“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
Appearing in a video game trailer over a moonlit cityscape set to a somber Yoko Shimomura tune, this quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet lit a flame seven years ago that still hasn’t gone out. More words illuminate the screen: crystals, a line of kings, an isolated nation, swords and sorcery, the outer world, a new era – as a sort of prelude to the visual splendor that would follow.
And what happens in this trailer? A prince sleeps on his throne in a dark room flooded with water. He awakens and steps into the outside world – a modern city – with thunder and lightning heralding his emergence. The prince meets an army of knights wielding firearms, and he descends a long staircase to meet them in battle. The knights open fire on him, but the prince is protected by something unseen – the knights’ bullets flying off of the space around him. With the thrust of his arm, his invisible shield materializes as a band of weapons – spears, halberds, and swords. They swirl around the prince, and he reaches out for one: a blade, its hilt decorated with large machinery. The blade gives off a deep vroom – much like that of an engine – as the prince’s eyes turn red. Then darkness. Then: Final Fantasy Versus XIII.
For most fans, it was the trailer’s stark contrast with the Final Fantasy XIII trailer we had just seen moments before that ignited their interest. It was the unnamed male protagonist against XIII’s Lightning. It was the promise of Kingdom Hearts-style gameplay versus what appeared to be a cinematic turn-based system in XIII. It was the darkness and modern world compared to XIII’s light, fantastic world. It was the fact that we were getting multiple XIII games at once – not sequels, not side-stories, but wholly independent games based on the same mythology. It was the promise of a large, explorable domain complete with airships and a world map.
For me, though, it was the sound in the trailer that accompanied the logo. A glimmer of light appears in the darkness, illuminating a sleeping figure; I hear a distant whistle. Then the title of the game emerges from the shadows, which the sleeping figure is leaning on; I hear something that can only be described as a faint wind, the sound of a star fading in the night sky, the whisper of a light going out. That sound haunted me for years and it’s still haunting me now. I was inspired by it. I was driven by it. The rest of the trailer was amazing, of course, but I played it over and over again just to hear that strange, uncanny sound at the end.
IT’S WHAT WE DON’T KNOW [ABOUT FINAL FANTASY VERSUS XIII] THAT INTRIGUES US
Fast forward seven years – the game’s still not out yet, although Square Enix promises we’ll see it soon enough.
So what exactly is Final Fantasy Versus XIII? To the jaded Final Fantasy fan, the game is the savior of the series. To the disillusioned Kingdom Hearts fan, the game is taking up director Tetsuya Nomura’s time and has become an obstacle on the path to Kingdom Hearts III. But in this editorial, I can only really speak for myself; instead of asking what the game itself is we should all really be asking, “What is Final Fantasy Versus XIII to me?”
Most of us are already aware – painfully even, since it’s pretty much all we know – that the action RPG was announced during 2006’s E3 event alongside Final Fantasy XIII and Final Fantasy Agito XIII, which was later renamed Final Fantasy Type-0. That was exactly seven years ago as of last week. The games were and still are a part of the “Fabula Nova Crystallis” umbrella – a compilation of games that share similar mythologies but take place in different worlds with different characters. Final Fantasy Versus XIII, like its sister title Final Fantasy XIII, was announced for the PlayStation 3. Tetsuya Nomura claimed that Versus XIII would be the darkest Final Fantasy game yet, and that it would serve as a prototype highlighting the battle system to come in Kingdom Hearts III. Many expect it to be his magnum opus.
We haven’t learned much in the years since then outside of bits and pieces trickled from various interviews with Nomura. We’ve come to know the prince as Noctis Lucis Caelum. We’ve met his band of friends and his father, King Caelum. We’ve glimpsed possible villains, including the beautiful Stella Nox Fleuret – a woman from a kingdom called Tenebrae (possibly one of the invading kingdoms seeking the last crystal). With powers similar to Noctis’ own, including the ability to see the mysterious “light” of souls leaving this world, Stella cares for Noctis but is on the other side of a war that’s bigger than both of them. We know that the game will be scored by Yoko Shimomura, whose orchestral pieces are already familiar to us Kingdom Hearts fans, though they feel more vibrant and fully evolved now that they’re being performed by an actual orchestra instead of an electronic one. Characters have been slightly redesigned and the graphics are impressive enough in the latest trailer from 2011, but now they’re said to be almost photo-realistic.
