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The development of Final Fantasy XV, a Japanese action role-playing video game, began in 2006 shortly before its announcement at that year's Electronic Entertainment Expo. Square Enix handled primary development on Final Fantasy XV, and the game was released worldwide in November 2016; the total development time covered approximately ten years. The game was originally announced as Final Fantasy Versus XIII, a PlayStation 3-exclusive spin-off title. It was part of Fabula Nova Crystallis Final Fantasy, a subseries of games linked by a common mythos: while retaining thematic links, specific references were removed to aid with marketing. Additional media was created to portray the world of XV without using sequels; dubbed the "Final Fantasy XV Universe", it included a feature film, an original net animation, a virtual reality simulation game and multiple mobile projects including a version of the game.
The game was originally directed by Tetsuya Nomura, who also created the story concept and main character designs. Nomura wanted to create a darker Final Fantasy title unsuitable for the main series. The initial development went slowly, and by 2007 the scale of the project generated discussions about rebranding the game as the next main entry in the series. Production on Versus XIII ended in 2012, when it was rebranded as Final Fantasy XV and transferred over to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The PlayStation 3 version, which was originally built using the company's proprietary Crystal Tools game engine, was abandoned due to concerns about the platform's shortening life cycle. Its engine was changed to Luminous Studio, Square Enix's custom-built engine for eighth-generation gaming hardware.
After its change of platforms, the production team headed by Hajime Tabata, whose previous work included Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy Type-0, was brought on board to aid production. Tabata became co-director, and was eventually promoted to sole director after Nomura was transferred to work on other projects within the company. After the transition to eighth-generation hardware, multiple changes were made so that it better suited the new consoles and its new status as a mainline game: these included radical staff reshuffles, and the reevaluation of the game's content. The latter part resulted in some scenes and characters from Versus XIII being cut. Later in production, multiple other studios were brought in to help with various aspects of the game.
Since its original announcement, release of information became sporadic, leading to video game journalists labeling it as vaporware and eventually to rumors of its cancellation. After its public rebranding in 2013, the silence continued until its appearance at the 2014 Tokyo Game Show, at which point development and progress information was released on a regular basis. A demo for the game, Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae, was released in March 2015 with first print copies of Final Fantasy Type-0 HD. Promotion for the title was effectively restarted at the 2015 Gamescom. Its release was delayed due to polishing work and the wish for a simultaneous worldwide release, something no other mainline Final Fantasy title had managed to accomplish. Cosmetic, gameplay and story-based downloadable content were developed between 2016 and 2019 to fix issues raised by players and expand upon the base game.
Final Fantasy XV[a] was originally a spin-off title named Final Fantasy Versus XIII,[b] created by Square Enix as part of the wider Final Fantasy franchise. It was directed by Tetsuya Nomura, and produced by Shinji Hashimoto and Yoshinori Kitase. Nomura created the original scenario, designed the main character, and was also the original director and one of the original game designers. The CGI cutscenes were directed by Takeshi Nozue, who had previously worked on Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. The music was composed by Yoko Shimomura, and the script was written by regular Final Fantasy scenario writer Kazushige Nojima. Tomohiro Hasewaga was art director, the mechanical designer was Takeyuki Takeya, and the event planning director was Jun Akiyama.
After the game's name and platform change in 2012, there were multiple staff reshuffles, though Shimomura, Hashimoto, Hasewaga and Nozue retained their original positions. Nomura became co-director alongside Hajime Tabata, the director of Final Fantasy Type-0, then was moved to other projects and replaced as full director by Tabata. Saori Itamuro became the new scriptwriter, using Nojima's original scenario as a base for the new work. Kitase left as co-producer, while Yusuke Naora, Isamu Kamikokuryo, and many artists involved in the development of Type-0 were involved. Non-Japanese staff included character designer Roberto Ferrari, game designer Prasert Prasertvithyakarn, and party interaction designer Wan Hazmer. The staff as formed in 2012, not counting later additions, was made up of the combined Final Fantasy XV and Type-0 development teams. By 2014, between 200 and 300 people were working on the game.
From 2006 to 2013, Final Fantasy XV was developed by what was then Square Enix 1st Production Department. In the wake of extensive business restructuring in 2013, development was transferred to the newly formed Business Division 2, headed by Tabata and incorporating the core Final Fantasy development team. In 2018, the Final Fantasy XV team were incorporated into Luminous Productions, a new subsidiary led by Tabata who continued to work on both an untitled AAA project and post-release content for Final Fantasy XV.
Along with bringing in staff members from other sections of the company, they also recruited help from other development studios: HexaDrive was brought in to help with engineering the game, XPEC Entertainment helped with the design for the later sections of the game, Shanghai company Plusmile helped with the design of buildings, licensed middleware from Umbra was used to boost the game's graphics, while Streamline Studios was brought in to help with technical development. It was initially supposed, after an announcement in 2015, that Avalanche Studios was brought on board to help create the game's airship mechanics. In the event, Avalanche and Square Enix did not directly collaborate: instead, Avalanche showed them their level of detail development methods, and Square Enix's internal team created the airship mechanics using that information.
The image illustration and logo design was done by Yoshitaka Amano, who was brought on at the beginning of the game's production and designed the logo based on the game's themes. Several pieces of Amano's original artwork were retained and used in promotion when the game changed from Versus XIII to XV. In contrast to other major parts of the game, the logo artwork survived almost unchanged aside from its coloring. Amano also designed a new version of the logo that faded in during the game's ending, collaborating with the development team on its use. According to Tabata, the new logo signified the beginning of a new journey, and also representing the game's development since it was known as Versus XIII.
Final Fantasy Versus XIII was created as part of Fabula Nova Crystallis Final Fantasy, a subseries within the Final Fantasy franchise featuring games linked by a common mythos which included Final Fantasy XIII and Type-0: apart from the mythos, they are completely separate, and each game's staff are able to interpret the mythos for each game. Versus XIII was one of the original titles created for the subseries alongside Final Fantasy XIII, forming the core of the series around which future titles would evolve. Nomura intended Versus XIII to be a heavy departure from his lighthearted Kingdom Hearts series. He attributed this move to his "love for extremes" and explained the direction he took as closer to his personal taste and completely different from what producers had requested him to do in the past. Early in development, Nomura said that the concept and thinking behind the game was unfitting for a regular numbered Final Fantasy installment, thus explaining its original status as a spin-off. His role as director of Versus XIII, in addition to other projects, was a move made following the departure of series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi from the company.
