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

    
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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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deekay_000
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deekay_000

as i said earlier yoshida made a game that people who are otherwise opposed to raid or die games seem to love to bang their heads on a raid or die game. for better or worse that’s what it is.

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Suikoden

Excellent article. Thanks for the insight.

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David Timothy

I’m a story player who (despite being a FF fan) dismissed XIV as just another grindy MMO that I didn’t have time for until my brother finally convinced me to pick it up some time after Heavensward (probably so he could get a referral bonus) and I have loved it. I played FFXI in my younger years so I know what a time sink MMOs can be, but Yoshi-P respects his audience (and their lives) and it shows in the game. I love the story, A Realm Reborn got a bit fetch-questy at times but Heavensward was a story truly worthy of the Final Fantasy legacy and though I’m only a handful of hours in, Stormblood is oozing with promise and has been fun so far. For the rest of the MMO beyond the main story, as an old school FF fan I think theme park is a great way to describe it. I’m a huge Final Fantasy VI fan and the Warring Triad side quests were so fun for me to see those characters brought to life in a modern game. The magitek armor rocks. Gearsets that bring back memories of characters in previous FFs. Stormblood promises even more FF6 callbacks. I know the whole Omega vs Shinryu thing is a call back to FFV which we’ll see as the big raid in Stormblood as well as “return to Ivalice” coming later, designed by some of the OG FF Tactics/12 team. It’s a game which borrows from its source material in a way that honors and enhances the sources instead of cheapening and distorting them, like Dissidia does, IMO- but that’s another topic you could write a whole essay on…

deekay_000
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deekay_000

i found the meaty story few and far between. the fewer and further teh longer i got into it. with alot of worthless filler and running across teh world for no good reason for hours on end. i said fuck it after less than 2 months as someone playing forth the story.

duokeks
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duokeks

Really left me at a cliffhanger

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Witches

This sounds great, if i don’t gel with SWL i may try this game.

The part about bringing the online games closer to the SP ones, without it being MMO anathema is especially interesting.

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Sorrior

Just a tip you can get the WHOLE game as in all expansions as well for 60 dollars as a set.

It also has a trial till 35 no time limit(and given all classes on one character that is alot to do)

It IS very story gated as in unless you buy a jump potion to skip you will have to do main story which I DO recommend. Some good stuff in their(including an entire fetch chain that leads to a dungeon ultimately culminating in a boss fight that leads to a comment about such chains) pretty good stuff. It does have slow point but overall very well done imo. And it also DOES reference other players as your allies as well as having each player in front on their screen when entering a raid or dungeon preserving both the mmo but you are the warrior of light feelings.

But I do plan to check out swl hoping it goes well. But if you don’t mind subs and want a great game with ALOT of story(be sure to talk to the npcs outside the first three dungeons nice tidbits of lore and they all appear later on as in original level cap later) and other such stuff then definitely check out ffxiv

deekay_000
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deekay_000

jumping the main story is no good when you are still gated by endless forced soloed and group instances.

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Sorrior

I never recommend skipping ANYTHING in this game. And honestly say always watch the stuff take your time and enjoy the wonderful ride

deekay_000
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deekay_000

you say below you don’t raid in teh game. i’m pretty sure there is no other game whre raids are more forced than ffxiv

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Sorrior

WOW crams them down your throat FAR FAR more as in almost all their is to do is dailies or raids..ohand now mythic not many ways to get up raids aside as well.

deekay_000
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deekay_000

i’m pretty sure there is no dailies or 5mans ways to get that gear in ffxiv.

that is called for for future solo content

i’m not sure there is a more raid or die game than ffxiv.

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Sorrior

Nope their is.

4 man wise aka dungeons drops tombstones(think justice/valor) the gear you buy with them is at most 10 Ilv weaker then raider gear and can later be upgraded without raiding by buying the former raid only drop items.

Dungeons themselves get gear even above raid gear depending on tier/release date. So by expansions end dungeon gear will beat out raid gear by 1-2 tiers prior.

Then the relic weapon does not require ANY raiding at all ever(Unless you want) but raiding CAN help you get it faster. It often is the strongest weapon in the game by expansions end.

You may not be the most bleeding edge but you can get gear almost as strong.

I also feel like glamor(transmog) is a MUCH MUCH bigger part of ffxiv endgame.

