To wrap up the Final Fantasy XVI Media Tour, I had the privilege of a roundtable interview with the developers of Final Fantasy XVI: Creative Business Unit 3. This is part of a three-part feature that includes written hands-on impressions of the playable demo and an in-depth video on the battle system. There is some unique information in each part of this three-part feature, so if you want all the possible information, read and watch all three parts.
Joining us from the development staff was Producer Naoki Yoshida (who commonly goes by Yoshi-P), Main Director Hiroshi Takai, Combat Director Ryota Suzuki, and Localization Director and translator for the media tour and this interview Michael-Christopher Koji Fox. You may recognize Naoki Yoshida and Michael-Christopher Koji Fox from their stellar work on the critically acclaimed MMO Final Fantasy XIV, but the other two names may not be as recognizable. Hiroshi Takai also works on Final Fantasy XIV, but you may notice more of his work from Final Fantasy V, SaGa Frontier, and The Last Remnant. Ryota Suzuki, however, is a newcomer to Square Enix but brings with him years of experience working over at Capcom. He has worked on Devil May Cry 5, Dragon’s Dogma, and Marvel vs. Capcom 2.
Joining me in asking questions were two colleagues from other great websites, Sal Romano of Gematsu and Matthew Byrd from Den of Geek. We included their questions here because we wanted to keep the flow of the interview intact. I am sure they will have their own quality features on this tour, so I definitely recommend you give their features a read as well. Enjoy the interview, and don’t miss the other two parts of this feature!
RPGFan: Why was Ifrit chosen as the Eikon Clive uses? Was the choice for Ifrit one that shaped the story, or was the decision made as the story was coming into place?
Naoki Yoshida: The choice for Ifrit was decided very early in development. The reason why we decided to use Ifrit was because Ifrit is normally one of the first summons you get to use in the games. He often appears first, is defeated first, and often the first players stop using because he is the weakest. From a design aspect, Ifrit is just very cool and his fire aspect is fun to design around. It also helps that many players will recognize Ifrit even if they have never finished a Final Fantasy game, because he is often early enough for most players to experience. These all lead to the decision to use Ifrit.
Den of Geek: Obviously Final Fantasy XVI is different in a lot of ways from other recent Final Fantasy titles, but when you talked about Cid you mentioned the word “constants.” Were there a series of constants that the development team said from the start of development would need to be in the game no matter what?
Creative Business Unit 3: Chocobos and Moogles! Also some of the ships like the Enterprise. Now, we haven’t said anything about the Enterprise just yet, but you can assume that maybe a ship like that exists. And of course, the magic and weapon names. Iconic monsters like Malboros, Coeurls, and Behemoths (of course) too. A focus on the crystals again as well.
Yoshida: We also have seen in the last 10-15 years how Final Fantasy has shifted from a more classic fantasy aesthetic to a sci-fi aesthetic. But for all of us that all grew up with Final Fantasy from I up to about VI, we played them as they came out, and they left a lasting impression on us. Those have a very classic gothic fantasy, and so what kind of fantasy do we want to create for this new game? So we wanted to go back to the roots of the series and bring that gothic fantasy back into the series.
Takai: There is another thing you see often in Final Fantasy games, and that’s the ancient civilization that existed in the past that you see remnants of in the modern world. We also have that in Final Fantasy XVI and it is called The Fallen. You will see the remnants of that civilization as you go throughout the game.
Gematsu: My question is for Ryota Suzuki. For Final Fantasy XVI, you had the challenge of leading the creation of an all new battle system. With all your past work on titles like Devil May Cry, when taking on this challenge how did you decide what to bring over from past works, what to innovate on, and how to bring it all together to make it feel like a Final Fantasy battle system despite being brand new?
Suzuki: One of the main themes of the game is the Eikons, so we wanted not just the story to focus on it, but the battle system to have that flavor as well. So while Clive is a master of the sword, he also learns these new Eikon abilities as he progresses through his journey and makes them his own actions. But making those actions feel like they both tie into the story and the battle is the challenge. This is the first full action battle system in the Final Fantasy series, and for many it might be someone’s first action game that they play. We want to appeal to those who like action games, but also make it accessible to those that don’t. Something that has a low skill floor but also has a very high ceiling as well. What I learned from Capcom and all those action games I worked on, is taking the best parts of those games and using them to make the battle system for Final Fantasy XVI.
