Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers Interview
During this year’s PAX West, RPGamer was given the opportunity to interview a couple of the senior developers behind Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers. Art team lead Takeo Suzuki, main scenario writer Natsuko Ishikawa, and translator Aimi Tokutake were kind enough to answer questions from RPGamer’s Mystiana Rulean and Krystal Rulean about the development of the MMORPG’s latest massive expansion.
Mystiana Rulean, Krystal Rulean (RPGamer): Where do you find inspiration for new ideas for Final Fantasy XIV?
Takeo Suzuki: With the world that we build in Final Fantasy, I feel that there should be good balance of fantasy and reality existing together in that realm, so I take inspiration from things that exist in real life. For example, if it were a building, I pay attention to what the decor would look like, what the exterior would look like, or what kind of materials are being used for the building, and get a feel for existing objects.
With that being the foundation, I look at the requests that are being made by the game planners, or elements that the designers want to incorporate into a particular thing. Sometimes the design team might provide reference materials for the art team to look at, or sometimes they look to other Final Fantasy titles to reference their essence and bring those into Final Fantasy XIV as well.
Natsuko Ishikawa: On the flip-side, I am a lot more simple in my approach. I listen to songs that I like and take a nice bath while doing so, or listen to things while taking a nice walk, and that’s about it!
RPGamer: You are bound to Final Fantasy, but how do you keep Final Fantasy XIV unique compared to the rest of the series?
Ishikawa-san: With any title in the Final Fantasy series, we feel that each of them have their own story, their own conclusions, and their own individualities that already exist, and that goes for Final Fantasy XIV as well. We feel that any Final Fantasy title up until this point has its own sort of individuality.
With that being said, in Final Fantasy XIV there are elements that we definitely want to take on as a challenge or a particular narrative that we want to depict throughout the story. I’m sure you’re already aware of this, but there are a lot of different elements that we do reference from the Final Fantasy series in XIV, but we look at this as a sort of Final Fantasy theme park where if you love the games, this is MMO to go to to enjoy those different elements.
Suzuki-san: There isn’t a specific element that would make XIV its own. But looking at it from my perspective, having previously worked on titles like Final Fantasy X and XII, in the creation process I brought my ideas to the table as well, with elements that I want to depict or have incorporated. I’m sure that other developers on the team also have their own ideas that they wanted to bring in and it was a collaborative approach with everyone sitting together to figure what would make the title unique. I think that’s what helped make each of the Final Fantasy titles unique with its own characteristic. With Final Fantasy XIV, Ishikawa-san mentioned her process of doing things, while I have my own process and direction where I want to present my ideas. I feel that helps make XIV feel unique and stand out on its own.
RPGamer: On the opposite side, does being part of a Final Fantasy franchise limit Final Fantasy XIV in any way?
Ishikawa-san: If, hypothetically, I was the sort of person who wanted to write something really dark and really gritty then there might be some sort of friction with how Final Fantasy is perceived. But I like writing stories that may have sad moments but are still about bringing light or good into the world, so I feel that it matches my writing.
Suzuki-san: The same goes for the art team. We haven’t felt any negatives from being part of the franchise. If we are supposed to be referencing a previous monster, the art team would take that and see how they can best work with and incorporate it back into XIV. We also have a lot of opportunities to create original material, plus sometimes if there are desires from the art team to do something, we’re allowed to pitch ideas, so there aren’t really any limitations.
RPGamer: With regards to the new races and new jobs, and given you worked on Final Fantasy XII, did you [Suzuki-san] make the decision to bring in the Viera, and what were the challenges of doing so?
Suzuki-san: No, I wasn’t part of the decision making team for that! It was primarily producer and director Naoki Yoshida who made the executive decision. Plus we also had dialogue already with Mr. Matsuno, who created the Return to Ivalice raid series with us as well as his established realm of Ivalice and the Viera, so I think it was a smooth transition to have them as part of the XIV realm. Now that being said, on the art team and other parts of the development team, we do have members that worked on Final Fantasy XII, so in bringing the characteristics of the Viera to Final Fantasy XIV we had a very smooth environment in which to offer our ideas and ensure we are bringing them to life.
