Kei Hirono, executive producer for Final Fantasy Brave Exvius at Square Enix

The Final Fantasy franchise marks its 30th anniversary this year, and at the same time, Final Fantasy Brave Exvius (FFBE) celebrates the two-year anniversary of its initial Japanese (one-year global) launch. Having reached 27 million downloads worldwide, FFBE is regarded as one of Square Enix’s most successful mobile games, but there’s still plenty of room to grow.

“We believe that one of the reasons why the game has been accepted by so many people across the globe is because of the concept we have for the title,” Kei Hirono, executive producer for Final Fantasy Brave Exvius, told AListDaily through a translator.

He and the game’s global producer, Hiroki Fujimoto, explained how FFBE focuses on three main points—a rich story, a classic and strategic battle system and adventure elements that expand the breadth of the game and allow for exploration. These points capture the Final Fantasy spirit and work to attract players worldwide.

Brave Exvius was created from the ground up for mobile platforms and features a mix of 2D sprites and 3D artwork for its graphics. Additionally, all the legendary characters from all the Final Fantasy games appear in Brave Exvius, turning the game into a kind of celebration of the franchise.

“There are so many titles within that franchise,” said Hirono. “As long as you like one of those characters, I think that will lead to a point of entry for Final Fantasy Brave Exvius. There are a lot of ways to get into this game because of that.”

As part of the celebration, the Brave Exvius team has been going around the world to host public events called Fan Festa to meet Final Fantasy fans. The first Fan Festa event took place in Paris in July, the second was hosted in Taiwan in September and the third took place in New York City in October during the New York Comic Con. The Fan Festa tour finishes out with visits to Korea in November and Los Angeles in December. At Fan Festa, attendees get a chance to play FFBE against the developers, but everyone walks away with prizes in the form of special in-game content.

Brave Exvius is also celebrating through a series of in-game events, which were launched globally instead of in the traditional way of going live in Japan first. These include a new event featuring Ariana Grande. The musician already has two costumes available in the game from previous events, and the update adds two more. Dedicated fans who collect them all will be able to equip their party with all four versions of Ariana, all of which feature different looks, techniques and skills.

Hirono said that the game’s success can largely be attributed to how it captures the “Final Fantasy essence.” Fans of the franchise recognize that essence and have taken to the mobile title. However, he believes that Brave Exvius is still a long way from its goals.

“Even though we feel like we achieved a certain level of success, this is not even close to what we’re aiming for, or what we feel is a real success for the title,” said Hirono. “That’s because with this game, we wanted as many people as possible to experience the new Final Fantasy story and get into it. We also wanted people, after playing Brave Exvius, to go back and try all the different Final Fantasy games in the series. So, there’s still a lot more that we want to achieve, and we want to aim for bigger success.”

Hiroki Fujimoto, global producer for Final Fantasy Brave Exvius at Square Enix

“We have 27 million downloads, but our goal last year was 100 million,” added Fujimoto. “So, we’ve only achieved about a quarter—over a quarter—of what we were aiming for. We’re not there yet.”

Hirono elaborated further on what the team at Square Enix considers true triumph.

“We feel that the game is a success when you can ask anyone on the street if they know what Final Fantasy Brave Exvius is and they’ll know,” he said, laying out an ambitious goal. “There are about seven billion people in the world now, so once they all know what the game is, then we can say that it’s a success.”

It’s one thing to say that you want everyone on earth to know about your game, but it’s quite another to get it after two years on the mobile market.

“I think it’s the same for any mobile title, but it becomes more difficult each year to acquire new players,” said Hirono. “We must always think of new ways to acquire new users because the more people we get, the fewer amount of people we can reach out to becomes. You’re taking people out of that pie.

“While we’re thinking of ways to reach people, we also have to create new experiences in the game [for current players]. We know that it’s difficult, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to give up on it. The new events and characters are things we have been doing to try to acquire new players and keep our fans playing. The collaboration with Ariana Grande is also another way of gaining new players. Even the Fan Festas are part of that—they help acquire more people.”

One of the new ways Fujimoto and company are reaching new gamers is through the songstress Grande’s events.

“The spike in players was like none we had experienced before,” said Fujimoto. “Now it’s more about how to keep them coming back and have them continue playing the game. That’s about how the game is and what it offers. We’ll continue to work hard and create a game that has a lot of appeal.”

Hirono said, speaking as a content creator, the key to engaging with a global audience comes down to the game’s overall appeal and charm.

“I feel that it’s most likely the characters, story and lore,” he said. “I hope those are what are engaging players. We try to create the game so that those points are appealing.”

Fujimoto said that FFBE sometimes likes to keep its players guessing. Since the normal practice is to release new content in Japan first, dedicated players from around the world often know what’s coming beforehand. But he cited a collaboration with the game Nier: Automata where the character 2B appeared in FFBE. When the event launched worldwide, players were surprised to find that A2 was also added.

“Those kinds of surprises are things we’re always thinking about adding to events so that they’re not always exactly the same as the Japanese version,” said Fujimoto.

Brave Exvius may capture the Final Fantasy essence, but the brand has been long associated with cutting-edge computer graphics and technology, demonstrated in last year’s launch of Final Fantasy XV, which not only features stunning graphics but also includes a virtual reality mode.

Given the launch of high-end phones such as the iPhone X and the Pixel 2, and both Apple and Google’s commitment to growing augmented reality technology, Hirono spoke about whether Brave Exvius would follow a similar path by adopting new technologies.

“There is that ideology for the Final Fantasy brand to always take on new [technological] challenges,” said Hirono. “We want to do that as well, but what we feel is strong for this title is creating something that anyone can play. We don’t want to focus on new technology too much, making it so that only the core Final Fantasy fans can enjoy it. We want to keep Brave Exvius highly accessible, and we don’t plan to change that. But we do feel that we need to expand the brand further, and to do that, we’re taking many different approaches. We’re already planning other things for this title.”

Part of those efforts include how some of the sprites appear to “pop-out” from the screen, which is a technology the game created and patented. However, Hirono suggested that there’s a far subtler way that the game takes advantage of cutting-edge graphics.

Final Fantasy one through six all used sprite artwork, while seven and onward all started using 3D graphics,” Hirono explained. “But with Brave Exvius, one of the concepts we had was to take the original sprite artwork and imagine, ‘What if 3D graphics didn’t evolve that much and we kept to sprites?’ So, that’s the image we have with this title, and it’s like the latest and greatest in sprite artwork.”