FanFest is for the fans. It’s an opportunity for players worldwide to come together and celebrate Final Fantasy XIV, meet the developers behind the game, and hear exclusive news first-hand. Members of the press are invited (yours truly included), but interview sessions are usually saved for Gamescom and E3.
However, after a long first day of FFXIV FanFest Paris, producer-director Naoki Yoshida provided the assembled international press with a chance to ask questions about the keynote announcements. From the Shadowbringers expansion and Viera race, to the Nier: Automata collaboration, Yoshida-san provided insight into how these came together.
But, as the session progressed, I got the sense of a studio desperately trying to avoid complacency. In his own words, “the original 1.0, Final Fantasy XIV was at a very bad condition initially, but we're now at the point where we've done three Final Fantasy Fan Festival world tours.” Despite that recovery, experiments with off-the-wall ideas and collaborations with designers outside the MMORPG sphere demonstrated how seriously this fight is being taken.
From the Shadows
Why would the player character, the Warrior of Light, decide to switch sides and become the Warrior of Darkness? For now, that question is clear spoiler territory, but we won’t have to wait long for an answer. “It will be revealed in patch 4.56 main story, the main scenario quest, so we would love for you to find it for yourself through that final part of the current series patches.”
The Viera also got a nod, as we discovered that they were included due to heavy requests from players over the years. But it wasn’t an easy task, as the race’s unusual structure brought several challenges. “We definitely made a lot of trial and error. We took the time to experiment with how we depict that raised heel and seeing how it would fit into Final Fantasy XIV without having to change our base system, and just use expression or rendering techniques to depict that.”
While female Viera were shown in the keynote, their male counterparts were not. When asked if we’d hear about them during the Paris event or later in Tokyo, he hinted that “I'm not in a position to state at the moment. [...] That's true, we do still have the Tokyo Fan Festival ahead of us.”
And although he’s recovering from a significant illness in 2018, it’s unclear if noted composer Nobuo Uematsu will be creating a new song for Shadowbringers. “...his condition is getting better, but I don't believe that he will go back into work at full force right after his recovery. Plus, our company SQUARE ENIX also has a very large title including Final Fantasy VII Remake that we as a company need to tackle as well.”
Nier Yet Far
The big surprise of the day was some astonishing news that a Nier: Automata-based raid would be part of Shadowbringers. Designed in collaboration with the title’s luminaries Yosuke Saito and Yoko Taro, YoRHa: Dark Apocalypse will be based within the realm of Eorzea, but the crossover will be something “the players will need to find out for themselves.”
Beyond that, the story behind this new raid will be a true collaboration. “I think it also depends on how Mr Yoko Taro writes his part of the story. So I'm hoping to make an opportunity for the three of us, Mr Saito, Mr Yoko Taro and myself to sit down and discuss what this is going to entail.” Could it be that Taro hides the sequel to his game behind a hundred hours of FFXIV?
As for this collaboration, Yoshida-san was open about why he wanted to mix things up in this way. “If we were to continue with the same staff member, the same game designers, we may potentially end up having a very similar pattern of how we deliver our content. But at the same time, it would be too much risk if we were to take the system and to change it overall.”
“So what I thought about was to bring in creators that have a different sort of mindset as I do, and then maybe we will be able to deliver a different kind of content that you may have never seen in Final Fantasy XIV. So that's why I thought about working with these creators through these allied raid dungeons, and to bring the players something that we wouldn't be able to achieve with just Final Fantasy XIV.”
“Saito, the producer of NieR: Automata had approached me, ‘Hey. Can we do some kind of collaborative work together?’ Considering how we make plans for Final Fantasy XIV way in advance and we have everything laid out, and doing something that's so impactful, working with NieR: Automata, I didn't want something that was half-boiled. I wanted something that had that sort of impact. Make sure that we have a robust content and have Mr. Yoko Taro involved as well so that we can bring that surprise to our players.”
Blue and Beyond
Outside of the main announcements, we did get a chance to hear more on FFXIV’s new Limited Job: Blue Mage. With progression currently capped at level 50, and a limited set of 49 specific abilities that can be learned from Eorzea’s monsters, players are already looking to the future. Yoshida-san indicated that more of both might be added once Shadowbringers has launched.
“There's that element where you're enjoying just collecting or learning those different monster actions, so we do intend on expanding on that part. I'm afraid we're not able to say when just yet, but some time after or some time that's not at the launch of the expansion timing. We do intend on increasing the level count for the Blue Mage, and so there will be more abilities that you will be able to learn as well as more challenges that you can face as a Blue Mage.”
More generally, however, Yoshida-san is determined not to rest on his laurels. Experiments like the Blue Mage and collaborations like YoRHa: Dark Apocalypse aren’t seen as achievements or goals to be attained, but a vital part of the pursuit to continually delight fans in unexpected ways. When he looks back, there’s only one achievement that mattered: winning back the trust of players.
“I think if I were to give an example, it would be when we released 2.0, A Realm Reborn. Until then, the trust that we had with our fans were broken and we were able to regain that with the relaunch. I think that's about the only thing that I could consider as our achievement at this point because if we get complacent with an achievement then we wouldn't have that spirit to challenge something, to continue to push ourselves forward. So I think I want to continue to not be stagnant. I want to continue to challenge and move forward.”