It’s what we don’t know that intrigues us. I’m not just referring to the meat of the game’s story, or the truth behind the powers that both Stella and Noctis display. Final Fantasy Versus XIII, for all its lack of information in the past seven years – or perhaps because of it – has been the source of a ridiculous amount of rumors within the past year: A video of the most recent trailer from 2011 was edited to suggest that the game has been renamed Final Fantasy XV; Kotaku claimed that the game was actually being canceled and recycled into other projects – a farce that was quickly smashed by former CEO Yoichi Wada; it’ll actually be a cross-generational title – or perhaps PlayStation 4 exclusive; it’s definitely being renamed to FFXV, as outed by the game’s fashion designer Roen; it’s going to lose its action RPG elements in favor of a turn-based system – no, they’re still in the game, but they’re going to scrap all references to XIII, including Etro; it’s dead; it’s vaporware; it’s coming in 2011… 2012… 2013… 2014… soon. Some of these rumors have more substance to them than others, and some are quite likely to be true. Perhaps.
PERSONALLY, I WANT TO PLAY THE GAME THAT NOMURA ORIGINALLY CONCEIVED
The fact that there are so many rumors about this game – both baseless and with some legitimacy – shows not only a lack of concrete information, but an inherent mystique that fascinates the Final Fantasy fandom at large. The game has been thriving on its hazy existence. We are drawn to Versus XIII.
Just a few months ago, I was feverishly checking for Versus XIII news every single day. I clung to the rumors and had strong opinions about most of them. But now that the time for the game’s reveal is approaching, I can safely say that I just don’t care about them anymore. The game is still Final Fantasy Versus XIII, and it’s still for the PS3. If anything is to be changed, then it is to be changed, and we will find out soon. Personally, I want to play the game that Nomura originally conceived: Final Fantasy Versus XIII, with that name, for the PlayStation 3. But I have a lot of faith in Nomura and his team, so if he feels that the game needs to be different somehow, then I’ll trust his judgment.
It’s probably unwise to have high expectations in general, but I expect a lot from this game. I’m looking forward to being deeply engaged with the game’s story, exploring the motif of “sleep” that so frequently appears in Nomura’s work. I expect to be shocked, saddened, and moved by the characters and their actions. I hope to be thrilled by Nomura’s vision of how a Final Fantasy game could be, with new gameplay elements mixed in alongside Final Fantasy standards. I want to fight battles that take place over wide areas, in many directions, against unrealistically gigantic enemies – a taste of which was had in the recent Kingdom Hearts 3D [Dream Drop Distance].
So it all comes back to this: what is the game to me? When I consider an answer to that question, my mind wanders to one scene in particular from the latest trailer: a first-person perspective of the player, likely a young Noctis, running through a clearing in the woods at twilight. We see a tall King Caelum in the distance and run up to him. Shimomura’s music runs along with the player, high strings that are joined by a flute dancing above them in a youthful respite during an otherwise heavy, action-packed piece. When I view this part of the trailer and hear that music, I feel like I’m exploring something amazing and new – or old – something crepuscular, something tragically beautiful.
That’s how I think of Final Fantasy Versus XIII. The game isn’t even out yet and we know so little about it, but to me, it’s a source of inspiration and wonder. With its world on the brink of war, much like our own, Versus XIII promises to convey the human realities that sleep within fantasy. Its secrecy and lack of information make it that much more sweet to me; its mysteries make me want to take it into my entire being and know it completely. That’s what the game is to me; what is it to you?
It’s finally the warm spring, and the sleeping figure is beginning to stir from its slumber.