Last year at E3, we had the pleasure of interviewing Masayoshi Soken, Sound Director and Composer on Final Fantasy XIV. This year, we got to talk to one of the other key people behind the successful MMORPG, Director and Producer Naoki Yoshida (as if those titles weren't enough, he is also a member of the Square Enix Board of Directors and Vice President of Creative Business Unit III). This isn't the first time we've talked to the leader of the team that turned the game around six years ago, but a lot has changed since our 2016 chat, and with Shadowbringers now available for everyone, it was the perfect time to open a new dialogue.
Note that there will be minor spoilers ahead, less so for Shadowbringers itself, but for some events in the post-Heavensward storyline.
When we first sat down with Yoshida and company, we saw a familiar sight. During events like E3, Yoshida will log in to the live game and hang out somewhere, often in town. His character is well-known enough that he always draws a crowd, which we got to see firsthand on the screen in the meeting room. It was no surprise to see this reaction, since it's exactly the kind of response he has drawn and earned since breathing life back into FFXIV, but we asked if he had received any particularly interesting questions from the in-game players since E3 began. Yoshida said* that there weren't actually a great deal of questions, as most of the comments were people thanking the team for the game, and sharing their excitement about the imminent launch of Shadowbringers and the changes it would bring.
Most of our questions were specific to Shadowbringers, but before we get to those, we had one other general query, and it relates to Phantasy Star Online 2. If you missed it during the E3 conferences, SEGA surprised everyone by announcing it will finally bring this MMORPG (released in Japan in 2012, and still running) to the West next spring. It reminded us of some online chatter about a potential crossover years ago, which didn't amount to anything on the FFXIV side. PSO2, however, got a bevy of Eorzean content, such as an Odin primal fight lifted straight from FFXIV, several weapon and armor designs, and more. So while the one-sided crossover did eventually come to Japan, since FFXIV didn't get any PSO2 content, there wouldn't have been anything to bring to the West. Amusingly enough, despite previously talking to and working with SEGA on this front, the FFXIV team learned about PSO2's impending Western release during E3 like the rest of the gaming public, and he jokingly lamented not knowing this was happening before now! So perhaps one day our Dark Knights really will get to wield a Lavis Cannon.
Now let's get to Shadowbringers talk. We started off chronologically. Both of us (Mike & Mike) are big fans of the game, so we knew the setting of Shadowbringers was first introduced during the 3.x patch series, especially with Patch 3.4 - Soul Surrender. This is where we learned of the true intentions of the Warriors of Darkness, along with what became of Minfilia and the world of The First that said Warriors failed to save. That scene greatly opened up the potential world(s) of Final Fantasy XIV, and now, three years later, we get to visit that precise world. It's an ambitious direction in a genre where expansions usually begin with someone in the game world saying, "Oh, well, look at that! Looks like there's another island out there in the ocean we never noticed before, and it is suddenly really important."
Planning for what would become Shadowbringers began about half a year after Heavensward concluded, as the team wanted to conclude the arc of the world of The First, the Warriors of Darkness, and Minfilia. There wasn't a specific goal for when this would be until they were wrapping up plans for Stormblood, which had liberation as one of its key themes. That would continue in 5.0, though the team was then faced with one more key question: Would it be liberation for the people on the world we know (The Source) from the Garlean Empire, or would it be to save The First from the Flood of Light? By summer of 2017, Yoshida and co. decided on the latter, which dovetailed nicely into our next question.
Like every FFXIV expansion, Shadowbringers will introduce a new main storyline, side quests, dungeons, trials, and raids. Without asking for details, we asked if there was a particular aspect or piece of content that Yoshida was most excited for people to play, and the answer was in fact, the story. From the trailers alone, it is clear that the dev team is going all out on this expansion, and Yoshida's excitement solidified this in our minds even more. He explained a little about how they were still working with certain things that were established in FFXIV back in 1.0 (before he took over). Even though Heavensward was brand new content by the current team, there's always been some storylines and characters that they had to keep somewhat true to their original incarnations. With Shadowbringers and its new setting, they're now able to devote significant resources to truly make the world and story the way they want, with less reliance on content introduced in 1.0.