Production began in 2006 by the development team responsible for the Kingdom Hearts series as a PlayStation 3 exclusive, although Nomura had created the game concept some years prior. Versus XIII was defined by Nomura as the dark side of XIII, which was emphasized by the game's title. In 2008, it was reported that development was put on hold so the team could complete Final Fantasy XIII. This information was later clarified as a mistranslation, with the actual situation being that developers from the Versus XIII team were helping with XIII in their spare time, with development on both games going according to their original schedules. By June 2010, Nomura reported that the game's story, and the character and clothing designs had been completed. By June 2011, the game was reportedly still only in the pre-production phase. Full production on Versus XIII began in September of that year, and it was apparently planned for release in late 2014. According to later staff, Versus XIII was only 20-25% complete when the change of name and platform took place, with Tabata saying that the game "never really took shape". It was also stated by Tabata that the staff's efforts to fix the issues appearing within Versus XIII went on for far too long. According to staff, when Tabata arrived the production team were "exhausted and fretful" following the collapse of Versus XIII.
Due to the growing scale of the project, talks about changing Versus XIII into the next numbered entry in the series were appearing as early as 2007. When Type-0, originally titled Final Fantasy Agito XIII, was renamed, and the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One were presented to Square Enix in 2011, it was decided to shift the game onto those consoles. For a time, a PlayStation 3 version continued development, but after a title change announcement could not be made in 2012, the shortening lifespan of the console caused concern for the company and team. After some trial and error, the PlayStation 3 was abandoned as lead platform in favor of a DirectX 11-based development structure that allowed for easy porting to the next-generation systems. Another presumed reason for the shift was due to the game's protracted development and escalating budget. The game was rebranded as Final Fantasy XV and began development in this form in July 2012. A proposal to turn Final Fantasy XV into a musical after Nomura watched the 2012 film adaptation of Les Misérables were vetoed by the higher-ups at Square Enix.
At the beginning of development, the new team reviewed the content of Versus XIII and decided what could be sensibly carried over to the new project. While many design elements were retained, some needed to be changed or removed. Tabata's new position as co-director and eventually as director was related to this change. The separate engine, gameplay, graphics and design sections of the team were merged into one unit to help with development. Nomura remained as co-director alongside Tabata so the project could remain as true to the original vision as possible, after which he was reassigned to other projects within the company including Kingdom Hearts III, while Tabata took up full directorial duties to bring the project to completion. Due to the state of the project during 2012, Square Enix's then-CEO Yoichi Wada was considering cancelling outright so the team could start from scratch under Tabata's direction. Most of Tabata's team were initially highly reluctant to merge with Nomura's team due to the negative reputation of Versus XIII within the company, with Tabata taking six months to bring them all round to the idea. Tabata officially became director in December 2013.
Development initially followed the pattern of previous high-budget games, but the team eventually realized that such techniques had become dated. During the later part of development, Tabata's main concern was keeping the game on schedule instead of letting the development become delayed by experimentation with the technology. The company also kept the game's budget under strict control, despite the prolonged development. A major issue was deciding what elements to carry over and what had to be changed or discarded, as the project was already known and fans had expectations. When describing his attitude to development, Tabata described the team set-up as "horizontal", using a non-hierarchical staff structure to help speed up the exchange of information and feedback between departments. This drastic shift was unheard of for major Japanese game developers, and was met with a mixed reaction from staff: some were elated at their new freedom, while others felt downgraded. Including the initial work on Versus XIII, the game's development spanned approximately ten years from conception to release: despite its origins, Tabata considers Versus XIII and XV to be two separate entities. Speaking later, Tabata said that the developers were "playing it by ear", as little of the final game's content was set prior to his taking over.
Both free and paid downloadable content (DLC) was planned as early as April 2016, with paid DLC being a necessity due to production costs. Plans for DLC content were finalized by June of that year, with a small team working on it while the main game was completed. The main aim was to make players feel they had made a good purchase. Full production began after the main game was completed in November 2016. The DLC development was handled by Haruyoshi Sawatari, who took over as producer when Tabata saw the game would not make its projected September 30 release date; Tabata continued to focus on polishing the main game, while Sawatari created the DLC with a group of core developers, although Tabata continued to oversee their production. While having story-based DLC focused on each character seemed to undermine the main appeal of the story, Sawatari noted that the breaks gave characters a chance to grow as individuals before returning to and strengthening the group. Square Enix stressed when the details were announced that the DLC was not content cut from the game itself, but original content to add new experiences for players.
Reception of the first wave of story-based DLC was so strong that the team decided to create a second wave of content. The new content would focus on creating a new storyline while tying up any remaining loose ends that players found with the storyline and lore. During this period, production shifted from Business Division 2 to Luminous Productions, who worked simultaneously on the post-release content and their new IP. Tabata continued overseeing development as producer. However Tabata was growing steadily less interested in the project, and wanted to go ahead on "his own path" without inconveniencing anyone at Square Enix. After internal discussions, Tabata decided to leave Square Enix and form his own studio. The company parted with Tabata on good terms, but the decision was made to cancel all but one of the subsequent DLC episodes and end post-release support for the game following that episode's 2019 release. It was also decided by Luminous Productions to focus on development of their new IP, contributing to the DLC's cancellation.
While XV's story was similar to other entries, Nomura wanted to create more realistic characters. He wanted to make XV "about men in the real world", including less fantasy elements, describing it as the darkest entry in the series. From 2010 onwards, the story was undergoing frequent revisions. When Versus XIII became XV, multiple aspects were changed, including the removal of story sequences and the redesigning of characters. The most notable change was the replacement of original heroine Stella Nox Fleuret with the similarly-named Lunafreya. When consulted over the proposed changes, Nojima said that he would be content as long as the overall concept remained faithful to the original, giving the team the needed confidence to make the changes. The game's ending was left deliberately ambiguous so players could imagine what came next. The concept of reaper-worship from the original scenario was toned down, as it would have been a violation of age-rating criteria in some countries; explicit references to those elements were replaced with the general impression of black being a special color for the main cast and their home country.
