Shadowbringers is coming. The latest expansion for Final Fantasy XIV arrives on July 2, and producer-director Naoki Yoshida is visibly excited. Under the lush, verdant canopy of the Barbican Conservatory, he introduced some of the key changes currently under development. We also got a chance to go hands-on, playing through two new zones and an early dungeon.
On top of this, we also had the opportunity to put our Shadowbringers questions directly to Yoshida-san as part of a round-table interview. Topics included making sure those job changes are just right, and sharing a few details on updates to The Hunt. We also got the chance to dig into the design process behind Dancer and Gunbreaker.
And, while FFXIV is famed for its collaborations (Monster Hunter World, FFXV, and Nier: Automata to name a few), Yoshida-san does have a few ‘dream franchises’ that he’d love to work with, though his top choices might surprise you.
However, it’s important to stress that Shadowbringers is still under active development, and everything we saw may be subject to change. As the interview was conducted via translator, questions and responses have also been edited for clarity.
Question: The battle system: it's something that's very hard to get right when you change it, and very easy to get wrong. What's your secrets to making sure it's right?
Naoki Yoshida: Yeah, absolutely. Exactly what you said. Of course, the development team members are all human. We do try to consider what is best for our players and try to implement or add, remove or change, revise things within our game. But it's easy to make a mistake, or sometimes there are clear instances where we realized that we have made a misstep. And so whenever we do run into those missteps, we need to make sure we identify the reason behind it, what caused that to happen, and make sure we're identifying it, debating over and making sure that we do not repeat that same mistake again.
And that's the kind of process that we repeat throughout our development. It seems like it might be taking the long route around. But that is the approach that the team takes when they are trying to find that sort of resolution.
If we were to summarize what we feel is that secret, so to speak, and this applies to not only the development team but me as well. We feel that we need to be clear about why we're adding a particular change. And then be able to logically explain by having this change, what would change on the player side and what would make it more fun for our players, and make sure that we're able to logically explain that element and don't jump into making changes just from an emotional perspective.
We don't want to be irrational about making these kinds of decisions. And I think that contributes to us reducing the number of missteps that we make. Also it results in the players enjoying the changes that we bring. So I think that is a good part of why we're able to continue to strike that balance and I think we're managing to do that on our end.
And one more thing: when we do realize that we have made a misstep, we need to admit that we have made a mistake, apologize and then revise it, fix it as quickly as possible.
Question: Sticking with the battle system, one of the things in your presentation was the removal of certain synergies between certain jobs. What has been done to make sure that although there isn't synergy within jobs, there is still synergy within players playing together?
Yoshida-san: This has been something that we have continued to do since the relaunch as A Realm Reborn but no matter what dungeon content or what encounter content that you approach, we made sure that there isn't a situation where a particular job is necessary to complete or clear the content.
With that being said, there are certain content, the savage difficulty content that may have just been released recently. And of course, we always have that race for world first. Those cases are where the parties are actually lower than the recommended item level. And they try to force their way through trying to clear the content as quickly as they can. That's when we do see cases where certain actions of a particular job might contribute to higher utility within the party. For example, maybe like the Chakra actions for the monk, or if there's a situation where everybody in your party needs to be healed, a certain monks action will allow for a boost or some kind of help or contribution.
And yes, we do realize that there is a case like that. But that is only evident when we see people that want to challenge the content early on with the lower item level. And we think that it's a good thing that they do want to challenge that content, they want to sort of take on this difficult content while it's still very new, so that's fine. But at the same time, we also see situations where some time has elapsed, and we're no longer concerned about the race for world first, and it's no longer that period of trying to rush in and finish the content as quickly as we can.
We're seeing people who are excluding certain jobs or making sure that their party definitely contains a certain job and there's some sort of discrimination against it. And that's not what the development team intends for people to do. We don't want party members to sort of force or restrict certain combinations, we want to have the freedom for the players to choose which jobs go into a content and be able to be flexible in trying to make their group or party going into the duty finder.
So players ... I'm sorry, the job synergy is not something that the development team wants to force upon our players. We would like for the players themselves to discuss, "Okay, we're looking for a party we want to join up," and you're more than welcome to use external methods like log into a Discord and chat over there and discuss what kind of content it is. But we also see that some players don't even do that and sort of discriminate against certain jobs. So that's what we wanted to address in the revisions now.
So by wanting to provide that freedom of people creating their own groups, creating their own parties, we decided that how we address this is by sort of decreasing that job synergy between each other so that people won't think that, "Oh, this particular job is absolutely necessary for certain content."