As for crafting abd gathering they really are their own game with gear and rotations among other things.

Potd also gives you powerful weapons and new one likely will as well.

Also hunting certain monsters rare spawns ALSO gets you tombstones to buy gear. In fact you never ending need to enter a dungeon to get geared out just takes longer

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Jeff

Really great article, Yoshida is an amazing developer, wish ZoS and Blizzard had devs like this.

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Leviathonlx

Blizzard has great devs as well so yea. Yoshida can talk well yes but the reality is that Stormblood right now is exactly the same as Heavensward once you hit 70 (actually less since once again they’ll follow the same patch process and patch in things like beast tribe dailies months from now one at a time). There are zero new systems in the expansion and all you’ll be doing is grinding the same 2 dungeons once again for weeks. Unlike Legion where you had new systems with Mythic+, the world quest system, and the artifact system. Sure Stormblood has a story much better than WoW (as tropey as it is) but WoW blows FF14 out of the water still when it comes to zone and quest design.

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Sorrior

Ehhh I disagree I feel wow focuses too much on raiders and pure dungeon runners with very little for others. Let’s not forget they added the gold saucer, the minion game, chocobo racing, weddings, the diadem AND potd all in patches to say nothing of crafting being a game until itself.

Frankly their is FAR more variety of stuff to do in ffxiv then wow these days

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Leviathonlx

The minion game is terrible and almost no one plays it and WoW’s pet battle system is far superior. The same goes for all the other Gold Saucer mini games that never got further developed and also are barely played besides the card game. Diadem was terrible even in its 2.0 form but maybe we can hold out hope that Eureka will be better. Palace of the Dead is mindless trash pulls over and over that is only still played the way it is because of the fact that it’s quicker for DPS to grind that instead of wait 20 minutes in dungeon queues and FATES are terrible for XP (though a bit better in Stormblood). Sure crafting is a neat thing in FF14 but unless you’re rich (as in millions of gil which your average player does not have) you won’t be going very far with that.

In the end FF14 is just as dungeon and raid ran as WoW as on the PvE side.

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Sorrior

I know many who enjoy crafting and are not super rich as for events they add new things massively successful or not and I for one enjoy alot of activities and know many who do.

Variety and ways to go are definitely more varied. I did not even get into hunts or map farming. Frankly you can progress your character in near limitless ways as opposed to just dungeons or raids..mostly raids in wow

deekay_000
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deekay_000

are you really pretending ffxiv isn’;t a raid or die game at it’s heart?

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Sorrior

It’s NOT though. Plenty to do without even touching raids from dungeons to potd to crafting to gathering to hunts to wellll ALOT of stuff… I for one don’t touch ex raids not usually but still have plenty to keep me busy abd happy unlike wow

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Leviathonlx

But the only way to progress in PvE is raids and dungeons just like WoW. There is side content but there’s also plenty of side content in WoW as well. The main difference being WoW adds new side content with its expansions rather than patching in half assed side content in later patches that bombs like Diadem or Lord of Verminion. You also keep mentioning PotD as some great thing to do all the time but the reality is that no one that’s not a masochist runs that place because they enjoy it but instead just run it over and over on low level jobs since DPS queues are awful for dungeons (and even worse now due to the great logic of adding 2 more DPS classes) and its good exp. The reality is that most players want NEW stuff with their expansions and not have to continue to do old content they’ve already done 500 times such as the aforementioned PotD. For example the new PotD for Stormblood should have shipped with the game along with Eureka rather than be relegated to later patch filler with those later patches building upon the initial new content or even adding other new things.

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Sorrior

Not anymore you can get tombstones in hunts too(been this way for ages) and yes dungeons play into story but you do not need them afterwards.

The game really does not require you raid to have fun

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Leviathonlx

Dungeons are grinded at max level for tombstones since they are the most efficient way to get them along with the roulettes.

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Cinaminson

Seriously. Every company needs someone like Yoshi-P. Meaning someone actually connected with the community, someone who wants to be connected with the community.

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Arcanum Zero

It’s worth echoing this sentiment. I am usually severely allergic to the ‘inmates running the asylum’ phenomenon, but Yoshi P really has his head on straight. I hope Squeenix understands what they have in this guy.

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Jay Power

An interview mostly devoid of actual statements from the interview subject. I don’t understand this interview format at all. Shouldn’t the bulk of it be quotes from Yoshi-p?