Square Enix is having a great year thanks to the release of NieR: Automata (March), Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age (July), and Final Fantasy XIV‘s second expansion, Stormblood (June). With the announcement of Secret of Mana (a 3D remake coming to PlayStation 4, Vita, and PC) and the long-awaited PC port of Final Fantasy XV, it seems all odds are in their favor. As a PC gamer, however, I know the reality to be quite different. Yes, FFXV will be a far superior product on PC and the company is also responsible for other great titles gracing my Steam library; but that’s not to say they’re saints.
In a short interview with Final Fantasy XV director Hajime Tabata, PC Gamer asked about the game’s “Windows Edition” (an unnecessary subtitle if you ask me), which Tabata and Square seem to view as a trump card to get the Final Fantasy brand going on Steam. PC Gamer’s Fraser Brown also states the following:
“Even though several Final Fantasy games have been given PC ports, it’s still very much seen as a console series. Tabata and the dev team, then, had to figure out how to get players to associate it with PC as well.”
Tabata’s conundrum is something Square Enix executives have likely been struggling with for a while now. Besides FFXIV and games published by them (Tomb Raider, Deus Ex, Hitman and so on), the Japanese company doesn’t have a strong presence on PC. Despite coming out only a few months after its original console releases, Final Fantasy Type-0 HD didn’t impress Steam users. Hitting the storefront a year after its PS4 debut, Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster was a nice surprise but never managed to have a huge impact. The problem is not even that people such as myself—who never had a proper console or were never acquainted with Final Fantasy as those who grew up on VII—didn’t have much contact with the franchise before it hit PC. We knew what “FF” meant long before then. What Square Enix and Tabata have to figure out is not how to make people associate Final Fantasy with PC, but how they will meet multi-platform expectations that the majority of gamers have nowadays with titles being announced for multiple platforms at once.
Timed exclusives are nothing new. Even to this day some publishers decide to release their titles exclusively for one of two major consoles for a period of time (that’s when they don’t go all out with the whole exclusive idea, such as Atlus and the main Persona franchise; and no, I’m not counting the Switch as a “major console” because Nintendo plays its own game and it’s nailing it so far). Yet Square Enix seems fixated with the idea of consoles, especially the PlayStation line. we could blame Japan’s long history with consoles and PlayStation itself, which leads to a lack of touch with the PC market. But aside from NieR: Automata (which took a while to be officially announced for PC), Square Enix isn’t used to confirming PC ports at all.
What I mean with that is that they leave such announcements for the last moment. Type-0‘s port was officially announced a month before it landed and X/X-2‘s hit mainstream media only days before it happened. They also took a while to officially confirm Lightning Returns‘ port and after that, it was delayed for unknown reasons—although I always suspected it was due to optimization. And finally, we all know FFXII: The Zodiac Age will make it to PC sooner or later, but it hasn’t been confirmed yet. From that, it’s clear that Square Enix doesn’t want to commit to PC releases until it’s convenient; which is understandable, but it doesn’t inspire much confidence on how serious they are about this market.
The Final Fantasy franchise has always been a console thing. That’s where it started and where it remained for many, many years. Few people even know that FFVII and VIII had PC releases back in 1998 and the year 2000 respectively. Square Enix seems so fixated on their history with Sony that it even promoted NieR: Automata primarily as a PlayStation 4 game even though it is on Sony’s platform just as much as it is on Steam. The promotional campaign focused so much on the PS4 that PC users never got the chance to play the demo (and not for a lack of requests). If any websites or independent critics wished to review the port in order to report their followers on the performance, they had to wait for the official release to do so because SE hadn’t much interest in distributing review codes.
What Tabata and his parent company need to figure out is that Final Fantasy will be associated with PC when the company starts treating it as a multi-platform franchise. How about they start by looking into the performance issues that plague XIII and XIII-2, in particular? I have a 7th generation Core i7 with a GTX 1050Ti and despite being able to run the aforementioned No Man’s Sky (which has a lot of bugs and performance issues, let us not forget), my tempered FFXIII-2 (tweaked as recommended to run better) struggles to reach 30 FPS in most areas and situations, let alone remain at that threshold.
And while talking about optimization, it’s important to remember the company’s stance on that. Not only do FFXIII and XIII-2 have problems that users with powerful machines should not be facing, but Type-0 doesn’t run necessarily well and NieR: Automata is still part of the “poorly optimized” club. On its Steam page, it says Square Enix developed Automata, which I believe means that they developed the port, so yes, they should be partially responsible for how it runs.
Hajime Tabata might have the best of intentions with Final Fantasy XV and its PC port, which so far seems to be the ultimate way to play it. Still, it’s difficult not to be skeptical when their primary focus is running the game at 4k and 60 FPS at maximum settings, a feat he said they could not yet achieve with a GTX 1080Ti. To y’all console gamers, the problem with this is the optimization if you didn’t figure it out. And I know how most of us PC gamers sound like, crying for support to resolutions only a handful of us have money for—but at the end of the day, that shiny finishing means nothing when the engine can’t handle the frame’s weight. I don’t think Tabata knows Square Enix’s reputation on the PC market, but I sure as hell can tell that he doesn’t know what we really want. If he did, he’d be working on finding the minimum required specs and optimizing performance before impressing us with NVIDIA GameWorks and a first-person mode no one but PSVR owners might have asked for.
The claim that “PCs that have similar specs to current gen consoles won’t have any problems, so if your PC is a few years old, you shouldn’t need to splash out on an upgrade just to enjoy [Final Fantasy XV]” should be taken with a grain of salt when XIII-2 fails to deliver a desirable performance. And yes, I know. The XIII trilogy—as well as XIV 1.0—was developed on the Crystal Tools, an extremely flawed engine that always had problems running on PC. XIV 2.0 (commonly known as “A Realm Reborn”) uses a modified version of Luminous Studio, the engine powering Final Fantasy XV, and it performs well enough on PC. But take a moment to make a few comparisons between XV‘s elaborate graphics, physics, and open world, and the fact that modern computers struggle to run a last-gen game (FFXIII-2) properly. How much should Tabata or Square Enix be concerned with graphics and additional features when another engine also developed by the company is so problematic on a platform they didn’t properly plan for?