Question: There's a lot of content in Final Fantasy 14 that's been there since inception, such as hunting and the Lord of Verminion. Are there any plans at all to expand upon on this particular content in the future?
Yoshida-san: Speaking of The Hunt, I think that as a system is nearly complete. But wait, I think we are planning for some kind of upgrade. We're going to keep it a secret as to what this is, but there will be some kind of update made to the Hunt.
With all of the experience gained from all the years working on the project, I think the development team focuses more on wanting to bring new content that more people can enjoy, and to bring in as many new people as well. And so, of course, we understand that the previous content, like the guildleves are there. But rather than trying to go back to content that already exists, I think we lean more towards wanting to develop something that's new that we can bring to our players.
We do understand some elements might seem like it was rushed and the quality might not be as high as we wanted it to be. And the guildleves are one of those elements that we would love to go back in and make adjustments and update it. But I think it doesn't have as large of an effect in terms of expanding what our players can do and experience in the game.
Final Fantasy XIV has become something that's beyond just battle content, it has become where some people really enjoy taking screenshots. Some people are very, very passionate about housing. And there's so many different types of people that are playing, so many different values that people have in what they can get out of Final Fantasy XIV. And so I think our goals have sort of shifted towards providing a way for players to sort of live in the realm of Final Fantasy XIV and to bring more ways for people to enjoy Final Fantasy XIV. So I think right now our thinking is, rather than going back to existing content and revising it, I think we are focused more on providing new experiences.
But that being said, the developers have a great love and passion for the game also. So sometimes there is a case where they have a particular content that they have grown attached to and would want to go back in and revisit it. They will try to complete their tasks the best they can, the tasks that they are assigned as quickly as they can, and then when they have that spare time, go into content that they want to s revise or fix on their own without me [Yoshida] knowing.
So as mentioned earlier, with the Hunt, there is going to be a new feature. This is actually new information that we were going to only reveal when asked so I'm glad you brought it up, but it will be ... If you could keep your eye out for what that new element is.
Question: I really enjoyed playing Dancer. Mainly because of the mechanics, the pace and the feel of it. Yes, there's a bit of Dance Dance Revolution. But it's good fun. Can you talk me through getting that feel?
Yoshida-san: With any job that we create, what we first think about, okay, so what characteristic is this job going to have? And what do we want the players to feel out of playing this job?
With the Dancer, literally speaking, they are dancers. The idea was to have them be able to do their dance steps and have them as if they are dancing on the screen. The player themselves may not particularly be the most agile but seeing their character on screen doing these wonderful dances, I think it's that experience that we are going for. And so, we do have a person in charge of determining what kind of mechanics go into these individual jobs but that we would have them help us think about the development plans.
The Gunbreaker, they utilize the gunblade which first appeared in Final Fantasy VIII. It was not a weapon, where you use it as a gun if you're far away and you use it as a blade when you're nearby, but you use it as one single weapon. So when you're slashing, you pull the trigger to enhance the effect. We wanted to bring that to Final Fantasy XIV as well. There is a weapon skill that you utilize. And then there's a particular action which utilizes like bullets as you pull the trigger. It's a matter of utilizing your weapons, but at the same time pulling the trigger to enhance the movements. That's the thinking that went behind the Gunbreaker mechanic.
Going back to the Dancer now, the next step after conceiving those ideas, we think about, “okay, so we're talking about dancer now, wouldn't it be cool if we had the Dancers choose their dance partner, somebody that they can show off their dance, to get them excited, to make them provide support to them”. Not necessarily synergy, but like applying above to their dance partner. We believe that that would bring that sort of uniqueness that's very specific to the Dancer of Final Fantasy XIV.
Next, just as you mentioned, the pace, the tempo at which the dancer is moving, we have to make sure because they are a dancer, you need to be moving at a very good tempo. Being able to fit in that nice pace and get you to have fun with the character, with the job and having that tempo is really important. I think that is the third pillar into the thinking of the job.
The reason why we made the steps for the dancers to be four parts is that it's not necessarily DDR, but if you look at the game controller, you have four buttons. Of course, if you're playing with a mouse and keyboard, you can always keybind things so it might not necessarily apply. But on a gamepad, you do have those four buttons that you're working with. So they thought, wouldn't it be really fun and a smooth experience if you're able to press those buttons in a good tempo, a good pace. And so that's how we came about with that four steps.
In one of our existing jobs, we have the ninja who has three sets of Ninjutsu that they can cast, and then the dancer and having those four different steps that differentiates the dancer and makes it unique. And so we can logically think about, okay, this is the characteristics of this job.
