Fabula Nova Crystallis & a decade of Final Fantasy XIII: an interview with producer Yoshinori Kitase

By Andrew Yoon, Oct 24, 2013 10:00am PDT

"We've been working on the entire Final Fantasy XIII series for ten years now," producer Yoshinori Kitase reminisced. Having worked at Square Enix since 1990, that means he's spent nearly half his career on the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy, which concludes with next year's Lightning Returns. For Kitase, it was an unexpected generation-long journey--one which Kitase hopes will leave a lasting impression on fans.

"When we first started working on Final Fantasy XIII, we didn't have a clear vision of it becoming trilogy, of course," he admitted. "XIII being all on one console generation wasn't planned either. In any game development situation, there's always unexpected challenges, and the industry changes, and there are different obstacles we have to face. So sometimes, things may not go as planned. As a result of XIII expanding into multiple installments, we have the end result of XIII taking up an entire console cycle.

Square Enix was surprisingly candid about the problems that plagued Final Fantasy XIII's development. The transition to current-gen consoles hit many Japanese developers hard, and Square Enix was no different. The company quickly turned to fan feedback to ensure that future titles would better live up to their expectations. But with XIII's shortcomings, the company also saw an opportunity to expand upon the world and create a multi-game narrative.

"There are long-running TV series like 24 and Lost. I wanted to make a long story in that vein, to enjoy for a long time," Kitase told us. "We had the Fabula Nova Crystallis mythos, and we felt like at the end of the first installment, we weren't able to communicate everything we wanted to to gamers. By the time we finished Final Fantasy XIII, there were already ideas for a sequel, and beyond that too."

And so, XIII became a trilogy. Kitase saw the first game as a way of introducing the world, and the subsequent games would make the stakes much more clear. And now that the world-building is over, Lightning Returns can focus on what really matters. "There were so many elements that needed to be presented in such a short amount of time, there may have been some gamers that were confused by the complexity of it," Kitase said. "But as the series progressed, we were able to finish explaining what needed to be explained ahead of time. And now, we can clearly show what the story is about and tie up loose ends, and show clearly where the story is headed."

In fact, Lightning Returns will probably have a greater sense of finality to it than previous Final Fantasy games, because they had multiple games to tell the story. "With the XIII series, we hadn't changed what we wanted the story to be around. There are gods in the world, and there's a fate that they have burned on the people of that world. Lightning and her friends struggle: 'do we fight against it?' It's been a struggle in the first two installments, but in Lightning Returns, they have a breakthrough. We want to clearly depict that theme, and get to the conclusion of the overarching subject matter of the entire series."

Lightning Returns promises to end a story nearly a decade-in-the-making. However, does that mean "Fabula Nova Crystallis" ends with the XIII trilogy? For those unfamiliar with the term, it's Square Enix's vision of a shared world across multiple games. It was supposed to include Final Fantasy Versus XIII as well, before it turned into Final Fantasy XV. According to Kitase, the world of Crystallis will live on. "In the mythos, there are various gods and settings that are within that storyline. But in terms of the XIII series that pertains to Lightning, that world will definitely come to an end. But the overall Fabula Nova Crystallis, they are the backbone of games like Type-0 and Final Fantasy XV. We don't believe Fabula Nova Crystallis will end with Lightning Returns. Fabula Nova Crystallis is still existing."

Ah, so Kitase's ten-year journey with XIII isn't really ending, is it?

"We've been with Lightning for 10 years. We would love for her to be one of those iconic characters that live on well after the game is done," Kitase said as we wrapped up our interview. "This is the first trilogy of the series. This is the first strong female protagonist we've ever had in Lightning. We would definitely love for it to become one of those legacy titles, like Final Fantasy VII..."

"We would love for Lightning to become something like that and carry on the legacy."

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII will be available on PS3 and Xbox 360 this February.

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