Taking advantage of the Paris Games Week, Square Enix France invited Hajime Tabata to make the trip from Japan to present to the press and players a long-awaited game: Final Fantasy Type-0 HD. Or rather, two long-awaited games, since he also shared the latest news about Final Fantasy XV. We collaborated with the top class French community sites, Final Fantasy World & Final Fantasy Ring, to bring you a new interview with the Final Fantasy XV / Type-0 HD director.
Having met the designer for an interview, they nevertheless concentrate on the first, even if the new numbered episode is never far from the discussion. They were able to learn a little more about the development of this remaster and the future ambitions of Hajime Tabata. The latter, as smiling as he was talkative, seemed delighted to be able to speak directly to fans.
Tabata-san, in 10 years working at Square Enix, you have developed numerous mobile and handheld titles. How different was it to approach this title as a game for home consoles?
Hajime Tabata: Obviously, mobile game development is designed for personal devices. You keep them on you and you play on your own free time, or in your room where no one else is watching. It’s really a private experience. The way I assume people are going to play this game on a home console, though, is in a room with other people around, watching, your family for example. In that case, I’m really concentrating on a game that might look interesting and gives enjoyment to the people who are watching you play.
Another point we are really thinking about is the distance from which you are going to view the game. With mobile and portable games, you are going to look at it from a very short distance, while with a home console game, you are going to look at it from a longer distance. The gameplay itself doesn’t change, but the way your eyes process information on the screen is going to be different depending on the distance. That is also something we need to take a lot of care of when we design a game.
But since this is the first time in a long time that I’ve done a home console game, and not a portable one, I’ve realized that it’s a lot easier to get immersed into the game at a very short distance. But when looking at a TV screen, you see a lot more information, so I think it’s very important that we use very clever ways to try and improve that immersion.
So would you say that making Type-0 for the PSP originally was… maybe a “mistake”? And the true experience should have been on home consoles?
Tabata: (laughs) Maybe that might be true! But when I started developing it, I didn’t realize that. What you said might be true now, but when I first approached the development, what I really wanted to do was to create a new, revolutionary kind of Final Fantasy game, something very different from everything that was on the PSP at the time. For the PSP, I thought it would be good to have something new with the FF name on it. Also, when we started development on the game, my personal team didn’t have a home console environment in place, so it would have been quite a difficult decision to make it on the PS3 for example. We had mostly experience with PSP games. That influenced the decision a lot!
Final Fantasy Type-0 HD is the direct port from the PSP title, but have you been tempted to make major changes when porting it to home consoles?
Tabata: The first thing that we really decided about was that we wanted to remaster it completely to the PS4 and Xbox One, because these are consoles that are very popular with Western gamers. It’s a very easy environment for Western players to enjoy the game. There was also a lot of demand from the community to have it localized and released in Europe and America, so we obviously wanted to respond to that and give them the original game experience that they didn’t enjoy in their language before, and do it as close as possible to the original.
But as we started remastering it, we just thought: we should rather remake it! And we started to want to change everything. I think that’s a normal thought for a game developer to have. (laughs) The things I really wanted to do was to expand the play area, so you can fight in a lot wider and open areas. I wanted to include a cover mechanic as well, maybe also change the storytelling, to tell the story in a slightly different way. But then I really came to think, if we change that, we’d just turn it into a completely different game in the end. So I think it was probably a good idea to hold ourselves back and left it pretty much as the original was.
I think the original Type-0 is a very good game. I’m really excited for players to play that game on a TV screen, on a new scale, and to get the game played by American and European users. That’s the first thing: I just wanted them to enjoy the game in its original state. Having said that, all the ideas that I had, that I wanted to change Type-0 with, I’m going to try to put them in FFXV. Hopefully people can see it as a set of two games: the original and the new version with all the stuff I wanted to bring. (laughs)
Graphics have been remastered in HD, but how about the soundtrack?
Tabata: We have put a lot of effort remastering the sound as well. The songs will be remastered and redone so they have a real presence, and sound good on TV speakers, which are different from portable speakers. Also, all the sound effects and the environmental sounds that you hear in the game have been tweaked and adjusted, so they sound really well on a TV.
Especially, the deeper sounds didn’t come out so well on PSP speakers and you could barely hear them. With the television speakers, you get a lot bigger range of sounds. You can get a lot more impact and breadth from the sound on television speakers.
In 2011, it was discovered that Square Enix trademarked titles from Final Fantasy Type-1 to Type-10. Were you really planning to make multiple sequels to the game? Is this still planned?
Tabata: (laughs) There’s no concrete plan, but I do want to make them, yes. The thing about Type-0 is that we really tried to make a new type of Final Fantasy, to expand a lot in terms of breadth, to change the storytelling and how you play the game. Just a new kind of experience for a Final Fantasy game. Square Enix a company that has agreed to do a game like that, but if the fans can also appreciate and support it, and if we had a real success here, we’d be able to do Type-1, or a similar game with the same new ideas and new kind of storytelling.
What I wanted to do with Type-0 was to create a RPG where you can emotionally feel the pain of the characters in the game, the excitement and the chill running down your spine when you are in battle, fighting for your life. Really get that emotional impact into a Final Fantasy game. I don’t think other titles in the series had that to that degree. And to make that as real and as fresh as possible, it would be a very good idea to put it on a high-end home console, to really enhance that emotional experience.
A FFXV playable demo will be available with Final Fantasy Type-0 HD. Are these two titles still strongly bound to the Fabula Nova Crystallis myth, FFXV specially, ever since so many changes happened since 2006?
