In May 2006, at the E3 games conference in Los Angeles, Square Enix revealed a new game for the PlayStation 3: Final Fantasy Versus XIII. In May 2006, in south-west London, I was taking my GCSEs.
In November 2016, the game, now known as Final Fantasy XV, is finally due to be released. Its development has lasted a good chunk of my childhood and my entire adult life. It has outlived every relationship I have ever had, lain back-to-back. I have watched it every step of the way, with feelings that ranged through excitement, trepidation, boredom, mild anxiety and a lot of impatience.
I hope Final Fantasy XV is good.
When it was first announced, the game was pitched as a tie-in to Final Fantasy XIII, the first Final Fantasy game on the PS3. Both were supposedly undergoing development at the same time, with Final Fantasy XIII aimed at a release sooner. But it wasn’t supposed to take a decade for the tie-in to come out.
It was unclear what, if anything, justified Final Fantasy Versus XIII as a “tie-in”. As IGN put it, reporting at the time, it had “different characters, a different world, and even different visual design”.
It seems like the name was simply picked to avoid implying the game was a “main series” Final Fantasy. “With Versus, we are trying out a type of adventure that we couldn’t do in the numbered series,” series producer Yoshinori Kitase told Japanese magazine Hyper PlayStation back in 2006. We now know some of what that was: Final Fantasy XV is an action RPG, giving the player more direct control of their character than ever before in a Final Fantasy game.
But that didn’t get finalised for a long time. A really, really long time.
Final Fantasy Versus XIII was in pre-production when it was revealed in May 2006, with just a pre-rendered trailer to prove its existence. That’s the stage of the game where design and development are fluid, allowing developers to experiment and iterate before the cumbersome process of actual production begins.
I finished my GCSEs. I broke up with my first girlfriend, and met my second. A year and a half after the reveal, I bought a PS3. To pay for it, I sold my PS2, and the entire games collection, to a friend. In hindsight, this was a bad choice. The launch titles of the PS3 were not great, and moreover I hadn’t actually finished Final Fantasy XII, the last game I bought for the PS2. I never would play it again, although the game is finally about to be released for PlayStation 4 in a high-definition remaster.
The years continued to pass. In 2008, I went to university, leaving my PS3 – and high-school girlfriend – at home. That meant I missed the launch of FFXIII, in 2010, the first singleplayer Final Fantasy since VII that I hadn’t picked up the day it came out.
No new news arrived about Versus XIII.
In 2011, I left university. I moved back in to my mum’s house, waiting for the woman I’d met while studying to finish her masters, and dusted off the PS4. I couldn’t afford many new games, but found out that LoveFilm – now owned by Amazon – rented the discs for a low monthly fee. I played through my backlog, eventually hitting FFXIII.
It was garbage. More to the point, it was garbage I was paying £10 a month to play. I returned it 20 hours in. I’ve since been informed that I barely finished the tutorial.
No new news arrived about Versus XIII, though it was rumoured to be cancelled. In fact, pre-production had finally finished on the game, and after five years, it was moving into the main development phase.
Still, having played FFXIII, I wasn’t hugely bothered with what happened to this presumed spin-off. A direct sequel to FFXIII, FFXIII-2, came out. I have still never played it.
My girlfriend finished her degree. We found jobs, earned just enough to pay the rent on a one-bedroom flat. Final Fantasy Versus XIII, unbeknown to the outside world, had been renamed internally, and rechristened Final Fantasy XV. Unsurprisingly, it was undergoing development hell, and was barely a quarter finished. Square Enix had been shown the basics of the Playstation 4 hardware, and were panicking over their decision to release the game on the PS3, which would be rendered obsolete in 2013. They made the decision to port it over, and adopt a more conventional cross-platform development structure.
The game’s initial director, Tetsuya Nomura, saw the film version of Les Miserables, and had to be talked out of making the entire game a musical. A new director, Hajime Tabata, was brought onboard to work first alongisde Nomura, then to take over from him entirely.
In 2013, I joined the Guardian as a technology reporter, and the name change on Final Fantasy XV was announced. But for another year, there was nothing.
Finally, in September 2014, the floodgates opened. At the Tokyo Game Show that year, Final Fantasy XV was revealed to the world in detail for the first time in eight years. Footage showed a tantalising world, more open than any previous game in the series, and with a unique style blending arch Americana with the techno-magic themes of previous games.
By then I had bought a PS4. Not having learned from past mistakes, I sold my PS3 and all the games. This time, the existence of smart indie games filling up the Playstation Store did a better job of tiding me over for the first good releases on the platform, ensuring I didn’t lose interest in gaming entirely for a second time.
Final Fantasy XV had crystallised by March 2015, when the first demo, Episode Duscae, was released as an add-on disk alongside the PS4 release of Final Fantasy Type-0 HD. That game, for what it’s worth, had been announced as Final Fantasy Agito XIII, another game in the Final Fantasy XIII family, before eventually being launched in 2011 on the PSP as Final Fantasy Type-0. The HD remake was the first time the game had been released outside of Japan, but it was painfully obviously a four-year-old portable game.
I still bought it. I wanted to play Episode Duscae. Type-0 HD itself was worse than Final Fantasy XIII. And that’s saying something. But playing it made me realise that actually, I didn’t want to play Duscae. Final Fantasy games are best when you can fall into them: the problem with Type-0 HD is there’s not enough to fall into, and I was worried the same would be true of Duscae.
So I waited, and sucked up every piece of information Square Enix released about the game. I watched an hour-long event in early 2016, when the release date was announced, alongside a slate of media properties called the Final Fantasy XV Universe. I watched those media properties: the visually impressive, heavy-handed, casually misogynist Final Fantasy XV Kingsglaive, and the more light-hearted and likeable Final Fantasy XV Brotherhood. I watched an hour of early gameplay footage for no reason other than seeing what there was that was new.
There were Chocobos.
There’s not much left, now, for me to watch. All I can do is wait. But it’s OK, I’ve got used to that.