In a presentation during the Game Developers Conference yesterday, Square Enix localization director and lead writer Dan Inoue delved into the multi-year process behind creating the world and characters of Final Fantasy 15 — and bringing them to 12 languages simultaneously.
With an international launch, Inoue and his colleagues at Square Enix had to work closely with Square employees from around the world, but that ended up being a boon to the game’s goal: a fantasy based on reality. The world of Final Fantasy 15 is split into four distinct regions, and each of those regions was based on real-world locales. For example, Altissia is a reimagined Venice. To get the feel of that location right, Inoue turned to Square’s Italian translation team for help.
For the crown city of Insomnia, the team tried to create a “cultural amalgam” — a metropolis blending elements of London, New York City, Paris and Tokyo. This is also where Square Enix was able to sneak in lots of product placement, which Inoue joked “might have struck players as a little too real.” He said the development team was keenly aware of the blending of reality and fantasy here, but felt that real advertising made the world more recognizable.
“That’s what I tell myself at night, anyway,” he added, laughing.
For the characters of Final Fantasy 15, Inoue took a different tack. He said that normally he avoids basing characters in games on real people, because he wants to give them their own story arcs and lifetime arcs. You can see this in some of the game’s characters, such as Prompto. The game of FF15 has a character arc of this happy-go-lucky figure having to confront dark times, but the greater collection of media around FF15 — such as the animeBrotherhood: Final Fantasy 15 — helps flesh out Prompto’s full lifetime arc, which deals with a character struggling with insecurity and finding a place to belong.
There was one character where Inoue broke his rules, however: protagonist Prince Noctis. As Inoue was working with Noctis’ Japanese voice actor, he was given a surprising source of inspiration: Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain. Inoue said he wanted to avoid creating a generic emo role-playing game lead, but he also knew that Noctis was somebody struggling with his role in the world. Through Cobain, Inoue found a model for how Noctis would act — like “a rockstar who spurns the spotlight.”
Inoue also spoke about how Square Enix came up with a model for conversational chemistry between the group of friends that serve as the main party in Final Fantasy 15. This included a complex diagram of how the characters relate to each other and a series of linguistic techniques to make the dialogue between them feel natural, including nonverbal communication and what Inoue calls “Sorkinization” — each line picking up on the words of the previous one, à la dialogue written by Aaron Sorkin.