Tabata: For Type-0, when it first started production, there wasn’t actually anything to do with the crystal legend, the Fabula Nova Crystallis, but after we finished the preproduction stage, then we put the crystal legend into the game. So it’s now quite heavily wound into the story and the world. But in the start, it wasn’t.
Talking about XV, when I joined the project, it was just at the point that we changed over from calling it Versus XIII to XV. And at that point, the world development and building had gone up until that time. There was a lot of crystal mythology mixed in, it was definitely part of the world. But when I came to be in charge of the project, we did a sorting through all the elements, the stuff that had to be in there for the story, and the stuff to take out or move away from. But one of the main things I wanted to try was to make sure you weren’t assaulted by the very specialist terminology used in the crystal legend straight away, so you don’t have to play Type-0 or any of the XIII games to enjoy XV. You won’t have to understand complicated concepts to get into. That was one of the main things I did that maybe moved slightly away from the mythology. But it’s still very much part of the DNA of the game and the game story. But there are no l’Cie for example in the game, unlike Type-0 and XIII.
Final Fantasy Type-0 features a complex story about war, territorial conquest and political betrayals. What are the works or events that inspired you when creating the scenario?
Tabata: Hmmm… There isn’t any specific historical event or anything that inspired the story. I’m very much a big fan of history. I like watching history channels, I’m very interested in historical events and things like that. It’s the historical knowledge that I’ve got and built up over my life. A lot of that is coming out in the game.
When you compare the PSP graphics to the HD version, I feel the overall art direction is not as “red” as originally. Maybe more “blue-ish”. Was this deliberate?
Tabata: It’s a deliberate decision! It’s very much a physics-based game, very realistic, with a solid environment, so we tried to achieve a very photorealistic kind of image. When I was doing the remaster for Type-0, I wanted the game visuals to be closer to the style that we’re using in XV. Particularly the environments, to make them more fitting to the story. We tried to change it from a fictionalized style to something more photorealistic.
The other thing, of course, is the change in the screen size and resolution. Compared to the PSP, you have a lot more breadth of color on a television screen, especially an HD screen. The contrasts are a lot more distinct. I was thinking we would have to change the breadth to encompass that, so we have a lot more variation in the color.
When we were looking at the results, we didn’t think that it was that noticeable. But clearly you’ve noticed it! Even some of the guys in the development team didn’t notice it. Guys working on it didn’t see that.
Even Yusuke Naora, the art director?
Tabata: I approached Mr. Naora and asked him to do these changes. He came back to me and said no one would actually notice it, and no one in the development team would notice what had happened. But it turns out some people out there have seen it. When he hears that you noticed that, he’s going to be very happy.
This port is called Type-0 HD, but the mobile and PS Vita games are called Agito. Can you explain these changes and aren’t you afraid this would confuse players?
Tabata: The mobile title was originally called Agito. But then, as we decided to change the direction of the development, we really thought that it would be better to show it was part of a new series, and we called it Type-0. Having said that, we quite liked the name Agito as well, and we had a lot of memories and respect for that name, so we decided that we’d like to use that in some way. That’s why they were both put together in the end.
Our idea to avoid people getting confused by all these different names it that we first want people to get aware of this Type-0 brand. In Japan, the first game released was Type-0. After that, people came to recognize that name. Then, we could use a different name for the spin-off title because people are already aware of it. They get time to get used to the title of the series and see it’s a new version. I think in Europe it’s going to follow the same pattern. Releasing the HD version of Type-0 first, so people get familiar with that and understand this is the Type-0 series, and after that, if we release Agito here, that will have the separate name as well. We think that way it would be easier for people to understand.
Tabata: And now, there’s something I want to ask you. If there is something the community wants from Final Fantasy, or wants to see in Final Fantasy, I really want to know. If there’s anything you want to tell me, I want to know. Anything.
FFWorld: Well, I have a very personal vision of Final Fantasy, which I don’t care that much about the recurring elements. I mean, if they are here, it’s great, but what really matters is always looking forward and trying to reinvent the RPG genre. Actually, my idea is that we don’t care about being a RPG anymore. Let’s say it’s an exciting big adventure, and just enjoy it. (Square Portal agrees)
Tabata: I think you are very close to what I think.
FFWorld: It’s actually what I’m expecting from Final Fantasy XV. A big adventure, not something that has to comply with every classic RPG standard.
Tabata: Hearing your comment, I’m feeling very confident in what I’m planning to do. Thank you for that!
FFWorld: My opinion might not be very commonplace, though.
Tabata: I agree with you completely though. What about you?
FFRing: We share the same opinion.
Tabata: I was afraid you would say the opposite. I wouldn’t know what to say. (laughs)
FFRing: The situation is different with Type-0 because this game never came out in Europe. But I think remaking games is not really important. We have been hearing people asking for a FFVII remake over and over again. Rather, we want new adventures, stories and experiences. And this is what you seem to be doing with your games. (Square Portal agrees)
Tabata: By making something completely new, maybe people will start to understand the idea behind remakes a bit more. There would be no point in making just remakes. We need new stuff too.
Once again a big thank you to Final Fantasy World and Final Fantasy Rings for collaborating with us to bring this special interview for the English audience exclusively through Square Portal. Final Fantasy Type-0 HD will be available March 17 in North America, March 19 in Japan and March 20 in Europe.
Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae is bundle with the game as a download code. More details on both games will be coming this December when the Jump Festa starts on 20th December.