If, like me, your favourite part of Final Fantasy 15 was the mind-boggling Pitioss Ruins, here is a fun fact: It was designed by one person, according to director Hajime Tabata.
Speaking with me in Seattle at PAX West last weekend, Tabata said he was surprised when I told him that I loved the Pitioss Ruins, a puzzle-platforming dungeon that feels like nothing else in Final Fantasy 15. "You're a little bit different from others for liking that dungeon," he said, speaking through a translator. Then he laughed. "I couldn't clear it."
To design the Pitioss Ruins — which was originally intended to be a more standard endgame dungeon — Tabata recruited an artist named Nakamura, who had previously worked on textures for Final Fantasy 15. "The way he thinks is just so unique, that he has his own world, so to speak," Tabata said. "We felt like that final dungeon would be great if it was something unexpected... And so we allowed that guy to run free with his ideas and create the dungeon as he liked."
To illustrate the depths of Nakamura's bizarre creativity, Tabata explained that when they were originally brainstorming concepts for the summon Ramuh, Nakamura had a unique suggestion. First you'd see a set of clouds, and then they'd break open, and Ramuh's face would start descending from the sky and make its way toward you. "We weren't sure how he'd end up attacking, if that's how he appeared," Tabata said. "Ultimately we didn't go with that idea, obviously, and we have Ramuh as he is now. But that's how extreme [Nakamura's] creativity was."
While playing through the Pitioss Ruins, which is only accessible once you've completed the game, you have to execute precise platforming jumps and solve some difficult puzzles. There's no combat, and in fact your three party members stay outside while you go through the dungeon. Noctis has to handle it all by himself, which makes for some beautiful moments as you jump through darkness and dodge dangerous obstacles that can't be found anywhere else in the game. Not everyone loves it — Final Fantasy 15's controls were not exactly designed for platforming — but I found it incredible.
At one point, however, Tabata and his team almost made it normal. "There were discussions about aligning the direction of the dungeon with some of the others in the game," he said. "That said, when you really think back on Final Fantasy, it's never been measured by one angle or one direction, so to speak. There's been a variety of approaches and methods. And that's how the creators have always worked together to develop the series. And so ultimately they just decided that this may be another kind of offering within the game itself. And it just might be alright."
When I asked, Tabata shot down that one bonkers theory about Pitioss Ruins' story, adding that there are aspects of Final Fantasy 15's background lore that will be explained in future downloadable content. He was amused when I told him they should add more platformer dungeons to the game. "I'm relieved to hear that you liked the dungeon," Tabata said.
Kudos, Nakamura. Congratulations on designing my favourite part of Final Fantasy 15.