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E3 2012 'Version 2.0' Interview with Naoki Yoshida

Michael Bitton Posted:
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It’s no secret by now that Final Fantasy XIV’s history has been a tumultuous one. The game suffered a dismal launch, so dismal in fact, subscription fees were waived for a time and the entire FFXIV was restructured with Square Enix’s Naoki Yoshida in the lead. Despite the game’s problematic state, Square Enix wasn’t interested in abandoning the project. Instead, like the iconic Final Fantasy ‘Phoenix’ summon, the game was to be reborn.

Set to relaunch sometime in late 2012 or early 2013, the new Final Fantasy XIV will bring with it many significant changes, and we were on hand at this year’s E3 to discuss the team’s plans with none other than Mr. Naoki Yoshida himself.

I came into our interview open about the fact that not only have I never played Final Fantasy XIV, but that outside of the game’s infamous history, I knew very little about it. If you don’t manage to make it through this entire article, know that I came away with this: I’m now actively interested in seeing where Square Enix takes the game. Final Fantasy XIV is on my radar.

It was pretty clear to me coming into the room that the team was not interested in spinning Final Fantasy XIV’s failures. Everyone was aware of the game’s problems, and it appeared they were more than eager to share their plans with us for rectifying them. It was a breath of fresh air, to say the least, given the way these things tend to go.

Square Enix is looking to both improve on and expand the gameplay of Final Fantasy XIV on the run-up to and with the game’s relaunch. One of the most obvious improvements on the gameplay front for players will be the changes made to the combat system. Combat was described as being very start-stop (due primarily to animation lock) in the original version of the game, and the developers are looking to address this by making combat more uptempo and expanding on players’ abilities to chain together huge combos with each other as a group by revamping the Battle Regimen system.

Crafting will also see some changes. The team realized that there are many people who want to get involved with crafting, but there were two distinct groups of interest levels. Some just want a simple crafting activity to work on, while others want to get deep into crafting.

To satisfy both crowds, Yoshida’s team will allow players who just want to make something quick and easy to do so with the press of a button as long as they have the required materials. There will be a percent chance of failure, but if you just need an item quickly and don’t want to get too involved with crafting, you’ll have an option there. However, if you’re looking for a more complex crafting experience, you’ll also be able to fine tune the items you craft using a new resource called Crafting Points, which will allow you to create higher quality items. I probed Yoshida for more information on this, but it looks like we’ll have to wait until around August to find out more.

Guildleves will remain in the version 2.0 relaunch, since the team felt there is definitely a place for daily, repeatable content in an MMO. They actually feel this was one of the better points of the original release. The problem was that the Guildleve system wasn’t very intuitive and put a high load on the server. Players often couldn’t figure out where they needed to go or what to do once they completed a Guildleve. On the backend, Guildleves will now put less load on servers, which allows the team to create not only more Guildleves, but also add variety to the ones available. Guildleves will also be more intuitive. You’ll know where you need to go and what you need to do, and once you’re done you’ll be warped back to where you need to turn in and get your reward. Simple!

Behests are being overhauled as well. The current Behest system tasks players with defending camps from encroaching monsters. The new system, which wasn’t described in detail, will only be identical in name. The gameplay will be completely different, though it is intended to be casual group content.

New content and features will be coming with 2.0, as well. The team has already released a number of new dungeons for the game, and they plan to add more. Not only will there be new dungeons, but they also plan to add instanced dungeons that groups can tackle beginning around level 15 and extending all the way to the level cap and beyond. You’ll even be able to tweak the difficulty levels of these dungeons in order to challenge yourself and earn better rewards. Players at endgame can look forward to a recreation of Final Fantasy III’s ‘Crystal Tower’ dungeon within Final Fantasy XIV, too. No specifics were provided, but this certainly piqued my interest!

Final Fantasy’s staple winged creature, the Chocobo, will play a larger role when the game relaunches. Currently, Chocobos only serve as player mounts, but Yoshida’s team plans to introduce Chocobo raising as a feature with the relaunch of Final Fantasy XIV. In short, players will be able to visually customize their Chocobos and raise them to fill combat roles, including tank, healer, caster, and more. I originally confused this with Chocobo racing before I was corrected, so I decided to ask about that, too. Why the heck not?

As it turns out, Yoshida’s team is also interested in doing Chocobo racing in Final Fantasy XIV, but the exact implementation poses a number of challenges in an MMO. While the team and players want to see Chocobo racing in the game, everyone has a different idea of how they’d like to see it happen. Do players simply want to bet on Chocobos? Do they want to raise Chocobos to race? Do they want to race the Chocobos themselves? Fortunately, Yoshida’s team is looking for a solution that addresses these challenges and they are definitely interested in pursuing Chocobo racing once they can get past this particular roadblock.

