PAX West 2017: Yoshinori Kitase on Bringing Final Fantasy to Mobile

Mobius Final Fantasy showed that the grandeur of Final Fantasy can be replicated on a mobile device in Japan in 2015 and made its way to the western world in 2016. Producer Yoshinori Kitase might not be a household name but a quick look at his resume will reveal most RPGs are familiar with his massive body of work as he was involved with games like Chrono Trigger, Kingdom Hearts and numerous Final Fantasy titles including the original and upcoming remake of Final Fantasy VII. Mobius Final Fantasy recently celebrated one year since its worldwide release and Hardcore Gamer was fortunate enough to discuss some of what the future holds for Mobius Final Fantasy with Kitase-san.

[Hardcore Gamer] Mobius Final Fantasy was the first attempt at bringing a proper Final Fantasy experience to the mobile device platform. What were some of the challenges you faced with this and how has the reception been?

[Yoshinori Kitase] In early development we had just finished up development with Final Fantasy XIII and we looked to the mobile device because the turn around on home consoles for each generation is about five years but with mobile devices you get a new device like once every half year. The evolution of the mobile device happened so fast by the time we looked into it the specs were already pretty close to a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 so we challenged ourselves because we thought we could create a quality game on those hardwares like we do on one of those consoles. When we first started the developing it wasn’t so much of a challenge of trying to create the high quality visuals for the mobile device, that was pretty easy to do, but we hit a wall with the core memory that these devices have which is so much smaller than a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 so we had to make it smaller in memory size, and additional challenges came with Android since there are so many Android models out in the world we had to accommodate all the different types of devices in the market so those two were the biggest challenges we had that were unique to the mobile device. We constantly look at user feedback and try to implement it as much as we can, for example we had a first year anniversary update just recently that updated many elements and put in the autobattle system which made it so much easier to use than it was previously. We constantly look to user feedback to think of ways to improve the game.

Episode 5 recently came out worldwide and Japan is a little ahead of us on Episode 8. What are the plans for new episodes, or has this story concluded and if so are there any plans for a new story?

We are going to bring the remaining three episodes to the worldwide version. The Warrior of Light series has ended with Episode 8 but we are planning to begin a new series after that. We are also planning to start doing seasonal events that do include the storyline so I think that would be another way players can enjoy the game.

Since the Warrior of Light story has concluded can you reveal anything about the subsequent story?

(laughs) There really isn’t much that we can reveal at this moment. We did reveal in our live stream that we will have female characters and we did introduce them in our live stream. But on the global version we want people to look forward to the upcoming chapters so they can enjoy the ending of the Warrior of Light storyline.

The Warrior of Light story line is a direct homage to the first Final Fantasy storyline even though Mobius Final Fantasy is its own unique world with its own characters. Even though details are still under wraps about the next story, would it be drawing influence from other Final Fantasy titles the way the Warrior of Light story did or will it just be its own unique entity?

(laughs) The scenario hasn’t been created yet so I don’t know either since we’re just in the midst of creating the storyline. However, like you mentioned we did create the storyline of the first series as an homage to Final Fantasy I and that was the basic concept, to pay respect and homage to Final Fantasy I. Of course in the end product we didn’t really pull in too much from that storyline but the Warrior of Light and some other elements were pulled from Final Fantasy I. For the second story since we were able to establish that world in Mobius will probably focus on that more but the scenario writer for Mobius, Kazushige Nojima, was also the scenario writer for Final Fantasy VII and X so what you would feel from those Final Fantasy games is likely what you would feel from Mobius so I’m sure there would be some kind of reference and homage to other Final Fantasy titles but the story would be specific to the world of Palamecia, the world of Mobius. The storyline of the first season does follow the typical Final Fantasy storyline or tropes and the protagonist in the Warrior of Light story, as he progresses he thinks that something is wrong and while everything that happens to him is typical of a Final Fantasy story he himself thinks it is wrong and at the very end of Episode 8 is when you find out what is going on and why he felt that way, and with that new season we are working on that is the premise, that you already know what the world is about since this first series was shrouded with mystery the second season will have a different perspective or different type of storyline.

Mobius Final Fantasy a similar art style/character design as the modern Final Fantasy games with kind of a unique battle system, but despite not really playing like a typical Final Fantasy title the references and tropes gave it the Final Fantasy feel. So segueing into my next question, Final Fantasy is a very popular series with a very passionate fan base that doesn’t always agree on what makes a certain Final Fantasy title great. Mobius Final Fantasy was trying to bring the console experience of a Final Fantasy title to a mobile device and made some drastic changes to the traditional gameplay. Did considering this raise any concerns when developing this title?

With the Final Fantasy series in general these are always concerns. When we released Final Fantasy VII we were worried that with it being on PlayStation on CD ROM if that would be okay, if people would accept that. And so every evolution of a hardware does bring new challenges and it’s always worrisome and we always worry about how well the game will do which we do with every single title. We do feel that as a Final Fantasy title it is a hurdle we have to overcome every time but it is a challenge that we take on ourselves. Just speaking for mobile devices when we did create this game on a mobile platform there was one thing we really wondered how we should handle the story, since that is one thing Final Fantasy is always known for, and creating a drama within the game we found that almost all the games in the mobile market were casual and had no strong storyline to it and it was more fast paced players trying to get through it quickly and those were the mainline titles for mobile games. I was wondering if I should even create a robust story for a mobile game but as I looked back at our past titles, as a I mentioned earlier, Final Fantasy is all about story and being dramatic and creating and building up characters so I did feel that was necessary to be a Final Fantasy title. I decided that we will not make a game that someone can quickly go through and it will have those cut scenes and a robust story and the elements fans have come to expect from Final Fantasy titles. After a year of global release and two years in Japan the feedback we’ve received from players is they want to see more of the story so I am really glad I decided to do that since it seems like what the fans like about the game.

