Titan is over a thousand feet tall, towering over Noctis. Its hand descends to crush the young prince. He attempts to warp away and fails. One lone man squares off against the god-like Archaean and things look dire, as the hero is repeatedly batted around by the building-sized palm - until his friends arrive. Together they eventually overwhelm Titan, freeze its hand, and shatter it altogether.
It’s a thrilling concept - but it proved a poor choice for the last big opportunities to showcase Final Fantasy XV to the masses.
At Microsoft’s E3 2016 event the first ever glimpse at the Xbox One version of Final Fantasy XV was shown. Director Hajime Tabata and Mat Kishimoto were on hand to showcase the “Trial of Titan” demo, the third demo (after Episode Duscae and the Platinum Demo) to present a fragment of the final product. Kishimoto played the demo on-stage, first fighting to survive until the rest of the party arrived, then weakening the iconic earth summon, and ultimately crippling it to finish up the demonstration. As cool as it all sounds, the presentation fell somewhat flat.
Tabata has been very open about the need for Final Fantasy XV to be a commercial success; if the game is to meet its goal of ten million copies sold, it’s critical that the fan base’s anticipation remains strong and that some new audiences are drawn in before launch as well. What better place to build excitement among both demographics than the Electronic Entertainment Expo, the biggest annual show of its kind? The same show where the long-awaited Final Fantasy VII Remake was announced last year? The last big opportunity to show the world (and more importantly, North America) what this game has to offer?
The Trial of Titan demo was not the best choice to seize on this opportunity - at least, not in the way it was presented.
Fighting Archaeans & Awkwardness
To make a strange turn of phrase (like Nintendo exec Reggie Fils-Amie’s now infamous “my body is ready” quip) is one thing; to stand awkwardly on stage in silence is another. Tabata taciturnly stands by while Kishimoto unenthusiastically hammers on the Xbox One controller. Aside from a brief explanation to set the scene, neither bothers to expand upon or to explain what’s going on. The demo simply drops Noctis into disaster and lets Kishimoto struggle his way out of it, the two men poised stoically at centre-stage.
Titan is an incredible feat of animation, but in this particular snippet of the fight against him, we see little more than a giant hand and wrist. The display began with an awe-inspiring shot of his face and then promptly cuts down to Noctis’ level, subsequently undercutting the rush of seeing the giant boss.
Taken in the proper in-game context, along with any other phases of the battle, I’m sure this is an incredible spectacle. But as a high-profile opportunity to reach the masses, Noctis versus the Giant Hand got old. This snippet was not the sort of scenario that will lure in new players or those on the fence. It was ultimately three minutes of confusion, which turned into indifferent boredom.
Further raising the disappointment meter was Kishimoto’s unfortunate skill with the game. Not to mock him personally, but Kishimoto seemed less than familiar with the controls and took quite a beating. Had he been playing the actual game and not a doctored demo it’s likely he would have earned a Game Over. Faltering during an E3 live presentation shows a touch of authenticity; getting your teeth knocked in is another.
Should We Be Worried About Final Fantasy XV?
So the last big demo display was underwhelming. What does this mean for the finished product? Hopefully, very little.
If you’ve played Episode Duscae and/or the Platinum Demo already, there should be nothing in Trial of Titan that surprises you in terms of gameplay. The HUD has been tweaked but otherwise it’s the same game we first tried a year ago. Presentation wise, Titan is every bit as incredible as Ramuh and more, and Yoko Shimomura’s score for the scene was incredible.
What the Trial reiterated for me is that the battle system may prove a little too convoluted. Perhaps this is the type of game where not everyone is able to just pick it up and master it. Even Kishimoto, chosen to stand with Tabata and play the demo, seemed a little out of his element (though, to be fair, nerves may have been a large factor). Neither demo so far has provided thorough context or instruction, and I certainly would have looked even clumsier if my battle with Deadeye in Duscae had been broadcast to the world.
The problem is, the general public aren't forgiving. They are happy to look over technical difficulties in a demonstration, but when the person whose job it is to showcase the game is struggling, it doesn't build much confidence. Where this showing will affect Square is therefore reputation. Microsoft’s audience is not the ideal market for JRPGs and their conference was a poor choice for this demonstration. The same demo in more comfortable hands at the Sony conference might have revitalized the hype for September’s release, but instead the overwhelming response has been apathy. How many new preorders have they lost instead?
Meanwhile, At the Sony Conference
Final Fantasy XV had a smaller presence during Sony’s conference. A sizzle reel of new and old (but mostly old) footage was shown, set to a new remix of the Chocobo Theme by artist Afrojack. It was a fun montage even if most of the ground covered has been seen before, and though it was a third of the length of the Trial demo it was much more exciting for the casual viewer. Square would have been better suited by switching their presentations: the frenetic supercut rendered on Xbox One would have been a good debut for that version, while a live, epic-scale boss demo would have fit quite nicely into Sony’s grandiose presentation.
You can understand that they wanted to give the Xbox audience something exclusive, but the fit was just all wrong.
Square Enix has since released a longer version of the same trailer with more new footage, including glimpses of Leviathan and a showdown between Noctis and a Numb Blade. Compared to the truncated version shown during Sony’s presentation, the full version is a much more interesting preview and another missed opportunity.
This highlight reel then transitioned into an announcement for a new feature in Final Fantasy XV: a PS4 exclusive feature utilizing Sony’s new VR headset, placing players in Prompto’s perspective for first-person-shooter action. Unfortunately this demo began with a good look at Cindy, perhaps setting the bar a little low for Final Fantasy XV: VR Experience. Nothing was said during Sony’s show about how this would incorporate into the larger game; the demo returns to the battle with Deadeye from the year-old Episode Duscae. As exciting as this could be, it might also be very expensive DLC (requiring at least $399 for the headset) and a cheap gimmick.
Luckily the social media campaign has been a little more informative than the grand stage presentations - but is this really the best way to make a splash? Why settle for smaller, Square Enix hosted shows on Twitch when you have screen time during two of the three biggest spectacles at the industry’s most important event?
Final Fantasy XV still looks incredible, but Square Enix fumbled a chance to whip anticipation for it into a true frenzy with these underwhelming presentations. The next opportunity on this scale is Gamescom, then the Tokyo Game Show, but the impact is much less for these events on a global scale and one is only a mere fortnight before Final Fantasy XV’s release. That lofty goal of ten million copies sold - a milestone the series has only reached with Final Fantasy VII - has not been made any easier to reach this week.