We mentioned earlier that there are no creative limitations for XIV, but there were some technical aspects and challenges with bringing the Viera to Final Fantasy XIV. Mostly because within an MMORPG there are limitations with the assets and resources that we can create for new elements that we’re bringing into the game. When we were creating the Viera for Final Fantasy XIV, we had to re-purpose existing skeletal structures for other character models, so it was a challenge to bring out the uniqueness utilising the resources we already had. Had this been a standalone game like Final Fantasy XII, we would’ve built one-off skeletal structures to have unique character models, but with XIV we referenced skeletal structures of the Hyur and Miqo’te and built off those to create the Viera, so that was one of the challenging aspects.
RPGamer: Following the addition of the Viera and the Return to Ivalice raid series, what is the current connection between Eorzea and Ivalice?
Ishikawa-san: The Ivalice from Final Fantasy XII and Final Fantasy Tactics isn’t literally connected to Eorzea. That being said, you may also notice that with Doma [a major part of Stormblood] we reference the Doma from Final Fantasy VI, and we have elements that pay homage or give a nod to other titles within the realm of Eorzea. So within Final Fantasy XIV’s Eorzea there is certainly a reference to Ivalice.
RPGamer: How do you introduce new races in the game when they’ve not been mentioned before in the lore for Eorzea?
Ishikawa-san: With any new race that we introduce from a lore perspective, we work closely with our creation team to make sure it makes sense and we are establishing different settings required to bring them into the realm. Oftentimes we write the lore for these new races based on the fact that they come from a separate region, not one of the existing or open regions that we are familiar with in the world, such as a closed-off country.
For Shadowbringers, we took the opportunity that we were moving to a different realm, going from The Source into The First. These new races were written so that they have been residing in the different areas in the realm, and as players continue on the narrative they see more characters of those races introduced so that they get a feel for their existence and blend in well with the lore.
RPGamer: Have you ever wanted to change a previous part of the story? Say you were working on a new piece and thought “if only this had been done differently” or “if this character had something different, this would be easier or make more sense”.
Ishikawa-san: If I didn’t want a certain character to die or something like that?!
RPGamer: Maybe not even that complex, perhaps “if only this character had worked with this other character, it would make this part much easier to write”.
Ishikawa-san: Within the scenario and lore team, we have several writers and there are elements of Final Fantasy XIV that I didn’t handle, such as those that predate A Realm Reborn. That being said, the team really likes to work together. They like to consult each other and make sure everyone is aligned on the different elements they’re working on.
If there ever is an instance where I feel like I would write a particular portion in this way but wanted to see how someone else would feel then I would go and consult the other writers and see where we stand and come to an agreement or iron things out as we go, rather than having something written and later regretting it not being done a particular way. We don’t have much of a problem with ret-conning in XIV.
I feel that we need to be very honest with how we write things that we want to write, and at the same time if we ever get into arguments with each other, we would hash it out as best we can and then make up and keep being friendly with each other!
RPGamer: We were thinking less about things as they’re ongoing, but maybe something from the original reboot.
Ishikawa-san: That’s true, if there were different stories written then, it would’ve been interesting to see how some of the stories would have panned out. I do look at the story and occasionally think and notice things like that, but always try not to look at it in a negative light. I try to understand what the intention behind it is and gain an understanding of the established lore and how they got to that.
RPGamer: You’re bringing in new classes and races, but how hard is it to match older armour sets for the new races?
Suzuki-san: Whenever we introduce new races, we want to make sure we feature their unique elements. With the Hrothgar and the Viera, because of their unique head shapes, the team actually drew a line in the sand that helmets are going to be a huge challenge to represent and so we don’t want to display helmets. The helmets not being visible is not just because we wanted to show their faces, but more about trying to work with the limitations that we have and work around them. There are elements that are pieces of headgear such as glasses or circlets that people still want to see on their characters, so we did our best in accommodating those elements as well.
There is one element that hasn’t been talked about very frequently, that it is a challenge to make sure all the different pieces of armour and gear fit properly on the new races, so we have to consider how much development bandwidth and resources to fit every piece. For the Hrothgar, we tried to have their skeletal structure very similar to a male Hyur to ensure we started with something that would work more smoothly.
