E3 2017: Final Fantasy XIV’s Naoki Yoshida on Stormblood, design, and themeparks


Since there were so many early access issues with Stormblood, I figured I’d try to give you Final Fantasy XIV players a little something to chew on while Square-Enix smooths out the rough edges and handles today’s launch. Building on Massively OP’s Eliot Lefebvre’s recent interview with Naoki Yoshida/”Yoshi-P” at May’s Final Fantasy XIV event, we sat down again with him for a chat at this year’s E3. And while I haven’t personally spent nearly as much time in the game as a vet like Eliot, I’d heard that Yoshida was very much a gamer’s developer, so I was looking forward to talking with him about not just the game, but game design.

He did not disappoint.

No shadows of the past

Starting with recent event – namely, the media tour of the expansion prior to E3 2017 – I asked Yoshida what he thought about the media reaction. He thought that it was positive and felt he surprised members of the media since, despite the game’s original launch, Final Fantasy XIV has continued to take on new challenges while building and developing momentum over the past four years, despite its rocky start before he took over.

As someone who lived in Japan for a while, I’m more used to a lot of formality when it comes to high-ranking people. There can be a lot of pressure to keep an organization or a brand name clean, and inheriting one that’s been tarnished is difficult to say the least. Especially considering the fact that he was mostly coming from the Dragon Quest series (which is right up there with Final Fantasy in terms of Japanese staples), I asked whether Yoshida ever worried that shadows of the game’s original launch made him worry that fans might take future problems as a sign of a return to the “dark times,” or whether he thought he’d built up enough goodwill with the community through the relaunch and past expansions to have gained their trust.

He simply laughed. “Isn’t that for the fans to decide?”

Yoshida bluntly told me that the original game “was crap” and players had every right to be angry. He was angry, but the launch issues don’t seem to be things that fazed him at all. Yoshida didn’t seem to be preoccupied with the past or making up with consumers. His primary aim seemed to be making a good game, Final Fantasy-related or otherwise. The IP is still important, which we discussed later, but it was clear that giving customers a product worthy of their support is his chief priority.

However, going forward with Stormblood or any other update, he also understands that when changes are made that players don’t like, “it’s only natural” for them to be angry. In fact, he says, “You should get mad.” He himself would get mad, and that’s “regardless of whether or not you have that trust between the players and the developers.” Mistakes and missteps will be made, but Yoshida advises that when they do happen, it’s best to admit it as a developer, to communicate why it happened, and then not only work on fixing it but communicate what’s being done and to keep repeating this process – to “keep rebuilding” every time this happens.

Yoshida’s gamer cred is helping him not just with design but with accepting feedback in a constructive way that, frankly, not all developers I speak to handle well. This was a theme that comes up over and over: People are paying for a product they should be happy with, and Yoshida believes it’s his job to give them something they enjoy. For him, the game’s past doesn’t haunt him and it’s not driving him to do better. Yoshida honestly seems like a gamer who wants to make good games, not money, and I don’t say that lightly.

This is best seen by the upcoming PvP changes. Yoshida’s team is separating many skills from PvE and PvP, making whole new skills that act as PvE/PvP counterparts, and even making PvP hotbars for when you wander into PvP things. I asked why he’d do something that other development teams constantly tell us is too difficult; Yoshida essentially said, “Because they should.” As players, we know that this separation allows a developer to adjust PvE and PvP gameplay without potentially affecting two modes of play that don’t usually intersect, especially in terms of endgame content (raids and/or competitive play). Even though FFXIV, like many MMOs, didn’t initially do this, it’s become apparent that in the long run, it’s easier to do it now than to constantly risk both types of gameplay.

Yoshida also apologizes to other MMO developers, as they may notice what he’s doing. He (perhaps jokingly) worries the competition may be angry that FFXIV’s approach to solving this long-standing issue makes things harder on them, as allocating the resources for the change may not be “cost efficient” for studios not bolstered by a company like Square-Enix.

The single-player connection

I’d heard that Stormblood was doing well on the showroom floor, but when I was conducting this interview, I wasn’t yet aware of how well it was doing. In fact, while I was waiting to do my interview and chatting with fans around the booth, I got a little caught up with the trailer above. I generally don’t pay much attention to cinematic, story-based trailers for MMOs since, frankly, most bore me. In fact, I generally don’t care about any trailer that doesn’t show me actual gameplay.

However, the above Stormblood trailer caught not just my eye but my ear. The various dialects and accents reminded me that it was Square-soft games like Chrono Trigger and Mystic Quest (don’t judge!) that fed my love of reading and helped me develop a love of writing. The thing was, while watching the trailer, I kept thinking, “This must be for some single-player game they’re working on.” When you’re actually at E3, you’re missing out on a lot of information people at home are able to gather thanks to Google and stream bookends. So when the trailer on the big screen ended and I saw it was for the game I was here to interview about, I was floored, and I was determined to ask Yoshida how he went about trying to create a game that could so strongly appeal to single-player fans within a genre known for multiplayer.

I knew that in general, since The Realm Reborn, Yoshida had taken the numbered aspect of the series seriously and wanted to ensure that there was a story players would enjoy – that there shouldn’t be a difference between the typical numbered games in the series and the MMOs, that the game should be enjoyable for those who lean more towards casual play. It’s why Square included the new “Main Scenario Guide” system to help guide new players through the core narrative of FFXIV. The idea is that the system points players toward quests that will help them catch up to the main story in Stormblood, helping the game keep a narrative path. Indirectly, this also helps get players invested in the game world, which I’ve always found necessary for motivating people to stick with an MMO and its community. I’ve played a lot of MMOs, and when I’m just playing for the people there, it can feel like a job. However, if I’m enjoying the story, as in Star Wars: The Old Republic, I can put up with a lot of developer missteps and community implosions.

Yoshida’s plan isn’t exactly revolutionary but does again highlight how his experience as a gamer helps him develop a world where players can enjoy the game for what it is, not be tricked into investing in a glorified virtual casino that some games these days seem to do. As many people know, he’s a fan of Final Fantasy VII. Among my generation, I feel most people say it’s their favorite, so it was odd to me that he once said the single-player game felt like an MMO, which comes off as odd to me. Squaresoft and now Square-Enix games feel like they’re primarily known for their story, side quests, and character development, all things he’s cited as being MMO like for him. So I asked what online experiences give him hope that FFXIV can live up to FFVII.

He explained that he built FFXIV “like a themepark” for fans of the series, allowing them to see the many different facets of the series. I think “themepark” is a really important word here, and I was eager to what were his driving MMO experiences. In my mind, FFVII, like many RPGs, was good at world building, but still a solo experience. An MMO is so much more than immersion. They’re both massive and multiplayer, and I wanted to hear about the kinds of experiences that defined the genre for him to better understand how he sees it.

Time ran out before he could clarify, so I’ll be following up on this line of questioning in a future email interview. Considering that Stormblood is in early access now, I’m sure you readers have some questions for him too. Feel free to leave them below, and hopefully Yoshi-P will get back to us in a few weeks!

Massively Overpowered was on the ground in Los Angeles, California, for E3 2017, bringing you expert MMO coverage on The Elder Scrolls Online, Black Desert, and everything else on display at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo!
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