Recently appointed Final Fantasy XV Director Hajime Tabata finds himself in the spotlight this week after inheriting the job from longtime Square Enix Designer/Director Tetsuya Nomura. Square Enix claimed earlier that Kingdom Hearts III was still years away with Nomura scheduled to direct both, so it isn’t known just yet if Nomura left on his own accord or was asked to by Square Enix for the sake of efficiency.
Either way, Hajime Tabata has landed himself the job of wrapping up a game that has effectively been in development for eight years, and depending on if he can pull it all together could make or break his career in the video game industry. It’s not as if he is jumping in blind though. Tabata’s Final Fantasy Type-0 team has been working with the Final Fantasy XV team since 2012 after ex-CEO Yoichi Wada ordered the transfer. This was roughly the time the game internally changed from Final Fantasy XIII Versus to Final Fantasy XV.
A series of interviews collected by Gematsu shares Tabata’s thoughts on his gradual promotion to Final Fantasy XV’s, where development is currently, and how he intends to push forward.
“I joined the project about two years ago, and around that time, we changed platforms,” Tabata said in an interview with Kotaku.
“We re-examined Final Fantasy XV‘s development structure. We had the gameplay team, the cinematics or CG team, and the game engine team. And we finally merged them all together to work on this game. I think we can deliver the best that Square Enix has to offer.”
While many will point to the eight year development cycle as a handicap it must overcome, Tabata insists that the game in its current form has changed greatly from the days back when it was Final Fantasy XIII Versus. At the same time, he wants to keep Nomura’s vision alive, and the two sat down to make sure it lives up to what Nomura originally wanted to make.
“This is not the exact same game. The director is different, and the platform was switched to the current gen. And because the platform has changed, there were things we had to re-evaluate, like what we can and cannot do or even what we have to do. The various circumstances are different. I wanted to make sure that characters, like Noctis, that are so important to Nomura, are maintained in the best possible way.”
How far along is development of the game, though? Even after eight years, Tabata claims there is still plenty of work to be done before Final Fantasy XV hits a launch Square Enix would like to hit next year. Stating in an interview with Game Informer, he says that development is roughly 50 percent finished.
“In terms of development, about 50 to 60 percent of the game is complete.We kind of started from the beginning of the game, so the first part is more complete than the others.”
He would later emphasize that the figure means 50 percent finished from when he first joined back in 2012, not 50 percent finished from Final Fantasy XIII Versus‘ reveal back in 2006. Remember, it’s an entirely new game.
Tabata leads a team of 200-300 employees, wanting to keep it relatively smaller than the average 1,000 man teams spread throughout several countries like an Assassin’s Creed game. Following the extended development period of Final Fantasy XIII, Square Enix has really learned how to cut down on man hours and efficiently develop a solid game as seen in Final Fantasy XIII-2 and Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII.
It is this same new system they are employing with Final Fantasy XV.
As for the demo that is scheduled to be launched on March 17th as a pack in with Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, Tabata says that the graphics should be about 80 percent of where he wants them to be. He is currently 70 percent finished with finalizing the graphics, so he has to nail that 10 percent between now and next spring.
Tabata has been on a media blitz ever since the big reveal of his new job title. Gematsu‘s collection of interviews includes gameplay ideas, combat, the extent of the open world, the motivation behind the characters, and the motions you are suppose to feel towards them.
He doesn’t exactly find himself in unknown territory either at Square Enix. Final Fantasy XV is the third game in the series to swap directors halfway through development over the last ten years. SaGa creator Akitoshi Kawazu took over for Tactics Ogre creator Yasumi Matsuno after he resigned from Final Fantasy XII for health reasons, and unknown game developer Naoki Yoshida reigned in the troubled Final Fantasy XIV Online to make Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn.
In both of those situations, the games turned out just fine. Hajime Tabata has the experience with three major handheld games under his belt, The 3rd Birthday, Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, and Final Fantasy Type-0, and he wants to make sure that his jump to consoles makes a lot of noise.
“If we don’t do something that people think is amazing, it’s meaningless.”
Tabata shares the anxiety felt by a lot of JRPG fans that big-budget AAA RPGs might not have a future in the video game world. Their budgets are too high, their mechanics are too complicated, and they are too deep and impenetrable for the growing casual audience. Hopefully, Final Fantasy XV can hit that mark that same balance that made Skyrim such a huge success and secure the JRPG another decade or so of safety on home consoles.
If it can’t do it, what other series possibly can?
Hajime Tabata’s other game in development, Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, will be released on March 17th for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. It will come with a four hour demo of Final Fantasy XV. Once he wraps up development, he says that he would love to do a follow up to Final Fantasy Type-1st on next-gen consoles. He believes with all he has learned, he could develop it relatively quickly.