When Yoshinori Kitase talks about the future of Final Fantasy, you probably want to listen. The veteran producer, widely considered the successor to former Square Enix honcho Hironobu Sakaguchi, is one of the shepherds of the iconic role-playing game series. And he's looking to take some lessons from the world of mobile gaming — namely, player feedback.
Mobius Final Fantasy
Kitase was in Seattle earlier this month to promote Mobius Final Fantasy, an episodic mobile game that has a loyal, dedicated fanbase. But before he started producing that game, Kitase spent over 20 years in console development, directing classics such as Final Fantasy 6 and Final Fantasy 7, and supervising just about every Final Fantasy game in recent memory. So I was curious: What has he learned from making mobile games that he wants to bring over to console Final Fantasy?
"When we release console games, it takes about two to three years to develop one title," Kitase told me, speaking through a translator. "So when we want to incorporate user feedback that we received on our previous title, we have to wait two to three years to show that we have listened. But for the mobile title, we actually can update every month, and so we can incorporate user feedback really quickly. Being able to implement user feedback and get reactions keeps our motivation going."
Moving forward, Kitase said, he wants to take a similar approach for console games. Does that mean Final Fantasy will follow the now-ubiquitous "games-as-a-service" model? Will Final Fantasy 16 launch on Early Access? Kitase wouldn't get into specifics. "How to do that with a console game is another question that I would have to think of, but I do want to try to be able to have that conversation and maybe somehow get feedback while developing a console game in the future," he said.
Final Fantasy 15 took an approach like that, with director Hajime Tabata and his team absorbing feedback from players on the game's various demos, Episode Duscae and Platinum, both of which came out in the months before FF15 launched. Even after Final Fantasy 15 went live, Tabata released a series of patches and updates that changed, among other things, the much-derided Chapter 13. So it isn't hard to imagine a Final Fantasy 16 that takes things even further.
With that notion of user feedback in mind, I brought up the iOS and Steam versions of Final Fantasy 5 and Final Fantasy 6, which are, to put it delicately, not pretty. Although Japanese players seem fine with the games' new art, Western fans have complained that there is no feasible way to play the better SNES or GBA versions of FF5 and FF6 on today's consoles. I asked if Kitase would consider putting the original versions of both games on modern platforms, and he appeared surprised at the request.
"I am actually curious to know — I believe the port version, the one you can get right now, does use the more brushed up artwork that's a little bit more refined," Kitase said. "Do fans want to see the older version that's not as refined? Is that the sentiment?"
"Yes," I said, explaining that Western gamers have not reacted positively to the iOS and Steam versions of Final Fantasy 5 and Final Fantasy 6.
"Understood," Kitase said. "I'll keep that in mind."
Another of Kitase's beliefs, in the wake of Mobius Final Fantasy, is that mobile and console gaming will continue to thrive in parallel. Despite the meteoric rise of smartphones in Japan, Kitase sees Final Fantasy lasting on consoles for quite some time to come. "I've always wanted Final Fantasy to be a title that would live in the memory of players as a set with new consoles," Kitase said. "Whenever a new console is released, I want a memory of Final Fantasy to be attached with it."
That's another part of Final Fantasy's future. Through ups, downs, and scantily clad chocobo ladies, Final Fantasy needs to be memorable, and as long as Yoshinori Kitase is in charge, that will be one of Square's goals for the series.
"I want Final Fantasy to be there when you look back at your past, and you look back at your gaming lifestyle, that whenever you feel that the way you play games has changed, that Final Fantasy will always be there," Kitase said. "It will be a game you remember along with that change in your life."