?
When considering bringing 3D characters and moving them into this pixel form, we make sure that the specific, unique features are expressed and maintained in that pixel art form. So, regardless whether that be Noctis or Lightning, whatever makes them unique and stand out – those are the features that we ensure to keep within the look of the pixel form.
Kazuko Shibuya, who has been involved since the original Final Fantasy games, reviews all of the pixel forms for these characters for us. She always points out and ensures that we’re conscious of the fact that their silhouette really stands out. Just by their silhouette alone, players will be able to identify the character. So, even if it’s just a black blob, you should still be able to differentiate between the different characters based on their silhouette alone. So, each silhouette should be unique on its own, which is something we’re conscious of when we’re making pixel art of each of our characters.