After one of the longest development cycles of this generation, you might have forgiven game director Hajime Tabata for taking a well-earned rest when Final Fantasy XV came out last November. After all, not only did the game shift a staggering 5m units during its first day on shelves around the world, but it also helped spark a 227 per cent rise in PS4 sales in its home market of Japan.
Tabata, however, clearly isn’t a man to rest on his laurels, as the next six months will see the release of not one, but two brand-new versions of the game: the episodic-based Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition for iOS and Android devices that comes out later this year, and a full-fat Final Fantasy XV: Windows Edition for PC and Windows 10 in early 2018. That’s on top of its ongoing slate of DLC, too, which will shortly add a substantial multiplayer expansion to the game that enables up to four-player co-op.
All this and more will be made available as a free update for Windows Edition users when it launches next year, but that’s not the only reason why it’s set to be the biggest and best version of the game yet.
With full support for both native 4K and 8K resolutions, high dynamic range (HDR) for deeper, more vibrant colours and Dolby Atmos for all-encompassing surround sound, Final Fantasy XV: Windows Edition will also feature user mods and a unique first-person mode.
The latter was particularly important, Tabata (pictured left) tells MCV, as he’s hoping it will help broaden the game’s appeal beyond its typical RPG audience.
“We felt a necessity for a PC version right after starting the development of the console version, and we began strengthening our game engines with the help of Nvidia in 2016 in anticipation of any projects that might come after the console version,” says Tabata.
“The biggest reason [behind the first-person mode] was that we wanted players who only usually play first-person mode games on PC to take an interest in FFXV. Currently, we have only reached about 50 per cent [completion] on this mode, but we feel the gameplay has a certain freshness to it and it’s been well-received among those in the development team. In providing this mode, we needed to make some large adjustments, like the player character’s VFX, displayed animations and camera movement. Even now, we’re still making small, daily adjustments.”
Despite these obstacles, Tabata admits that developing a PC version of the game has been an absolute cinch compared to FFXV’s console release: “The console version, which required reconstruction from the very start for both the game itself and the engine, was more than 100 times more difficult,” he says. Development on the Windows Edition, by comparison, only started this year.
Of course, with the release of 4K-enabled consoles such as the PS4 Pro and upcoming Xbox One X, it’s perhaps not surprising that Square Enix has chosen to go all out on FFXV’s PC graphics options. However, while 4K HDR TVs are starting to become much more commonplace in consumer households, 4K HDR gaming monitors have been much slower out of the gate.
Indeed, the world’s first HDR monitor only went on sale earlier this summer, and even then it only had a 2,560x1,440 resolution. We’ve since seen HDR monitors with ultra-wide 3,840x1,080 resolutions come to market, but with prices starting from around £1,299, it will be some time yet before they hit mainstream PC gamers in the same way as their TV counterparts.
8K, meanwhile, is even further down the pipeline, making it highly likely that most users will be missing out on most of its graphical upgrades come launch day next year. Tabata, however, isn’t worried about his team’s efforts going to waste: “Pursuing cutting-edge technology is at the very heart of Final Fantasy’s identity, and we want to evoke a new enthusiasm to play this game by displaying the world within it even more beautifully,” he explains.
“Our aim is to make players want to play the PC version, even if they know about the console version. Moreover, by pursuing the PC version, it led us to improving our own development skills. By collaborating with Nvidia, we weren’t just able to make a PC version of the game; we were able to challenge ourselves in ensuring that we had the latest technological graphics.
“We saw this as an advantage for both the development team and the player. Players will expect the game to have evolved because we are providing a higher quality depiction than the current consoles out there. If we are able to meet such demands, then it gives meaning to doing this in the first place.”
"The biggest reason [behind the first-person mode] was that we wanted players who only usually play first-person mode games on PC to take an interest in FFXV."
Pushing players toward the PC version may sound odd considering the franchise’s console-heavy past, but it’s all part of Tabata’s plan to get as many people playing the game as possible: “We always wanted to create multiple points of entry through the FFXV Universe concept, some of these before the release of XV [such as the CG film Kingsglaive and animated Brotherhood series] and some after,” he says.
“All of these were designed to expand the audience beyond the traditional core audience and to move XV away from a typical game release and towards an entertainment event. This is why the PC and mobile platforms are important to us for growing the audience, reaching as many players as possible with the game, regardless of whether they own a console or not.”
Indeed, sales for Square Enix’s previously released Final Fantasy titles on PC have been “strong,” says Tabata, but the technical requirements to actually run the Windows version of Final Fantasy XV could prove to be a sticking point when it comes to shifting units, particularly in Japan where the PC market isn’t as large as mobile or console.
“In entering the global PC market, it’s a requirement that games can be played on a wide range of specs,” says Tabata. “At this stage, FFXV is at the high end of these settings, and we are in the process of seeing how well we can push things out on a lower spec.
“Currently in the Japanese game market, mobile games hold the largest portion, next is console, then PC represents the smallest of the game platforms. Therefore, we don’t expect to see a similar [sales] performance to the console version.”
The PC may be a better platform for graphical innovation, then, rather than driving hard sales, but that’s not to say the current console generation can’t also be a place for technical excellence: “Personally, I don’t feel that we have reached the limit,” Tabata replies when we ask him if today’s consoles have reached the extent of their graphical capability, and he singles out the upcoming Xbox One X as a “highly attractive and wonderful console” for developers. “I feel like I have always been waiting for a powerful Xbox like this,” he continues.
Despite this, it’s clear there’s still some way to go before consoles can match the technical feats that are possible on PC, as even Tabata admits the eventual Xbox One X version of Final Fantasy XV “will implement checkerboard rendering of 4K and HDR” rather than proper native 4K gameplay footage like the Windows Edition. “I expect that we will have a frame rate of over 30fps as well,” he adds.
"The console version, which required reconstruction from the very start for both the game itself and the engine, was more than 100 times more difficult."
Still, with Tabata having already committed to continue supporting the game across all platforms well into 2018, it’s possible we may yet see further enhancements to the console versions of FFXV to help bring them closer to their PC sibling.
“We owe a lot to the players that have already purchased the game,” says Tabata. “By buying FFXV and showing us their support, we want to give back to these players and see how we can expand the lifetime of the game beyond the initial release. DLC is part of how we will keep them satisfied, but for us, the players that bought the game in the first place are the most important part of this, and we want to continue to support them.”
To this end, we ask if he’s thought of bringing Final Fantasy XV’s upcoming PS VR fishing spin-off, Monsters of the Deep, to Oculus or Vive?
“We would, of course, consider it if the demand is there and it would be meaningful for us to branch out in those ways,” he says. “After all, we want every single player that we can reach to play this game.”
That also means a Nintendo Switch version isn’t out of the question either: “It is possible [to bring FFXV to Switch], and we take how we will develop into other platforms very seriously.
“I think it is important to think about how we can make use of the characteristics of Nintendo Switch in order to provide such a game to its players. I’m still looking for a way of handling that one.”