Moving on to FFXIV's jobs, one of the hotter topics amongst the community in recent months is the changes to healers. A Letter from the Producer Live before E3 mentioned that healers were being changed, roughly, to an all-healing role with fewer damage-dealing abilities. Some would say it's a debatable shift, as all healers still have a largely-comparable amount of attack spells, but we asked about this change anyway. Specifically, we asked if and how the adjustment changes their approach to the design of new battles and raids. Yoshida explained a bit about the team's process in designing both encounters and job actions/spells, and how creating and updating these aspects come down to numbers. Many numbers are factored in including damage output, healing, recast times on actions, and more. They break down everything into numerical values to examine, and through some Eorzean Alchemy (our words, not theirs), see what needs to be adjusted and go from there. We got the sense that the team has been asked this question a lot recently, because while Yoshida was happy to answer and share this process, he also explained that sometimes the player base reacts quickly to certain updates and immediately wants changes — he asks that people actually play the game and try them out before making such requests, because, yes, they do actually playtest this stuff.
One tradition that Final Fantasy XIV is casting aside for the first time in Shadowbringers is job quests. Until now, each playable class and job has had new quests and mini-storylines every 2-5 levels for each expansion. Sometimes these teach new abilities, though with Stormblood, only a job's final ability was earned this way. Instead, Shadowbringers introduces "role quests," which feature an unfolding story based on your job's role (tank, healer, etc). Some players have lamented the lack of new storylines specific to their job, but there were some good logistical reasons behind changing things up. Part of the reason is that with the new additions of Dancer and Gunbreaker, FFXIV now features 17 jobs (aside from gatherers and crafters), and it has continued to be exponentially more time-consuming and expensive to develop full storylines for each one. Yoshida explained that it was partially a 'quality over quantity' situation, and they opted to spend more time and resources to deliver better gameplay experiences, storylines, and cutscenes rather than continuing what they traditionally have done.
Furthermore, the team wanted a good way to allow players visiting this new world to walk in the footsteps of the Warriors of Darkness, the former heroes of The First — to illustrate their tale and how they ended up where they did. Being able to focus on a handful of key roles instead of all 17 jobs meant there was room and time to really dig in deep with the former heroes' tales. There was even one final lore-based reason for not continuing off the previous expansion's job quests: the mere fact that players will be on a different world! It wouldn't make any story sense for every job trainer to magically appear on Norvrandt, and having players travel back to The Source or risk missing out on progression-based quests were things that the team felt were simply bad ideas that could break the flow of the game. All that said, every job in Shadowbringers will have one key quest upon reaching level 80 in addition to these role quests.
Finally, we had a perhaps overly specific question related to Titania, the primal battle that E3 attendees were able to try out on the show floor. The more literature-savvy members of our team picked up on the naming conventions of Titania's battle partners, which like Titania's own namesake, are right out of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. We battled with Puck, Peaseblossom, and Mustardseed, and of course had to ask how they landed on Shakespeare references. What we learned was that the developers in charge of naming Titania's servants were perhaps just keeping with the theme and there is actually no larger Shakespearian tale happening within Shadowbringers. However, Titania's namesake was specifically chosen as her FFXIV iteration is a tragic character who happens to be queen of the faeries. Yoshida specifically referenced her in-game music as being a way to emphasize this tragedy, but wouldn't say more than that, except "play the game!"
Before our interview, we'll admit that we did debate asking if the newly added Viera race has a primal, and whether or not it's a giant chocolate bunny.
...given the limited time we had for questions, however, we decided not to waste time asking it, so now we may never know.
Live translation for this interview was provided by Aimi Tokutake, who is one of several people that allowed this conversation to happen. We would also like to thank fortyseven's Nick Evans & Jessica Fahner, Square Enix's Adam Pelc, and of course, Naoki Yoshida himself for making time in his schedule for us.
And while we didn't get to chat with them, Global Community Producer Toshio "Foxclon" Murouchi and Community Director Matt Hilton were at least in the room, so thanks to them!