When Final Fantasy X exploded onto the PlayStation 2 in 2001, it revolutionized not just the Final Fantasy series but the role-playing genre as a whole. The tuned-to-perfection turn-based combat, the beautiful soundtrack, the heartfelt story, and the eye-popping-for-the-time visuals created one of the most important entries of one of the most important franchises in video game history. However, one element was absent from Final Fantasy X that several of the key developers involved with the project lamented: an explorable world map.
For Yoshinori Kitase, a producer on Final Fantasy VII Rebirth who also served as a director on Final Fantasy VI, VII, VIII, and X, the world map’s disappearance was a sore spot as someone who has been involved with the series since 1990. “We started off expressing this world that you can venture through this world map,” he tells Game Informer. That was how it was for Final Fantasy I, but starting with Final Fantasy X, when we entered into this real-time 3D world, this is when the world map development ceased or halted to some degree.”
Despite all its praise and importance, Final Fantasy X has received criticism for its linearity, with the game truly opening only near the final stretches of the main story. Even then, unless you run through the linear path of the party’s pilgrimage, the best way to explore the world map is by selecting points of interest in an airship, which felt counter to how the team had envisioned before Final Fantasy X.
“With X, it was the style where a player chooses a point or an area that they would like to go, and they travel from there,” Kitase says. “The feeling was that, since it’s real-time 3D, it’s not quite possible to create this full world map anymore. Beyond X, there is not really a clear world map within Final Fantasy, and this was the norm. I had assumed that this would be the same for Remake as well, so going into that, what [Final Fantasy VII Remake and Rebirth director Naoki Hamaguchi] noted was going back to our origins and restoring the fun of exploring this vast world map. That was a strong feeling.”
Tetsuya Nomura, who has worked on most Final Fantasy games since Final Fantasy IV and fills the creative director role on Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, confesses that something has felt missing from Final Fantasy since the world map’s disappearance. “Ever since the world map disappeared, I really had this weird feeling,” he says. “I always thought it was strange without a world map. I thought that you can’t really have an RPG without a world map, specifically for Final Fantasy VII, to fully experience this world, we must have a world map. We can’t be without it!”
Though 2016’s Final Fantasy XV featured a world map to explore, Square Enix hopes to push the idea of a modern RPG world map even further in Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, as it breaks the Remake trilogy from the confines of Midgar and out into a vast world. In the demo I saw, Junon is broken up into segments in the world map U.I., but you can go across the entirety of the region seamlessly. Not only that, but Final Fantasy VII Rebirth’s huge, explorable world is full of story missions, side content, and minigames, taking the world map beyond anything seen in recent Final Fantasy games and even extending beyond what we saw in Remake.
The studio hopes this will entice players to explore and engage with the various kinds of content it has created. “Part of our game design that we took on for Rebirth is that in the main storyline, you’ll be saving Yuffie and Under Junon, and then from there, going towards Junon, and then go forward towards Costa del Sol,” Hamaguchi tells Game Informer. “But for example, hearing the stories of the anti-Shinra people living in Under Junon, you could then feel like, ‘What about this Crow’s Nest area that I’m hearing about? Maybe I want to go over there and explore and go into a side adventure on my own to save people.’ We want the player to be able to make these different adventures and go on their own journeys according to their interests.”
For more on the team’s philosophy on side content in Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, head here. For more about my exclusive hands-off demo, head here. For a bunch of other Final Fantasy VII Rebirth content, be sure to visit the banner below! Final Fantasy VII Rebirth arrives on PlayStation 5 on February 29.
Source: Game Informer Why It Was So Important To Have An Explorable World Map In Final Fantasy VII Rebirth