The development history of Final Fantasy XV has been... troubled, to say the least.
From switching consoles and changing directors to a secret Final Fantasy game that was being
developed by a Western company.
It’s finally here but the big question is: what took so long?
It’s no secret that the development of Final Fantasy XV has take a long time.
10 years now, to be exact.
A change in title, story, directors, engines, consoles and hierarchy would put even the
most efficient game company to the test.
Square Enix, however, is not the most efficient game company.
Far from it.
These changes resulted in delays all the way up to August 2016, when it was announced that
the release date was being pushed back, yet again.
This game has switched so many things at so many different times that it should be a launch
title for the Nintendo Switch.
How cool would that be?
Square Enix’s previous main entry into the franchise, Final Fantasy 13, failed to capture
the hearts of its core audience.
Unfortunately for Square Enix, they had 2 other games planned for release around that
title (aside from the direct sequels).
FF Versus 13 was one of these projects.
Up and coming director Tetsuya Nomura, who made a name for himself after the surprising
success of Kingdom Hearts, was chosen to be the director in 2006.
Nomura is incredibly ambitious.
He immediately set out to make something big and new, including an emotional depth that
did not exist in other Final Fantasy games.
This being only a spin-off, he had the freedom to make it happen.
He got his core Kingdom Hearts team together and they got to work.
By 2010, after FFXIII had come out, Square started to rethink their strategy.
Interest in the Final Fantasy franchise has been waning for more than a decade now, and
after Final Fantasy XIV was released to awful reviews, they knew that they needed something
special to revive the name.
It was clear that, while Final Fantasy XIII was reviewed well and sold over 6 million
copies, it was not the masterpiece they had intended it to be.
After renaming FF Agito XIII to FF Type-0, the question then became, “What to do with
It had a moldable story that could be changed into a standalone game, if need be.
Square had on and off talked about making it the next Final Fantasy game, though nothing
was decided on for sure.
It remained a spin-off game for the next several years.
Development started on the Crystal Tools game engine for the PS3.
This became a problem when everything had to be migrated over to their new Luminous
Studio engine for the PS4.
To do this, they used DirectX 11 software.
This meant that they wouldn’t have to compromise on quality when porting the game to other
systems, such as the X Box One.
Switching consoles and game engines is no easy task, but with the life of the PS3 shortening,
and no end in sight for the project, they had no other choice.
French gaming publication Gamekyo reported that Nomura had plans to make Versus XIII
into a trilogy.
He and his team constantly ran into problems that nobody knew how to solve as he continued
to expand the project, as opposed to scaling back and focusing on one specific story.
The trailers we kept seeing were mostly conceptual, and hadn’t yet been implemented into the
They were awesome scenes, for sure, but there was little substance to accompany the flashy
It seems that Square executives were very aware of the trouble Nomura was having, but
also the incredible potential his ideas had.
They continued to let Nomura have his way until December of 2012.
It was here that several big decisions were made.
It was finally decided that the game would abandon the XIII title and become the XVth
main entry into the Final Fantasy Series.
Given the new direction this game would take, executives at Square Enix began to feel uneasy
about having Tetsuya Nomura direct what had become such an enormous project.
In fact, one day in December, Nomura charged into Square’s offices with the brilliant
idea that FFXV could become a musical.
Yeah, you heard that right.
He had just seen Les Miserables, which came out in Japan on December 21st, 2012.
Talk about Dark History… a musical FF is about as dark as it gets.
It’s unclear if this impacted Square Enix’s decision to replace him as the director or
not, but we know one thing for sure.
In that same month Hajime Tabata, who would eventually take over completely, was brought
on to co-direct the project.
Changing directors, as well as which system and engine the game was going to run on, set
the project back a ways.
Not only was Hajime Tabata added to the team, but writer Kazushige Nojima and producer Yoshinori
Kitase were taken off.
Things were changing, and though Tabata tried to stay true to the initial vision, much of
what Nomura had originally intended did not survive the restructuring.
Tabata also reshaped the entire hierarchy of the development team, putting everyone
on equal footing.
This was a big deal, especially for a Japanese company.
Hierarchy is heavily ingrained in the Japanese culture, so many of the senior developers
didn’t take kindly to this new work format.
Ultimately, Tabata feels it was the right decision that has spawned greater creativity
among the teams.
Final Fantasy Disease, as Tabata calls it, is a real thing.
When a video game company has an IP that is deemed their most valuable, the employees
who work on it feel like they’re the top dogs in the company.
And they’re right, to an extent.
The problem is, when these top employees have their own ideas about what Final Fantasy is,
and what a Final Fantasy game ought to have in it.