RPGFan: The summons for Final Fantasy are incredibly iconic, but some Final Fantasy games like to shake up the formula and throw curveballs for the established summons, such as Quezacotl replacing Ramuh in Final Fantasy VIII or the entire new set of Espers in Final Fantasy XII. So my question is: Were there any summons that may have been cut during development, one you wanted to use but couldn’t, or any hint at a new summon we may see?
Yoshida: I am trying to navigate this without giving any spoilers. Just like the battle system, we wanted to make Final Fantasy XVI accessible for as many people as possible. And when looking back on the series we looked for summons that many people would recognize and choose. Like you said, the iconic ones. Then we took all the old pixel art versions and remolded them into what you now see design and size wise using our engine. That said, there are some battles with some enemies that are very large that players may have never seen before in the series. We also didn’t want to make any new summons for this game because we wanted to stick with the iconic ones. Now for any that were cut, there was one from a past Final Fantasy that we were thinking of using but ended up not using. We can’t say the name of this summon, however. We also spent so much time, effort, and cost in creating all this stuff that at one point we thought we had too much content and we thought to cut one to save cost. But when we ran the numbers it would cost more to remove it from the game then leaving it, so we kept it in the game.
Den of Geek: I can only imagine how difficult it was to work on two Final Fantasies at the same time in both XIV and XVI. Were there any benefits to that process? Did the work on one game benefit the other and maybe open up new ideas?
Yoshida: Nope, Nothing! We have lost so much more than we have gained! I have lost sleep, my youth!
Everyone: Laughs from the room
Yoshida: There weren’t many things we learned because we worked on both. But what we did learn from our time on Final Fantasy XIV is about communication with the community and being honest with the community, something we wanted to keep with Final Fantasy XVI. For example, while promoting the game, we noticed a lot of games are going that open-world route. We could have easily screwed around with that and promote our game as kinda the same thing. But we didn’t. We decided to be honest and tell the truth. So we told everyone not only were we not open-world, but explained why we weren’t open-world. So, letting the fans know the truth up front instead of hiding it and maybe letting the fans think it was was a way to help the fans understand and accept our decision.
Gematsu: So much of what we saw from Final Fantasy XVI is dark in tone. Will there be any lighter elements in the game both story- and gameplay-wise? Can we expect minigames like fishing or blitzball, or the XVI equivalent Cliveball!?
Everyone: Laughs from the room
Yoshida: We have some very dark themes like countries at war, so we can’t have blitzball matches when people are killing each other. Nor can we have a hero driven by revenge say something ”I am going to go out and fish!” That would distract from the story we want to tell. But that being said, Cid has this organization called the Hideaway, and once Clive meets Cid and joins this organization then you have a hub where side content starts. Quests to learn about the people in the Hideaway and the world. Quests to upgrade Clive by earning more inventory slots. Also, there is a hunt board to learn about any Notorious Monster roaming around, and then you go try to defeat it for renown. What we want people to understand is this Media Tour and this demo is very dark since we want it to focus on the battle system. There are lighter themes in the games like brotherly love, love of nation, love of friends. What’s interesting about having a dark theme is that in all darkness there is hope, and finding hope in that darkness. There is a lot of hope in this game as well.
Takai: While we don’t have minigames like fishing or blitzball, we do have a lot of content that focuses on the battle system. We have a lot of challenging content such as a battle mode where you are locked into a certain Eikon ability and need to clear this content in order to unlock stuff. We also have New Game+ with a new mode called Final Fantasy mode. It will be more difficult, but also changes around the enemy placement and which ones you fight. A totally different experience than your first playthrough. There is also Arcade mode where you play stages and earn scores. In New Game+ you can play these Arcade mode and upload your scores on the leaderboards to see how you stack up against others.
RPGFan: Were there any characters you and the staff are largely fond of, either from a writing or design standpoint?
Takai: So I can’t really talk about mine because it is a character we haven’t shown off yet and don’t want to spoil. We can tell you it’s an older character who is very loveable and comedic and he brings a lighter side to a very dark story.
Yoshida: See, it’s not all dark!
Laughs from the development team
Takai: And there is one scene where that character comes out and I always cry. It’s a very good scene!
Suzuki: For me, it’s Clive! Working and polishing him for the battle system for the last couple of years, he has become my favorite.
