Final Fantasy XIV Interview: Naoki Yoshida Discusses the Future of Square Enix’s Popular MMORPG

Twinfinite interviews Final Fantasy XIV director Naoki Yoshida and writer Banri Oda about a variety of topics concerning the future of the popular game.

Final Fantasy XIV, Square Enix

Square Enix recently released the latest Final Fantasy XIV expansion Shadowbringers, and it appears to be a major success for the development team.

In order to learn more about the future of the game, Twinfinite talked to director and producer Naoki Yoshida and main scenario writer Banri Oda at Gamescom in Cologne, Germany. 

They shared quite a few interesting details, including the plans to break the barriers between datacenters, Yoko Taro’s involvement in the next raid, when we’re going to hear more about the Restoration of Ishgard, and much more.  

Giuseppe: Yoshida-san, first of all, I’d like to ask you a question I’m sure is on the minds of many fans: how are you? Every time I see you, you seem a little bit more tired.

Naoki Yoshida: You’re right. I’m tired, but now that Shadowbringers has launched, I feel quite relieved. 

Giuseppe: Could you give us some details, from your point of view, about the reception for Shadowbringers?

Naoki Yoshida: I’m very happy about the results and the fact that Shadowbringers was received very well around the world.

I’m hearing loud cheering voices from the fans, and it makes me very happy that the expansion is critically acclaimed as well.

It’s something I’d have never expected nine years ago. 

Giuseppe: I did. I never left. Well… at least I had hope (laughs). On the other hand, has there has there been any “Yoshidaaa!!! moment” in the expansion? Anything that players complained about that you’re planning to fix?

Naoki Yoshida: I didn’t see many people shouting “Yoshidaaa!!!” this time. The servers kept working smoothly and people were focusing on the main story quest. There weren’t big complaints. 

Banri Oda: We certainly heard much louder complaints with Stormblood when people were blocked by Raubahn.

Naoki Yoshida: The only “Yoshidaaa!!! moment” I saw is when the players were having some issues accessing a dungeon. 

Final Fantasy XIV

Giuseppe: This is a question coming from personal experience. I’m going to show you something.

[Editor’s note: I let Yoshida-san take a look at the inventory of one of my retainers on the Final Fantasy XIV companion app on my smartphone. It’s full of Alliance gear pieces from the Ghimlyt Dark dungeon]

You’ll possibly recognize this. It’s all Alliance gear from the Ghimlyt Dark. You may notice that there are no Fending pieces for tanks at all.

I really like the way the gear looks, so I wanted a full set. I did the dungeon about 40 times before Shadowbringers, and it didn’t drop a single tank piece.

Since for many players glamours are the true endgame, I was wondering if you could implement something like a token system for leveling dungeons, or maybe a mechanic that would let people return a number of unwanted pieces and receive one of their choice? Honestly, the Ghimlyt Dark is my favorite dungeon, and the music is absolutely fantastic, but grinding it so many times to try to get the gear I wanted made me hate it.

Naoki Yoshida: The drop rate for dungeons will be adjusted with patch 5.1.

Speaking of tokens, I honestly don’t want to implement more of them. If we made a single token type usable for all the dungeons, players would find out what’s the most efficient dungeon to farm and they would do only that one. 

If we created a specific token for every dungeons, in that case Oda-san would have come up with different names for each, and that’s going to be hard on him. On top of that, it would be problematic for inventory space. 

Rather than using tokens, we think that we should completely change the approach to dungeon drops. For instance, items might drop per player and you may be able choose an item of your choice. This is something we could look into.

To give you a clearer explanation, it would be close to the coffer system implemented in the Eden raid dungeon. But at the same time, that might cause you to have lots of boxes in your inventory, so that might be a problem.

That being said the drop rate for dungeons is imbalanced at the moment, so we want to change it for 5.1.

Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers

Giuseppe: Oda-san, what is yours and the writing team’s relationship with the 1.0 story? I don’t mean the story added with the 1.X patch series, but strictly what was released with the original Final Fantasy XIV. Is it something you like to draw from, or is something you find to be a limitation that at times you need to work around when creating new stories?

Banri Oda: Of course, the story from 1.0 affected me significantly, even if I wasn’t part of the team that worked on the original 1.0 story. I joined the team after Yoshida-san took over.

When 1.0 released, I was simply one of the players, and I also played other MMORPGs, which provided me with a lot of experience. I think memories from that time are important for all players. 

That’s why even though that story a may affect us negatively at times, it would be no good to just ignore the players’ memories of it.

