by Joseph Leray
One of the bigger surprises to come out of E3 was the news that "Final Fantasy Versus XIII," Square Enix' long-awaited action-RPG, had been re-named and re-branded as "Final Fantasy XV." It seems like a minor thing to casual observers, but for anybody following the game's ins and outs (and lack thereof) since it was announced in 2006 (!), it's a reminder of how much Square Enix' hoary relics have changed in the past few years.
Here's the backstory: when "Final Fantasy XIII" was announced, it was as part of a larger collection called "Fabula Nova Crystallis." That mouthful was supposed to be the thematic and narrative link between "Final Fantasy XIII," "Final Fantasy Agito XIII," and "Final Fantasy Versus XIII."
The story at the time was that the core, numbered series was for tradition (read: turn-based) role-playing games, while spin-offs like "Agito" and "Versus" were free to explore real-time combat.
As time went on, "Agito" became "Final Fantasy Type-0," a Japan-only PSP game, and "XIII" spawned two sequels of its own: "Final Fantasy XIII-2" was released in 2012, and "Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII" is due for current-gen consoles in February 2014. "Versus XIII" is dead now, though, and "Final Fantasy XV" will is the newest piece of the ever-expanding "Fabula Nova Crystallis" project.
Speaking to Famitsu Weekly, as translated by Polygon, "Final Fantasy XV" director and long time Square veteran Tetsuya Nomura explained that the name change happened "around one or two years after we announced 'Final Fantasy Versus XIII.'"
"It was suggested to us to shift to 'Final Fantasy XV' as part of the company's direction," Nomura continues. "By that time, a fair amount of time had already passed since the announcement and 'Versus' was a well-known title, so it wasn't a given that this would be 'XV.'"
The new name also coincides with "Final Fantasy"'s debut on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, which dictated the announcement's timing, says Nomura. As a result, Square Enix will have a full-fledged, high-profile "Final Fantasy" game with which to barnstorm the next generation, as opposed to a fourth "Final Fantasy XIII" spin-off, the abundance of which has already started to rankle fans.
"When we started talking about the shift to 'Final Fantasy XV,' we discussed with the company about whether it was really okay considering we had action-based battles and all these other things we tried to do because it wasn't a numbered title," explains Nomura. "That was not a problem for them, so our direction hasn't changed."
While Square Enix haven't hinted at a release window yet, Nomura and his team are already looking toward "Final Fantasy XV" sequels. "'Final Fantasy XV' ends with a climax, but we plan to continue the story," he says. "That's something we have in mind as we complete the game."
What "Final Fantasy XV"'s new name really means is full institutional support from Square Enix as its new standard bearer, a position that increasingly calls for big budgets, big expectations, and big sequels and spin-offs.
The full interview also covers some the development process for "Final Fantasy XV," the potential for a PC version of the game, and some of the mechanics and design choices that required the jump from current- to next-gen machines.
[Famitsu Weekly via Polygon]