Final Fantasy XV team talks Windows Edition, UWP development, cross-play, and more

Following the release of Final Fantasy XV in late 2016, its publisher and developer, Square Enix, continues to deliver a healthy stream of post-launch support. Between free updates, paid expansions, and even visual upgrades for consoles like the Xbox One X, the game stands out as one of the richest Final Fantasy adventures to date. Now, the game has made its debut on PC with "Final Fantasy XV Windows Edition," bringing an impressive assortment of features to leverage the power of the platform.

While Square Enix offers titles across console and PC, Final Fantasy XV Windows Edition marks a significant milestone for its approach to PC development. With a range of improvements designed with PC in mind, Square Enix claims this is its best port yet. Marking the game's release, we sat down with Takeshi Aramaki, Technical Director & Lead Programmer, and Kenichi Shida, Game Design & Development Manager, to discuss the Windows Edition and what it means for Square Enix going forward.

Making the move from console to PC

Later this year Final Fantasy XV will be approaching its second year on store shelves, following its strong debut for Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Departing from the franchise's turn-based roots in pursuit of real-time action-RPG gameplay, it offered a fresh take for franchise veterans and point of entry for newcomers. Paired with a strong narrative, captivating open world and strong combat, the game sits among the top entries in the series.

Final Fantasy XV saw a long journey from conception to release, with first work on the project starting over ten years ahead of launch. This meant the project spanned multiple console generations, with several pivots throughout the project. Despite this, Shida explained that the PC release was a natural fit and planned during the early stages of development.

It was pretty much planned from the start. In order to bring the technical level and bring out the extra power of the PC, we needed to take a lot more time and rework a lot more of the game to be optimized for PC. That's why we took a lot more time in the end.

Although the PC version marks a major leap from the original console experience, this isn't the first time Final Fantasy XV has seen graphical upgrades. Visual enhancements were delivered for both Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro versions of the game in the past, bringing gains in resolution, texture filtering and other effects. As described by Aramaki, work on these console versions tied directly into Windows Edition development, spreading the same team across the three versions.

I was basically in charge of making the enhanced console versions and the PC versions […] it was all done by the same team at the same time, so we worked on increasing the graphics for the console version and at the same time we were working on the PC version.

Embracing the Microsoft Store and UWP

Square Enix has chosen to release Final Fantasy XV on the Microsoft Store – an unusual move for major publishers.

Square Enix has chosen to release Final Fantasy XV on the Microsoft Store – an unusual move for major publishers.

Final Fantasy XV Windows Edition is available across three main digital distributors – Steam, Origin and most surprisingly, the Microsoft Store. Windows 10's integrated storefront hasn't been short of criticism in the past, amid technical issues, limited player pools and a general lack of flexibility, its reputation with consumers has suffered. Similarly, from a development standpoint, limitations of Microsoft's Universal Windows Platform (UWP) has driven many major studios away.

So why is a high-profile publisher distributing its games on the Microsoft Store? Aramaki expanded on the decision to develop a UWP version, positioning the Microsoft Store as natural progression beyond Xbox One.

We already had the Xbox One version, so technically, that made it very easy to make a [Microsoft Store] version of the game. We also felt that the other reason that there would be a number of Xbox One players who may want to play the game on PC as well, so it felt like a good fit for those people really.

Since the arrival of UWP, Microsoft has gone to great efforts to streamline development for the platform, while ushering in familiar features from traditional Win32 applications. However, there are still limitations that can hold back titles. This left aspects of the complete Windows Edition package excluded from the UWP version, though Aramaki feels this gap is rapidly closing.

There are obviously some features that are limited because the Windows Universal Platform just doesn't support them. For example, NVIDIA Ansel isn't possible [with the Windows Universal Platform].[…] Having said that, there are a number of the features from NVIDIA of course, such as Hairworks and Turf Effects, that they didn't support on UWP, but they actually are doing now. We think it's actually quite close really. There are some things, but it's as close as it possibly can to equal the other PC platforms.

Beyond efforts to support advanced third-party technologies, Aramaki indicated that work on migration tools such as Microsoft's "Centennial" desktop bridge is making UWP development more compelling to the studio.

From our point of view, what will make it easier for us, and this is already happening to a degree really, is if you want to create libraries in UWP, you have to do it in UWP – it's very difficult to bring native programs from other environments over to that. But Microsoft's currently working on its [desktop bridge] which does make that transfer a lot easier. So once that's fully in place, that's going to make it a lot easier on us.

In the future, at least from Aramaki's perspective, UWP and the Microsoft Store has the potential to grow going forward.

