We all love a good underdog story.
Eddie the Eagle, Leicester City Football Club, Rocky... nothing quite captures the public imagination like a determined minnow taking on and beating the established giants.
But there is another type of underdog story. The tale of a once great fighter who has faded away with age, or illness, or defeat, but has been given another shot to prove their worth in a new age. Think Nintendo, Steve Jobs... Rocky.
It's the latter camp that Final Fantasy finds itself in. The grandfather of the RPG genre has found itself eclipsed by a new generation, led by Elder Scrolls and The Witcher.
The rapturous response to last year's Final Fantasy VII Remake reveal at E3 – a complete reimagining of the franchise's undisputed high point – proved that it's still a much loved series. But that was Final Fantasy playing to the home crowd. Last week at a star-studded press conference in Los Angeles, Square Enix announced Final Fantasy was stepping back in the ring to show the modern world of role-playing games that this old dog can still pack a punch.
The name of the LA event was Uncovered: Final Fantasy XV. It was a conference dedicated to the company's next ‘mainline' Final Fantasy title, and it was rammed with announcements.
There was the news of a standalone ‘demo' that uses the Final Fantasy XV engine, a Final Fantasy mobile game Justice Monsters 5, a CGI movie, an anime series... Sean Bean... Florence and the Machine...
It sounds extravagant, and it was, but if anyone had any questions about Square Enix's commitment to Final Fantasy, they were emphatically answered.
In recent years, Final Fantasy has taken a bit of a downturn. Its ‘spin-off' titles have received mixed reactions from fans and critics, while the last ‘main' Final Fantasy game – the MMO XIV – had such a calamitous launch that Square Enix effectively scrapped it and made it all over again.
Final Fantasy XV is a mainline entry in the series,” says Justin Gaffney, general manager for PAL Europe at Square Enix. It has been many years in the making and is the biggest Final Fantasy production ever made. I think the Uncovered event in LA shows our intent, belief and ambition for the brand, and for Final Fantasy XV in particular.”
He continues: Final Fantasy XV is already highly anticipated, pre-orders even before the Uncovered event in LA were in a very good place. We had a number of very big announcements at the event and the response from the community has been tremendous, we hope this will ignite the Final Fantasy brand and really kick start the FFXV campaign. We have music from Florence and the Machine, an anime series (Brotherhood), a film and an outstanding game. We will have a triple-A marketing campaign above and below the line and a strong trade plan to match our ambitions.”
"We hope this will ignite the Final Fantasy brand."
Justin Gaffney, Square Enix
Square Enix has certainly spent a lot of money on Final Fantasy XV. The game's development actually dates back to 2006 when it was announced as a PS3 exclusive, although back then it was a subseries game called Final Fantasy Versus XIII.
Over the next ten years the game has evolved into one of the main numbered titles and, what's more, it's turned into a full mass-media project.
Final Fantasy XV is an enormous title, and the story, characters and setting lend themselves to a world that far outreaches just video games,” insists Gaffney. At our Uncovered: Final Fantasy XV event last week we announced a number of important initiatives. We have collaborated with Sony Pictures to bring Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV to movie audiences globally and expect that to be a great entry point into the franchise for a new generation of gamers.
We also have an anime series entitled Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV that will further flesh out the characters within the game. And with our partner mobile game, Justice Monsters Five, will cross over into the main game itself, we hope to provide an experience that will make Final Fantasy XV touch every aspect of our consumers' lifestyles.”
As with most major releases, Final Fantasy XV is receiving a number of special versions.
There is a Day One edition, featuring extra digital content for those that pre-order. There is also a Deluxe Edition, which will include a Blu-ray of the Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV movie, and exclusive Steelbook and additional digital content.
Both of those are available at stores, while there is also an expensive Ultimate Collector's Edition available at the Square Enix store. This boasts all of the above, alongside a soundtrack, a statue, a Blu-ray of the Brotherhood anime, a huge artbook and more.
Only 30,000 of the later was made available and it has already sold out.
One element of the Uncovered event that has gone largely overlooked was the fact it took place in Los Angeles.
The home of Final Fantasy has long been Japan, but for these XV announcements, Square Enix flew to America.
There are a few good reasons for this. For starters, the console market (and Final Fantasy XV is a PlayStation 4 and Xbox One release) is on the wane in Japan – in contrast to the rest of the world. Then there's the fact that the RPG genre has never been bigger in the West.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, a game made in the US, sold 20m copies - primarily in Western territories. That's practically double the best-selling Final Fantasy game. With the likes of Dragon Age and The Witcher also performing remarkably well, if Final Fantasy has any ambition to establish itself as the No.1 RPG once again, it needs to win over US and European audiences.
The Final Fantasy brand has always appealed to a Western audience, we took the RPG genre to console a long time before many Western RPG's which have had a renaissance in today's market,” boasts Gaffney.
Western RPGs have finally gone mainstream which presents a tremendous opportunity for Final Fantasy XV. This is the first true open world Final Fantasy and has a revolutionary real time action combat system. Hajime Tabata, the game's director, has been very open in his vision of a Final Fantasy that retains the franchise's heritage but brings the series to a modern gaming audience, taking advantage of the processing power of the current generation of consoles and using the studio's state of the art technology to offer a ground breaking new entry into the beloved series.
We believe Final Fantasy XV will provide the scope, scale and freedom that gamers globally will embrace, with a style that bridges fantasy and reality, a vast world to explore and an epic story to truly lose themselves in.”
"Western RPGs have finally gone mainstream which presents a tremendous opportunity for Final Fantasy XV."
Justin Gaffney, Square Enix
The game that Square Enix showed last week looks tempting from a Western perspective. Real-time combat is the big one – this isn't a turn-based RPG, which is something that's viewed as a deterrent to mainstream fame in the West.
There's also the American and UK cast of the movie Kingsglaive [which includes Lena Headey and Sean Bean from Game of Th