Here at Highsnobiety, our interests extend far beyond the world of fashion and sneakers. We’ve always got our finger on the pulse of wider cultural issues and events, so today we’re taking a look at the successful marketing campaign for Final Fantasy XV.

For a series founded on turn-based combat systems, complex characters and storylines delivered through blue text boxes, Final Fantasy has continued to evolve in order to meet the changing tastes of a modern market. Final Fantasy VX, the game’s latest iteration, is no exception. Gone are the days of it dominating the now-declining Japanese console market, due in no small part to the rising popularity of mobile gaming.

Final Fantasy’s makers are aware of these trends and are shifting the game’s focus in response. By utilizing a variety of clever PR and marketing techniques, including the use of names such as Audi, Ariana Grande and Jamie Oliver to appeal to an entirely new audience, Final Fantasy XV has managed to capture the attention (and hopefully hearts) of Final Fantasy first-timers.

The opening message of Final Fantasy XV proudly proclaims that it is “a Final Fantasy for fans and newcomers.” This is a Final Fantasy game strongly rooted in contemporary culture, and the Final Fantasy fans who have spent the last ten years following the game’s rocky development know it’s been far from the smooth ride that Noctis and his royal entourage enjoy in-game. So why is the game suddenly attracting a new audience, and how has clever marketing helped to ensure its continual relevance?

Daring to Be Different

Square Enix

Final Fantasy XV showcases the series’ spectacular history as one of the most popular video games of all time. In recent years, the series has slowly abandoned its defining traits in the hope of capturing the hearts of a new Western audience. Final Fantasy had to take a different approach in order to replicate the success of earlier titles, and executing this strategy continues to be a challenge.

Before Final Fantasy XV, the series was seeing waning success compared to earlier titles playable on NES, SNES, PS1 and PS2. Final Fantasy XIII was a good performer in gaming terms, but its linearity and lack of compelling narrative were ultimately damaging to the franchise: Japanese sales figures show that Final Fantasy XIII-2 managed just a third of the first week sales of its predecessor. Its sequel, Lightning Returns, fared much worse; slashing the first week sales of XIII-2 in half.

While the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy didn’t represent a return to form for the series, it did demonstrate that Final Fantasy would have to adapt to the reality of Japan’s declining console market.

Turning Toward the West

Square Enix

Final Fantasy XV was originally known as Final Fantasy XIII Versus, and the game has been significantly altered over the course of its development. The Japanese market is now predominantly focused on mobile gaming and there is a growing need to satisfy the appetites of an ever-expansive Western console market. With this in mind, Final Fantasy XV director, Hajime Tabata, discussed his team’s approach to the changing market realities.

“On previous [Final Fantasy] titles, we worked using an export model, in which we made the games in Japan and then globalized them; ready for export abroad,” Tabata stated in an interview with Red Bull last year. “But with Final Fantasy XV, we’ve switched over to a model that takes global tastes and interests more into account during the development. That has been the biggest thing for us.”

The Role of Big Names

Square Enix

Square Enix has managed to retain the commercial appeal of the Final Fantasy series through clever marketing and PR maneuvers. If you hadn’t previously heard of Final Fantasy, you’d find it difficult to miss now. The series even made national news last week when it was announced that pop star Ariana Grande will be joining the cast as a playable character in the mobile game, Final Fantasy: Brave Exvius.

It’s not the first time big-name musicians have been involved with the game. In 2016, Florence + the Machine released three new songs which were recorded exclusively for Final Fantasy XV, with their cover of Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” playing a prominent role throughout the game, including its end credits. The musical composer for Final Fantasy XV, Yoko Shimomura, also journeyed to London earlier this year to conduct a live, orchestral performance of the game’s soundtrack at the Abbey Road studios.

The fashion world has also played a role. At the end of 2015, in an effort to target more mainstream audiences, Louis Vuitton’s Creative Director announced that the brand’s SS16 campaign would star Lightning, the protagonist from the Final Fantasy XIII series. Even earlier, in 2012, a number of Final Fantasy characters, including Lightning, appeared in a Japanese men’s fashion mag to promote a new range from Prada.

It doesn’t stop there. Japanese fashion designer Roen created the main character’s costumes for Final Fantasy XV, and his stylish, contemporary aesthetic runs throughout the game. The garments worn by the darker characters in the game, such as the military drapes of the enemies, clearly reference Japanese brand JULIUS, and Lady Lunafreya’s wedding dress (the protagonist’s bride-to-be) was designed by Vivienne Westwood.

Spinoffs, Strategic Partnerships and Cross-Promotion

Square Enix

In order to bring the Final Fantasy XV universe to the masses, Square Enix needed to expand the target audience and capitalize on the pre-launch hype surrounding the title. As well as various playable demos spanning different timelines within the game, Square also released a full-length CGI movie, Kingsglaive, starring Hollywood stars like Sean Bean and Aaron Paul. The company also released an episodic anime series, Brotherhood, and a mobile pinball app called Justice Monsters V, which is playable in-game.

Meanwhile, in the UK, Square Enix announced a partnership with Jamie Oliver. The celebrity chef offered an exclusive Final Fantasy XV-themed menu at his London restaurant, appropriately titled “Fifteen.” With food as a central focus of the game, this was clever marketing – even if the majority of diners didn’t get the reference, it was useful exposure for Final Fantasy.

Elsewhere, Audi produced a one-off R8 to mark the release of the game in Japan, and a collaboration with Japanese company Nissin Cup Noodle also increased exposure. Nissin is Japan’s best-selling instant cup-noodles company, and Final Fantasy XV even features in-game quests based around the product. Cross-promotion has never tasted so good!

So, What’s the Result?

Square Enix

Has Final Fantasy XV’s extensive marketing campaign been worth it? Shortly after its release, Square Enix announced that the game’s launch was the most successful launch in the franchise’s history, with worldwide day-one sales surpassing 5 million. On January 10, Square announced that it had passed 6 million. Perhaps reflecting the strategy to focus on the West as opposed to Japan, Final Fantasy XV’s debut in Japan hasn’t been as strong as in the past.

Ultimately, by acting with foresight and shifting attention from a declining, Japanese console market to a more mainstream Western audience, Final Fantasy XV has capitalized on its own hype to find a new fan base. Only time will tell if these fans will stick around long enough to make the new direction worthwhile.

For more on the topic of gaming, here’s how Super Mario Run proves the success of Nintendo’s mobile strategy.

  • Lead image: Square Enix
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