Final Fantasy XVI: We caught up with game director Naoki Yoshida
We picked Yoshida-san's brain to get a better idea about this highly anticipated RPG.
When the original version 1.0 of Final Fantasy XIV was released on PC in 2010, the game was so awful and full of bugs that even Bethesda would be surprised. In the wake of the lukewarm reception of Final Fantasy XIII, the iconic role-playing game series was at an all time low. Against all odds, Dragon Quest Alumni, Naoki Yoshida still managed to turn the ship around into one of the most critically acclaimed and respected MMORPGs on the market today. Few figures in the gaming industry can boast of having saved a series from complete collapse. But Yoshida did the impossible. It's no surprise, then, that fans are excited about his role in developing the next big chapter. Can Naoki Yoshida continue his winning streak and deliver another classic? Recently, we had the opportunity to spend 20 minutes in his company to learn a little more about that very question.
Gamereactor: As was already present in the Awakening trailer, you are going back to the high fantasy setting, which has not been explored in a single player Final Fantasy for more than 20 years. Why did you choose to go in an entirely different direction than 'the fantasy with more futuristic elements' from other titles?
Yoshida-san: So, the simple reason is that a lot of the development team at Creative Business Unit III that are working on Final Fantasy XVI really enjoy a medieval high fantasy type setting, myself included. And we wanted to create a game with that high fantasy feel.
Another big reason, like you said in your question, is that there is this feeling that the series had been kind of shifting into this kind of futuristic sci-fi setting. We got a lot of feedback from players that the style was becoming sort of static and was kind of falling into a rut. So to kind of shake up things, and the series in general, was another reason why we wanted to go back to those classic fantasy roots. To bring players something that felt a little bit different than what they've been getting in the recent years.
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Gamereactor: What learnings from working on Final Fantasy XIV have you brought with you to the development of Final Fantasy XVI?
Yoshida-san: Well as you know Final Fantasy XIV is an MMORPG, while Final Fantasy XVI is a single player standalone game. So from a game design standpoint, both games are aiming for completely different things. Therefore it's kind of difficult to say exactly what we've brought over in terms of game design. But with that said, one of the most valuable things that our team has learned by working on Final Fantasy XIV for these past 11 years is, we have learned about our players, we've learned about the fans, we've learned about the media and through our interactions with those groups, we've learned who they are, what they enjoy, what they don't like, what they want in a game, what they don't want in a game and what they expect in their Final Fantasy and in the Final Fantasy series. And so being able to take that knowledge, use it and incorporate it in the development of XVI, has definitely benefited us during development
Gamereactor: It is very clear from the trailer that the Eikons will be central to the narrative, and we also saw scenes like in Final Fantasy IX where Eikons are fighting each other. How will the large summons factor into the gameplay of Final Fantasy XVI?
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Yoshida-san: So, the Eikons in Final Fantasy XVI are very much unlike those summons that you'll see in previous Final Fantasy games in that they aren't summoned by a summoner from another place using magic. The Eikons are unique and powerful creatures that reside inside an individual person. These individuals are called dominants in Final Fantasy XVI, and they can become an Eikon. Each of the dominants have their own complex stories and backgrounds. Some are revered as heroes in their nations or treated as slaves and used as weapons of war, while some take part in the government and politics. It's different for each nation. The dominants are bound by harsh destinies and through the narrative we learn their stories, we learn what drives them, we learn what they value and what they believe is right - or wrong. As well as what they're willing to fight for, and whether they should accept the hands, they've been dealt or fight for something more.
As for the battles themselves in Final Fantasy XVI, you will see they come in many different scales and sizes. Like you saw in the trailer, some battles will feature Clive fighting waves of smaller soldier-like enemies. Others will pit him against colossal bosses or even the Eikons themselves. Clive will actually get to control an Eikon himself and battle other Eikons in encounters on a massive scale. The one thing that can be said about all of these, however, is that the action, the cutscenes, the dialogue and the story are all blended seamlessly. No load times at all paves the way for a high octane, rollercoaster game experience.
Gamereactor: And speaking of summons, we see a lot of the classics appear. How did you decide what summons to include in the game?
Yoshida-san: So, the Final Fantasy series has had a long story history of almost 35 years. And during that time, many, many different summons have appeared in the series. So when deciding on which ones to bring to Final Fantasy XVI, I focused on two things. The first of them being that I wanted to bring summons that most players around the world had heard of before and would be excited about experiencing on such a large scale. As for Ifrit, this one's a little bit special. As you know, in most Final Fantasy games, Ifrit is usually one of the first summons that the hero encounters, meaning that he's also one of the first to get defeated by the hero and I kind of felt sorry for him. So I thought this time I'd give him his opportunity to shine by making him really strong and the focal point of our story.
Gamereactor: Both the Awakening and Dominance trailers have shown Clive at different ages, which are pointing at a story spanning multiple years. Can you tell a bit more about how this plays a role in the narrative?
Yoshida-san: So the story and Final Fantasy XVI follows Clive Rosefield through three important stages in his life. One is in his teens, one is when he's in his 20s and one when he's in his 30s. When he's in his teens we see him as a shield of the Duchy of Rosario, a kind of fancy name for a knight in the Duchy. Here we see him as a young man, learning to master the sword. As the game progresses and Clive grows older, he comes into the possession of the power of several Eikons and learns their abilities.
Gamereactor: We also saw what looks like a Dragoon, a classic Final Fantasy job and which also was introduced to FFXIV via the Heavensward expansion. Will classic jobs play a role in Final Fantasy XVI?
Yoshida-san: There was an idea early on in development, that actually continued on until about the middle stage, that we could introduce a job system here that was based off of the Eikon abilities. We ultimately decided against it, as we felt that we wanted to give the player, and wanted to give Clive, the freedom to create one's own type of playstyle. By putting on the restrictions of a job it would affect how Clive would end up looking and what Clive was able to do and we didn't want to have the restrictions on things of what Clyde was able to do.
And while Dragoons do exist in the game as NPCs. There really aren't that many other references to classic jobs. That's not to say, however, that the team didn't base some of Final Fantasy XVI's enemies on things, like, say, classic Final Fantasy jobs. We have one elite character that everyone on the team calls a ninja because it has similar actions and there are others as well. And for those players that look very close, they might be able to see some hints of classic Final Fantasy jobs.
Gamereactor: The tagline, "The legacy of the crystals has shaped our history for long enough," has been featured prominently in relation to the game. With the more mature rating, completely different battle-system and a tighter focus on a singular character, does this tagline also refer to the game itself wanting Final Fantasy to go in a new direction?
Yoshida-san: Yes, so there's two meanings behind the tagline. The first one being, that yes, FINAL FANTASY, as I mentioned, the series has become a bit static in the last few games in the series with the same type of themes and more of a sci-fi aesthetic. As a series, we want to break away from that and do something new. So yes, that would be one of the meanings, and wanting to break away from that - the crystals have shaped our history - the series has shaped our history, and we want to take a step away from that.
The other meaning. Crystals have always appeared in FINAL FANTASY games as things that are good. They protect and essentially offer a blessing to the player. We wanted to flip that on its head to create something that's new, exciting, and impactful. Basically, by making it the opposite of what it has been in a lot of games. Instead of having this blessing, here it turns into something that's more of a curse. As you play through the game, you'll learn the true meaning behind this, and we'll go into explaining what's going on with the crystals and how this tagline ties into the secrets in there. But you'll have to play the game to see that!