Another iconic aspect of Final Fantasy games, Summons, or Primals as they are called in Final Fantasy XIV, will provide new content for players in version 2.0. Primals, such as Ifrit and Shiva, will appear throughout the game world and can be fought by groups of players and then captured. Upon capture, the Primal will be unavailable on that particular server until it is used in combat. Once called to battle, the Primal will be released from the player’s control and will reappear elsewhere in the world so it may be captured again.

Not terribly familiar with Final Fantasy XIV, I wanted to know how, if at all, the vision for the game in 2.0 differed from the original game’s vision. While Yoshida obviously can’t speak for what the original team intended to create, he noted that when he joined the project he realized that the previous team had created something that wasn’t Final Fantasy XI, wasn’t EverQuest, wasn’t Ultima Online, nor was it World of Warcraft. In doing so, they created a game that wasn’t really anything and didn’t take into account many of the established MMO standards. With version 2.0, Yoshida is looking to incorporate many of the accepted ‘global standards’ familiar to MMO players, such as those belonging to game UI, controls, and elements of gameplay, and meld that with the Final Fantasy universe. The intention is to give the game a more familiar MMO foundation while also giving players the Final Fantasy experience they know and love.

Finally, and one of those most obvious changes to Final Fantasy XIV, are the upgrades to game’s visual quality. Final Fantasy XIV will relaunch with an entirely new engine, developed from the ground up specifically for the game, that will, among other things, vastly increase the graphical quality of the game. While the original Final Fantasy XIV was no slouch in the graphics department, the improvements in visual quality via the use of realtime lighting and shadows (among others) should be readily apparent from the screenshots in this article. Even character customization options will be expanded. Players will be able to adjust the tail length of their Miqo’te and even the bust of female characters, as a couple of notable examples.

Graphical quality is not the only thing improved with the new engine, though. Unlike the original game, players will also be able to scale the graphics options, which will allow players with low-end rigs to run the game at a decent clip while granting those with high-powered systems the ability to enjoy the much improved visuals.

More importantly, the ‘copypasta’ environments are no longer an issue. The team has placed a focus on redesigning the world such that players will feel the desire to explore and discover things.

Additionally, the UI and control schemes have been completely revamped. The original game’s UI wasn’t very MMO (or PC) friendly, and it only takes a cursory glance at the new screenshots attached here to tell that things are not only more familiar but significantly improved as well. Similarly, the control scheme was cumbersome for mouse and keyboard users, favoring console controls as a one-size-fits-all implementation. Fortunately, fans can look forward to two distinct control schemes, one for mouse and keyboard users, and one for gamepad users, in version 2.0.

Throughout our discussion, Square Enix had a number of screenshots showing off the game’s improved visual quality and UI running on a nearby screen, but concerned that gamers may doubt the authenticity of these screenshots, the team offered to show me a live demo of the game running on the new engine. I happily obliged, of course!

Our demo was run locally, meaning it was not connected to a server, so combat could not be shown. Current plans are to show footage of the new engine, including combat, to the public later this summer, but they just wanted to give me a little taste, and of course, proof, that all this stuff actually exists. The demo was running on a laptop and was reported to be 15% optimized at this point, running at a bit below 30FPS. In any case, if you’re one of those who may doubt Square’s claims here for any reason, I can attest to the fact that the new visuals are vastly improved and appear consistent with the new screenshots shown.

Before we wrapped up, Yoshida had time for one final question, so I decided to make it a bit personal. You see, I’ve been a fan of the Final Fantasy series since (and I’m not proud of this!) swiping my grandfather’s credit card as a young boy and purchasing Final Fantasy III (US, VI in Japan) online. I’ve played the series from IV to X (including Tactics) and there probably isn’t a game series in existence that has had more influence on me personally, yet I never found myself interested in Final Fantasy XI or even Final Fantasy XIV (due in part to the similarities to XI, at least at face value!). I asked Yoshida to basically sell the game to someone like me. Why should I be interested, as a longtime fan of the Final Fantasy series, but not a fan of the MMOs, in the relaunch of Final Fantasy XIV?

This seemed to strike a chord with Yoshida, who explained that indeed one of the problems facing both XI and XIV is that many gamers do not consider them real entries in the series; they appear more MMO, than Final Fantasy. The focus this time around will be in presenting Final Fantasy XIV to gamers (when their marketing campaign kicks off in earnest later this summer) such that it puts the notion that this is a Final Fantasy game first and foremost at the forefront. They want players to see and understand that while Square Enix is developing an MMO based on the Final Fantasy IP, that Final Fantasy XIV really fits in with the rest of the games in the series and is worthy of that numbered moniker.

We’d like to thank Naoki Yoshida and the rest of his team for taking the time to discuss and share their plans with us.

Are you encouraged by Square Enix’s plans for the future of Final Fantasy XIV? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!


Michael Bitton

Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined MMORPG.com as the site's Community Manager. Follow him on Twitter @eMikeB