‘In the end, everything connects to where we are now’
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Rebornis nearly six years old at this point. Let that sink in for a moment. Director/producer Naoki “Yoshi P” Yoshida has been at this for a while, shipping two expansions for the massive project while touring the world and meeting fans and playing his own game. He’s hella busy.
So when I had the chance to speak to him about lessons learned since the last Stormblood expansion and what they’re planning for the upcoming Shadowbringers, I took it.
With Stormbloodpractically in the rear view, I wanted to know what Yoshida considers his crowning achievement, his main takeaway from that rather successful run. After being fairly bashful about giving an answer, Yoshida noted that if he had to pick one thing, it would be the Tsukuyomi battle[an endgame boss fight based on the real moon god legend]from Patch 4.3. Yoshida says it “combined story, visual presentation, and mechanics in such a way that I believe makes it the best battle in Final Fantasy XIVcurrently. That being said, we will continue to work hard to surpass even that and reach new heights.”
Funneling back into things in the studio’s rear view, I asked if there was anything Square Enix would have done differently to date. Yoshida emphatically answered “the housing system with patch 2.1 [near the launch of the Realm Reborn2.0 edition that saved the game].” For those who aren’t aware there was a lot of drama surrounding player housing, with veteran players buying up plots in seconds flat while new players were completely locked out of that really fun element of the game. Yoshida’s team tried to “close the gap between total gil players possessed” by finagling the price of land, but there was chaos when new players created characters on legacy servers, making everyone unhappy. He doesn’t have a solution, but feels “there may have been a better way to execute this overall.”
He also opens up about difficulty balancing, stating, “Another thing might be the difficulty level of some of the instanced dungeons and battle content in A Realm Reborn: it was actually quite hard. On the flip side, I feel that can be linked to what made A Realm Reborn so appealing to some…this is a very tough question! In the end, everything connects to where we are now. There are plenty of things that we can learn from, but I feel nothing has been a waste. It is thanks to the encouragement and support from our players that got us where we are now. We will never forget this, and will strive to make Shadowbringers the best expansion yet.”
As for what’s ahead,the next expansion, Shadowbringers, is set to arrive on July 2 (with an early access period a bit before that). That’s soon! Yoshida and his team have been preparing for that moment, and he once again reminds us that you can never truly be 100% prepared. When asked whether or not rough times are over for expansion launches, Yoshida replied, “I would have to say no. The launch of any large update, not just expansions, but even major patch updates, is always a challenge. While we have grown, improved our technology, and improved our workflow, an influx of players that is more than we’ve ever seen will always be a threat to a smooth launch. At the same time, more players is something we are of course very happy about, and we will continue to work hard to make as comfortable of a game environment as possible for our players. Not having any hiccups would be preferable, of course, but I also want to have so many people playing Final Fantasy XIVthat it might cause something unexpected to happen. It’s so difficult!”
I also wanted to drill into a concern for many players, loot lockouts. Basically like many other MMOs or MMO-likes, people are locked out of high-end loot at certain intervals per character. Some see it as a gate that prevents them from playing more, and Yoshida had some interesting things to say about it. Calling it a “long-standing proposition since back when I was playing MMORPGs, before I became a game developer,” he says he isn’t sure what the perfect solution is. He provides some insight from his perspective, noting, “I think players generally believe that weekly lockouts are in place simply as a way for us to extend the lifespan of in-game content. I will admit I felt the same way when I was a player and not a developer. However, this system does have a purpose: it is meant to keep both hardcore and casual players engaged, and to bridge the gap between these two groups. Raiders would likely say they don’t care about that: and I don’t think they’re wrong for thinking that.”
He continues, saying that it’s “all about perspective,” and that their intention isn’t to force their ideals onto players, but the lockout system is “necessary for the current state of the game.” Yoshida apologizes for waxing philosophy, following that response up with: “I could write an entire book about this if I was to put everything down in writing. Maybe I should publish one if I ever retire from game development.”
Similarly, the Eureka system (the current grindy way to get endgame relic super weapons, and now, armor) has been contentious, sparking arguments between casual and hardcore players. Yoshida says that some people have reacted positively since they get “two times the value in one piece of content” now that Eureka is essentially a new set of zones, but for others, it felt like a “burden.” He explains that ideally, they wanted to have “multiple routes” for endgame weapon strengthening, but finite developer resources brought them back to Earth. As he’s reminded that the deadline to finalize Shadowbringer‘s relic system is steadily approaching, he calls it “quite the dilemma.”
For as lovely as Final Fantasy XIV is (I’ve been playing it steadily for the full six years), it’s interesting to see that Yoshida still has some things to work out. It is an MMO after all, “massive” is the name of the game, and trying to manage everything at once is undoubtedly exhausting. We’ll see soon enough if Shadowbringerswill indeed bring it, but as always, the game is in good hands.