The game's main theme is "bonds", as represented by the relationships between Noctis and his comrades, and between Noctis and his father Regis. A key narrative element was Noctis' personal journey from prince to king. The story took place over a ten-year time period to properly portray Noctis' journey, with the characters aging appropriately. As opposed to earlier Final Fantasy games which jumped between different character groups, the game focused almost entirely on the central cast, with developments concerning the supporting cast happening off-screen. This was chosen to make the main cast more compelling and create a narrative based on their point of view. In contrast to many previous Final Fantasy titles, the playable cast of XV is all-male, although women still played key roles in the story. This was influenced by Nomura's wish for a road movie vibe and experiences from his youth. The clothing for characters was designed by Hiromu Takahara, lead designer for Japanese fashion house Roen. He was brought on when Nomura was occupied with other duties including designing the main cast of Final Fantasy XIII. The main reason for his inclusion was the wish to preserve the game's realism by creating designs influenced by Western fashions. Takahara's designs were retained during the transition as they were a core part of the initial project.
When first announced, XV used the mythos of Fabula Nova Crystallis, described by Kitase as "a backdrop and starting point" for the story. For Versus XIII, Nomura decided to focus more on the world and on realistic human characters. The terminology of the mythos, including the concept of l'Cie (magically imbued warriors burdened with a pre-determined task), was originally present in Versus XIII. A key figure in the mythos, the Goddess Etro, was originally represented in-game in a piece of artwork by Amano and was a key deity worshiped in the game world. During the transition process between Versus XIII and XV, the game "disconnected" from the mythos' core framework, existing as a thematic base for the world and story without being overtly expressed.[c] While the adjustments were being decided upon, it was chosen to keep the mythos as part of XV, as much of the world was built upon it and would lose a lot of its substance if removed entirely. Instead, the team chose to adjust the mythos to fit the game's modern setting. Specific terminology such as "l'Cie" was removed so the game would retain an individual identity and introduce the concepts in an understandable way. A common theme carried over into XV was defined by Tabata as humans chosen by the crystal placing their lives at risk. The revised cosmology drew inspiration from Japanese folklore and various Western mythologies. The game's summoned monsters, referred to as "Astrals", were designed to play integral parts in the story and world as opposed to being simple monsters to be called into battle. They were intelligent beings that Noctis needed to forge a pact with rather than simply commanding them. Due to their key role in the story, the staff chose traditional Final Fantasy summons such as Leviathan and Titan instead of creating ones unique to the game.
The central theme of the world and story is "fantasy based on reality": the setting is based on the real world and the fantasy elements grew out of familiar settings. Realizing this aspect of the game was quite difficult before the game's move onto eighth-generation hardware. Nomura had wanted to use a present-day setting for a Final Fantasy game ever since this idea had been considered but abandoned during the development of Final Fantasy VII. As such, some of the designs in Final Fantasy XV are based on real-world locations: among them are the districts of Tokyo, the Piazza San Marco and St Mark's Basilica in Venice, the Bahamas, and natural locations such as a cavern in Chiba Prefecture. Insomnia, the crown city of Lucis, is specifically influenced by the Shinjuku, Tokyo area which houses the headquarters of Square Enix and which Nomura passes through every day. The highway and tunnel seen in the game are almost exact replicas of the Shuto Expressway and a tunnel in the Ginza district, respectively. The team created these by driving down the real-world locations repeatedly during their research. The design inspirations for Niflheim ranged from the Roman Empire to pre-Germanic and Germanic civilizations. The game's theme of "fantasy based on reality" was emphasized on multiple levels in the environments, such as the blending of realism and fantasy in Insomnia, and the camping equipment, which was included through a collaboration with Coleman Company.
Another factor in the original development of set pieces was the design of vast and seamless environments. They were meant to enable scenarios such as the player character being shot at from a great distance, or a battle which would change scenes between the outside and inside of a building. This corroborated Nomura's intended action-oriented system with more intuitive game controls. He instructed his team to study third-person shooters for reference, "not in simplistic terms, like controls or mechanics, but in the way they create tension and mood and incorporate the action within that". This carried over into XV, with the stated aim being to distance the game structurally from XIII and its sequels, which featured divided zones rather than a large seamless world. The original inspiration behind this approach was the world design of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, with later inspirations being modern Western triple-A open world titles. The environments are divided into three different segments, with separate teams working on each: the world map, locations in the game world, and dungeons. The dungeons were designed to be beautiful, frightening, and memorable. Specific pieces of concept art were created to represent different regions and aesthetic concepts; a single building design was used to capture the essence of Altissia's Venice-inspired atmosphere, while older car designs when compared to the party's vehicle Regalia reflected the lack of human advancement outside Lucis.
For the monster designs, Tabata told Hasegawa that their goal was a sense of realism equivalent to the photography of National Geographic. The first monster designed with this mindset was the Behemoth. For mystical enemies, the team went towards "throwback" designs, using popular enemy designs from the series' history. The monster designs were drawn from various sources. A difficult monster to design was the Catoblepas, one of the larger monsters; particular attention to detail was given to the head and legs, as they were the most visible areas to players. The Mesmenir, which was raised as an example of the balance between fantasy and realism, was designed with a horse-like body along with a horn inspired by the appendages on seahorses. The Goblins and Naga were not given an original design, instead being taken directly from their original artwork by Amano for earlier Final Fantasy games and inserted into the game in as realistic a form as possible. The Ronin was designed to resemble the traditional dress style of its namesake, with both the clothing and fabric created using descriptions from books and images of antique samurai clothing and swords. The game's mounts, recurring galliform birds called Chocobos, were designed so players would feel affection for them. The most challenging part of the design was adding fantastic flourishes while keeping it from being garish. Another recurring Final Fantasy creature, the Moogle, was originally present in Versus XIII, and was going to be similar in design to its Final Fantasy Type-0 incarnation. Moogles were initially dropped from XV; they were retained after a Twitter poll in November 2015, where fans requested that Moogles be included. Due to the game being close to completion, it was a token inclusion that would not impact the main development.
