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The secret ingredient to Final Fantasy 15’s success? Selfies

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“When we talk about road trips, we talk about photos”

Final Fantasy 15 Square Enix

Unlike other titles in the series, Final Fantasy 15 has an expansive open world with a plethora of sidequests. But to preserve the role-playing game’s traditional emphasis on storytelling, the team at Square Enix created a unique system to fill in the gaps: selfies.

Final Fantasy 15 is a “99 percent” open-world, teenage road trip, AI Prasert Prasertvithyakarn, the game’s lead designer of buddy systems, told me at Game Developers Conference 2017. That sets it apart from past Final Fantasy games, which tell far more linear narratives. The road trip element comes through explicitly as Prince Noctis and his broody bros traverse a huge world. The gang balances completing missions with chilling out in their convertible, which often leads to long stretches where the overarching plot has little presence.

For some players, this was troubling, Prasertvithyakarn said. An RPG is all about story, and fans saw Final Fantasy 15’s narrative as seemingly take a backseat to the hanging out and traveling bits.

“For me, it’s half-correct [that an RPG is focused on its story],” the designer responded. “But the other half of an RPG is storytelling.”

That distinction comes through in what became one of the most popular parts of Final Fantasy 15. The photography-obsessed Prompto takes pictures of his friends throughout each battle and mission, which players can check out afterward to relive their favorite memories.

But “good games should tell more stories than what’s actually being told,” Prasertvithyakarn said. The pictures Prompto automatically takes aren’t always of familiar scenes, but of character interactions previously unseen by the player. These photos are designed to build out the story and relationships in places and at times when the game itself doesn’t have time to do so — plus, they emphasize that this band of heroes really is composed of typical teens into typical teen things. Especially when Prompto is snapping in-battle selfies, as he is wont to do.

“When you have characters posing together, it creates the illusion of life, so it’s as if they have their own private life and they’re chit-chatting off-screen,” explained Prasertvithyakarn, who showed off a plethora of great photo examples of the stories developed behind the scenes in Final Fantasy 15.

These snaps have clearly clicked with fans, who share them through their own social media and use them as fuel for fan fiction and art. (Prompto has become a particular favorite, in large part due to his obvious relatability to the Instagram generation.)

Selfies may seem like a small and non-essential piece of the larger game, but Prasertvithyakarn argued otherwise: When telling a story about the undying bonds of brotherhood, a picture really is worth a thousand words.