Soon enough Final Fantasy XV will finally be released. After all these years, you might not be able to believe that this game actually exists. We have waited a long – unimaginably long – time for a single video game. Come Nov. 29, Final Fantasy XV will have taken ten years, six months, and twenty-one days from its first announcement to finally see store shelves. Nobody in 2006 had any clue this game would take this long. It has been a crazy decade of silence, waiting, disappointment, and renewed hopes.
But just what went into all ten of Final Fantasy XV‘s years in production? The full story of what went on behind the scenes will probably never be known. A lot must have happened. We can only speculate between Square Enix’s limited statements. We do know that the final game we are getting looks and feels very different from the one first promised ten years ago. It does not even have the same name.
This is the story, therefore, of Square Enix’s public front during this long decade. We fans of Final Fantasy held on to every word Square Enix gave. In the face of years of nothing, we continued on, collecting all the info we could. We hoped that the next E3 or Tokyo Game Show would be the final reveal with a release date. Along the way, we gave up hope quite a few times.
Final Fantasy XV was a joke for years. Fans regarded it as a game that never would be completed. It represented all that was wrong with Final Fantasy. Hopefully, with the release, the wrong will finally be corrected.
As we approach the long-awaited release, let us look back at the long journey to Final Fantasy XV‘s release.
2006: First Reveal
The game that would become Final Fantasy XV was first shown on May 8, 2006 at that year’s E3. The game was then known as “Final Fantasy Versus XIII“, a spin-off of the then upcoming Final Fantasy XIII. Together with a third game for mobile phones, Agito XIII, they would be part of a shared universe known as “Fabula Nova Crystallis.”
The announcement was Square Enix’s contribution to Sony and Microsoft’s big pitch for the Seventh Generation of consoles. Recall, this was the same E3 where Sony embarrassed themselves with “giant enemy crabs” and a $599 price point for the PlayStation 3. Perhaps there was some pressure to show off games that were clearly nowhere near completion, or even really under true production. The Fabula Nova Crystallis project showed there was a big future of the series past Final Fantasy XII. (A game which itself had just escaped a record-breaking period of Development Hell.)
What we did know was that these new games looked awesome. Versus XIII‘s first trailer showed no gameplay, just pre-rendered footage. With vague quotes, an ear-catching score, and preposterous action set in a dark city, the game immediately made people take notice. Square Enix announced that famed Final Fantasy character designer Tetsuya Nomura would direct. The game looked like a darker version of Nomura’s other big series, Kingdom Hearts. Needless to say, this news excited fans to no end.
There was just one tiny problem: That trailer did not come with a release date. That was the first sign of a long, loooong wait to come.
Square Enix had a lot to say about Final Fantasy XIII right from the beginning. We learned about the game’s protagonist, its world, and what their goals were for the battle system. With Versus XIII they were much more closed-lips. We now know that serious development would not begin for years on Versus XIII. But in 2007, the game seemed like it could be just a few years away, or less. Nobody knew the teething problems that Square Enix would have with their PS3 engine, Crystal Tools. That engine alone might have cost several projects years in delays.
Through 2007 the company showed no new Versus XIII trailers publicly. Privately though, Square Enix let the press see the game at the end of that year. This was the first time fans heard the tagline “This is a fantasy based on reality.”
One year of silence passed, and it seemed like no big deal. Square Enix had other games coming out. Surely they would have more to show for Versus XIII the next year.
The first of many rumors that the game might have been cancelled floated around in January 2008. Square Enix quickly denied it.
Finally, another major trailer came out. It was again all pre-rendered footage. This time fans got their first look at the other characters in the hero’s party. We saw a blond heroine who also seemed to have magical powers. The hero and his friends had a car, giving us the first hint of what would be the road trip theme. This trailer teased a lot of the familiar beats of what we now know as Final Fantasy XV, though nobody at the time had any real inkling what any of this meant. Notably, the characters’ mouths were moving, but they had no voices. Even polished trailers revealed how little progress Square Enix had made on the game.
