Naoki Yoshida, Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers E3 Interview
MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV has already enjoyed immense success since it launched in 2013. With expansions Heavensward and Stormblood releasing on two year cycles, we are now only days away from the game’s latest expansion, Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers. At E3, we were able to sit with Naoki Yoshida, the game’s director, for some insights into what’s coming, what’s changing, and some behind-the-scenes peeks at how the creative team comes up with the all-new content.
Naoki Yoshida, Square Enix: Thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to do this interview with us.
Pascal Tekaia, RPGamer: Well, thank you for having time for us. At RPGamer, we have a lot of fans on staff that play Final Fantasy XIV every day, and they’ve provided a lot of their questions to ask, whatever we have time for.
NY: You have A LOT of questions!
PT: Yes, too many! First, I wanted to ask how long ago it was decided that you would take players to The First?
NY: First and foremost, when we were thinking about Patch 3.4, around three years ago, when we were trying to decide what the story was going to be like, we did have the thought that we wanted to depict the realm being shattered. Because the realm is shattered into fourteen different worlds, including The Source, we wanted to explain that through our narrative at one point. Not necessarily for the next expansion, but we wanted to make sure we allocated some time to depict that storyline.
When we actually finalized that we’re taking our adventurers to The First for Shadowbringers was around August of 2017.
The reason why that specific timing is because that’s when I had to sit down and think about what the game design is going to be for Shadowbringers 5.0 and I had to come up with a script, or text-based storyboard, for the opening trailer.
PT: At the press conference yesterday, it was mentioned that the player base is the largest since the game launched. What are the hopes for Shadowbringers to expand that?
NY: Looking at the player base we do have, the last time we saw record numbers was one month after Stormblood had released, which is around the end of July 2017. At the time we were thinking that, if things go smoothly, by the time our next expansion, Shadowbringers, releases that we would surpass our highest numbers, maybe after the launch. But thanks to the help of our development team, our marketing and PR teams, our community and operational teams, we were able to surpass that record before we launched the expansion. We told the team that that’s something we can definitely be proud of.
When considering what to do in terms of building this new expansion, and continuing to listen to what the community wants from this game, I think we need to start to shift our thinking to not just providing players with content that they can play, but allowing for them to utilize XIV as a way to find their own way of enjoying and playing the game, and allowing for those different methods for the players to find out for themselves and providing Final Fantasy XIV as a form of entertainment in and of itself. That’s the kind of thinking that we have, generally speaking, for Shadowbringers.
PT: Can you share any examples of what you mean by that for the expansion, how players can make their own enjoyment?
NY: Say for example that, utilizing the housing system, there are players that get together and run a bar, so to speak, and they don’t have it in just one world; they actually have it in different locations and opened up a branch, so to speak. So every Saturday or Sunday, they would open their bar, and they would have other players visit their house and just sit around and role-play that it’s a bar and it’s just a nice place to hang out and get together. And it’s totally community-organized.
PT: With all the new players, there will be lots of first-time players. With the new expansion, are there any concessions made for first-time players, anything to make it easier to catch up, or perhaps something that’s different for first-time players?
NY: First and foremost, I’m sure you may be aware of this, but although Final Fantasy XIV is an MMORPG, it is very story-driven, so we look at it like a TV drama series. So A Realm Reborn would be our season one, Heavensward would be season two, Stormblood season three, and with Shadowbringers, we’re approaching our fourth season now.
Of course, at the time, if you were to play through all of the expansions and the patches that came in-between in real time — our patch schedule was roughly one major patch every three-and-a-half months or so — the leveling was balanced to match the system at the time. But with Shadowbringers, of course, we review the process that leads up to that expansion, and of course we made appropriate adjustments so that new players will be able to comfortably get through all the different quests, and the leveling process as well. There may be some quests that players that went ahead of them were especially stuck on, and we might review and have adjusted the balance in some of the different quests as well. We feel that, even if you do start at season one, A Realm Reborn, now, as long as you’re focusing on getting through the main scenario or quest, you should be able to get through it fairly comfortably. You’ll be able to level your characters pretty smoothly. And of course we also have other players, our Warriors of Light mentor system, where more experienced players can come in and help support you in the chat and whatnot, so you can get through the game very comfortably.