The game's original score was primarily composed and arranged by Yoko Shimomura, who was most widely known for her work on the Kingdom Hearts series and was a first-time composer for the Final Fantasy series. Working on the greater majority of the soundtrack, Shimomura was involved throughout the game's development cycle. The theme song of Versus XIII, "Somnus", was sung by Aundréa L. Hopkins; its lyrics were written by Nomura, which were translated and adapted into Latin by Taro Yamashita and Kazuhiro Komiya. When Versus XIII was rebranded as XV, "Somnus" was retained as an important theme, though it was replaced as the official theme song.[d] The game's theme song is a cover of Ben E. King's "Stand by Me", performed by the English indie rock band Florence and the Machine and sung by the band's leader Florence Welch. In addition to "Stand by Me", Florence and the Machine created two original songs inspired by the world and story of XV: "Too Much Is Never Enough" and "I Will Be".
For the game's additional media, the music was handled by other composers such as John R. Graham, Yasuhisa Inoue and Susumi Akizuki. Music for later content was handled by Yoshitaka Suzuki; guest composers were brought in for major story expansions, including Keiichi Okabe, Naoshi Mizuta, Yasunori Mitsuda and Nobuo Uematsu. The soundtrack for Final Fantasy XV was released on December 21, 2016, with multiple editions being created. The three songs by Florence and the Machine were released under the banner title "Songs from Final Fantasy XV" as digital singles on August 12 for iTunes, Google Play and Spotify. Tracks from the game were released on other albums of Shimomura's music, and "Somnus" was featured as downloadable content for Theatrhythm Final Fantasy.
During its initial development, Versus XIII used Crystal Tools, a proprietary game engine created by Square Enix for seventh-generation gaming hardware that would be used throughout the company for multiple games, including XIII and Final Fantasy XIV. Later, Tabata described the Crystal Tools hardware as an extension of the technology of the previous gaming generation. During 2010, Nomura revealed that the team were using real world-based physical calculations to determine weather and cloud behavior in-game. By 2011, Nomura announced that the game was no longer using Crystal Tools, and instead used a specially designed proprietary gameplay engine combined by lighting technology from Luminous Studio, an engine built for eighth-generation gaming hardware. The focus on realism influenced the decision to incorporate the more advanced lighting technology, while the specially designed engine had a limited area of use. The planned scale of the open world increased so much that the older technology eventually became obsolete as it was restricting the developers. The need to create new technology to cope with these problems further added to initial development difficulties. The original plan was to have interactive real-time event scenes. Nomura felt that regular storytelling cutscenes in other games interrupted gameplay and caused players to skip them. Furthermore, the development frame could theoretically be shortened as there was no need to create cutscenes-exclusive high-polygon character models. However, seamless transitions of these events into the gameplay were hard to achieve and instead increased the time that had to be invested by the team. After the full shift onto eighth-generation platforms, multiple planned elements were influenced by the new Luminous technology: the in-game cutscene camera was optimized to work similarly to the one used in pre-rendered movies, and more environmental and gameplay elements could be included such as an increased number of destructible environments and the player character's warping to faraway spots on the game maps. It also enabled Nomura to start experimenting with higher facial detail for enemies such as behemoths.
When the game was renamed and changed platforms, the team chose Luminous Studio as the main game engine. The game's real-time graphics used 5,000 polygons per-frame, bringing its visual quality close to modern CGI cutscenes and to a level that would have been impossible for the previous generation's hardware. The game's native resolution was 1920 × 1080 pixels (1080p), with a frame rate of 30 frames per second: this was defined as being native to the game as opposed to upscaled games from the previous generation. For polygon models, the combined number of visible and occluded polygons was estimated as being 5,000,000. This number was approximately five times the amount of equivalent detail from last-generation games. Models used over 600 character bones: 150 bones were created for the face, 300 for the hair, and 150 for the body. A bone-based physical simulation technology was applied so that clothing would react to the body's movements. The polygon count for character hair was estimated as 20,000, the same number used in an entire character in last-generation games. All of these were achievable due to the fact that the eighth-generation console hardware had approximately sixteen times the amount of storage available in the previous generation.
During the transition from Versus XIII to XV and the optimization of Luminous Studio for game development, the team created a conceptual environment using a prototype engine environment called "Ebony". After the initial reveal, the team ran into difficulties with the new hardware, prompting them to contact HexaDrive due to their experience with high-spec gaming hardware. To solve the issues faced by XV, the team used a similar development approach to Ubisoft: they created an approximate game system that they could build on and edit in real-time. Graphics and animation were developed first, followed by a cinematics editor and a system to manage events during transitions between cutscenes and gameplay. This latter element was what allowed the developers to create what would become the game's final version. To help maximize the realism of the characters, their hair was first created by a hairstylist using a mannequin's wig, then rendered into the game using the technology of Luminous Studio. The same technique was used for Agni's Philosophy, the engine's 2012 demo. Character movements were created using motion capture technology: the animators' movements were first captured while they wore special suits, then their actions were adjusted in the team's computer to perfect them and make minor additions like finger movements. These actions were then implemented in the game environment for the intended characters.
During production, Tabata and the new development staff used experience from a failed attempt to develop an eighth-generation console sequel to Type-0 when handling the new hardware. While using Luminous Studio for games other than XV was considered during production, the engine's technology manager Julien Merceron advised against it until it has been proven and released in a finished form. While CGI cutscenes created by dedicated Square Enix subsidiary Visual Works were present throughout its lifetime, there were far fewer than originally planned in the final game. The team instead relied on real-time cutscenes as much as possible, except for scenes with a scale too great to use real-time graphics. The transition to next-generation hardware enabled the team to better realize their original vision for the game, as conveyed in the original reveal trailer. Visual Works also worked closely with the team during development of 3D modelling systems, due to their previous experiences with such technology in cutscene development.