When we announced that we wanted to rebuild Final Fantasy XIV, that’s something Yoshida-san tried hard to be mindful of, to avoid destroying those memories.

Since I joined the team, I tried to gather information on what the original writing team that wrote that story wanted to do. I also researched all the information that hadn’t been conveyed to the players yet. 

Then I deconstructed it and picked the elements that were needed to bolster Yoshida-san’s plan to destroy the world, setting them apart from what wasn’t needed.

While I was trying to preserve the memories of the players, I was also doing my best to tidy up the story.

Giuseppe: When you were working on tidying up that storyline, did you find it confusing as much as we did?

Banri Oda: Initially I saw the story of 1.0 as a player, and so I knew that those issues needed to be rectified. 

One issue was that the player had a power to see the past, but it wasn’t clear how it worked, so I toiled with the rest of the team to tidy up everything. 

Naoki Yoshida: Back then I gave Oda-san one piece of advice: in case the interpretation of certain elements of the story by the players wasn’t in line with what the original developers wanted, if we needed to strain things in order to make them understand accurately, we didn’t really need to put too much effort into that. Even if we pushed, there was no guarantee that the players would understand completely, anyway.

Rather than making things too complicated, we should simply stick to our direction to make things more accessible for players. 

For instance, even among the development team there were moments in the story that happened ten years before, but some interpreted them as happening in the present. That’s why we needed to make sure that everyone was on the same page. 

Final Fantasy XIV Emet-Selch

Giuseppe: Well, personally I think all that work paid off, because I believe the current Final Fantasy XIV story is the best among all Final Fantasy games. Let’s talk about one of the best elements of that story, Emet-Selch, who is probably one of the best villains ever. Everyone loves him.

What inspired him, and how did you go about creating him?

[Warning: The following answers include spoilers about the story of Shadowbringers. If you have not played it, please skip to the next question]

Banri Oda: The main scenario for Final Fantasy XIV 5.0 was handled by Natsuko Ishikawa. Yet, the Ascians have been very enigmatic and mysterious.

Players didn’t really know what their goals are or what kind of people they are. That’s why we thought best to give the players opportunities to get close to them to understand them better as people. 

Naoki Yoshida: Before Stormblood we thought that there should have been a link between the Ascians and Garlemald, and we realized that everything made more sense if Garlemald was actually a creation of the Ascian.

We had this ancient character, emperor Solus, and we thought that using him worked in our favor. That’s the background of the inception of the Ascian as they are now. 

Also, Emperor Varis has been experimenting on creating clones in Garlemald, and he is involved with Solus as well. 

Ishikawa-san wished to humanize the Ascians and Emet-Selch, and to explore them as characters instead of leaving their vision unclear.

The idea of Emet Selch drew inspiration from Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbeanm series, with the goal of adding more human elements on top of that. 

He also kind of overlaps the image of Ardyn from Final Fantasy XV, which is why we needed to work around it so that the two characters didn’t overlap too much.

Giuseppe: I know you can’t talk too much about the YoRHa: Dark Apocalypse raid because it’s getting revealed at Tokyo Game Show, but how involved is Yoko Taro and what is his role precisely?

Naoki Yoshida: Yoko Taro is playing a really big role for YoRHa: Dark Apocalypse.

His role is related to the overall aspect of the creation, like the script an coming up with content ideas.

Banri Oda: The same goes for selecting the kind of boss enemies that will appear in the raid and he is reviewing the soundtrack as well.

Naoki Yoshida: He also selected what kind of characters he wants to bring from the NieR world to FFXIV, and that means that you can expect the appearance of NieR characters, so you can look forward to that.

Final Fantasy XIV Yorha Dark Apocalypse

Giuseppe: Let’s talk about the Restoration of Ishgard. When do you think we’ll be able to hear more about that?

Naoki Yoshida: We’ll have a Letter from the Producer Live at Tokyo Game Show featuring Patch 5.1. That will be part 1.

We also have plans to do another Live Letter before the release of Patch 5.1, and that will be part 2.

We’re still  in the process of deciding which one we’ll use to provide information about the Restoration of Ishgard. 

We have a big plan to overhaul Disciples of the Hand and Disciples of the Land in patch 5.1 and patch 5.2. Since this this change will be significant, we’re mulling on when to talk about Ishgard.

We think it’ll be beneficial for the players to know about the changes for crafters and gatherers first and foremost, so we’ll likely focus on this at Tokyo Game Show and on the Restoration of Ishgard in the Live Letter part 2. 

The good news about the Restoration of Ishgard is that you can contribute even if you aren’t a high-level crafter and gatherer. You can also use that chance to level your crafting and gathering classes up. 

