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JE2019 : Interview Naoki Yoshida (ENG)

Square Enix has focused their efforts on Final Fantasy XIV during Japan Expo with several activities and Naoki Yoshida's attendance. We had the pleasure to have an interview with the director and producer along with our friend JeuxOnline. Big thanks to them for their help and availability. 

Warning, some parts of the interview may spoil you.

The interview has been conducted on July 4th in English with Japanese interpretation.

JeuxOnline: The seeds of the Shadowbringers scenario were planted back in 2016 with patch 3.4, yet it wasn’t until now, almost 3 years and an entire expansion later, that the story was processed. What led to that long wait? 

Naoki Yoshida: For the development of FFXIV, it’s not only the storyline and the MSQ but also the game has lots of varied content available. The plan is thought two years ahead so when the expansion is released the dev team is working on both the next expansion and the major updates. 

Final Fantasy XIV

Before going to the First, there was so much business left to take care of on the Source, such as liberating Ala Mhigo and save Doma and the Eastern area. Also the battle against the Empire is quite imminent and important. It didn’t make sense to go to the First, and resolve the issues they have over there, before taking care of our issues on the Source.

The problems we had yet to solve on the Source have been around since 1.0, so we wanted to take care of them before going into the First because it made more sense to us.

It may have taken 3 years but from our side of things we just wanted to resolve all the issues in order. So it doesn’t feel too long from our point of view.

Finaland: The story of Shadowbringers is a paradox. It is much darker than what we had before and maybe even in the whole FF saga. But it is in a world flooded with light. For example, Tesleen's fate. Is it something that you personally wanted to paint, to show that something is wrong in our world?

Naoki Yoshida: First and foremost, it’s not just the example you gave about Tesleen, it’s kind of common for the entire theme of FFXIV. For example, back in the Heavensward era, Thordan wanted to slay all the dragons to bring back peace for the people and he did not look back even though it required the sacrifice of a lot of people and a lot of creatures. Their purpose and their goal was justice, but so was it on the enemy’s side as well. So it’s not that we particularly paid attention, that we wanted to bring out that paradox just with Shadowbringers, it’s more the common theme across all expansions of FFXIV.

For the creation of Shadowbringers, what we thought was important is that, because the players would be getting into the world of the First for the first time, we wanted to encourage them, to motivate them in thinking : “We have to save this world!”. There might be gaps in the progression of the storyline and drops in the players motivation, so we wanted to bring some encouragement for them to carry on. That is why we have players bringing back the dark night to the world. This was something special the dev team did so that players would have extra motivation to get to the First and save the realm. It was something I discussed long and hard with the scenario team, to ensure it was guiding and motivating players through this expansion.

JeuxOnline: In a previous interview, you said it was quite challenging to create realistic villains from one expansion to another. Ran’jit & Solus are great in that way: they look very strong, fearsome & crazy. How do you manage to keep getting inspired and make charismatic bad guys for the story not to be redundant?

Naoki Yoshida: That is a very difficult question to answer.

Final Fantasy XIV

So when making the villain characters, what the dev team tries to keep in mind is that they have to stand out, either by being really hateful and the players really hate them or still kinda loveable in a way. So, for example, Zenos is some sort of entity of ultimate Evil. But for Emet-Selch, he just wants to restore his world, that he believes to be the best world. So each time we create a new villain, we try to put him on either end of the scale, either complete evil or with having his own belief, his own goal. Having someone in-between is quite half-baked and is something the dev team wants to avoid.

Finaland: If I have to make a comparison, Stormblood was a step but Shadowbringers was a triple jump. There were so many changes that I couldn’t even recognize some jobs and my biggest concern was the feedback from players. It was a big risk but in my opinion, it is a very good thing to take risks. Weren’t you scared to apply all those changes suddenly?

Naoki Yoshida: So this had been covered in the media tour back in May. The game has been released for 6 years already, in 2013. We have our base system and we’ve been adding new systems, new content on top of that. By the time we reached this expansion, we thought it was too complicated, especially for all the new players who have been joining the game recently. Veteran players, who have been with us for a long time, know what they need to do for jobs and all that, but that’s not the case for new players. So we started seeing a big disparity between them and that’s what we wanted to remove this time, so that new players can have fun immediately. Because unlike veterans they have so much they need to understand before it feels fun. Also we wanted to remove the stress and to start building again on a new, clean foundation. That is why we made all these big changes to the job system.

But, as you said, making such big changes could be also risky. So we understand the point, especially for the veteran players who are really experienced and have been playing for a long time. They may feel that the changes are so drastic and that it takes too long to get accustomed to them, so of course we are expecting some backlash. But it something we understood already because any change comes with risk, and not just for the battle system but for the whole game.

