Square Enix producer Kitase on Lightning Returns reviews, HD remasters, and that FF7 tech demo

Lightning Returns brought an end to what's been - relative to the series' high standards and typically universal acclaim - a divisive trilogy of games. While we enjoyed the final fantasy in Lightning's saga, other reviewers were happy enough to say so long to the rosy-haired heroine. When I spoke with series producer Yoshinori Kitase days after the game launched, I asked if he'd had a chance to read the reviews, and what he thought of them.

"Yes I have scanned through more or less all the reviews, as well as user feedback available on the Internet," Kitase said, through a translator "I wasn't really shocked. There are negative reviews and positive reviews, it's a real mixture. When I started making this game I took on very new challenges, so in a way I had anticipated that there would be mixed opinions, so this is more or less what we had anticipated."

Kitase, a Square Enix veteran of some 24 years, also argued the game might leave some with a negative impression at first, but as you play it the whole way through, your mind might change. For a second I wondered if we'd gone back in time to 2010, and Kitase was talking about the ever-so-slow introduction that put some players off Final Fantasy 13.

"In a normal process where we make numbered Final Fantasy games, it takes at least two or three years, [and it's] quite a long turnaround," Kitase pointed out, referring to the much shorter cycle that saw three FF13 games released in just under four years.

"In the space of three years, lots of things can [change] quite dramatically," he added. "The market situation, user trends, users' preferences, everything can change. So we've always taken feedback both from media and users on board, and when we want to reflect those views on the next project, in the space of three years, the situation might be completely different. The changes we've affected or implemented as a result of this feedback may not mean very much in three years' time, because of the long cycle."

In contrast, Kitase said the shorter turnarounds of the FF13 saga helped Square Enix keep up with those changing tides. He pointed to the example of Lightning Returns' integration of social media, like taking and posting screenshots on Facebook and Twitter, and how something like Twitter was only just becoming popular when FF13 launched four years ago.

How far can that reactive, market-led process lead Square Enix? We know the company is evolving to keep up with the growing free-to-play and mobile markets, so is something like a free-to-play Final Fantasy 16, or a mobile Final Fantasy 16 a possibility?

"Well, obviously anything's possible," Kitase said, before quickly distinguishing the idea. "I think with the Final Fantasy numbered titles, we always expect them to be very high-end, top quality set of art and graphics, high definition. After all, Final Fantasy is a flagship IP of Square Enix. So for the main Final Fantasy games, that's less likely."

Another way we're seeing Square Enix change its ideas is through the Final Fantasy 10 HD Remasters, due in the West next month on PS3 and Vita. Kitase also served as the producer on those projects, and despite the lengthy process - the games were first announced back in 2011 - he's very satisfied with how they've turned out.

"Yes, in general we're very happy because it was quite a challenge really, to be very honest with you," reflected Kitase. "Some people might argue it's a simple high definition version of the game released ten years ago, but it had to be more than that, because those who played the original version ten years ago, in the space of ten years all those memories become sweeter. They probably remember those games actually better than it was really.

"So adjustments had to be made, and it had to be made to match up with that sweeter version in their memories. It had to be better than it was, otherwise it wouldn't give out the same impression any more. The game's already been released in Japan as you know, and the reaction there has been very good, very positive, so all in all we're very happy."

Of course, with the FF10 Remasters done and dusted, it's inevitable fans start looking to other entries that could receive the HD treatment. Back in 2010, Kitase said the FF7 remake teased (inadvertently?) by that PS3 tech demo from E3 2005 was an "unrealistic" prospect. Four years and one set of remasters on, has his thinking changed at all?

"I still think it's going to be a very challenging task," Kitase said, before reiterating that remastering the PS2 games was a big enough challenge, and that the gap between today's tech and the PS1 is a lot wider.

"I can tell you personally I would love to do it," he said. "But before I decide to do anything of that kind, I would have to bring my dedication and motivation levels to the maximal high. It's not the kind of project I can start casually working on, it's a really serious project. It would be nice if I got the opportunity to do that in the future, but at the moment no plans."

So, nearly a decade on: Any regrets over showing that PS3 tech demo?

"No regrets as such," Kitase laughed. "It was the right thing to do at the time. But look, if we look at the possibility of remaking Final Fantasy 7 for high definition consoles, we already took nearly ten years to make the trilogy of Final Fantasy 13 games, ending with Lightning Returns. I think that a high-definition FF7 would be definitely comparable to that scale, an even bigger project maybe. It would probably take a lot longer than ten years, even if we ever do it. So that's what I am saying, I would have to have a complete and utter dedication to the project."

So, maybe check back with us in 2030 for news on the Final Fantasy 7 remake. Still, at least Final Fantasy 15 is on the way, with Kitase recently telling it's "quite far into development." Will we see any sign of the PS4 and Xbox One game at this year's E3 conference? Kitase refused to be drawn on that, saying Square Enix has yet to provide any official word. As Lightning's era finally comes to a close, we surely won't have to wait long to learn more of what's on the series' horizons.

[Images: Square Enix]