Thought dump: And then there were Fifteen

So, it’s fifteen, then. Final Fantasy Versus XIII is dead - long live Final Fantasy XV.

At Sony’s blistering E3 2013 press conference today Square Enix used a video message to confirm to the world that the long-awaited, much-delayed third entry in the Final Fantasy XIII series had been re-tooled, brought bang up to date with modern next-generation hardware with a new roman numeral to match; Tetsuya Nomura’s baby is no longer a mere spin-off, but now is the face of the Final Fantasy brand going forwards.

It's been a long wait, but Noctis is about to finally get his turn.

It all makes perfect sense, really - Versus was always an incredibly ambitious project with a scope that matched that of the ‘proper’ Final Fantasy XIII.

Its status as a poorly-titled spin-off was always one that left me a little perplexed, and many saw the name change coming - even if Square Enix made the amusing decision to fake-out know-it-all fans with a Versus XIII title card that shattered into the true, final title of the game.

To be honest, I’ve been down on Final Fantasy Versus XIII for a while. Putting aside the seemingly nonsensical title (it isn’t a multiplayer game, after all) something about past footage of the game always left me just a little cold.

Most troubling for me was what little that was previously shown of the game’s combat. Coming from the team behind Kingdom Hearts, what I absolutely didn’t want for the Final Fantasy series was action-based combat that mostly involved hammering on the X button with occasional interjections of Triangle - the Dynasty Warriors style combat that Kingdom Hearts attracted many more casual users with. Those games had depth, but at their core and on a basic, casual playthrough they were undoubtedly button mashers.

This isn’t intended as a slight to Kingdom Hearts - the two core games of that series released the best part of a decade ago, and the series has since evolved - but the gameplay in that old Versus trailer looked, to me, stale. A little too much like Kingdom Hearts II. You can check out that trailer, from 2011, below:

It was a game that appeared to live in a bubble of the year when it began development, failing to take much-needed cues from other third person action-oriented titles of the generation. The title may well be an RPG, but a tiny but of Arkham Asylum into third person combat certainly doesn't hurt, as the likes of The Witcher 2 prove. 

That’s what surprised me most of all. More than a visually stunning trailer, the game that is now Final Fantasy XV showed something in what appeared to be real-time gameplay that other, previously released trailers for the game lacked - ambition in that gameplay. Better, it appears to have it in spades.

The game never lacked ambition in certain areas - there was always incredible CG, dazzling artistic direction, an impressive world vision and Yoko Shimomura’s undoubtedly brilliant score - but that old gameplay footage, sans a brief segment with lead Noctis piloting a mech, left me wanting. What I saw from my seat at Sony’s conference today did the opposite.

Noctis moves with a speed that’s more befitting of an action-based game, and dashes from cover to cover in the footage. The camera is drawn in more tightly and more similar to many Western games - such as the aforementioned Arkham Asylum - and sticks closely to Noctis even as he moves. There appears to be Assassin’s Creed and Uncharted-like traversal gameplay, and the very Kingdom Hearts looking HUD is gone.

It’s early days, of course, and these thoughts are all based off a short four-minute video, but I think it all bodes well. Fantastically, even. Not just for Final Fantasy XV, but for Square Enix in general. At a first glimpse this appears to be a monumental do-over and an unprecedented mea culpa from the house that the FF series built.

The Final Fantasy Hironobu Sakaguchi conceived was always about taking the best of the West and infusing it with Eastern development values, from the gameplay elements of Wizardry to the flair of American cinema. Tonight, for the first time in quite some time, I feel something from the series embodied that again.

I really hope they don’t screw this up. There's questions about the deeper intricacies of the gameplay and just how much longer this will take to come out, of course - but I am damn intrigued and excited to learn more. Excitement is something I've come to not associate with Final Fantasy as much as I used to, and so I have to say I'm pretty buzzed. 

Tomorrow morning, I go to see Square Enix’s Shinji Hashimoto, Producer of the game, explain more. We’ll also get to ask him some questions. If you have any burning ones, drop them in the comments below. What are your hopes and dreams for Final Fantasy XV and beyond? We’d love to know that, too.

One more time, here's the new trailer: