Yesterday, I attended a press junket for Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, the latest in the megaseries and our first chance to see the game in action. The game, from what little we saw, could be cool. The press junket, on the other hand, wasn't great. We got very little new info that isn't already in the game's Final Fantasy Wiki entry. We spent a good chunk of time watching an extended cut of the trailer that we've already seen. There was a brief gameplay demo that raised more questions than it answered.
Far more exciting was the fact that we'd have a chance to talk with the game's producer Yoshinori Kitase and director Motomu Toriyama. I had a lot of questions for them! I got to ask... two.
That's because instead of one-on-one interviews, the interview portion of the event was conducted as a panel Q&A. That means that the reporters sit at one side of the room, the developers sit in the middle, and everyone's surrounded by a phalanx of PR people. The panel Q&A process is usually a slow one, and when there's a language barrier (as there was here), it's made slower by the fact that every question and response has to go through a PR translator.
So, due to time constraints, I got to ask two questions. I'm not thrilled with the answers I got, but hey, I did my best. I figured I'd share what I got, along with the tactics I was employing to try to get something, anything more interesting than canned PR-speak about how great the game is going to be.
Tactic One: You won't get to ask follow-ups, so try to ask a question that's already a follow-up.
The gentleman to my left asked a question about why this game had Lightning as the sole protagonist, with no party. Why Lightning? Why solo?
Kitase responded by mentioning how much people like Lightning, and how "a cool and powerful female [character] is an attractive element" for the game. He then talked about how the ATB system would make it like having a party, since you can switch between different "classes" for Lightning on the fly. I had a few questions prepared about this as well, so I figured that rather than dig into a whole new topic, I'd ask my question as a follow-up.
Me: People in the past would get attached to their chosen party, and that was a fun part of Final Fantasy games. With the party being just one person, [with the ATB system] you can still have the gameplay aspects of a party-like system, but without the emotional tie to the characters. Was there any worry that you were trading emotion for mechanics?
Toriyama: In terms of the emotional aspect: Our focus was to focus on Lightning herself, and we wanted the players to fall even more in love with her and focus all of our attention to Lightning. There's going to be very tough battles, Lightning might be fighting a very strong opponent all by herself, and so we wanted the players to become attached to her as she fights against these enemies, and going through the troubles of trying to beat her enemies. We understand that there are very prominent characters that appeared throughout the series. The prominent characters will make an appearance of some sort within this installment. We hope that that will give closure to those characters as well.
Tactic Two: You're running out of time. This might already be your last question. Just cut to the chase and ask the thing that's on a lot of people's minds.
Me: Why make Lightning Returns an action-RPG? Is that a concession to the tastes of modern players?
Kitase: Just to note: We didn't initially start with the notion of this becoming an action-RPG. Our basis for the development of this final installment was always based on the system that we established in the first installment, Final Fantasy XIII, and kind of evolved from there. That being said, of course, once you're in battle and you're playing this and holding the controller and actually playing through the battle, it might feel like it's an action-RPG, or very action-based, but again we want to reiterate that our basis for evolving into this system still kind of focuses on how the player can strategize, customize Lightning, and have that element of the traditional strategic thinking that goes into a turn-based RPG. We wanted to emphasize the depth of the strategy elements, that the player can put a lot of thinking into how they approach battles.
With this whole customization element, the player can assign different abilities, her style, as you can see there are outfits that you can change, and you can assign different abilities. Like in one instance you might assign guard, block, it's very action-based. But at the same time, we do have it set up so that if you lean towards a conventional RPG feel, you can always assign something that's more strategy-based like casting spells or things like that. The key feature is that the player can customize Lightning so that it can fit whatever gaming style the player has, whether it be action-based or a traditional RPG.
Tactic Three: Shit, they're wrapping up. Time to go for broke.
Me: Really quick: Can you tell us anything about Final Fantasy Versus XIII? Anything? Anything at all?
Translator: Starts to translate, while Kitase and Toriyama are smiling faintly.
PR Guy, from across the room: Actually, no.
And that's that. I did what I could, but it was a no-win situation. Two questions, lengthy if somewhat meandering and on-message responses, no follow-ups. I've been given an opportunity to ask follow-up questions via email, so I'll at least take them up on that.
I turn it over to you guys: What follow-up questions would you like to ask the people making Lightning Returns? Keep in mind that there's next to no chance that we'll get anything resembling an interesting response.