Yoshida: This is probably the hardest question I got all Media Tour, but if I had to choose right now it would have to be Cid. Cid is like a father figure for Clive. Cid comes in and opens Clive’s eyes up to more than his focus on revenge, convincing him that there is another world out there and convinces Clive to come out of his shell.
Koji Fox: Once the game is released we want you to ask us this question again so we can give you better answers!
Laughs from the room
Den of Geek: You mentioned different eras of Final Fantasy. Is it your hope that Final Fantasy XVI is a new path forward for the franchise? Do you hope that every Final Fantasy game can always be different and always try new things?
Yoshida: Moving forward, we don’t want to push the Final Fantasy series in one direction. One thing I remember when I first joined Final Fantasy XIV and took over, the director Kitase-san told me “Final Fantasy is what the creators at that time think Final Fantasy should be, and that is what you should do when creating this game.” I really took that to heart, and so I want that to be the same thing creators moving forward can do. What they think is the best thing is what they should make. Because that is what we are doing, creating the best Final Fantasy that we can create. One thing that I noticed working on the series for so long and speaking to fans all around the world is that Final Fantasy gets locked into a certain types. That it has become a niche series in the sense that it’s only about JRPGs, or anime characters, or teens saving the world, and that’s what all the games are going to be like going forward. Fans were getting locked into the image of what they thought Final Fantasy was. As for me, someone that is going to be 50 years old this year, I know the world isn’t all bright rainbows. I know that it can be tough sometimes. So I wanted to create something that felt real not just for my generation, but for the younger generation as well, and show the potential of the series. As to why we went dark fantasy? That’s because we all just love dark fantasy! Now I said the fans get locked into certain ideas for Final Fantasy, but this is also true on the development side as well. People in development at Square Enix say “Oh we’re making Final Fantasy, we have to make it this way because this is what they did in the past” and so we wanted to show the next generation of developers that you can do anything you want with the Final Fantasy series.
Gematsu: One of things you guys stressed for the Eikon battles is that every one is unique. We got a small taste of that in the demo which played sort of similarly to how Clive normally plays. So I am curious, what do you mean by “every battle is unique?” Will it be genre-changing? How are you making each battle unique without making it feel gimmicky?
Suzuki: When deciding these battles, we knew where the beats would be and when Clive would be encountering these battles. So each battle was given a theme. For example for Ifrit vs. Garuda we wanted it to be like a pro wrestling match. Like an Evanglion or Ultra Man feel to it, where you feel like you’re controlling a giant mech or monster. So each battle got its own theme. For one of them we wanted to focus on a shoot ‘em up, and that’s what it became. That makes it way different then normal Clive fights because, well, now it’s a shoot ‘em up. Another theme was a very dynamic speed type of battle where you are fighting something much larger than yourself and you’re running around and using its body as the stage. So, when the player is controlling Clive you have full control, but for the Eikon ones the focus moves to the Eikons and makes them fresh and separate. These are also tied to the story so that all ties into how to design the fight.
Takai: We want to stress that its not just a shooting game because we want it to be a shooting game. It fits the story first. Like for example the Ifrit vs. Garuda fight, the feel we gave it was because the two have lost themselves and they are out of control and going all out. So it’s hard to talk about the rest because they do tie so closely to the story, but making them all of them one offs helps us tie them to the story better. But because we are doing it this way, development-wise it is a lot of cost. It’s a one and done kind of deal and then can’t be used anywhere else in the game. It’s crazy from a dev perspective.
Yoshida: Do you all play classic games on old game consoles?
Yoshida: So thats what we are aiming for. The old NES games are one game, one concept. In a driving game, all you do is drive. For Final Fantasy XVI, we saw our battles as mini NES games. Why not have a driving game in our RPG? Or this one is a 3D Brawler? Also, there is always the idea that this battle takes place on the ground, but what if this takes place in the air, or in zero gravity? So, with each boss battle we want the experience to be different so the players don’t know what to expect, and this will also make the players think we were crazy for doing this. Once again, we can’t talk about the rest of them right now, but we hope everyone is going to love them.
And that’s the end of the interview. If you’re curious, yes, I will reach out to them again and ask for their updated answer to their favorite character when the game is released. Also, I want to thank my colleagues at Den of Geek and Gematsu for asking such great questions!