Question: Final Fantasy XIV is growing, it is getting more of an audience, seemingly every day having more people come on. Is there any one thing in particular that you feel that has attributed to specifically for XIV?
Yoshida-San: It's a very tough question because we can't pinpoint one single element, but we know that it's more than one. With any MMORPG, this might actually be normal and natural or should come as second nature. But we update, we apply major patch updates every three and a half months or so. And of course, every two years or so, we release a large scale expansion, and we have very few bugs. We have a good battle balance with what we continuously work on balancing our battles. We also have a great volume of content.
So although it might seem that that's something that is expected of an MMORPG, if you take a look at the competition, it's very hard to identify a lot of them actually succeeding in achieving those. I believe the development team has put in a lot of effort to make sure that we're keeping up with that standard. And so I think that's one of the major reasons why that we can attribute.
At the same time, we have dedicated community teams assigned around the world to help us listen to what the players might be struggling with or some elements that players are frustrated about. They would either talk to the players, have their communication or take the feedback and deliver it to the development team. We also have marketing and PR teams who are dedicated to promoting Final Fantasy 14, trying to spread the word about how we are evolving, how this is such an interesting game. And so there's so many different teams that we're connected to to allow for us to grow. And there's just so many people involved in the whole process.
Even within the community, we have such a passionate player community as well. And that's a really big element as well. Those community members will bring in additional players and there are more and more people coming through that way. So, I mean, if I were to ask for even more, I'm worried that I might be asking too much.
Question: Is there a particular aspect of shadow bringers that you are most excited for players to experience?
Yoshida-san: I think I would especially have to be the Main Scenario Questline. Since the release of A Realm Reborn, we've been playing through Final Fantasy XIV. It's been six years in that world and the adventures within Final Fantasy XIV. And so with Shadowbringers, we will take the narrative of the adventure so far and you will start to see things connecting with each other, certain mysteries becoming told and revealed, some secrets that may come to light.
We believe that it will be very exciting for our players. We are going to be delving into the core of the story of Final Fantasy XIV. And it's an element that the development team had put in a lot of emphasis and efforts into. As you're playing, you might even feel that, "Oh, no, it's Final Fantasy XIV going to end with this storyline?" So it's got that sense of thrill. So we hope that players will get to experience that.
Question: With moving from the source to the first, did you feel you, "Yes! We can change everything," or, "Oh no! We have to change everything."
Yoshida-San: So actually, it's quite curious because you may have heard the explanation before, but the realm of Final Fantasy XIV had split into 14 different shards, including the source. And so there was a lot of story. This was the story that we really needed to sort of depict in the lore of Final Fantasy XIV as a whole. And we've been making lots of preparations for a very long time. And we are now finally at that phase where we can start talking about the splitting of the world into 14 different shards. And so it's actually neither of those sentiments more like yes, we are finally here at this point. And I believe that once you do play, the story of Shadowbringers, you will come to understand why we say that.
Question: Being on the first and in effectively being a different location, has it given you opportunity to maybe escalate potential dangers and the ramifications of what happens while we're there?
Yoshida-San: So, I think also in Shadowbringers, you will be faced with questions such as, why are we fighting? There's so many different people within this realm, within this world, and everybody has their own set of values. And each of them have their own belief of what is correct and what is right. And we feel that the story is going to be that in which there's a lot of different thoughts and ideals that may clash against each other. As a game, we are headed towards a particular conclusion that the creators, we as the developers have designated, but we think it's also important that players are sort of sensing things, feeling things, thinking about things through the story that we present to you.
And so, we're hoping that through this narrative, we get people to wonder about “what is my motivation? What is my purpose of even playing Final Fantasy XIV?” I understand it is merely a video game, but we hope that it sort of sparks that sort of question in your mind.
Question: There have been multiple large scale and also small scale crossovers and Final Fantasy 14. We've seen like Monster Hunter, we've seen Dragon Quest and the upcoming YoRHA: Dark Apocalypse. But is there any franchise that would be your dream?
Yoshida-san: World of Warcraft and Diablo. The reason why is because I’m such a big fan boy, if I had the opportunity to collaborate, I mean, I would ... I’m more than happy to maybe put something on pause in order to squeeze that. And if Blizzard ever approaches me [Yoshida] to give me the opportunity to develop Diablo IV, I would love the opportunity, leave Square Enix and go [jokes]. I'm so sorry.
But joking aside, I [Yoshida] have been a very big fan of what Blizzard does. The first game that I played from their library is the first Diablo. And I learned so much about game design as well as garnered a lot of knowledge about games through what I had experienced. So I mean, if there ever was an opportunity, I’d love to jump on.