From its first announcement at E3 2006, Final Fantasy Versus XIII was closely associated with its original director, Tetsuya Nomura (of Kingdom Hearts fame).

After languishing in development for years, Square Enix decided the project needed a fresh start. That began with rebranding the title Final Fantasy XV, but the changes didn’t stop there. At this year’s Tokyo Game Show, the publisher announced Nomura is no longer on the project, with the director role being passed to Hajime Tabata, the mind behind Final Fantasy Type-0 and Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII.


 Square Enix knows fans have been waiting a long time to play Final Fantasy XV, which is why the company also revealed plans for a playable demo, entitled Episode Duscae. “It is the first time that fans who have been waiting for XV get a chance to try out the game,”

Tabata says. “The reason I wanted to make a demo is to let players see whatever portion is available right now and to understand that XV is still coming and we’re still working on it.”Episode Duscae is a slice of the early parts of Final Fantasy XV,but it gives players an idea of the scope and possibilities of the full game. Some of the major features are apparent immediately, like the ability to drive vehicles. Noctis and his friends are cruising through the countryside, making the adventure feel a bit like a road trip among friends.

Unlike some previous Final Fantasy titles (most notably XIII), players are not restricted to traveling down linear corridors. “Not literally everything is open world, but it is pretty vast, and you will be able to freely explore,” Tabata says. “You can technically walk around the world, but we recommend using a vehicle, and it’ll be a journey driving through the continent.”


 Combat also takes place out in the open, with no transition between exploration and battle phases. “You’ve got enemies that are roaming around in all areas,” Tabata says. “There’s not an ‘encounter,’ per se. It’s all seamless.” Like driving on safari, you might see giant lumbering beasts just feet from your vehicle. If you want to, you can get out and pick a fight, taking advantage of the action heavy battle system. You slash your sword and fire off magic spells with immediate feed back, on the opposite side of the spectrum from a traditional turn-based system. You can switch between offensive and defensive stances with the push of a button, but we have to wait until we get our hands on the demo to understand the finer points of battle.

Episode Duscae should give players ample opportunity to explore the nuances of combat and exploration, since the demo provides plenty of content. “If you just play straight through the story, it’s about one hour worth of gameplay,” Tabata says. “If you go and explore the world map or go into a dungeon, it would be somewhere upwards of three to four hours.” Square Enix hasn’t revealed the pricing or release plans for Episode Duscae, but those who buy Final Fantasy Type-0 HD get a free voucher for the demo.

Final Fantasy XV is currently between 50 to 60 percent complete. That might not seem impressive for a game that has been in the works for over eight years, but it seems like the recent developments have put the game on a new and less ambiguous course. The release of Episode Duscae could go a long way toward restoring fan confidence in the Final Fantasy XV project, though Tabata (who joined the team two years ago) still isn’t ready to announce a firm release date.

“Unfortunately, it’s still going to take a while,” he says. “But I’m hoping people will reset their timers from when I joined the team and restart the count from there.”