So in FFXIV, when we do bring big changes, we always try to communicate to the players the context, the reason behind them, and we can always make adjustments to them based on the feedback we received from the community. If there’s something bad we can always change it and improve it. But first we want players to understand why we make the changes, and then if players still don’t like it we’ll consider adjustments. That is our policy for all content.

JeuxOnline: The new races have taken quite a lot of resources in the team, at the expense of other major pieces of content. How do you decide what content to prioritise for each patch/expansion?

Naoki Yoshida: When it comes to design a new expansion, I take care of the overall design and direction, to paint the greater picture: What will the goal be? What do we want to do? The most important element when I create the design is always “will this be fun for players?”. I sort all my ideas by priority with this in mind, and ask each of my teams for feedback on whether these are doable and how long they estimate the implementation cost in terms of resources. I will then tweak the schedule to make it more reasonable to realise. So there isn’t any special trick in deciding what goes in, this is how we have been operating so far.

Same goes for any major patch update, I decide what should go into them and consult the teams for feedback. They will for example tell me: “Yes we can do this, but if we do we’ll have to drop that because we don’t have the resources.” With their feedback I play the puzzle game again to fit all the features together in our schedule. An important aspect of making the decisions is to try to content all the types of players we have in FFXIV. We have hardcore players who want challenging content, sort of mid-core players who do normal content as well as crafting and gather, and finally more casual players. We can’t just make one category happy, we have to satisfy all the types of players in each patch. This is how we build up the puzzle and put together the pieces that will go in each update.

Finaland: I was reading FF Lost Stranger, a manga that you supervise. And in one page, there is a mention of Viera and Ronso, way before the announcement of Shadowbringers. Was that a hint? And can we expect to see more hints in the manga?

Naoki Yoshida: (laughs) No this was a pure coincidence.

The manga is a new entry in the Final Fantasy universe, but the authors wanted to incorporate elements of past FF titles because they are fans of the games. Of course, because I supervise this, I noticed there was a Viera and a Ronso. But the authors are big fans of FFXIV as well, so I couldn’t tell them: “Please don’t add them to the manga because we are going to have these two races in the new expansion.”

JeuxOnline: The main scenario of Shadowbringers is incredible. There are so many reveals about the lore, and it feels like a big turning point in the story. But we can wonder from here, how are you going to do to make the next expansion even more intense and epic? Do you feel a lot of pressure in order to maintain that level of quality in the future?

Naoki Yoshida: The level of pressure I feel doesn’t really change at any point in the development of Final Fantasy XIV, being for expansions or major updates. There is always challenges to face when creating something new, so just because Shadowbringers is so successful won’t change anything. We need to provide the best story and the best game experience to players, so the stress level remains equal.

It was actually the same when we released Heavensward and until patch 3.3 when we were progressing through the main story, players were saying: “HW is the best scenario FFXIV has ever had!” and now we have started receiving comments about Shadowbringers people are also saying that this is the best expansion FFXIV ever had. We think there should be hurdles and that is something we have to go beyond anyway, there will always be difficulties but we’ll just take them on.

I might summon the meteor again and end the world, who knows? (laughs)

Finaland: When I was fighting against the Sin Eaters, the first thing that came to my mind was Bayonetta, where the Umbra Witch had to fight against the Lumen, aka the light. That game takes inspiration in the Biblical and Enochian myths. Is that also the case for Shadowbringers

Naoki Yoshida: For the main scenario we didn’t specifically take inspiration from Bayonetta, although myself and the dev team love the game quite a lot, there wasn’t any reference to it in Shadowbringers.

I think the similarities between our scenarios and the ones that Kamiya-san writes come from the fact they are inspirations for the “chuunibyou” (ed. literally “eighth-grader syndrome”, is a term used to describe people, often teens, that have delusions of glory or greatness. It’s a character archetype often portrayed in recent anime, see Okabe Rintarou or Rikka Takanashi for example. By the way, Yoshida-san first described the DRK job as “chuunibyou”-like when it was revealed in HW).

Another game that takes similar inspirations from the Bible is the Megami Tensei series (ed. known as “Shin Megami Tensei” in the West) from Atlus. We like that sort of inspiration so it’s probably why you find common ground between these games and Shadowbringers.

Speaking of Shadowbringers, it’s not just from the Bible we take inspiration but also from Greek mythology and other ancient lores. Once you have some time it might be interesting that you type in your favourite search engine things such as the name of the characters or of some areas like Amaurote. You might see some hints and the kind of references the development team takes inspiration from.

Interview: Finaland & JeuxOnline
English Transcription: Miyuu
French Translation: Sonico 
Special Thanks: JeuxOnline, Square Enix France, Square Enix Europe, Square Enix Japan

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