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Final Fantasy 13’s star-rating system fascinates me. Undoubtedly, like many other gamers, I strove to receive a grade of five stars after every combat…and undoubtedly, like many other gamers, I wondered how my ratings compared to others.
Square Enix thought as much, too. Final Fantasy 13 Battle Director Yuji Abe discusses how his design team considered — and eventually ditched — the inclusion of online leaderboards for Final Fantasy 13. He also talks about what online leaderboards add to games, whether or not they’re suitable for role-playing games, and how important online leadersboards are to him.
Bitmob: Final Fantasy 13 gives you a star ranking after a battle based on how quickly you dispatch your foes. Did you ever consider adding an online leaderboard to rank FF13 players?
Yuji Abe: We considered it in the initial phases.
Bitmob: Why wasn’t the inclusion of online leaderboards feasible?
YA: Structurally, we were unable to create an absolute index. We could have implemented a leaderboard purely for time attack purposes, but the current star ranking is incompatible with that sort of framework since tactical success is included in the calculations — the time allocation for high scores fluctuates based on a player’s parameters.
Bitmob: Do you wish you were able to pull it off for Final Fantasy 13?
YA: Yes, absolutely. I love that type of gameplay.
Bitmob: How feasible are online leaderboards for single-player RPGs? Given the popularity of online leaderboards, when do you expect a developer will roll out a single-player RPG with them?
YA: I would like to see this happen, assuming we can prevent data fabrication. I think that RPGs with less action elements tend to require less technique, drifting away from what I consider most appealing in a game — the excitement of overcoming challenges. I think online leaderboards could help this situation, but we’d have to make sure the game’s appeal doesn’t shift too much in the direction of core players.
Bitmob: What do online leaderboards add to gaming?
YA: It could encourage certain types of players — those who delve into the competitive nature of gaming, like athletes — to return to a game even after completion of the experience. I myself am that type of player. I think it comes down to creating a system that is that is both accessible and appealing to a broad range of players. In that sense, because the controls for an RPG are more straight-forward than those of an action game, I think online leaderboards for RPGs have great potential for success.
Bitmob: Do leaderboards matter to you, either online or in arcades?
YA: Yes. Many arcade games are structured for playing within a set timeframe, so it’s cut out for competing against time, and leaderboards can be easily realized since there are so many users motivated by time attacks. I too go head-to-head with a certain game at least once a week. I think notable players in the Japanese arcade game community generally owe their fame to leaderboards. An exception may be [fighting-game expert Diago] Umehara, who is also known in the U.S.