The Gold Ballroom of the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles is a perfect place for a Final Fantasy press conference. With its Old Hollywood opulence it looks like a room an evil despot from one of the games would hang out in. It’s got the chandeliers, the ornate molding, the gold-tinted details—the works. It’s where the angry old emperor reveals its true evil space dragon form before the final battle. (It’s also what Donald Trump’s White House will probably look like.)
It’s also where Square-Enix held a short press briefing to go over in advance some of the notes from tonight’s big Final Fantasy XV event. It’s where we learned about all the spin-off media coming alongside the game, and where we first got to play Platinum Demo, the tiny taste of Final Fantasy XV arriving for free on Xbox Live and the Playstation Network tonight. It’s also where we got to speak with the game’s director, Hajime Tabata, and the director of the spin-off film, Takeshi Nozue. Basically it’s where Square-Enix first revealed their ambitious multimedia plans for the latest core Final Fantasy game, plans that we’ll quickly break down for you here right now.
Here’s what to expect from this latest Final Fantasy go-round:
Uh, yeah. Obviously this is the big one, the game whose roots stretch back a decade to the original concept for Final Fantasy Versus XIII. Some of the most basic ideas from Versus XIII remain in place, but director Tabata confirmed that development essentially restarted from scratch when his team took over and transitioned the game into Final Fantasy XV. Their policy was to keep the general aesthetic and character designs that had been revealed in the Final Fantasy Versus XIII trailers, but overhaul the way it played and the direction of the story, resulting in a game that’s no longer as closely tied to the Fabula Nova Crystallis concept as Versus XIII would have been. The narrative heart of XV will be your player character Noctis’s connection to his friends, tight bros from way back who head out on a road trip in a sporty little roadster. The new trailer shown at the event once again emphasized the camaraderie of the road, with multiple shots of them camping, fixing their car, eating (and playing pinball) at roadside diners, and generally just being dudes in love with the highway when it’s late at night. If the game made you bust out your Rock Band instruments to play a show after every extended diving segment, it would fit perfectly: they look like a band, act like a band, and travel like a band, only instead of sick solos they rip warp strikes and magic blasts on dark creatures from beyond the veil.
With its first episode available now, this five-episode anime series will focus even closer on the unbreakable bonds between Noctis and his buds. Produced by A-1 Pictures, the studio behind the Sword Art Online and Black Butler anime series, Brotherhood will be distributed for free online. The clip we saw reaffirmed the basic archetypes of the core foursome: Noctis is the reluctant hero, glasses guy is the haughty smarty pants who gesticulates while making special business happen, Prompto with the blond pompadour is the comic relief, and the beefy brother with the vest is the resident badass. Tabata explained that the multimedia approach was designed intentionally to attract a new generation of players who maybe aren’t familiar with Final Fantasy and who now experience entertainment in a variety of formats and through distribution channels that didn’t exist until the last few years. The anime is a crucial part of that project, as it’ll speak to an audience that would clearly already be predisposed to enjoy a game that traditionally has a heavy anime influence, but maybe aren’t used to playing games on consoles. If you get them hooked on the characters and relationships through a medium they do love, perhaps they’ll slide right over into the game.
Directed by Takeshi Nozue, this is a gorgeous CGI feature length film in the vein of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, although it’s fully set within the world of XV. In fact it fills in part of the game’s story, focusing on what happens to Noctis’s dad and home country while Noctis is out on his road trip. Created with the same CGI tools as the game, it has that almost photorealistic look often found in Final Fantasy cut-scenes. It definitely seems to target a mainstream western audience more than Brotherhood, with less of a traditional anime aesthetic, and a main character who totally has a Liam Neeson thing going on with his face.
Update: It turns out that doomed dad is voiced by Sean Bean, as announced at the press conference that night. Also doing voices in Kingsglaive: Lena Headey and Aaron Paul, television actors of some renown.
This short, playable taste of XV should be available for download now for both the Xbox One and Playstation 4, so I don’t know why you need to read about it. You can just go play it yourself. If you don’t want to be surprised, or don’t want to waste the hard drive space, here’s a quick overview: young Noctis flits through a psychedelic dreamscape under the guidance of a mystical white fox-like creature with a single purple horn coming out of its forehead. You’ll collect some crystals, learn how to use a few different melee and ranged weapons, transform into various cars and at least one horned giraffe monster, and also get shrunken down to action figure size while exploring a sparsely decorated dining room. (Yes, there’s a heavy Alice in Wonderland vibe to this entire demo.) Eventually you’ll get to play very briefly as the grown-up Noctis from XV, fighting with a deadly monster that looks like an oversized knight made out of smoke. Although none of the specific scenarios from the demo will be in the game itself, It’s a short tease of the real-time combat to come in XV, as you can hold down one button to continually attack with your sword or hammer, hold down another to block, and also toss bombs when you have ‘em in stock. The most interesting note from the combat is the introduction of warp points, spots in the architecture that Noctis can rush to and hang from with his sword, before lashing out with a special warp strike attack that does a decent amount of damage. The final battle in the demo can be pretty tough the first time you play it, although your fox friend is around to keep you from dying. You can probably speed through the whole demo in 15 minutes if you don’t care about exploring or collecting; I scrounged up every crystal I could find, and fought the boss twice, and wrapped it up in just about 40 minutes.
There’s more to come on the Final Fantasy XV front this week. I’ll be updating this piece with the official release date, art assets and other information from tonight’s event later in the evening, and will have an interview with the game’s director Hajime Tabata early next week. These are truly heady days for the dedicated Final Fantasy fan.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s games and comedy sections. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.