The Restoration of Ishgard will include high-end recipes for crafters and and a leaderboard which will display your name recording your achievements for other people to see.

The feature will be upgraded over the course of the 5.X series, so I’ll definitely talk more about it at a later time. 

Giuseppe: When we talked two or three years ago, you mentioned that the ultimate plan was to do away with the barriers between datacenters to let everyone visit all servers. Are you still working on it?

Naoki Yoshida: We want players to be able to play with everyone else regardless of the server they are on with the world visit system.

Right now everyone can play together with other players within the same datacenter, but it’s really difficult to break the barriers between datacenters. We’re having long and hard discussions internally on how to make it possible from an engineering point of view. 

We’re working on it, but we can’t just magically make it happen instantly. 

While it isn’t guaranteed that it’ll work, we have some ideas on how to make this “magic” happen.

We’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel and we’d like you to wait for more news on this. 

Giuseppe Nelva: If I understood correctly, you’re planning to keep the physical dataservers, but you would like to break the barriers between them so that people can visit other datacenters? 

[Editor’s Note: At this point Yoshida-san picked up a piece of paper and a marker and started drawing an example of how it could work. You can see his sketch below]

Final Fantasy XIV

Naoki Yoshida: For example, these circles are the Japanese, North American, and European physical datacenters. 

Inside them we have logical datacenters, like Crystal, Ether, and Primal in the North American physical DC. 

In each of the logical datacenters we have different worlds. At the moment you can travel between those with the World Visit system. 

We’re now trying to link the logical datacenters. The next step would be to break the barrier here [Yoshida-san draws an arrow between the North American and European datacenters]. 

The barrier between logical datacenters is really thick, and we need some magic to break through it. 

In order to break the barrier between physical datacenters we’d need something really powerful like the Hydaelyn Kick.

Giuseppe Nelva: There is one thing that I’m missing from the 1.0 version of the game, and it’s Inverse kinematics. My character adapted physically to the terrain, so if I was standing on a slope, his knees and ankles would bend dynamically to keep his feet on the ground. 

Now, if I stand on a slope or across the steps of a staircase, one of my feet will simply float. I will admit it’s a bit of a pet peeve for me. 

Is there a chance to reintroduce that feature, at some point?

Naoki Yoshida: It’s technically possible if you’re OK with the crappy server response from the 1.0 era (laughs). 

Again, it could be done, but it’d make raids really difficult. You’re going to be hit by the attacks you thought you evaded. 

That kind of technology makes sense for single-player games, but maybe not for a MMORPG.

If we did something like keeping this feature exclusively client-side so that you don’t see your character floating, it could be possible, but back when we launched Final Fantasy XIV 2.0, the PS3 wouldn’t have been able to render it.

Even with PS4, it’d probably strain the rendering capabilities, and the frame rate would drop dramatically. In order to bring it back up to 30 FPS, we likely would have to limit the number of rendered characters to 20 or so. 

Probably, one of the reasons behind the failure of 1.0 is that the development team wanted players to experience such things in a MMORPG, trying to achieve something like that is really, really difficult.

Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers

Starting with A Realm Reborn, we wanted players to be able to enjoy the game with a wide variety of hardware specs. That’s why we identified what was needed in order to achieve it, and what we should have ditched for that purpose.

We removed everything that wasn’t necessary and only kept what we had to keep. Thanks to the fact that we streamlined the technology, we were able to release the PS3 version. That was a promise Square Enix had made to players, and we wanted to keep it.

Giuseppe: I Imagine implementing Inverse Kinematic again would be another nightmare.

Naoki Yoshida: You don’t want to go back to that era, do you?

Giuseppe: I liked 1.0 more than most, but… no. 

If you’d like to learn more about Final Fantasy XIV (which has recently been updated to version 5.05), you can read our review of Shadowbringers and our article explaining why it features the best story among all the tales told by the Final Fantasy series.

You can also read an interesting story from when the 1.0 world ended to celebrate the 6th anniversary of the launch of A Realm Reborn.

Final Fantasy XIV is currently available for PS4 and PC.

About the author

Giuseppe Nelva

Proud weeb hailing from sunny (not as much as people think) Italy and long-standing gamer since the age of Mattel Intellivision and Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Definitely a multi-platform gamer, he still holds the old dear PC nearest to his heart, while not disregarding any console on the market. RPGs (of any nationality), MMORPGs, and visual novels are his daily bread, but he enjoys almost every other genre, prominently racing simulators, action and sandbox games. He is also one of the few surviving fans on Earth of the flight simulator genre.