Square Enix’s Final Fantasy games have always challenged what’s possible in role playing games. Over its 30 year history, this series’ scale, visuals and storytelling have continued to push the boundaries.
The latest game, out now on iOS, is Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition. Developed alongside the console version of Final Fantasy XV, it preserves the storytelling and overall themes of the original game, but introduces intuitive controls and reworked character design. It’s an adventure game on an epic scale; you’re cast as the hero Noctis, who journeys across the vast expanses of earth-like setting Eos with your three buddies Gladiolus, Ignis and Prompto to retrieve a stolen crystal.
Final Fantasy X Vdirector Hajime Tabata tells us that his team wanted to bring the game to mobile devices from as far back as 2013. ”The biggest reason is because iPhone is the hardware that I use the most throughout the day, and it’s also the most common device for us,” he tells us.
The first thing I asked the development team was to make the gameplay as stress-free as possible. If you try doing everything the original did on iPhone, it doesn’t necessarily translate to a fun experience.”
The team discussed which elements of the game to keep, and which to drop or change. “The first thing we did was to automate the battles,” says Tabata. The game is about traveling with your close friends, and that remains unchanged. In Final Fantasy XV, each battle becomes a memory of your journey. As long as we can accomplish that within the game, we thought automating the battles would not be a problem.”
The team also had to think carefully about making the game work naturally with a touch interface, as well as adjusting the game’s visual style.
We actually tested the game using a low polygon art style similar to Final Fantasy VII,” explains Tabata. ”That art style might satisfy existing Final Fantasy fans, but we weren’t sure if it would be received well among new players. So we decided to create another art style better suited for younger audience, much closer to the final version.”
The studio even tested both styles with different demographics, and found that people in their teens and 20s preferred the approach you see on the game today. ”The team at HQ who oversaw the project was fairly experienced with the franchise; however, the team members that worked on the initial prototyping were all in their 20s,” says Tabata. ”If you asked them what their favourite gaming device was, they would say iPhone.”
Square Enix intentionally built the team around these younger creators, who were more skilled at simplifying complex mechanics. ”In console gaming, we tend to keep adding game mechanics to maximise the final experience,” says Tabata. ”However, they tend to design by distilling the experience. They carefully considered what the right experience would be for the platform, and not just waterdown the original.”
The young team behind Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition have produced something quite remarkable here – a game that takes in the scale and ambition of the console games, but one that also works beautifully on iPhone and iPad.