How do you feel personally about the feedback you received after releasing Final Fantasy XIII?
We made Final Fantasy XIII a very story driven title, in consequence we understand lots of users thought that the gameplay was quite linear at places, and they would have liked to have seen more opportunity for exploration. So we took that view fully on board, in order to make Final Fantasy XIII-2 the kind of game they would be satisfied with.
Given the increasing development costs of games such as Final Fantasy, have you given a ready made engine any consideration for your next project, such as Unreal Engine, for instance?
One of my colleagues at Square Enix has used Unreal Engine, and his post mortem analysis on Unreal Engine says it's a great engine, but it does take a lot of customisation. So all in all it takes much the same effort, the same cost. I think Unreal Engine would be better suited to games such as a FPS, but with an RPG we would have to adapt it to lots of different types of needs. So I think it doesn't necessarily allow us to cut down on costs really.
The hero of Final Fantasy XIII-2, Noel Kreiss, seems like a confident and light-hearted character. Very different from say a Cloud or a Squall, or for that matter a hardened warrior such as Lightning. What was your reasons for designing him in this way?
Lightning was the main character in Final Fantasy XIII and she was a very cool and strong minded girl, who didn't show much emotion. For Final Fantasy XIII-2 we wanted to add a male character on top of Serah, and Noel, he looks quite mainstream and boyish type of character, but I want him to be a strong character in a different way compared to Lightning. And so we came up with this character.
How would you say he is strong in a different if you'd care to elaborate?
Let's look at the character of Final Fantasy XIII-2. Serah is Lightning's younger sister and in the beginning of the story Lightning has disappeared so Serah has to go on a journey to look for her sister. Even though she is very determined to find her sister she's very anxious, very apprehensive, she doesn't know what's going to happen next. So she has to be accompanied by a quite strong male character who can sort of offer her emotional support and who can sometimes lead her in the right direction. So it's that kind of strength.
There was talk of content that had to be cut out of Final Fantasy XIII for various reasons. Did any of that content make its way into Final Fantasy XIII-2?
The unused content issue has been quite badly misinterpreted. Obviously for any game or project you have to come up with lots of ideas and concepts to start with. And some of them made their way into the game, and some of them where just not taken up or deleted or whatever. After finishing Final Fantasy XIII we didn't have any of these ideas in "useful data" as such. We didn't recycle anything we had originally made for Final Fantasy XIII. Even if we had good ideas, some ideas obviously, I mean it's a sequel so lots of things are duplicated - characters, parts of the in-game universe. However, many of the ideas or suggestions we decided not to use in Final Fantasy XIII, rejects if you like, only very few of them are used in Final Fantasy XIII-2.
I've just said some characters and locations are duplicated, but the locations for example, some locations appear in both FFXIII and FFXIII-2, but even if it's the second appearance it has been quite dramatically adjusted or processed. For example, one location in FFXIII is now very wet, wetland it is always raining or it's always covered in snow or something like that. So it's quite dramatically different. None of them have been as I said "recycled".
We noticed that chocobos appear at the completion of an area, to allow you to go back through the level without challenge to a time gate. Was this something you designed with player feedback in mind, or was it just to encourage a bit of exploration after the player completes a mission?
When you visit a particular location for the first time, I'd rather the player didn't use the Chocobo. I want them to explore and walk about to find all sorts of different types of terrains and in-game environments. And then obviously you're meant to find a time gate and go through to the next dimension, but after you've been through this area you might think - "oh there was some area I didn't see in that particular dimension" or "I couldn't quite manage to defeat this boss monster" or even "I think there are more treasure chest to get hold of", maybe you can go back there. But when you explore the same area for the second time, third time you don't want to be hindered by lots of insignificant monsters so in that situation the option of riding a Chocobo is quite useful. So you can explore more thoroughly without having to worry about encountering unwanted monsters.
Offering alternate time lines, and reflecting the changes wrought by you in each stage of the world's history must be time-consuming: how wide-spread are the ripple effects - do styles, buildings, people change?
This is something that we have almost touched on in Chrono Trigger - the time travel issue. In Final Fantasy XIII-2 is not like if you do something in the past that would have a consequence in a future world in small aspects such as treasure chests and small items in the environment - it doesn't really work for that. The main thing, for example, is that at the beginning of the story Lightning is missing and if you don't do something Cocoon will be devastated even further or even the entire universe may be completely destroyed. You have to work on the main story line to avoid this undiserable eventuality from happening. On the big scale you have to take these time travel journeys to prevent these things from happening. We didn't really need to make all these little changes to reflect the consequences.
You are now able to use monsters in combat. Why did you decide to include this and is it a nod to other monster collector series perhaps?
We have experimented with monsters in the party in Final Fantasy X-2 as well. We introduced a new combat system with Final Fantasy XIII, Paradigm Shift, and we were generally quite happy with the brand new battle system, and also it seemed quite well received by our fans as well. We just wanted to make the battles more tactical and in order to achieve that we thought the best way would be to recruit more than 150 types of monsters. Each monster progress in different ways, each come with a different special ability, or finishing attack, whatever you call it. So you can make use of the Paradigm Shift in a more interesting way and your battle tactics will be more varied as well.
The Final Fantasy franchise finds itself in quite a different place than during its hey day on Playstation. Has the series failed to meet the expectations of today's market and can something be done to bring it back to the height of its popularity?
The current generation console, Final Fantasy XIII, was obviously the first game, and personally I think we took a little too long getting it out. When you think of Western triple A titles like Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Assassin's Creed, they seem to work with a lot shorter turnaround - they make a new game in 1-2 years. That is something we need to follow up, because that seems to be the best way to keep our fans interested and attracted to the franchise.
With Final Fantasy XIII we took a long time to complete it, so we learnt a lesson. We were determined to produce Final Fantasy XIII-2 in a short time, actual development took about 1,5 years. And we'll be able to make it available to western fans less than two years after the release of Final Fantasy XIII. Which is okay.
What is the status of the overall Fabula Nova Crystallis project? What's going on with other titles and was Final Fantasy XIII-2 always planned to be a part of it?
Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2 has always been a part of it. And Final Fantasy Type 0 was released last month in Japan, and it seemed to be very well received. We're happy about it. We obviously can't talk about a western release. As far as Final Fantasy XIII Versus goes, we are working very hard on it. I think it's going to be a great game, but we haven't got updated information to release at this point.
Do you have a favourite era and area of the game?
I can't answer your question about era, but I can give you my favourite location in the game it's called Academia. If you have played Final Fantasy XIII you may remember a futuristic city called Eden towards the end of the story, and Academia in FFXIII-2 is more futuristic, more advanced and more impressive. You will see lots of skyscrapers and when it rains you can see the reflections of neon lights in the pavement, that is something that forced us to push the boundaries of the current generation of consoles. Those are the best visuals we are able to create at the moment.