Versus XIII used an action-based combat system based primarily on the Kingdom Hearts battle system. Gameplay elements from third-person shooters were also to have been incorporated. Character movement was designed to be fast-paced. During earlier gameplay trailers, the pace of gameplay was deliberately slowed down so viewers could have a better view of events. In addition to Noctis, his companions were also controllable, each harnessing unique weapons and all being able to enter and control mechs and airships. Noctis was the only character with access to all weapon types within the game (including swords, axes, guns, lances and others), with the current selection of weapons leading to different combos. Group attacks could not be manually triggered, but party members would team up automatically for a "super attack". In addition, attacks could be chained together by players switching between characters during battle. Magic was available to all characters, but only when Noctis was a part of the party, a consideration that was closely tied to the story. A job system was in place, but it was exclusive to enemy units, with those present including dragoons and summoners. Environments outside cities also featured a day-night cycle and roaming enemies, with different enemy monsters appearing at different times of day. Several initial concepts for the game had to be abandoned; a planned first-person view and the lack of a heads-up display (HUD) were scrapped because these ideas were deemed incompatible with the style of the Final Fantasy series. An overhead camera view was also considered for the open field areas, but it was decided against so the player would remain immersed. When the final Versus XIII trailer was released, the HUD was a mixture of finalized and temporary elements. There were even plans for the game to have a "unique" support setup for the Sixaxis controller. Although after the game's transition there were technological and mechanical changes, the basic elements established in trailers such as Noctis' warping and weapon abilities were carried over.
For XV, the battle system was dubbed the Active Cross Battle system. Noctis was made the only player-controlled character, with the others being relegated to command functions governed by the game's artificial intelligence (AI). The team experimented with a multi-character battle system, but eventually decided that it presented too many development difficulties. Noctis' weapons were to be arranged in a deck, and contextually activated in combat. Later, this was changed so that weapon-switching could be done freely during battle, with special attacks using the standard weapons unless others were in place. Instead of a multi-button combo system, combat became focused on single-button combat tied to timed attacks and contextually activated special abilities, in addition to co-op attacks triggered with other members of the party. One ability that was carried over from Versus XIII to XV was Noctis's Limit Break "Armiger", where he summoned multiple weapons into battle to attack and defend; this was initially seen in the original trailer for XV, and later in both the demo and the final game. Noctis was to have been the only character in the world of XV to wield magic, but as this would not have worked from a gameplay perspective, the team created a story-related pretext that allowed other characters to wield magic. After the demo's release, the Cross-Link system was improved and other systems were put into place. Polishing work on the game continued up until the final version was released. The navigation was described after its 2014 re-reveal as "open world": Tabata later clarified that while character progression was driven by the story, the various areas within the world could be freely explored by players. He also wished for a fusion of gameplay and story similar to The Last of Us.
Based on feedback from the game's first commercial demo, adjustable difficulty settings were added in the form of players changing "battle modes" to alter the speed and complexity of battles. A major element added to the game was Prompto's ability to take photographs. As the character had garnered negative feedback from players, Tabata wanted to make the character more useful and appealing to players, and so it was incorporated into the game so players could chronicle their journey. The inclusion of an airship function into the party's vehicle came from Tabata's wish to keep the party in the Regalia while simulating the experience of landing an aircraft. The team experimented with enabling compatibility with virtual reality headsets, but this proved impractical as players would likely be wearing them for hours at a time due to the game's size. The game's shift during the second half of the story from an open world to a linear structure was based on story requirements and budgetary restrictions, as making the entire experience open world would have doubled development time and costs. Many elements added to the game in later updates, such as controlling all the main characters, had to be discarded from the main game due to technological and budget-based restrictions.
The lead designer for the game's AI was Yoichiro Miyake, who was one of the core team members for the game's engine. Miyake, whose reputation designing quality AI had landed him the position, had an initial concept of creating an AI that would learn and memorize new actions, creating a smooth flow through the various steps it needed to take to make a smoother and more advanced experience. At the start of its development, the developers used the two standard "classic" designs for AIs for reference: behavior-based, which revolved around adaptation and decision making, and state-based, which made decisions based on the environment. For XV, it was decided to create an advanced hybrid of these basic behavioral AI functions. Due to the way Luminous Studio's staff was structured, the team first needed to develop an easy-to-understand tool for managing and developing the AI. This tool was dubbed the "Luminous AI Graph", which represented the multi-layered construction of an AI. The amount of effort put into the AI was directly inspired by experiences of developing games for the previous console generation: the emphasis had been put on graphics, causing the AI and other gameplay-related elements to suffer. Between the release of its commercial demo and the full release, the AI underwent further refinement.
The AI functions were divided into three different categories: "meta", which governed the environment and in-game progression; "character", which was devoted to the guest and non-playable characters (NPCs); and "navigation", which determined the best route and pattern for characters and other moving elements such as enemies to travel. The tasks assigned to the meta-AI were so numerous and large that it needed to be divided into separate interconnected elements, which included implementing a hierarchical structure for task management, transitioning and the merger of functions to create an intelligent system, and the exchange of various elements with specific localities. For the character-AI, a major point was the coordination between the AI and character animations when responding to different situations. Different levels and styles of AI were created for different groups of non-playable characters within XV's world, from the main party members to NPCs around the world. To ensure the navigation-AI worked properly for enemies and monsters, a system dubbed the "Point Query System" (PQS) was created, which could direct and steer them in a realistic manner while avoiding collisions with objects in the environment or other moving elements. A PQS was created for each enemy type, and made small changes to their behaviors easier to implement. The decision to create high-quality reactive AI for Noctis' companions helped influence the choice of making Noctis the only playable character.
Versus XIII was originally announced at the 2006 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) through a CGI trailer. The trailer, which showed Noctis advancing on a group of enemy soldiers, was created by Visual Works as a representation of what the development team were aiming for. The trailer also featured a quote from William Shakespeare's Hamlet: "[There] is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." This quote was intended to evoke the atmosphere Nomura was aiming for. After its initial announcement, the title was absent from multiple gaming events for several successive years, although a video showing an extended version of the reveal trailer was released in 2007 at a fan event. Two trailers were released in 2008, including in-game footage at the 2008 Tokyo Game Show (TGS). Footage of navigation was shown at TGS the following year in a closed theater. Its appearance at E3 2010 was apparently prevented due to multiple technical issues. Its final appearance as Versus XIII was at a Square Enix Press Conference in January 2011, appearing alongside other video games then in production. Because of its sporadic appearances in the public eye and its absence after the 2011 event, industry commentators labeled Final Fantasy XV as vaporware while it was still known as Versus XIII. In June 2012, it was rumored that the game had been cancelled, which was swiftly refuted by Wada. After that, further rumors emerged claiming that it had either been quietly cancelled, or renamed and shifted to another platform during development.
