Sony's E3 2013 conference was a big hit with gamers, but RPGamers in particular had a lot of high profile news to take in. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn was now releasing on both PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4, Kingdom Hearts III was revealed as being in development for Sony's next generation platform, and Final Fantasy Versus XIII was not only declared as being "still alive" but also rebranded as Final Fantasy XV. A cursory glance at twitter's trends would indicate that a vast majority of gamers were flying high at these announcements, but that's not to say Versus XIII's transformation wasn't a polarizing one. More than a few dedicated RPGamers boasted skepticism over whether Final Fantasy Versus XIII could hold its own as a main entry in the beloved RPG franchise — something our own Michael Cunningham touched on late last week in his editorial. While I fully understand the threat of seven years' worth of hype, I'd argue that this was the right move for Square Enix to make.
Unveiled alongside Final Fantasy XIII and what is now known as Final Fantasy Type-0, it's hard to say how intense Versus XIII's production has been since announcement. We know that it was being developed by Square Enix's 1st Production Department and directed by Kingdom Hearts creator Tetsuya Nomura, but many gamers might hold some wrong assumptions about the title's development history.
In 2008, we were informed that Versus XIII was being developed using the Crystal Tools engine — the same engine used for the Lightning Saga titles and Final Fantasy XIV ver. 1.0. Nomura also indicated that he wanted gameplay and storytelling sequences to be seamless, meaning that the game needed high-polygon and flexible character models to avoid the use of CGI cutscenes. It had been stated that this element of gameplay was hard to achieve and led to increased development times. Over three years later, Nomura explained that the game was now to be built on a proprietary, action-oriented engine using the lighting technology of Square Enix's new Luminous Studio engine (the same engine we saw the Agni's Philosophy tech demo on). This suggests that somewhere along the line the development team had to scrap all of the work they had done with one engine and switch gears for a new, more advanced platform.
Historically, swapping game engines mid-development usually leads to longer game delays. The wait for this game has clearly taken its toll on many gamers, something that has been intensified by the longer wait for Kingdom Hearts III, but it should be noted that this title clearly wasn't in full development for the entirety of the past seven years, if it was in development at all.
There's no question that some gamers will hold Final Fantasy XV's troubled development history against it. Claims will be made that this transformation is just a last ditch effort to justify the game's long development period. They'll attach the title to the somewhat poorly received entries in the Fabula Nova Crystallis chronicles and label it as a disappointment before it even hits shelves. Maybe those individuals will be right on both accounts. Maybe.
Writing a game off based on hype doesn't make a whole lot of sense though. It's easy to feel justified in the assumption that overhyped titles will disappoint, due to flops like Duke Nukem Forever and Too Human, but there have also been many games with massive PR budgets and long development times which have been critically and commercially successful. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots and Grand Theft Auto IV are two titles which began their initial development cycles in 2004, without seeing the full light of day until 2008. From the moment where they were first rumored until the day they hit the shelves, these two games garnered an almost stalker-like level of attention from gamers only to become massive successes upon release. In truth, only the flawed games are torn apart by the scrutiny that accompanies being "overhyped," and there hasn't been a single main entry in the Final Fantasy franchise which hasn't been extremely hyped. Providing Final Fantasy XV is an excellent game upon release, to the quality level of earlier franchise entries; people's perceptions of it now are irrelevant.
Many detractors (most of whom being RPGamers displeased with Faboula Nova Crystallis' preformance thus far) have also been quick to cite it as a "spin-off" title, with the inference that it will buckle under the pressure of becoming a main entry. This is a perspective which I'm not sure I fully comprehend. Ignoring how Final Fantasy XV has clearly gone through some changes since we last glimpsed it, Final Fantasy Versus XIII didn't bear much resemblance to any of the other Fabula Nova Crystallis titles in the first place. It terms of character design, gameplay, themes, and environments, Versus XIII has always been the black sheep of Fabula Nova Crystallis. That's why we cared about it. Who is to say that it couldn't handle existing as a main entry in the Final Fantasy series?
There have been numerous examples of games that weren't intended to become part of a larger franchise, but excelled as a main entry regardless. Kirby's Epic Yarn wasn't originally a Kirby title, but has become one of the most celebrated entries in the history of the pink critter. In a similar fashion, Kid Icarus Uprising originally had nothing to do with Pit or the Kid Icarus universe until later in development and has since become a 3DS must-have title. Silent Hill 4: The Room is often cited by survival horror fans as the most terrifying of the Silent Hill games, but it started development as Room 302 — a game with no connection to the Silent Hill universe.
Video games are not defined by their origins. We determine whether they are good, bad, or passable based on playing the final product. As much as I can understand people's fears about a game which was first mentioned seven years ago, we'll have to wait until Final Fantasy XV's official release before assigning judgment. In the meantime, I suggest we all reserve our cynicism.