Of course, there’s the other option, if you want to just skip over everything and get to Shadowbringers right away. I’m afraid it will be an additional fee, it is a paid item that you do purchase. We call them Tales of Adventure. We do have the story ones. Say you want to start from season two, Heavensward. We do have the Tales of Adventure that will allow for you to skip over A Realm Reborn. Or if you want to jump as close to Shadowbringers as possible and start from Stormblood, we also have a Tales of Adventure available to skip the story all the way up to Stormblood as well. Also, we have the same kind of Tales of Adventure for job leveling as well, so the different battle classes that are available in the game can be boosted to the current level cap using a Tales of Adventure that’s associated to the particular job as well. So we do have a choice for new players if they want to start right away from the latest expansion, they can do so, but you can also choose to start from the very beginning as well.
PT: Since you brought up jobs, I wanted to talk about classes. Since there’s two new classes in Shadowbringers, how happy are you with the balance of all the character classes at this point, including the new ones?
NY: From a development perspective, of course we are 100% happy. That’s why we’re comfortable to release the game. But of course we will be looking out for player feedback to see how they feel, once the game has launched, how the different jobs do feel once they actually play the game. And then we will take that feedback into consideration to see if it’s something that we need to address immediately, or if we need to schedule it within our update timing.
(Laughing) With a question like that, “Oh, I’m only 80% comfortable that our players will be happy.”
PT: I know, I initially thought, “Fifty-fifty?” No, no. The answer is 100%, I already knew. We wanted to specifically ask about the healer classes, which I understand are being changed to become more full-time healers. Can you tell me more about that change?
NY: There are three different jobs within that healer role. Did you want to get more details on how we adjusted and revised each individual job or did you want to know more of what the adjustments were to healer roles in general?
PT: I think just the general adjustments to start with.
NY: Throughout the 4.x series, of course the abilities that were seen as more preferable in the different encounter content that we go into sort of differed, because, of course, the content differed in difficulty level as well. But looking at players that go into the different raid content, of course with healers — their role being healer — it should be their core identity, so to speak, to heal their party members. But, of course, in between those healing spells, you also have the opportunity to attack as well. And nowadays, with some of the casters being able to utilize Raise spells and being able to revive party members when they are knocked out, healers sometimes allow for their casters to do it instead of them. So that positioning of the healer became kind of blurry at this point. We wanted to bring that focus back in to the healer being a healer within their party. And how do we have them think about how to be better at healing their party, and try to shift the focus back to healer acting as a healer?
PT: You had mentioned there were three different jobs within the healer class. Is it still possible to play as the alternative healer that also attacks? Is there a style for both?
NY: Of course, with each of the jobs within the healer category, they have healing actions as well as offensive actions. There was some backlash from players about certain jobs having more offensive capabilities. They didn’t like the fact that some of them had that, so we’ve revisited those elements and made sure that any job within the healer category should be capable of doing healing and attacks as well. Of course there are strengths and weaknesses amongst each of the different jobs within that role, but of course we’re not restricting players from being able to attack. That’s not our intent. We just don’t want to make it so that there’s a significant disparity between what they’re capable of and what they’re not capable of. For example, something specific would be the White Mage and their different actions and spells would require longer cast time, so they’re not able to move if they’re casting or else their action will be interrupted. So we adjusted it so that we have more instant heals available so that it will allow for them to move around more and it will give them the time to either land more offensive actions or consider doing their next spell, which would indeed need more casting time.
PT: And that’s a way to rebalance it to make sure that it’s focused more on just providing healing, because they don’t have options to do other things?
