Five years have passed since A Realm Reborn released in 2013, a game which signified a rebirth of the Final Fantasy MMO concept. With more than 14 million accounts created since then there's a healthy and huge community enjoying the game and its activities on both PS4 and PC every day.
With that in mind, we talked to director Naoki Yoshida and composer Masayoshi Soken at Gamescom to put things into perspective, to find a checkpoint of sorts for the project, and it turns out "from the perspective of the development team and the operations team we see this as a point in a much, much longer journey, so we're going to spend our time to continue creating great content, great story, great music for all of our players from here and into the future," Yoshida told Gamereactor.
In terms of the celebration activities planned for the anniversary, "we have The Rising festival in-game", which is so popular within the community, and "a lot of collaborations with outside companies, for example making a bracelet for your job," explains the director. "But of course, as a nod to Soken-san, also we have our FFXIV Orchestra Concert in Dortmund for two days
and then, of course, our biggest thing is our fan festivals that we'll be having later in the year. This is the third time and they're going to be bigger than ever. So we'll have both in-game and out-of-game celebrations".
With the conversation becoming increasingly conceptual, we wanted to know what defines a good MMO, in the director's words.
"For me what makes a hit MMO is that, do you want to return to that game or not; that's the most important thing. To do that you need to create a lot of content, you need to have things that players can do in your game. You also need to create a strong community. You also need frequent updates with value. But when it comes down to it, it's going to be, 'is the world fun that people are going to return and to spend a lot of time".
Then, what about those who never play MMO or Final Fantasy games?
"That's a very difficult answer because if I knew the answer, no MMO would ever fail," laughs Yoshida-san. "There's a lot of reasons for us, but we look at FFXIV as an MMORPG [like this]: before it's an MMORPG, Final Fantasy is an RPG. And before it's an RPG, it's a Final Fantasy game. And so we have to think what do Final Fantasy gamers expect. And they expect a great story, a game that is focused on story, a game that has sound that is based and fits perfectly with that story. In that sense, we'd like to believe we're like every other FF game out there, and so for players that have never played an online game but are fans of the series, we ask them to come in, to try our free trial, and to play our story, to play it like you would a no-MMO Final Fantasy game and experience the story without having to worry about all of the other stuff. Because there's a lot of stuff that can be daunting for a new player."
We also wanted to know how the two Japanese creators work together. "In terms of the talks between Yoshida and myself it all starts from learning what kind of the base of the storyline it would be", Soken recalls. "Especially for an expansion like Heavensworth and Stormblood, so that I fully understand the concept of it. Then once the stem and the basics are decided, each segment of the teams will have some specific requests for the content that they're working on. So we try to delve into more detail in music". In this regard, the composer also contributes to promotional videos for the upcoming content patches or TV ads, which is also decided in collaboration with Yoshida-san.
Regarding those decisions and the style and tone, for A Realm Reborn, both men wanted the sound of a full orchestra, whereas "with Heavensworth we wanted to go the sound you hear in a church".
The process goes on and there's a test song, some back and forth between departments, and then Soken continues creating more freely, without supervision. Then whatever is subsequently created is layered on top of gameplay to find out if they go well together. For example, Soken remembers one time when his idea didn't fit at all, such as the theme for the Leviathan battle. "It was a female singer, and I thought what the hell is this," the director says, with the beautiful voice on top of the rude, brutal scene. Soken ended up acting as singer himself ("we're really cheap - they -Square Enix- didn't have to play any extra money"). All in all, he's composed more than 400 tracks, "maybe 3-5 didn't work... Those 4-5 were really, really bad".
We also asked Soken about his musical inspiration, given he'd already composed music for sports games... and he was wearing some Rage Against the Machine merch. "I love rock music as you can see", he admits, "but I have quite a lot of music stored. Because my father was a trumpeter and my mother was a teacher for piano so I was surrounded by music when I was a child, and I listened to the selection of records at home. (...) So basically everyday life is a source of inspiration for me".
One of the most interesting and thoughtful answers though was Yoshida's, when he was asked about cross-platform and potential new versions:
"As a producer of an online game I want as many people to play my game as possible. Whether that means getting the game on the Xbox One or getting the game on the Nintendo Switch, that would open up more doors for us and allow more players to come in, so that's definitely something that we would like to do. As a producer of an MMO I however think that if everybody is not on the same world, there's really no reason to have that game. Because it's an MMO, everybody should be on the same world, and anything beyond that is nonsense. So I have been in talks with Nintendo and Microsoft - and those talks are continuing - trying to find a way to make sure that everyone can play on the same service, so hopefully, sometime soon, we can have an announcement where we tell our players that yes, there'll be the opportunity to play on one of these new systems".
And as that Switch version has to exist first, we asked about its potential development/status, and it turns out it's rather easy for the studio to produce, as "Final Fantasy XIV is part of Business Division 5, and within Business Division 5 we're actually creating games for the Nintendo Switch, so we have people that understand the architecture and the specs. And then you have technologies such as streaming, so there are many ways to get the game out there on different platforms". With the avalanche of classic Final Fantasy games coming to the Switch and other platforms - including the historic return of FFVII - we can see it's a different situation nowadays.
There was also the recent FFXIV collaboration with Monster Hunter, and when we asked which other game would they love to crossover with, both Japanese creators laughed as they answered with the very same word, at the same time: "Blizzard!"
"Maybe sometime I will have to quit Square Enix and join Blizzard," Yoshida says. But the full answer explaining the Monster Hunter-deal "would take about 15 minutes". And if the answers take so long, just imagine how long and complex the process is... and that could be applied to any other collaboration, as it's "not something that we would do lightly" and takes above all "mutual respect" and understanding.
We leave Yoshida's and Soken's biggest fears and guilty pleasures for the end, as their choices are as personal as they are funny:
Yoshida: "My biggest fear is our system producer! (laughs) She's not here right now, that's why I'm very relaxed. If she was here... *shivers*" [In terms of guilty pleasure] "Maybe you would say after a long day, at an event like this, maybe, you know, taking in the smell of maybe my socks... it's something I don't... hate (laughs)."
Soken: "My biggest fear is the coriander, it's the enemy of the human race! Then guilty pleasure, if it's a guilty pleasure I can't say so hmmm... [thinks] (...) I believe that people regard me as a big female Miqo'te lover, but I really like female Au Ras [the FFXIV races]. Especially the female Au Ras legs (laughs)".
How are you celebrating Final Fantasy XIV online these days? Leave a comment below.
NOTE: For this interview we shared table with Norwegian site ulvespill.no, which asked some of the questions.