It's been a long road for Final Fantasy XIV. Many folks who know Square Enix's MMORPG are aware that it had to reinvent itself back in 2013, which subsequently saved the game and led to overwhelming success. But that wasn't enough. The FFXIV team has outdone itself with the latest expansion, Shadowbringers, which has cemented the game as one of the greatest stories told in the long-running franchise. And it further disproves the perception that FFXIV is simply the MMO that bears the name of a famous RPG series.
Having been a few months removed from the launch of Shadowbringers, I had the opportunity to briefly correspond with FFXIV director and producer Naoki Yoshida for a quick look back at how it came to be and what the future may hold. This includes what the Trust system of AI companions has done for the game, what a streamlined version of the base game will look like, and how it fits into the next console generation. But more importantly, he spoke to the vision that the writing team brought to life–namely Natsuko Ishikawa, who led the Shadowbringers narrative and received a standing ovation during the game's PAX West 2019 panel after simply introducing herself–a moment that spoke to how she and the team nailed its storytelling, but also how a long-running MMO can leverage its deep lore to make an impact on its players.
We're still in the early days of Shadowbringers as a whole. At Tokyo Game Show 2019, Yoshida-san outlined what you'll be able to do with New Game+ in the upcoming 5.1 patch due in late October. More notably, him and Nier series creator Yoko Taro talked about what you can expect from their collaboration, which will be a 24-player Alliance Raid, directly tied to Nier Automata, as part of the October patch. You may want to check out our full review of FFXIV Shadowbringers to get a better idea of why it's so well regarded, and because having AI companions plays an immense role in the expansion, you'll want to read about why the Trust system matters more than you may think.
If there's one takeaway from this exchange, it's that the team gave their all for Shadowbringers. Not only that, Yoshida-san has the utmost confidence that, no, they wouldn't have done anything differently for this expansion. The following interview with Yoshida-san was conducted via email, facilitated and translated through Square Enix.
Narrative is one of the most important things in FFXIV, especially for Shadowbringers. How involved were you with the story's creation and what sort of direction did you provide the writing team?
The first step is creating the overall game design for the expansion pack. With Shadowbringers, after we had completed the base design phase, I provided three initial directions to the development team:
1) The story will be set in the "First." 2) The dark knight will be the “main job.” (i.e. becoming the Warrior of Darkness will be the main objective) 3) We will be implementing the Trust system, so the story should center around an adventure with the members of the Scions of the Seventh Dawn.
I suggested a setting in which the world is covered in light, and night will only return when the Sin Eaters are defeated. In that instance, Ishikawa was able to smoothly implement this concept into the story. – Naoki Yoshida
With this direction as the foundation of the narrative, Natsuko Ishikawa, who oversees the main scenario, and Banri Oda, who oversees lore creation, had multiple discussions and created a plot. We then have what I call a “scenario writing camp,” where we take the base plot which was created and add details to it over a period of three days. Aside from Ishikawa, Oda, and myself, we also have two of our more experienced scenario writers join in this writing camp.
The overall structure of the story is formed during these three days, but even after that we do make changes. For example, I suggested a setting in which the world is covered in light, and night will only return when the Sin Eaters are defeated. In that instance, Ishikawa was able to smoothly implement this concept into the story. Additionally, Vauthry did not exist in the initial plot; since it felt like we were missing a definitive target to defeat at the halfway point of the story, I asked the team during the scenario writing camp to add a hideous antagonist like Jabba the Hutt to the story.
Under my instruction to align our gameplay experience concepts with the main scenario, our scenario lead, lore creation lead, and many other staff give it their all to create the best narrative possible. As a director, I devoted myself to literally just directing the game, but as the development team has shown great growth, I feel that my role in development isn’t as significant as before. 😛
Now that the Trust system has been widely used, is there anything that has particularly surprised you about reception from players? Is there any feedback that you are looking to take into consideration moving forward?
I feel the reaction from the fans is what we were aiming for in creating this system, and it seems players have really embraced it. We have received feedback regarding the Trust system, but unfortunately due to the complexity of the system’s mechanics, it would be difficult to simply add on new functions. Instead of adding new features and functions to the Trust system, our goal at this time is to create additional content that players can enjoy utilizing the Trust system.
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Are there any aspects to these early days of Shadowbringers that didn't pan out as expected? Anything you'd do differently?
No. This is the case for every expansion pack, but the development team, the operations team, and I feel that we have given our all in creating Shadowbringers, and it is the fruit of our labor. I truly believe that we accomplished something great, to the point that I feel karma would strike if I were greedy and asked for anything more. So no, there is nothing I would do differently. Of course, it was a lot of hard work, so in that sense I don’t know if I’d want to go through it again, either…lol.
Players will always have something to say in terms of job adjustments and balancing. At launch, Astrologian probably had the most contention. After tweaking things, where do you stand on the current balance between jobs?
As the gameplay experience is different for each job, it is difficult to simply compare the jobs side by side; however, as of patch 5.08, I feel that there is more of a statistical balance between each of the jobs in a specific role.
There are more adjustments which need to be made when it comes to overall control and feel, especially for Ninja and the Summoner which we are in the process of adjusting in Patch 5.1. I do not feel that the current job balance is perfect as is, and in the end each player will think differently about what the perfect balance is, so in that sense we may never reach perfection.
That being said, moving forward we will continue to make adjustments as necessary, so please keep an eye out for future updates.
As you recently revealed plans to streamline the main scenario in A Realm Reborn, can you give us any insight as to which parts you’re looking to abridge? Do you have a rough idea of how the streamlined version might compare to the current questline in terms of quest numbers or playtime?
I’m aware that there is a great sense of anticipation regarding these adjustments for A Realm Reborn. However, I feel that the community might set their expectations too high no matter what I say this far out, so I would like to refrain from going into any details. In general, we plan to simplify some quest objectives, omit any unnecessary quests, and speed up the flow of the ARR main scenario.
How has the success of FFXIV changed the future of the Final Fantasy brand, or changed Square Enix?
The best thing to come out of this success is that Square Enix’s relationship with the fans and players has become stronger. I think that many people who previously felt that Square Enix or the Final Fantasy brand were segmented now feel as though things are more open and accessible. I’m glad that FFXIV has become a starting point for us to further expand the Final Fantasy series, together with the fans, as comrades.
I know you're asked this many times, but where are you (and the team) at in terms of bringing FFXIV to other platforms (Xbox One or Google Stadia)?
You’re right. I’ve been asked this so many times that maybe we should have a template answer created for this!
Joking aside, my direction has never changed from the beginning when we started with A Realm Reborn: strive to have as many people play FFXIV on multiple platforms. Secondly, I want to allow people to play with their friends without any cross-platform limitations. I am still in discussion with Microsoft and Nintendo to make this a reality. If there are any updates, the fans will be the first to know, so please hold on tight.
Additionally, we are testing out the game not only on Stadia, but on various cloud streaming services. However, with FFXIV being a server-client MMORPG, it is not as easy to port to a cloud service as other standalone or P2P titles. My impression thus far is that playing the game will still depend heavily on the network environment the player is using.
How do you see FFXIV transitioning into the next console generation? Is the nature of the upcoming consoles making that more simple than, say, going from PS3 to PS4?
Similar to my previous response, the same concept drives this as well, which is having as many people play FFXIV on various platforms. I hope to be proactive in making the game compatible with next generation consoles. I assume that there wouldn’t be too many issues since we are porting the game to a newer platform.