And easily the most worrying kind.
In the history of game development, there probably hasn’t been a quieter and more contained cluster-frak of a project like Final Fantasy 15.
Think about it for a second. With Eidos Montreal’s new Thief game, there were delays, staff members leaving, name changes, stages of limbo where it wasn’t even sure whether the game would be released, severe changes to the gameplay made with only a few months until release and much more. The Last Guardian, despite being fairly bereft of information since its initial reveal, lost Fumito Ueda as its director and fell into development hell as well. We haven’t seen the game since though Sony maintains that it’s alive and well.
"It just felt like Square Enix was continuously hammering away on the game until the time was right to showcase it to the world."
By comparison, Final Fantasy 15 has only had rumours and rumblings dogging it. When Square Enix killed the Fabula Nova Crystallis project – which involved releasing Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy Versus XIII and Final Fantasy Agito XIII within the same time frame – it did so with the express purpose of expanding on the Lightning Saga. Final Fantasy Agito XIII became Type-0 and Versus XIII quietly sauntered off, never to be heard from for years on end.
We heard whispers that Square Enix’s focus on ventures like the Lightning saga and Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn was costing the publisher lots of money but nothing that indicated that the development of Final Fantasy 15 was causing a problem. If anything, it was a victim of extenuating circumstances from a publisher that desperately wanted to cater to the Western market.
So while Final Fantasy 15 may have been in limbo for a long time, we never really heard about the changes going on. We never knew it would become Final Fantasy 15 until a clothing line-up designing costumes for the characters in-game leaked this news. We never knew the focus shifted to next-gen consoles until E3 2013 when the spotlight was on the Xbox One and PS4.
We never even knew that the publisher was aware of the abject lack of information it was presenting. It just felt like Square Enix was continuously hammering away on the game until the time was right to showcase it to the world. If anything, it was the Half Life 3 of Final Fantasy titles, except Final Fantasy 15 actually exists in video form while Half Life 3 remains in purgatory.
"Of course, we don't blame Final Fantasy 15 for wanting to impress us right off the bat with its explosions, destruction and giant monsters. Who has time for exposition when you're trying to make an impact at the biggest stage of the year..."
The question is: Are these facets representative of a game that might actually be good?
We were initially blown away by the very first trailer of Final Fantasy Versus XIII and Final Fantasy 15 didn’t fail to impress. Square Enix has emphasized on the game’s action adventure elements and party system along with the massive foes and summons. It hasn’t deigned to reveal how any of this actually works though. Yes, we know Noctis can warp from one place to another and that he can perform combination attacks with other party members.
Yes, we know his kingdom has been invaded and that he’s fighting as part of the resistance. But thus far, Square Enix has shown as nothing but vignettes. It’s in danger of simply making passing references to all the things going on in order to keep the story moving, while sticking the real meat of the game into the game’s encyclopedia, a la Final Fantasy XIII.
Of course, we don’t blame Final Fantasy 15 for wanting to impress us right off the bat with its explosions, destruction and giant monsters. Who has time for exposition when you’re trying to make an impact at the biggest stage of the year – a stage where your long-in-development title is being re-introduced to the world? While this all makes for great presentations, it seldom results in good story-telling, and that’s something the Final Fantasy franchise has been lacking for a long time now.
Coming back to the gameplay, Square Enix has an annoying habit of either telling and not showing or telling too much and showing even more. Lightning Returns was a victim of the latter and ended up far more superficial than it seemed. Meanwhile, with Final Fantasy 15, we have all this information about team-ups, hack and slash, using enemy weapons, executions, teleporting, multiple weapons floating around, and so on. Do we have any gameplay footage to show us how it works? For that matter, have we actually been told how it will work rather than just having it alluded to?
"It's a shame really, because there is such a rabid interest in the game. Square Enix should be expanding on the game's universe, releasing books, audio diaries, behind the scenes footage, manga and whatnot to fill in the blanks and get players invested."
Another way to look at it is that the developer isn’t really sure at this point and doesn’t want to confirm or show anything that might not make it into the final product. This seems to support the argument that what we saw at E3 2013 was either footage from an earlier build or even an incomplete build, or simply gameplay created in-engine to show players what they can expect (helpfully spliced together with cut scenes). Either way, if this is the case, Final Fantasy 15 won’t be out for a long time.
It’s a shame really, because there is such a rabid interest in the game. Square Enix should be expanding on the game’s universe, releasing books, audio diaries, behind the scenes footage, manga and whatnot to fill in the blanks and get players invested. It will arguably do this at some point closer to the game’s release but if the public is craving for information now, how hard would it be to just give it to them? You cannot convince me that a developer like, say, Bungie is making a mistake by providing new information for Destiny in its Weekly Updates.
And Destiny is by no means a small game – it’s just that Bungie has mastered the art of revealing significant information without saying too much. It’s started out slowly but surely to build interest in its new universe. You could again argue that Destiny is close to release, hence the deluge of information, but honestly, we were receiving references to the same since 2009. We didn’t receive any overt information about the game until 2012 when concept art had leaked. Bungie actually went a step further and added more information to the leaks. But then, Bungie had a plan for its game – a plan that wouldn’t be messed up, even if certain details had been leaked.
If only Square Enix could decide the plan for Final Fantasy 15. If nothing else, it could ensure that the company stays relevant in a console generation where it has no significant releases aside from the reboot of an MMO already available on PS3.