While we ideally wanted the Hrothgar to have a similar skeletal structure to a Hyur so it would be easier to work on our armour design, when we started doing to rough concepts for the Hrothgar design, there were some artists that didn’t want to follow that structure and made them very beast-like. Some of the concept art that was pitched looked very animal-like and Ishikawa-san and [other main scenario writer] Oda-san saw it and said they wanted to go with those ones despite our request to go with a more humanoid shape!
Trying to make all of the armour fit on the beast-like designs was a challenge, but with that being said, I was also in favour of the more beast-like designs, so it wasn’t like we were forced into something we didn’t want to do. I think we made a good choice in making them that way, and it all came out really nice.
RPGamer: We don’t want to focus too much on the Viera, but with them being previously established as forest-dwelling and wearing light clothing, how does that work for some of the armour sets?
Suzuki-san: In terms of the Viera typically having light equipment, it’s not something that the art team was too concerned about. Though there was one element the art team found to be a challenge, with their feet always being on their toes and often in high heels. When we were considering gear designs having heels, we realised it was way too much work to make all of the gear sets have that aesthetic, so we had to keep foot gear more in line with what we typically have. We did still want to ensure we are representing them properly, so at least for the initial race outfit we made sure they had those high heels. For me personally, I feel that one unique characteristics of the Viera is their figure and skin texture, so I was very careful about rendering that.
RPGamer: What is your favourite art piece or particular story, either from Shadowbringers or elsewhere in Final Fantasy XIV?
[Please note that both answers contain potential spoilers for Shadowbringers]
Ishikawa-san: So many to choose from! Taking a very recent example because I remember it clearly, but towards the end of Shadowbringers from when players defeat Innocence at level 79 up to that last level. It’s only one level for the player character, but the story is so condensed in that part; it’s something that I really wanted to depict and to tell that story, and I feel it came out really nicely.
Suzuki-san: I oversee characters, backgrounds, cutscenes, and some of the environments created for the technical aspects of the art. Among those, as we mentioned earlier, the Hrothgar race was something we struggled to make right, so I have a very strong attachment to those designs. In terms of the background elements, the last dungeon of Amaurot would be my favourite. That was visually well made and rendered, and I’m very proud of that.
For cutscenes, there are so many and I love them all, but my favourite would have to be the ending after the final boss. I believe that came out really well and am also happy and proud of that. If you haven’t got the end yet, I encourage you do so!
RPGamer: What would you say to someone to invite them to play Final Fantasy XIV?
Ishikawa-san: With Final Fantasy XIV, and Shadowbringers especially, we have noted lots of players letting us know how much they love the game, so there are already lots of existing players. With an MMORPG, some people might think it’s an endless game that just keeps going on, but we feel the excitement and passion from people for Shadowbringers and believe that now is a perfect time to enjoy that momentum!
We want for people to join while everyone is still excited about the game. We have lots of content that is still available, such as Return to Ivalice, and have upcoming content like the new NieR-inspired Alliance Raid. Any one of those opportunities is a great time for people to jump in and enjoy it.
Suzuki-san: With Final Fantasy XIV, there are so many different elements that you can enjoy. Not just the gameplay, there are so many variations of what you can play with. Anybody can find what resonates with them best.
You can play around with character creation and make your own unique avatar, or we have a fantastic story you can delve into. We also have lots of challenging battle content, or if you just want to chill out in your player housing that works as well. There are so many amazing ways to enjoy Final Fantasy XIV, and you’ll find that there are other people who enjoy what you want to do so we hope that you’ll jump in and meet others and enjoy the elements.
As Ishikawa-san mentioned, enjoying things now in real-time is what makes Final Fantasy XIV so unique and fun, so we hope that people will come and meet people and dive right into it!
RPGamer would like to extend our deepest thanks to Square Enix, Takeo Suzuki, Natsuko Ishikawa, and Aimi Tokutake for giving us the opportunity for the interview. Final Fantasy XIV and its Heavensward, Stormblood, and Shadowbringers expansions are all available now for PC, Mac, and PlayStation 4.