Final Fantasy XV was in development for over a decade before its long-awaited release towards the end of 2016. Square Enix announced the game at E3 2006 as Final Fantasy Versus XIII. At that time the game was simply an action-focused spin-off of Final Fantasy XIII directed by Kingdom Hearts producer Tetsuya Nomura. Plans changed significantly over the years and the title eventually morphed into Final Fantasy XV. The scope of the story increased and so did the complexity of the plot. However, the biggest change had to its visuals. Final Fantasy Versus XIII didn’t focus on realism and instead went for a simplistic concept art-like aesthetic. In an effort to make the game feel realistic, the new director overhauled everything from the fighting style to the graphics.
In an interview with USGamer, director Hajime Tabata hinted that realism promotes believability and that’s why the game was changed to such a degree. Tabata said:
“When we shifted to the new hardware…the goal was to create something more realistic. You know, you have the characters from Versus XIII carried over but instead of these caricatures, if you will, these really stylistic characters, the goal was to make them feel human. They became living, breathing people, going on a journey in a realistic world. So rather than focus on…the very stylized, cartoonish Kingdom Hearts approach, we went with something that feels more realistic.”
There is a recent trend in gaming which focuses on photorealism and Final Fantasy XV is a shining example of this. Everything from the environments to the food looks like a still from a camera. This not only is a testament to the development prowess of the Final Fantasy XV team at Square Enix, but it also enhances immersion. When a gamer comes across an environment or object which looks like its real-life counterpart, they believe it exists because it’s relatable and authentic. This in turn makes the game believable, no matter how unlikely the events seem.
Visuals are an important part of any game and they play an even bigger role in story-driven titles. Final Fantasy XV takes place in a fantastic setting so a focus on reality is required to make it feel grounded. Tabata and his team realized this and the game is better off because of that.