Interview: Naoki Yoshida Discusses Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn’s Past, Present and Future

When Final Fantasy XIV launched more than two years ago, it definitely wasn’t the state-of-the-art of MMORPG development. Many expected the game to simply disappear quickly or to be swept under the “freemium” rug to make some quick cash.

But those many were wrong. In a rather surprising move, the team was reshuffled and Naoki Yoshida was appointed in the sweeping position of Game Director and Producer. At that time I was perplexed. No one really knew who he was and information on his previous work was direly scarce.

Yet, thanks to his humble and hard-working nature, his deep background as a gamer and his open approach to the game’s disgruntled fanbase, Naoki Yoshida managed to earn a special place in the heart of the Final Fantasy XIV fans, and started steering the ship around in a constructive and radical way that no one really expected.

Fast forward a couple years and the completely rebuilt Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is in closed beta and steadily approaching its release. Naoki Yoshida almost single-handedly showing a new face of Square Enix,  — less rigid and more open to feedback and criticism — earning the respect of many (enough to have his very own fan art, as you can see just below).

I finally managed to have a chat with Yoshida-san, and he shared some details and thoughts on his vision for Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn‘s past, present, and future.

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Giuseppe: I have to say that I have the utmost respect for a developer willing to take the helm of a project as challenging as Final Fantasy XIV. What were your feelings when you were asked to take this massive responsibility? How are you feeling now that the goal seems to be in sight?

Naoki Yoshida: Final Fantasy XIV was a major concern of the company in its early days, even before I was on the project. I provided advice and instruction to the previous project team, and due to that, when I was asked to take over the project, I was already familiar with the title. When I took over the project I was in a positive frame of mind and my immediate thought was “Okay, it’s time to rebuild this game!”

I love the Final Fantasy series and have no regrets about my decision at all.

With the release date approaching, my workload is unreal so it hasn’t hit me yet. The fact remains that I enjoy working on Final Fantasy XIV.

G: The beta has been going on for a while now. How would you judge the reaction of the testers? Are you satisfied with the results of the test so far?

NY: Most of the testers that joined in our first beta phase are dedicated fans from the original release of Final Fantasy XIV. We received great reactions and enthusiasm about where the game is headed!

As for the test itself, we have been able to detect and fix bugs that arose when the servers were under extremely heavy load which we were unable to find in the alpha. The test has been quite productive.

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G: The design documents shared about a year ago mentioned “A Server System Built to Support a Worldless Model”. Does that mean that, down the line, there are chances for the borders between servers to be further blurred beyond the initial cross-server content finder? I’m thinking about the ability to freely travel between servers to meet your friends, for instance, that is being implemented in other games like The Elder Scrolls Online.

NY: Our server is designed in such way that it will be able to support those “worldless structures” down the line, but we don’t intend to make it available in the beginning.

There are certain elements that make MMOs interesting: having borders gives a sense of having a home, the ability for rankings among different worlds, PvP battles between the top players of each world, etc. For that reason, down the line, there are chances for the borders between servers to be further blurred but for the immediate future it will be operated on a per server basis.

G: Many did not expect the replacement of the soundtrack by Nobuo Uematsu that came with Final Fantasy XIV in A Realm Reborn. Can you share the reasons behind that decision?

NY: We’re not planning to completely disregard all of the music from the original version, so fans shouldn’t worry about that. The reason that we’re introducing so many new songs is because of the fact that we rebuilt A Realm Reborn’s environment from the ground up. So we’ve been creating music that matched these new themes. We plan to use songs, both old and new, from Nobuo Uematsu and also to introduce music from other composers in future updates.

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G: Final Fantasy XI has been on Steam for quite a while, and digital sales seem to be the future for PC gaming, while SimCity just moved 54% of its initial sales digitally. Can we expect Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn to appear on Steam as well, maybe down the line, or it will be only on Square Enix’s own digital download platform?

NY: We are not planning to have Final Fantasy XIV appear on Steam at release, but it may be possible down the line. However, players can expect that there will be a downloadable version available at launch. We’re also in discussion with Sony regarding a downloadable version on the PlayStation 3.

G: I read that Dark Age of Camelot is one of your favorite MMORPGs, and it happens to be one of mine as well. Incidentally, Final Fantasy XIV has three factions. Can we expect something in a fashion similar to DAOC‘s Realm vs. Realm for A Realm Reborn‘s PvP?

NY: Oh! Then perhaps we have fought or joined a party together before?

For A Realm Reborn‘s PvP we plan to implement two elements: the Coliseum for “casual” PvP matches and the Frontline for large-scale PvP battles. Frontline will feature epic battles among the three city-states and would be similar to a Realm vs. Realm which you can look forward to.

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G: There’s one element that has been a crucial part of most Final Fantasy games, but has been somehow missing from the latest installments of the franchise, and that’s romance. Have you ever thought of inserting elements of romance in the quest lines of Final Fantasy XIV? Maybe integrating them with a possible return of path companions?

NY: For most games in the Final Fantasy series, the player is in control of a specific character (e.g. Cloud or Lightning) and experiences romance through that character. In A Realm Reborn, the player is playing as their own protagonist.

We’re leaving it up to the players themselves to have strong feelings toward specific characters or even other players. We don’t want to “force” players to like some characters that they normally wouldn’t just because of the story.

As for the story itself, there is a possibility that some of the NPCs may fall in love during the course of the adventure. Please stay tuned!

G: And here’s the moment in which I ask you to do my job for me: Anything else you’d like to tell to our readers before we conclude this interview?

NY: Thank you very much for your continued support of the Final Fantasy series and Final Fantasy XIV especially! We’re putting our utmost efforts into delivering a high quality gameplay experience, great storyline, incredible graphics, as well as creating the best Final Fantasy ever filled with distinctive Final Fantasy elements. So please stay tuned for the release of the game!

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And there you have it. We will definitely follow the development of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn closely over the next few months leading to our full preview and review, and I can’t wait to see if Yoshida-san and his team will be successful in creating the most astonishing rebirth of the history of the MMORPG genre.

In the meanwhile, if you missed Final Fantasy XIV or just need a recap of the story to prepare for A Realm Reborn (that will be a direct sequel story-wise), you can check out the eight parts of my Final Fantasy XIV: The Story So Far column, that include all the major plot points and the relevant cutscenes. You can also see the opening cutscene of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn below.

Additional Credit: the “Mini Minstrel” Naoki Yoshida fan art displayed above is a rendition of Naoki Yoshida’s personal in-game character and is courtesy of Vergil Renata. You can find many other super-cute “Mini Minstrel” artwork pieces in his Deviantart gallery here.

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