Its name and platform change were officially announced at E3 2013, with further trailers showcasing the game concept released later. The 2013 trailer was again a concept piece consisting mostly of CGI rather than actual gameplay footage. Staff later stated that XV had been announced and displayed too early. The game's next official appearance was made at TGS 2014, with the announcement of its commercial demo, and a tech demo showing off the game's engine. After its reappearance, regular livestreamed shows called "Active Time Reports" (ATR) were broadcast, giving updates to the game and responses to fan questions. According to Tabata, the ATRs were created to help fans left confused by the game's change of platform and title, along with establishing a two-way communication with the fanbase. During 2015, official forums were created to allow the developers to receive direct feedback from fans. Starting from February 12, the Japanese forums were discontinued and replaced with a developer's blog. Their stated reason was to offer a more accessible medium for both feedback and developer updates.
After its appearance at the 2014 Paris Games Week, Tabata announced that XV's release window was "roughly decided", with the company recruiting new staff to work on the game's master build. While it did not show at E3 2015, it did appear at that year's Gamescom, which Tabata said was the beginning of its official marketing campaign leading up to further announcements. As part of the marketing, the game was distanced from the Fabula Nova Crystallis subseries, as it would have placed symbolic limits upon their target audience. The game's minimal showing at the event caused a negative reaction from fans, with Tabata stating that Square Enix underestimated the importance of the event. Between May and November 2015, the publicity was deliberately kept low-key so staff could focus on completing the pre-beta version of the game. Once done, XV became playable in its entirety, enabling developers to get a full view of the product for the final stages of development and testing. Production on the beta version and progression to the debugging phase began in 2016. The master version, the version of the game that would be played at release, was completed in August, although further technical polishing took place after this.
During its TGS 2014 presentation, the real-time demonstration footage was dubbed Final Fantasy XV: The Overture, which demonstrated the graphic capabilities in Luminous Studio and the effect of environmental changes on gameplay. While it was intended as a one-off presentation, the team said they were considering creating a second demo for release in Japan based on The Overture. A demo featuring the battle against the Astral Titan was featured at E3 2016: while drawing on a part of the game, the fight was tailored for the demo so it could be completed within a ten-minute window, with the full version having different victory requirements. A Japan-exclusive commercial demo dubbed Judgement Disc was released on November 11. Spanning the game's events up to the middle of the first chapter, it was designed to allow players to judge the game's merits.
The game also received an international demo titled Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae. The idea behind Episode Duscae was to give players a personal look at the game due to its long absence from the public eye, as well as demonstrate its gameplay and the fact that it was being actively developed. It was named after one of the regions in the game. The demo is set during the opening segment of XV, where the party temporarily lose their car and must gather funds for its repair by taking on jobs in the region. Gameplay and main story elements were tailored for a demo experience. One of the features left out was the ability for players to rent Chocobos, while the battle system was a slimmed-down version of what was planned for the final game, using the originally planned preset weapon deck feature. The character Cindy was also included. A summon with a simplified method of acquirement was also put into the game: originally intended to be Titan, it was replaced with Ramuh due to the former being a key character in the story.
After TGS 2014, where Episode Duscae was first announced, Tabata and the team adjusted the gameplay experience based on fan feedback. The original plan was for a large area of the worldmap that players could explore using the car. While the ability to drive the party's car was originally included, it was later cut as Tabata feared that the feature would be too new for older fans of the series, who might have mistaken XV for "a driving game". The team decided to focus on the characters and environment. The demo included English and Japanese audio for all regions. The demo released in all regions alongside the physical and digital releases of Final Fantasy Type-0 HD. The physical version was exclusive to day-one editions of Type-0 HD, while the digital version was valid for two months after purchase. The code had to be redeemed within one year of purchase. While players could save their progress in the demo, save data could not be carried over to the main game. Despite this, the team announced its intention to create a bonus for those who purchased the demo. A patch titled Episode Duscae 2.0 was released in June 2015, which included enhancements for the camera and controls, fixes for bugs, and adjustments to gameplay. The demo ran on Version 1.5 of Luminous Studio.
Sequels to Final Fantasy XV were hinted at with the line "A World of the Versus Epic" in the E3 2013 trailer. Nomura explained that the game had a self-contained climax and that it was the first part of an intended continued epic. He said that Square Enix was considering using online elements and developing shorter stand-alone titles to keep players interested and to avoid long waiting times for them. This was interpreted as a move of the company towards a digitally distributed episodic format for possible sequels. Nomura later clarified at the Japan Expo 2013 that no plans for sequels had been finalized. Later, Tabata stated in interviews that Final Fantasy XV would be released as a single complete experience, and that no sequel was planned. In addition, there were no plans for multiple endings or a cliffhanger ending, with Tabata citing the XIII trilogy as a video game narrative style they were trying not to emulate. Despite this wish, the scale of XV's world and story would have needed multiple games to tell the entire story. To avoid turning Final Fantasy XV into a series of games, the team instead produced additional media surrounding XV, turning it into a multimedia project: while the main game could be enjoyed on its own, the other media could be used as introductions to the setting for newcomers. This project is being referred by Square Enix as the "Final Fantasy XV Universe". According to Tabata, the Universe is split into two halves; media designed to reach a wider audience than the game might manage alone, and additional game-related content such as ports to other hardware and DLC.
A free tech demo, Platinum Demo: Final Fantasy XV released on March 30, 2016. Birthed from the initial announced wish to develop a second tech demo and forming part of the "Final Fantasy XV Universe", Platinum Demo was created in two months using completed assets from the main game. First announced in January 2016, it was designed to showcase the game's graphics and physics, along with elements of its final combat system. Set in a dream world after Noctis is gravely wounded as a child, it follows his journey back to consciousness, guided by a creature called Carbuncle that protects Noctis. Players who completed the demo are able to name Carbuncle in the main game. According to Tabata, Platinum Demo served a dual purpose: it both introduced players to the gameplay mechanics, and gave them insight into Noctis' young life and his relationship with his father. It was originally intended to be a less emotive experience, but changed to being story-driven to better introduce players to the game's world. The demo was removed from sale on March 31, 2017. A virtual reality-based fishing simulation game titled Monster of the Deep: Final Fantasy XV is set for release in September 2017. Suggested by Sony Interactive Entertainment and originally a first-person shooter featuring Prompto and based on the storyline of Episode Duscae, the project was reworked into its current form to promote immersion and entertainment.