Story has always been one of the main appeals of the series. I did have to chuckle a bit when you mentioned being worried about Final Fantasy VII since that game catapulted the popularity of the series and is considered by many to be one of the stronger entries. It makes perfect sense to be worried in development since it has always been a Nintendo series up to that point but in hindsight is amusing. Prior to Final Fantasy VII I only had a couple friends who were into the series but after it was released everyone I know was playing it, and even my friends that didn’t play video games at least were familiar with the title, but I do see how it was the riskiest title up to that point. 

(laughter and nods of agreement)

Has the reaction from doing Mobius Final Fantasy given you the idea to perhaps explore different avenues of bringing the Final Fantasy experience to mobile devices?

At the moment no because Mobius Final Fantasy has only been around for two years in Japan and one year globally and we are just starting to create the second series, plus I am involved with the Final Fantasy VII remake so taking on something else would be too much. Just to create a game with the quality of Mobius is like having to create a console title every month. That’s the amount of work and manpower we have to put into Mobius to create that quality so we think we can only concentrate on Mobius with our current development team. We could always outsource development but I don’t think we can outsource for a Final Fantasy game of this quality because it’s necessary to have a development team that has experience in creating mainline Final Fantasy titles that the dev team of this game has so until we come to a real end of Mobius Final Fantasy that will be the game we are focusing on without doing any other mobile titles.

I see how Mobius Final Fantasy can keep your dev team pretty busy, and the Final Fantasy VII remake looks pretty time intensive as well. The Final Fantasy VII remake was projected to take years after it was first announced to reach completion. Do you ever feel pressure in trying to release the games quickly even though sometimes you have to delay completion for the sake of making sure the quality is up to par?

We definitely do hit walls while we are developing so we definitely don’t delay because we want to delay. A lot of the times we do have to take more time than we expected or anticipated so for me at least we go into media interviews I try not to go into details of the released dates but try to give nuanced answers or make it apparent that it is either going to be out soon or later or needs more time just to set some sort of an expectation so that fans won’t feel as frustrated because they get a little more insight into what is going on. I do feel if we release a game too soon then both players and us won’t be satisfied and we want to take the necessary time to release a game we can be proud of. So because of that I do want to take time as much as possible to create a quality game that we really like and want everyone to play.

Gamers can be an impatient lot but considering how many buggy games I’ve gotten on day one where it took months for a patch to make it playable my attitude has shifted to take all the time you need. A while ago a game I preordered and was excited to play was delayed three months, and while I wasn’t happy about having to wait longer for it I accepted it knowing that it’s better to let the developers perfect it than release some broken glitch filled mess.

(laughter) We are thankful to hear that! I do feel that nowadays fans have gotten more understanding about the process and seem to get less angry with delays.

I think enough major games have come out glitchy so the fans have probably started to realize sometimes it’s better to delay the release. I know console updates sometimes introduce new bugs and based on how often my phone wants to update I can only imagine that exacerbates the bug infestation.

Just operating a mobile title we constantly push out updates once a month so bugs are going to naturally pop up when you do that so we have to listen to fans being upset about the bugs. Mobile devices update a lot more quickly than consoles so we constantly have to listen to upset voices of fans since mobile and online games will encounter new bugs quicker than other console games but over the past two years we have gotten good at addressing these issues as quickly as possible when they pop up. We think that kind of experience we have with the mobile title relates to console titles where we want to go through the game as much as possible to refine it so there are minimal bugs when it becomes available. Whenever there is a hardware update for a phone we have to do a full QA for the game, especially for a game like Mobius where it is like a console game so it has been a very difficult game to keep up with. For a console game you do a QA for a month or two and then release it and address any post release issues as they may arise but with mobile titles we have to do a full QA anytime there is a hardware update because there are constant updates in the phone and game.

Can we discuss what makes the appearances of other Final Fantasy characters appearing in Mobius special?

We just had a Final Fantasy VII collaboration appear in Mobius but we have also worked on collaborations outside of Mobius, for instance we just had Cloud appear in Smash Bros. I feel that Mobius is the only game where the staff that worked on the original Final Fantasy VII are working with me again in creating Final Fantasy VII content so I think in that sense the content is more real. In Smash Bros, for example, Cloud feels more like he is a guest where in Mobius the scenario writer who created the storyline for our collaboration with Cloud was actually the scenario writer for Final Fantasy VII so we feel that is like a new way to experience Final Fantasy VII since we have developers and writers that worked on that title creating new content for Mobius. That’s not only for Final Fantasy VII but for some other numbered Final Fantasy titles since we have people who worked on their respective games developing content for Mobius and that is definitely one of the unique qualities of our game.

Shifting away from Mobius, you have worked on a lot of iconic RPGs. Can you share one of your accomplishments of your career you are most proud of?

The first Final Fantasy I actually worked on was Final Fantasy V and Final Fantasy V as you know features 2D sprite work and animation and there is no voice acting included. As myself I was always a fan of video games and when I was creating Final Fantasy V I was in love with what I did and I still love that title and it is one of my cherished titles, but when I showed it to my family they didn’t understand what was happening on screen and that’s when I noticed 2D graphics weren’t providing enough movements or characterizations for people who don’t really play video games or understand video games to understand what was going on. That’s always just stayed in my mind so from now on I wanted to create a video where anyone, whether they play video games or not, can understand in an instant what is going on just by looking at the screen. In that sense with Final Fantasy VII when we introduced 3D was something that was necessary for video games to achieve what I wanted to achieve and because of the 3D graphics in Final Fantasy VII we got one step closer in achieving that goal and that was the start of the future of RPGs to follow that route and become more realistic so in that sense Final Fantasy VII is very dear to my heart.