Final Fantasy XIV‘s new expansion Stormblood is right around the corner, coming on June 20th. With the game approaching its fourth anniversary, DualShockers had a chance to sit down with Producer and Director Naoki Yoshida to chat about the new content, his plans for the future, and even memories from the past.
Yoshida-san talked about many elements including story, characters, the upcoming microtransactions that let players boost their job level to 60 or skip the main scenario, the PS4 Pro update and much more.
Giuseppe: Let’s start with a nostalgic question, and look back at when you started: back at the time of 1.0 you were put in a slightly tricky situation, at the helm of a game that was in serious trouble. Did you ever think that you’d be here four years later to present the second expansion of a very successful title?
Naoki Yoshida: No! (laughs) At that time I actually got questions about what my future vision was. Yet, I don’t believe I was thinking much about the future, but more about how I could make Final Fantasy XIV into an MMO that would fit the global standards as a Final Fantasy game, and would be interesting at the same time. Getting to that point was my main focus.
I didn’t imagine where I would be in the future, but I did think about the fact that releasing an expansion pack for an MMO is a sort of achievement. So when we were able to release Heavensward, I do remember feeling “oh wow, I’ve gotten this far.”
After releasing Heavensward, and then ramping up to Stormblood, rather than continuing to run, I thought about how we could expand Final Fantasy XIV so that we’d be prepared to make a new start. What do we need to change? What do we need to revise? I reviewed and looked back at the different elements that we have implemented, so that we could make preparations for the next stage.
G: Is Ala Mhigo a dungeon?
NY: We shall see… But Ala Mhigo is definitely a region that you need to liberate from the oppression of the Garlean empire, so I can definitely say that there will be a very intense battle there. We believe that we did a good job in depicting that, so we hope that our players will be able to play through the main scenario to get to that point.
G: The addition of Kugane and Doma was a big surprise for many. Most were positive that we’d get Ala Mhigo, but Kugane was unexpected. I’ve heard some theorizing that it was added to appease to the Chinese market, but I’m not so sure about that. Was it always in the plans, or maybe it came up fairly recently?
NY: (Laughs) Like Pandaria?
G: Well… You do like World of Warcraft after all, but I would like to personally thank you for not including pandas.
NY: (laughs) First and foremost, the fact that people were surprised by the inclusion of Kugane and Doma is a “mission accomplished” for us. We were very happy about that. When we were thinking about the main scenario, and even before then, I instructed our development team to make it not just about Ala Mhigo, but also about being able to to traverse to Doma, and going back and forth between the two regions. That was approximately about a year ago, maybe even one and a half.
The reason why we did this… and it might be strange to even mention a reason for this, is that we had 1.0, 2.0 and then 3.0 as our first expansion. People who have been playing Final Fantasy XIV since 1.0 may have already expected that Ishagard would have been our focus then. [Editor’s Note: the entrance to Ishgard was included in the game, but inaccessible, since version 1.o in 2010] Yet I think that the fact that we were actually able to release an expansion was the biggest news in our minds.
For the second expansion, we already had a precedent set with 3.0 having one location, so I was sure that people were noticing that Ala Mhigo was being hinted at, and thought “oh yeah, the next expansion is going to be Ala Mhigo, I know.” We thought that it might have been a little boring to make it so obvious. Besides, the region of Ala Mhigo isn’t that large either, so the folks in the development team wracked their brains thinking what area shows up in the story, but also gives the impression that the world map is going to expand, showing the potential of Final Fantasy XIV.
That was the theme for this upcoming expansion, but it was very hard to achieve it without having any information being spoiled or leaked. We were very nervous, and our hearts were racing in anticipation.
G: My impression is that the story of Stormblood might be even more character-driven than that of A Realm Reborn and Heavensward. Is this accurate? And also, who is your favorite character in the expansion?
NY: If you ask me if this expansion is going to be more character-driven, I think it’s not wrong to make that sort of assessment, but I have always told the scenario and quest teams that the main character of this narrative is always the player. We always want to make sure that it’s the player who is driving the story. Whatever action the player takes in the story makes the other characters grow or realize something. The center of the story remains your warrior of light.
I believe that what is different from Heavensward, is that your warrior of light is going to make a journey, and a long one at that. In Heavensward, your character always teams up with Alphinaud, Ysayle and Estinien, and they were kind of like your party during that storyline. Yet, in Stormblood wherever you go there is somebody who joins your party, but at the same time somebody might leave. So the “party members,” so to speak, may change depending on what situation you’re in.
In terms of characters, Yugiri is one of the characters that is very striking to me, because you get to learn more about her past. About new characters, let’s see… This is still a mystery, but we introduce a character named Hien, a young samurai, and I think that’s someone you might want to keep your eyes on. That being said, it seems that the current trend among players is Yotsuyu and her stepping on people (laughs) [Editor’s Note: See the video below at the 04:15 mark to understand what Yoshida-san means] .
G: Up to what point have you already decided the future of the storyline? How far forward are you thinking with Stormblood‘s storytelling?
NY: While it’s still very rough at this point, we have kind of mapped it until the last part of 5.0. About the narrative of 4.0, we are already planning for the 4.X patches and especially for their beginning chapters. The plot for 4.1 is coming together as we speak, but there is one point I’m thinking about, and considering that we might change it. Do we still want to move in a straightforward manner and fight the Garlean Empire, or is this an opportunity to consider fighting a more fantastical sort of enemy that threatens the realm… or something like that.
Final Fantasy XIV has received a lot of support from the players, so we’re thinking, what if there is a situation in which the players are fighting a more dynamic enemy? Once we launch Stormblood, and things start to settle down after the first part of the main scenario, I would like to go back with my scenario team and discuss moving forward. Once we decide on the direction, we will go straight on and progress really quickly.