The two major parts of the "Final Fantasy XV Universe" were the original net animation series Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV and the CGI feature film Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV. Brotherhood was produced by Square Enix and A-1 Pictures and was released through the game's official YouTube channel and anime streaming website Crunchyroll between March and September 2016. Each episode details the backstory of Noctis from his childhood to the game's opening, along with the backstories of his companions. The first and last episodes of the anime tie in with the Platinum Demo. The anime is intended to give people a view into Noctis' mind that would have appeared incongruous within the context of a video game. Kingsglaive was a joined production shared between the original staff of Advent Children and multiple Western companies including Digic Pictures, who had worked on the graphics for the Assassin's Creed series; and Image Engine, who had worked on multiple films including Jurassic World and the television series Game of Thrones. While similar in appearance to Advent Children, Kingsglaive had a different goal behind its development: while Advent Children was made for dedicated fans of Final Fantasy VII, Kingsglaive was made as an introduction for newcomers to the world of XV, along with conveying some of Regis' backstory. Digic Pictures later collaborated with Square Enix on "Omen", a promotional trailer based on the world and story of Final Fantasy XV.
To promote the game, and also forming part of the collection, a mobile app titled Justice Monsters Five was developed. Based on an arcade-style mini-game from XV, it used gameplay similar to the Monster Strike series and incorporated classic Final Fantasy monsters. Justice Monsters Five was released on August 30 for mobile platforms, and eventually shut down on March 27, 2017, seven months after its initial release. A planned Windows 10 version was not released. A second promotional item was A King's Tale: Final Fantasy XV, released through GameStop and EB Games in North America as a free pre-order bonus. Playing as an arcade-style beat 'em up, A King's Tale relates King Regis' exploits thirty years before the game's events, told to the young Noctis by Regis as fairy tales. A King's Tale was later made available for free for PS4 and Xbox One on March 1, 2017. In addition, another mobile game titled King's Knight: Wrath of the Dark Dragon released in 2017. It is a remake of the 1986 game, and was available in XV as a game Noctis and his friends play. Square Enix and Machine Zone collaborated on a massively multiplayer online role-playing game for mobile devices based on the content of XV, first released on June 28, 2017. Titled Final Fantasy XV: A New Empire and developed by Machine Zone's subsidiary Epic Action, the game involves players taking the role of characters from Final Fantasy XV and fighting other player armies in real-time battles for control of the Crystal.
The game's year of release was officially announced at the 2015 PAX Prime event, with its release date set to be revealed at a special event the following year. Another announcement from that time was that Tabata was aiming for a simultaneous worldwide release, a first for the Final Fantasy series. This was later clarified by Tabata at the 2016 Taipei Game Show: Square Enix was aiming to release the game within the same time period across the world, although there might be minor variations depending on regions. The special event, called "Uncovered: Final Fantasy XV", took place on March 30 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, hosted by internet celebrities Greg Miller and Tim Gettys. The event was livestreamed worldwide. Free limited tickets for the event were made available on February 5 for North American residents. By the next day, all tickets had been claimed. Its former release date, September 30, 2016, was announced on the first day of the event. According to Tabata, this release date was decided upon in 2013 based on projected development time and costs. In August, rumors began circulating that Final Fantasy XV had been delayed by two months. Tabata later confirmed that the game's worldwide release had been delayed to November 29: alongside the announcement was an official apology to fans for the delay. The reason he gave was that, while the game had reached fully playable form, the team was not satisfied with the overall quality they were aiming for, so the extra time would be dedicated to polishing XV further. In addition, he wanted to give players without an online connection the full experience without needing a Day One patch. Tabata confirmed in a later interview that he was the one who requested the extension after the master disc had been created for mass distribution. Patches following the initial release allowed support for the PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X models, featuring enhanced graphics, resolution and framerate.
The English localization of XV was led by Dan Inoue. One of the aspects of the localization was using different accents to show the characters coming from different regions of the world: a cited example was Ignis, who spoke with a British accent while the other main characters spoke with an American accent. One of the early issues, which drew public attention with the release of Episode Duscae, was Noctis' English voice actor. In Episode Duscae, his voice was pitched rather low, making the character seem older and less energetic than his Japanese counterpart. This was explained as being due to tight scheduling removing the opportunity for Tabata to catch the issue and re-record before it was time for release. After Episode Duscae, the voice work was redone to better convey Noctis' personality. Different issues raised later included Ignis' localized lines, which changed aspects of the character interaction, and the alteration of Cindy's name from the original "Cidney". In an interview with Famitsu during Gamescom, Tabata revealed that the main reason for the delays in XV's release were related to the game's localization and debugging, as the team wanted to bring the game out in the west close to its Japanese release. In addition to being released with French and German dubs and text translation for those respective regions, it was also localized for Latin America with Latin American Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese text: this was the first time a Final Fantasy title was localized into these languages.
In addition to the standard release, Day One, Deluxe, and Ultimate Collector's Editions were announced. The former contained a copy of XV, an exclusive "Masamune" sword, and platform-specific elements such as Xbox Live avatars and PS4 themes. The Deluxe Edition additionally included a copy of Kingsglaive on Blu-Ray, a steelbook case featuring Amano's official artwork, and promotional content in the form of an additional outfit for Noctis, and a recolor of their vehicle. The latter edition included the content of the Deluxe Edition, alongside a Blu-Ray release of Brotherhood, a special soundtrack, a hardcover artbook, further promotional content in the form of in-game items, and a Play Arts Kai figurine of Noctis. Preorders opened on March 30, and the Ultimate Collector's Edition was limited to a 30,000 unit print run. A further 10,000 copies of the Japanese Ultimate Collector's Edition were produced due to increased demand, alongside further copies for North America and Europe. The limited quantity was due to the difficulties producing Noctis' figurine. No further additional shipments were created.
