Hajime Tabata On Making The Team And Challenging The HD Era With Final Fantasy XV

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Square Enix had a lot to show during their Uncovered: Final Fantasy XV event yesterday, and director Hajime Tabata discussed more with Famitsu on how the development of the game began, and taking on the challenge of making an HD title.


Famitsu: With the recent announcement, it looks like we finally got a look at the whole picture of the project. In addition to the change of title and director, Final Fantasy XV has been through many difficulties up until now. Let’s start with the thoughts of the development team that is going into the production of Final Fantasy XV.

Tabata: At first, there was the thought of taking responsibility as Square Enix for keeping the fans waiting on Final Fantasy Versus XIII, which we weren’t able to readily release. After a fresh start as Final Fantasy XV, the part that we felt was most necessary was “to modernize Final Fantasy.” Basically, to make a Final Fantasy that works in today’s era. In order to do this, we thought that “Final Fantasy will become the challenger again” and we decided to do everything we can to make this possible.


When accepting to take on the project, in what way did you look at the content known as Final Fantasy, Tabata-san?

I actually never had any experience of working on a numbered-Final Fantasy, so I’ve always had an objective look towards it. One of the ways I looked at it, was whether I could’ve made it at a company I worked at before, and drew the line on whether we wouldn’t have been able to make it. There are many things I can say about the numbered Final Fantasy games. However, when asked “so, would you be able to make it at your place?” then the answer was always no. So that’s a common thing that could be said about a numbered Final Fantasy games. However, there was one time when I kind of thought “huh? I think we could make this.” I also have experience of Final Fantasy as a player, and felt great power and the sharp edge of Final Fantasy VII, and I understand well that the title is a legendary existence among fans. But there has yet to be a Final Fantasy that surpasses that impact.


That said, are you saying that Final Fantasy is currently having a sense of crisis?

Yes, there was a sense of crisis. However, there’s been more of that since I’ve taken over. When we decided to advance through with the game as Final Fantasy XV, the reaction from our company, other companies, and especially foreign developers, shared more and more of the sense of “the Final Fantasy IP is in a worse spot than I realized.” After being put in a position of feeling the real heat, I’ve come to realize it as well.


That must’ve been a heavy way to start.

Yes, indeed. However, even with this sense of crisis for the IP, there was also the fact that we haven’t been able able to properly make what we aimed to make. I understand that Final Fantasy XIII also had some rough criticism, but that is not what was aimed for, and I’m sure the objective for it was much higher than that. In the end, it became a title known for being linear. That was not something that was aimed for, but considering the way things were being done, they were not able to break the walls of HD production, and I believe that the truth of the matter is that they simply weren’t able to make a proper landing. If anything, how to break through such a reality was what made it heavy, in that sense. The heaviness of “the Final Fantasy IP is in a tough spot” was at its peak there.


While in the midst of that reality, how did you work your way through it?

I started an independent team that put together a game team, movie team, and a technology team together as one. With that, we joined with former-Final Fantasy Versus XIII’s team, becoming the team that is now known as Business Division 2, that would be in charge of Final Fantasy XV’s production.


From there, you entered production, and was there an established theme on what should be done for Final Fantasy XV?

No, there was something that needed to be done before having a solid talk on what to do with Final Fantasy XV. Everyone needed to face the reality that Final Fantasy hasn’t been succeeding, and they needed to be prepared to overcome this. One thing we all agreed on was: instead of following everything the way we’ve been doing up until now because “Final Fantasy hasn’t been able to succeed in HD,” we’ll do everything that must be done in order to succeed in the era of HD. It started with creating one team, with everyone having the mindset of a challenger as we went into production.


And from there?

We reset the hierarchy of the organization, because the person that serves as the section leader would be in the same position for decades, at times. When that happens, it’s a given that the power relations between staff will always be decided, you’ll have imitation of originals, and instead of having winning conditions as a team everyone ends up working to follow the personal standards of subjectivity and feelings of this said person. By resetting such unnecessary relations, we had a talk about “from here on, there is no top or bottom in this land of Shura!” [laughs]


So it was basically made into a merit system.

Yes. I interviewed everyone at first and told them “if you want to stay or leave, it’s up to you to decide,” “if you do stay, then I’ll have you follow my reform,” and “no making excuses about this is how it was done before.” From there, we had talks on “show me what you can bring to the table,” and we made it clear what each team was capable of doing. On top of that, we had rearrangements going on—for example, “you have a good sense of balance so you’re the Preproduction Phase leader, okay?” and “you’ve been a  leader up until now, and even though you can make things of high quality, you aren’t the best at negotiating and coordinating with other sections, so you’ll be the subordinate of this phase, okay?” There were so many disputes!


I could see that happening. [laughs]

However, there were many that were positive about the change, and a lot of people were able to get the sense that they were growing from it, so the atmosphere was great. With a balance of power that can’t be seen, an organization where dynamics other than an instruction system doesn’t work, everyone was able to pull out of the best of their performance. The number of people that can step forward into domains that couldn’t be challenged before has increased, and it reflects in this title.


That is very thorough. I’d like to think that if we were to use a strong word for it, then something heated like “counterattack” would be appropriate for the desire to succeed with Final Fantasy, and to make a recovery, which has been inside each and every one of you on the team.56fc1bdc0bf3f

That is exactly it. Final Fantasy is certainly in a tough spot, but as far as our feelings go, I’m sure we’re all thinking “but ‘we’ haven’t lost yet.” When people say that Japanese games have been losing to the West since entering HD [era], I think that the ones that were losing were those in the frontline at the time, because “we still haven’t even challenged it yet.” I was also confident that Japanese games could definitely make a challenge, but during that time we weren’t engaged in production on HD platforms, so we weren’t even on the same playing field. So that said, everyone, “let’s take on this challenge and succeed” is the mindset I have, and “don’t go on deciding that we’ve already lost, because we’ve yet to lose.”


Final Fantasy XV will release worldwide on September 30, 2016 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

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