I obviously want it to do well and to spread more, that's good for us. I think maybe initially it won't grow at such a great speed, but it will probably slowly get there in the future – there is potential there.

When asked about future Square Enix titles coming to the Microsoft Store, Shida sees similar opportunities for the platform in the future, with the goal of reaching as wide an audience as possible. Although the approach taken by Square Enix's individual business divisions varies, he feels a similar ethos is being adopted throughout the company.

As a company, we think putting it out on as many platforms as possible is a very important thing. One other example of something we've done recently is Romancing SaGa 2, which was brought to the [Microsoft Store].I think other departments within Square Enix see it in a very similar way, but certainly from our perspective as Business Division 2 [lead by Final Fantasy XV director, Hajime Tabata], we value putting our games out on as wide as platforms as possible and we're very proactive in doing that. We think it's a very important thing.The way we look at Final Fantasy XV is that we have achieved that goal as getting it out to as many platforms as possible. We started with console and obviously went onto the Pocket Edition, taking it to phones, and now the PC [with] the Windows Edition. So we think we have achieved our goal of going wide with that.

Bridging the gap between Xbox One and Windows 10

In recent years the concept of cross-platform multiplayer has become a reality, with Microsoft and Nintendo voluntarily opening their networks to third-party platforms. Several games now offer these unified multiplayer experiences, bridging the gap between once-separate communities.

Microsoft has been at the forefront of these endeavors, with a library of titles offering cross-play between Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs via Xbox Live. Square Enix has adopted this for Windows Edition, with multiplayer between the two platforms. Aramaki feels that Microsoft's recent cross-platform efforts are bringing the duo together, under their own independent community.

We felt that cross-play was a very important feature for Xbox One users and the UWP users because we see them as really being the same community overall. People have friends across them and the same accounts used across both of them, so we felt that because it really was one community, we needed to allow them to play across with each other.

By embracing cross-play with Xbox One, this means the Windows 10 is tied down to Xbox Live – cutting compatibility with Steam and Origin versions in the process. Instead of being another PC version, Aramaki explains that the team treats the Windows 10 version as an extension of the console experience.

That's how we see it basically – Steam has their own community, Origin has their community, but obviously the exception there is Windows 10 and the Microsoft Store community because that's basically the same as the Xbox community. So it's a different thing really.

Establishing a future for Final Fantasy XV

Final Fantasy XV

Final Fantasy XV (Image credit: Square Enix)

While the Final Fantasy XV Windows Edition wraps up a long journey of post-launch content so far, Square Enix still promises to deliver further content in the future. Shida pitches this release as a summary of the Final Fantasy XV experience so far, serving as a great point of entry, or return, for players.

The timing of releasing the Windows Edition and the Royal Edition for consoles is very much a culmination of what we've done up until this point. What that represents if that we've now put in everything that we planned from the start of the development that we wanted to do, in the way we wanted to do it. So that's why we're releasing Windows Edition now. But as our director, Mr. Tabata, has already said, we still plan to keep FFXV being an active game and looking to expand and keep adding new things in the future.

During our time with Shida and Aramaki, they emphasized that Final Fantasy XV Windows Edition marks the company's biggest investment in a PC port. During my brief hands-on with a pre-release version game, this shone through too, with a level of depth profoundly surpassing console editions. Even with the team's limited background in PC development, Final Fantasy XV Windows Edition is shaping up as a PC port done right. Shida wrapped up our discussion with what the team has learned – and their plans for the future.

I think what I'm most proud of is really that fact that Square Enix has never before put this much effort into a PC version of any of their games. And it wasn't just a simple port – we really did put so much effort into adjusting everything for the game and bringing that up to the level that PC gamers want to see. So I think that's what I'm most proud of; when we put that effort in and manage to actually get it out there in a way Square Enix has never really done before.But certainly, looking forward, we don't see ourselves as PC veterans in any way – we really are still a challenger on the PC market now and we have a lot left to learn. So we are very much looking forward to going forward and learning from the PC gaming community and the PC media out there and really getting better for next time.

Final Fantasy XV Windows Edition is now available across various PC platforms, including the Microsoft Store, Steam, and Origin, priced at $49.99. With a variety of upgrades, including native 4K and 8K resolutions, HDR10 and other graphical enhancements, the version is shaping up as the best Final Fantasy XV experience so far.

Matt Brown

Matt Brown was formerly a Windows Central's Senior Editor, Xbox & PC, at Future. Following over seven years of professional consumer technology and gaming coverage, he’s focused on the world of Microsoft's gaming efforts. You can follow him on Twitter @mattjbrown.