In a collaboration with Sony, Square Enix produced a themed PS4 console bundle: dubbed the "Luna Edition", it came with the console, a copy of the game, a copy of Kingsglaive, and multiple pieces of DLC. The bundle was available in Japan, North America and Europe alongside the game: in North America, it was exclusive to GameStop. Europe also received a standard edition bundle with a plain PS4 console. Digital premium editions for PS4 and Xbox One featured added in-game items such as weapons and cosmetic elements for both the game and the console. Both versions also came with a season pass, allowing free access to DLC. Later, a "Royal Edition" was released on March 8, 2018, concurrent with the Windows version. The game includes all DLC released up to that point along with additional content including new boss fights, story sequences and lore. The Royal Edition content was also released as separate DLC for standard editions.
A version for personal computers (PC) running the Windows 10 operating system was released on March 6, 2018 through Steam and Origin. Titled Final Fantasy XV: Windows Edition and developed in cooperation with Nvidia using an upgraded version of the Luminous Studio engine, the game includes multiple graphical enhancements, and comes packaged with all free and paid DLC released up to that point. A version tailored to mobile devices titled Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition was also released in 2017. A remake of the game for iOS, Android and through Windows Store, it carries over the core story and gameplay while using a different artstyle and touch controls catered to a casual gaming audience. The story plays out across ten episodes; the first episode is free, while the rest must be purchased separately. The game was later released as Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition HD for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on September 7, 2018, and for the Nintendo Switch on September 13.
A Day One DLC patch was created regardless called the "Crown update". In addition to gameplay updates such as galleries and the ability to summon monsters to fight, CGI scenes from Kingsglaive and the "Omen" trailer were added, and social media functionality was incorporated to allow photos taken in-game to be uploaded on Facebook and Twitter. The content was the result of added development following the completion of the game. Following the game's release, Square Enix received feedback on aspects relating to its story content and a sequence during Chapter 13 of the main story, where the gameplay style and difficulty shifted drastically. To this end, Square Enix announced free DLC updates that would tweak the gameplay of Chapter 13 and add further story-based cutscenes to expand upon character motivations left unexplained in the base game. The amendments to Chapter 13 and other late-game portions of Final Fantasy XV were released on March 28, 2017.
Two notable limited time events were developed for the game. The "Moogle Chocobo Carnival", a carnival event with minigames themed around the Final Fantasy series Chocobo and Moogle mascots, ran from January to February 2017. The Carnival was brought back between July to August of that year. From August 2017 to January 2018, the game featured a collaboration with Ubisoft title Assassin's Creed Origins, with a story quest and special accessories themed after the game. A particular item which unlocked a themed costume during the event was offered during the second Chocobo Carnival. The collaboration also saw elements from Final Fantasy XV included in Assassin's Creed Origins. A later notable collaboration was a free playable mission featuring Noctis teaming up with Sarah, the protagonist of the Mistwalker-developed Terra Wars. The mission released alongside accessories for Comrades themed after Shadow of the Tomb Raider. One of the last collaborations will be one with Final Fantasy XIV, where Noctis and his party fight the summon Garuda.
The planned DLC included a weapon pack, three story episodes that make Noctis' companions playable, and was termed an "Online Expansion Pack". The latter is an expansion that allows online multiplayer battles with up to four players. Titled "Comrades", it takes place the ten-year gap in the game's narrative, focusing on player-created members of the Kingsglaive combating powerful monsters. With the release of "Comrades", Final Fantasy XV became the first mainline single-player Final Fantasy game to feature multiplayer content. A standalone version of "Comrades" is set for release on December 13, 2018; the standalone version included ten new bosses and several other expansions. With the release of the standalone version, the original version would cease functioning and those who had purchased it would receive the standalone version for free. A planned PC version was cancelled, but the PC version of the original "Comrades" would continue to function.
"Episode Gladiolus" released on March 28, 2017; featuring Gladiolus as a playable character, the scenario also featured recurring Final Fantasy character Gilgamesh. Following his defeat by Ravus Nox Fleuret, Gladiolus leaves the party to grow his strength under Cor Leonis' guidance while challenging Gilgamesh. "Episode Prompto" was released on June 27; featuring Prompto as a playable character and taking place during a late-game narrative gap while Prompto left the party, the gameplay shifts towards third-person shooting and stealth-based mechanics. "Episode Ignis" was released on December 13; set following a key story event, the episode follows Ignis as he teams up with supporting character Ravus Nox Fleuret to protect Noctis. "Episode Ignis" was planned to be the last installment of post-release DLC. Due to popular demand, the team decided to extend DLC support into 2018, focusing on content to expand character stories and the world's lore.
"Episode Ardyn" will be released on March 26, 2019. A short anime feature titled Episode Ardyn Prologue, detailing Ardyn's original fall, was released on February 12. Set thirty years prior to the main game, "Episode Ardyn" details how Ardyn was found by Niflheim and began his plot of revenge against the Lucis bloodline. Planning for "Episode Ardyn" originated in Episode Ardyn Prologue, which was decided upon following a 2017 pole about which character should receive additional content. At that point, DLC was scheduled to end with "Episode Ignis", so an anime was chosen as its format. The anime short was produced by Satelight under Square Enix's supervision. Once the decition was made to continue the DLC, they decided to further explore Ardyn's backstory in a playable form. According to its lead staff, the aim was to show more emotion in Ardyn. More acrobatic gameplay from "Episode Ignis" was incorporated into "Episode Ardyn". "Episode Ardyn" will mark the end of post-release support for Final Fantasy XV.
"Episode Ardyn" was to be part of a four-episode scenario dubbed The Dawn of the Future, with three episodes focusing on Noctis, Lunafreya and supporting character Aranea. The Dawn of the Future was to expand upon the base narrative and offer a new scenario where the group defy their predetermined fates to create an ideal future. Due to Tabata's decision to leave and subsequence changes within the development team, all but "Episode Ardyn" were cancelled in November of that year. Despite their cancellation, Square Enix were looking into alternative ways of releasing their planned scenario.
The scrapped content was turned into a novel titled Final Fantasy XV -The Dawn of the Future-. Releasing in Japan on April 25, The novel will detail events from the prespective of Ardyn, Aranea, Lunafreya and Noctis which will lead to an alternate fate. The novel was written by Emi Nagashima, who had written supplementary materials for Final Fantasy XIII and Nier Automata, based on materials provided by the Final Fantasy XV development team. An English version of the novel is in production.
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