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Fusing Magic and Realism. The Art of Final Fantasy XV

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Fusing Magic and Realism. The Art of Final Fantasy XV

Read An Excerpt From Our Official FINAL FANTASY XV Art Book.

Arjan Terpstra

02 Nov 2019 ⋅ 5 min read

Below you'll find an excerpt from The Art and Design of FINAL FANTASY XV, the official coffee table art book on the popular video game and Kingsglaive movie. Enjoy reading!

Designers of fantasy fiction worlds, no matter the medium they design for, face peculiar challenges.

The word ‘fantasy’ implies a freedom to simply let your imagination run free, see where your dreams take you, and build your world from there.

Yet building a fantasy world is probably harder than a realistic one: in realistic worlds, an audience knows what to expect, leaving the designers with the simple task to show us things we recognise, to simulate what we know.
FFXV book interior 6
FFXV book interior 6
The simulation of what we don’t know is a significantly bigger challenge. Take the Final Fantasy XV universe, as expressed through three different media: the Kingsglaive movie, the Brotherhood anime series, and the Final Fantasy XV video game, all released in 2016.

They show things that are far from realistic. Characters bring spectacular, spirit-like ‘summons’ to life (known as Astrals, here), or wield powerful spells.

Kings wear rings that channel the magical power of crystals larger than the kings themselves, while heroes hunt monsters with swords bigger than a horse.

How do you show these things in ways that keep our disbelief as viewers willingly suspended?
FFXV book interior 8
FFXV book interior 8
The universe of Final Fantasy XV is magical, imaginative and vivid, full of intriguing details, places of beauty, and inspired creatures.

It is also a world people can believe in, as its fantasy elements play out against a backdrop of solid realism, tied to events and environments that are easily paralleled with our own geographical and cultural horizons.

The physical setting is the entirely fictional land of Eos, but our minds register variations on known natural and cultural motifs, such as the tropical setting of the Havana-recalling city of Lestallum, or the echoes of 1960s Midwestern roadside architecture in the Hammerhead gas station, the game’s first notable location.
FFXV book interior 9
FFXV book interior 9
Insomnia, the capital city of the Kingdom of Lucis, is protected by a magic shield—but it’s also is a recognisably modern metropolis, full of skyscrapers, artificial illumination at all hours, and hectic traffic.

And so it continues, across Eos: the most fantastical sights of the Final Fantasy XV world are forever embedded in realistic visual information, connecting the fabulously impossible to the realm of probability.
FFXV book interior 10
FFXV book interior 10
This feat required a balancing act with the artists at Square Enix, the Japanese studio and publisher that brought Final Fantasy XV, the game, and its complementary, fiction-expanding projects to life.

They aimed for a world in which ‘fantasy was grounded in realism,’ as opposed to earlier instalments of the series in which fantasy elements had a bigger impact on a game’s look and feel.

The technology was up to the challenge, as home computers and gaming consoles have reached the stage where photorealistic rendering of images is possible.
FinalFantasyXV
FinalFantasyXV
But agreeing on a general design rule doesn’t make creating fantastic elements less of a practical challenge.

Monster designs are an interesting case in point, as monsters have been at the core of all Final Fantasy games, and many popular designs appear and reappear throughout the series.

Imagine the challenge the art team faced: how would something as surreal as a nightmarish beast of old fit this new, photorealistic universe, and still feel like a true Final Fantasy monster?

To outsiders, the question may seem trivial, but with a series as popular and influential as Final Fantasy, it hardly is.
FFXV book interior 14
FFXV book interior 14
Before the series started, the Japanese role playing game genre (JRPG; in which a player controls a character or set of characters in a well-defined fantasy world) was something of an acquired taste, mostly enjoyed in the domestic Japanese market, with select titles like Square Enix’s Dragon Quest of 1986 eventually reaching Western audiences, too.

Final Fantasy built on that success, greatly expanding the commercial and cultural reach of the genre since its Japanese debut in 1987, ultimately establishing the JRPG as an popular export product with a sizable impact.
FFXV book interior 11
FFXV book interior 11
Getting the monsters, summons, and other popular creatures wrong in Final Fantasy XV could jeopardise that legacy, especially for longtime fans.

Recurring creature designs, like the mammalian brute of the Behemoth and the colossal, serpentine Leviathan, therefore required special attention, and for good reasons: the canine-like Behemoth had seen iterations in the past in which it was a purple, bipedal, weapon-wielding cartoon monster, which couldn’t be further away from the ‘fantasy in reality’ philosophy of Final Fantasy XV.

In the end, Square Enix’s artists found a solution in a brown-black colored, fur-coated quadrupede. It shared design features with earlier creations, like its flowing mane and large, protruding horns, but lost its more fantastic elements, like bright colours and weapons, to fit the new universe the team was building.



All text images from the official FINAL FANTASY XV art and design book. For more information, please visit the product page by clicking this link.