2009: Real Footage
Very little news of the game came out at all in 2009. But it was not all radio silence. Nomura revealed in a Famitsu interview that the final design for Noctis’ clothing had been approved. It had only taken them three years.
Importantly for Versus XIII there was a new trailer. This came bundled with the Advent Children Complete BluRay. Square Enix said this trailer was entirely in-engine. It featured Noctis and Stella conversing at a banquette hall in front of a picture of the Goddess Etro, a key figure in other games. This scene, too, was unvoiced.
In a sign of how strange the development of Final Fantasy XV has been, years later Kingsglaive would cannibalize this scene. Only this time the characters talking before Etro are two different people in a different setting.
Square Enix’s focus had by this point turned entirely towards building up Final Fantasy XIII and its release in late 2009/early 2010. Slowly, the main cast was revealed along with gameplay. Final Fantasy XIII ended up looking considerably differently than its original reveal. It turns out the game encountered some issues during development, slowing things down for everybody at the company. Versus XIII had to wait its turn.
2010: More Silence
2010 was another mostly dead year for Versus XIII. Tetsuya Nomura teased the game might have airships. Fans had reason to be worried. Producer Yoshinori Kitase gave the bad news: The game might not see the light of day until after 2011.
At the end of the year, a very short teaser showed Noctis again, this time running in what could be real gameplay. Four years after the announcement and this was as close to seeing the game in action that fans had gotten.
2011: A New Hope
Early in January Square Enix had an event to take stock of the Fabula Nova Crystallis series. It was five years after the project was announced only one of its three games was out. The company, therefore, was looking for a new direction.
First off, Final Fantasy XIII now had a sequel, Final Fantasy XIII-2, due in a year. Sequels to Final Fantasy XIII would dominate Square Enix’s energies until the end of the console generation. But also, Agito XIII, long the forgotten sister, would now be called “Final Fantasy Type-0.” Along the way, it had transitioned from mobile phones to the PlayStation Portable. This was the first hint that the Final Fantasy XIII brand was changing so quickly that it no longer made sense for its siblings to keep its namesake.
At the January event, Square Enix had a new Versus XIII trailer. This showed a PlayStation 3 game with voice acting. The trailer also showed actual gameplay. The trailer also gave us an idea of Final Fantasy XV’s enormous scale.
However, there were signs things were not moving as smoothly as they could have. Some scenes appeared to be lifted straight from the Advent Children Complete trailer. These fears became reality later that year when Tetsuya Nomura revealed that Versus XIII had still not entered full production.
2012: Deathly Silence
2012 was the low point in the Final Fantasy XV cycle. The game missed E3 again. Tetsuya Nomura didn’t address the delay publicly or to the press. The only sign of life came when Nomura sketched Noctis at a Final Fantasy anniversary event, telling people to “wait for his turn.” The game missed all the big conferences that year.
As the months passed by fans began to worry that Versus XIII may miss the seventh console generation entirely. Some even feared the game would disappear during the transition to the eventual eighth console generation.
At some point during 2012, Tetsuya Nomura saw the movie Les Miserables and toyed with the idea of turning Versus XIII into a musical. (We’re still not sure how serious he was with this.) He was shot down by his superiors. In a probably unrelated move, they made Hajime Tabata, the man behind Type-0, co-director of Versus XIII.
By 2013 Versus XIII‘s future was deeply in doubt. This was the beginning of the current PlayStation 4 and Xbox One eras (Gen 8 for those keeping track), and Versus XIII was a straggler from the last generation. Some rumors claimed the game was dead. Others took a more positive view and said the game might just be growing into something bigger. The old unfinished game might just become a “Final Fantasy XV.” Early in the year, producer Shinji Hashimoto asked fans to “please be excited” for E3. After eight years, this line was met with mockery and memes.