G: Aliens confirmed!
NY: (laughs) After deciding what our roadmap is going to be, we do plan at least two years in advance. At the same time, we always want to keep that element of surprise, and want to think of that. Just like when we had to conclude the story of 1.0 and Bahamut comes down and the Camality happens. It’s something like that. We want to continue making things that will surprise our players.
G: Funnily, I always thought it would be interesting if there was an external enemy forcing the players to ally with the Garlean Empire to save both factions, so if you do decide to do something like that, I would appreciate my name in the credits.
G: There is an hot spring in Kugane. That’s great and all, but there are just dudes bathing there. Why is that?
NY: Were there only male characters? oh! Public baths are set up so that there is a side for men and one for women. There is a partition between the two bath areas. You’re on the male side, and the women’s bath is on the other side of the partition.
G: …and we can’t go there.
NY: No. That partition is a little bit too high for you to climb. That being said, now that we have implemented water action, people can wear their swimsuits and come into the water, so there might be some lady players that may want to join you in the bath (laughs).
G: All right. I’ll go back to serious questions. You mentioned that the upcoming PS4 Pro update will have two options. I believe one is in 1080p with improved frame rate, while the other provides the same frame rate, but in 4K resolution. Will that be native or upscaled?
NY: It will not be native. It’ll be upscaled, and there is a reason for that. In Final Fantasy XIV there are many, many characters rendered on screen, and if we were to go with native 4K the frame rate would become unstable and some people might get motion sickness just by looking at the screen. When you’re still it looks beautiful, but when you start moving around it gets to be unstable in terms of frame rate.
Final Fantasy XIV is designed so that players see a very beautiful image, but rather than having a beautiful screen just when still, I’d rather have beauty in motion as well. That’s why we have deliberately decided not to go with a native 4K resolution, going for stability of frame rate instead, so that we can have many characters displayed on the screen and still have a stable frame rate.
This is my personal, personal opinion, but honestly speaking, I’ve looked at native 4K during some of our test sessions, I didn’t feel it was pretty. That’s because with native 4K you can see the texture from something that’s very far in the distance, deep within the screen, but when you’re looking at things in real life you are limited by your vision, so if you’re looking at something far away, you can’t see it clearly or very sharp. Something like native 4K seems a little bit too fake.
Some of these textures, I believe it’s better to have them deliberately blurred when you’re far away. It makes it look more realistic. Personally speaking, I don’t think native 4K is attractive in terms of game graphics, but Sony might yell at me if I say something like that (laughs).
G: All right. We won’t tell them. Let’s talk a bit about the job level-boost and scenario shortcut items. Personally, I have nothing against them, even if I can’t relate with someone who would pay to skip content he has already paid for. That said, my first reaction was “wow, those are costly!” Was that a deliberate decision to limit their usage, and prompt players to think whether they really want to skip the story or the leveling process or not?
NY: You may remember from the presentation that we gave the example of a mountain to climb, that is XIV, getting a bit higher, and there were actually some questions raised on why these items are not given away for free. We do have a reason for that.
There is a steep mountain for some of our new players to climb, but we also believe that that mountain is not too high to climb by yourself. If you compare it, for instance, with World of Warcraft, their mountain is much higher, and their focus is already mostly on the endgame and the latest expansion.
If you were to start at the base of the World of Warcraft mountain, it might be too much to catch up. We feel that Final Fantasy XIV, if you imagine a TV series, would be at its third season, and we still feel that you can go back and enjoy the first and second seasons. So yes, we have deliberately made it so that we’re not giving it away to everybody saying “here you go, please use it.”
Also, as you have mentioned, the price is a bit high to set the hurdle so that not everybody jumps on it and buys those items. That’s the sort of thinking that we had as well. We have deliberately made the hurdle to overcome a little higher to a certain extent, so if you buy the job level-boost item as well as the scenario shortcut together, it would be equivalent to a full packaged game, prompting the consumer to think “do I want to spend that much money so that I can play with my friends and family who are already playing? Is it worth doing that? On the other hand, we want to provide a choice for our players to decide whether they want to start the expansion closer to the endgame content.
The final reason is that there are players in Final Fantasy XIV that are playing an MMO for the first time. People like that don’t know about the jumping potion that World of Warcraft has. Those among them who have played the game for about four years would suddenly see new players jumping into the game very close to their level, and they might be shocked by that.
People who already know about World of Warcraft and are familiar with that system might think “oh yeah, that’s natural. How else are you going to bring in new players?” But if we set the price low, those who are playing an MMORPG for the very first time with Final Fantasy XIV, might think “why are they paying such a cheap amount, while we worked hard on this for years?” We wanted to avoid something like that to happen, so we set the price intentionally a little higher, and we set the limitations for job level-boost items to one, so that you can boost only one job initially. We didn’t want to have a whole bunch of people using it too much.
G: Thank you. I have to thank for these newbies, you know? (Laughs)
NY: (laughs) Perhaps, if Final Fantasy XIV continues operating for many more years, we might have to change our stance on this, but this is our current stance.
Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood will release on June 20th exclusively for PC and PS4, with the PS3 version of the game getting discontinued.
If you want to check out our recent Stormblood coverage, you can watch brand new footage showing the new city of Kugane, the Ruby Sea (including underwater diving and exploration) and The Peaks, more featuring the the Shisui of the Violet Tides dungeon, and see some great new screenshots and character renders showing disciple of the land and hand gear and lovely vistas. Last, but certainly not least, you can read our hands-on preview of the expansion,