NY: Right, we wanted to make sure that we sort of supplemented areas that we felt were lacking in each of the individual jobs. We sort of compared each of the jobs within the healer category and saw where they excelled, where they were lacking, and sort of tried to balance it out as best as we could.
PT: There was a question from the staff about the limited job class of Blue Mage. Will there be any limited classes in Shadowbringers?
NY: We’re actually continuing to bolster content that’s specific to Blue Mage. It currently has a level cap, but we’re going to raise that with Shadowbringers, and we’re also planning to add more elements that the Blue Mage can play with that are specifically for them.
Of course, we will continue to apply patch updates throughout Shadowbringers as well, and perhaps there might be a possibility that we might consider another limited job.
PT: But no definite information? “Possibility”?
PT: Haha, OK. Since we have about five minutes left, I’ll combine some of the remaining questions together and you can answer whatever you can.
NY: Of course.
PT: I wanted to ask about the new lore of the new world, and about the process of designing the new lore and dungeons, and what goes into that process.
NY: First of all, when we are thinking about an upcoming expansion, thinking about the storyline and what the purpose is going to be and what kind of situation we’re going to have, it’s all decided at this Scenario Boot Camp, as we call it. It’s a four-day, concentrated meeting session.
Of course, we say “Boot Camp”, but it would be nice if it were at some sort of nice, air-conditioned hotel or at a resort somewhere, but no. We borrow a temporary meeting room that’s off-site from our office, and we just can ourselves in there, and just discuss and hash out the scenario for four days, and a majority of what we’re going to do in the storyline and the plot is decided at that meeting.
From that discussion, we don’t suddenly just make the lore, but we want to focus on what kind of story experience we want our players to have. So we start to think about where is this going to take place? What is the drama that we want to create with the cast of characters? Or what kind of encounters we will have to face? And sort of make those as our plot, and write those out. And then we start to build the lore around it, so that we can build and excite these different plot points.
For example, we have the Rak’Tika Greatwood. We were thinking about this massive forest, and there’s some kind of old history associated with it, we would like for the players to be enthralled in that history, and that’s about as far as we talk about at the Scenario Boot Camp.
From that, we go to developing our plot. So we’ll think about, “OK, we want Y’shtola to be prominent in that area,” and we’re going to unravel the story behind those old ruins that they find in the Greatwood, and they decide the theme from there. And then we take it to the Lore Team to build the lore around it. What are these ruins that we find within the Greatwood? Since when have they existed? What kind of deity did they worship there? So we don’t necessarily build the lore first and then the game, but we take the game experience and then build the lore to support it. That’s the way we approach it.
PT: Are there any dungeon themes you can reveal?
NY: Actually, the dungeon within the Rak’Tika Greatwood is a good example, we feel. It is tied to the main scenario quest that you go through, and once you approach that dungeon, of course you need to find a way to gain entry, and of course you have to go there because of a certain purpose that’s tied into the scenario. But gaining access to the dungeon within the Greatwood is actually tied into the lore associated with that area, so I think it will give that sense of the lore being really tied into the gameplay experience, and the gimmick or the mechanics that we use to have the players gain entry into that dungeon is also pretty cool, and it has that sort of riddle element that you go into solo. So we’re hoping that it will provide a really nice, new gameplay experience for our players.
PT: Riddle, like puzzle?
NY: Yes. (laughs) We can’t reveal too much more, because it’ll be spoilers.
PT: Well, you gave me a little bit at least, thank you. Thank you for your time, Yoshida-san, it was a pleasure meeting you!
We would like to thank Naoki Yoshida and his translator for their time and for answering our questions. Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers launches for PC and PlayStation 4 on July 2, 2019, though those who pre-order will get early access to the expansion starting June 28, 2019. Many staff members are looking forward to heading to The First in Shadowbringers and we wish the team a successful launch.