When developers have such strong opinions, they begin to reject new or original ideas
on the basis that it’s not “good for the series”.
Tabata wanted to break away from this line of thinking, which he felt has plagued
the more recent Final Fantasy titles.
Collaborations have increasingly become a bigger part of Square Enix’s strategies.
They struck a deal with Avalanche Studios, creators of Just Cause, to work together on
the Airships for FFXV.
Square Enix ended up talking to them, learning how they worked around certain issues, and
implementing it themselves.
Square would have had a difficult time implementing Avalanche’s actual software this far into
So the formal collaboration was called off after Square Enix got the information they
No word on how Avalanche felt about the way that whole deal went down.
Speaking of collaborations with other companies I actually want to take a break here to talk
about two western companies who have been directly involved in making Final Fantasy
One, you may have heard of.
The other, is only now being revealed.
I’ll start with the company Grin, who developed a spin-off game to Final Fantasy XII called
It had been coming along nicely, with some beautiful concept art.
Yet, after a year or two, Square Enix pulled their funding and cancelled the project.
The company went out of business as a direct result, with the CEO citing a “betrayal”
from Square Enix.
Now, what does a canceled FFXII spin-off have to do with FFXV?
Well, you’re about to find out.
What happened with Grin was unfortunate, but worse for Square, it was public.
Square Enix wanted to avoid the bad press again, if at all possible.
If they owned the company, they could keep a lid on this sort of stuff.
In 2009, the year that Grin filed for bankruptcy, Square Enix bought Eidos Interactive.
As Square was still unsure about the direction FFXV should go, they had an idea.
How about letting a western company make a main-line FF game?
They could then market it as the first western developed FF.
This would likely have been FFXV, as what is now called XV was still Versus XIII at
At this point, I would like to introduce you all to Project W.
FFXIII Lightning Returns director Yuji Abe stated in 2013 that Eidos could possibly develop
a Final Fantasy game in the future.
What he did not mention was that Eidos had been developing a main-line Final Fantasy
game for years.
According to an anonymous source of ours with knowledge of the project, Project W was going
to be a different kind of Final Fantasy.
The studio that made Deus Ex was deemed more than qualified for the task, and Eidos Montreal
started to develop, in secret, a Final Fantasy game.
The artwork you are now seeing is not from that game, but is close to the original concept
A great deal of the game was to take place in outer space, but not the vacuum of space
we know it to be.
Instead, characters could sail airships into an outer space full of detail; shapes, colors,
patterns, abstract geometry, and clouds, with planets interspersed throughout.
The artwork was mesmerizing, and the game seemed to go into a fantasy world that is
very, very far removed from reality.
It was so extensive that even Weta Digital, the VFX company behind The Lord of The Rings,
was involved in conceptualizing this new Final Fantasy world.
Then, in 2013, Square canned the entire thing.
The whole project disappeared, never to be heard of again.
The General Manager and Founder of Eidos Montreal resigned shortly after the project was canceled,
citing irreconcilable differences with Square Enix; though it’s unknown if his resignation
had anything to do with Square’s handling of Project W. Final Fantasy XV, as we now
know it, is to be an emotionally deep game; “a fantasy based in reality”, as Nomura
calls it; though, I can’t help but wonder what Final Fantasy XV would have been like
if Eidos had been allowed to follow through on their project.
Who knows, maybe it’ll get picked up again, and Square Enix can finally have their aptly
marketed “western developed Final Fantasy.”
Until then, we’ll just have to wait.
Square made the decision that FF Versus XIII would become Final Fantasy XV, instead of
the Eidos developed Project W, and began moving forward.
The path ahead, though much clearer now, still had a few more hurdles to overcome.
The story was reworked, some characters were taken away, while others were added.
The game missed it’s September 2016 release date, electing instead to come out in November
in order to fix a few problems that came up late in development.
Their media mix approach, including phone games, an Anime series and a feature film,
shows that they’re going all in on this world.
This truly could be the next great Final Fantasy game.
With the turbulent history of this game’s development, it’s no wonder it took 10 years
Even as early as December, 2012, Square was still unsure which direction Final Fantasy
XV should take.
Whether to appeal to a western audience, allowing a western company the opportunity, or to turn
an earlier spin-off into a standalone title.
Not just any title, mind you.
This is to be the Final Fantasy that brings the IP back to the forefront of the gaming
The road to this point has been rocky, to say the least, but after all the delays, changes
and restructuring as a result of this game, Square Enix is finally set for the release
of their next masterpiece.
Here’s to Final Fantasy XV, and whatever else the future has in store for the Final