But 2013’s E3 was different. The game was back. This newest trailer was the biggest showing the game had seen in years. And Square Enix confirmed their commitment to the project by giving it the fully numbered treatment. Just as the rumors predicted, Final Fantasy Versus XIII was now Final Fantasy XV. It would be Final Fantasy’s major release for the next generation of consoles. A new trailer showed off some exciting action, this time with a HUD, giving a semblance of reality. The cast now consisted of a host of new and old characters, all fully voiced. Final Fantasy XV would not be part of Fabula Nova Crystallis, but it would retain some trace references to that universe.
That reveal gave hope to a fanbase that seemed to have none just moments earlier. This same year we got a trailer of Noctis moving in an actual fight. There was gameplay! For once, Final Fantasy XV looked like a real project.
2014: The Game Takes Shape
Secretly, Tetsuya Nomura left Final Fantasy XV, giving Hajime Tabata full command. We learned of the shake-up early in 2014. This was something of a bittersweet moment, as Versus XIII had been Nomura’s dream project for years. Seemingly he took it well enough, as he went to work on the long-awaited Kingdom Hearts III. The new team aimed for a September 2016 release date.
Fans had another good long wait until Final Fantasy XV showed itself again. It missed E3, which was a bad sign. Versus XIII and Final Fantasy XV‘s development was a cruel roller coaster at this point. If it missed one conference, it could disappear just like it had again and again.
Yet at TGS, Final Fantasy XV appeared. In the above TGS trailer, one can finally see the finished game as we recognize it. Final Fantasy XV showed off its massive scale, its current battle flow, and its focus on a road trip storyline. Curiously the characters began to mention a person named “Luna” as the heroine, not the Stella fans knew. Noctis ends this trailer saying “It’s been a long time, too long. Not much longer.”
As it turns out, in Final Fantasy XV terms, “not much longer” meant two more years.
2015: Hands On at Last
Tabata followed the example of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn by becoming more and more public with the game and its development. Trailers, demos, artwork, and other features came out in a steady stream of information. One curious early piece of news confirmed that Stella was out of the picture, replaced with a new character, Lunafreya.
In March 2015 the first Final Fantasy XV demo came shipped with the HD remake of Final Fantasy Type-0 for the PlayStation 4. In this demo, known as “Episode Duscae,” players finally got to play as Noctis alongside his pals in a short adventure off the beaten path. Worryingly, Episode Duscae came with a lot of graphical bugs and awkward gameplay decisions. The lock-on was slow, battles were a bit monotonous, and the game just did not seem finished yet.
Duscae was not a smooth first outing. But Tabata assured the fans that their feedback would be a major tool in bringing Final Fantasy XV into its final form. Square Enix had learned its lesson from Final Fantasy XIII, which ignored all fan feedback after its demo.
The big trailer for Final Fantasy XV in 2015 showed some more story elements. But most of its running time was spent showing child Noctis and his dad hugging. For a fan base that had spent nine years waiting to see this game, such a cryptic trailer was not a big source of amusement. Square Enix answered the complaints by promising that in March 2016, all remaining questions about Final Fantasy XV would be answered. Fans once again could do nothing but sit and wait.
2016: The End?
In March 2016 Square Enix held its Uncovered: Final Fantasy XV event which laid the road map to Final Fantasy XV‘s release date. It also announced an entire galaxy of Final Fantasy XV related materials. The game that once was just a piece of Fabula Nova Crystallis now was its own mini-franchise.
Along with the game came an anime web series, a host of iPhone games, and for some reason a branded Audi car. The biggest news was Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV, the first Final Fantasy movie in over a decade. Where once fans could cross their fingers for a trailer a year, Final Fantasy XV has had maybe a dozen trailers or more this year alone.
Of course, even with the finish line clearly in sight, Final Fantasy XV still had one final delay. The game was moved from late September to its current release date of Nov. 29, 2016.
The long ten-year journey for Final Fantasy fans comes down to its final days. Hopefully, Final Fantasy XV lives up to its promises and fan expectations. And hopefully, Final Fantasy XVI‘s development can be a bit shorter!