Wisdom of Nym: A measured response to Naoki Yoshida’s mystery project

    
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What are we even doing here?

Well hello there, news on April 1st. I really have a tendency not to put much stock in anything revealed on April Fools’ Day because while I love the holiday it is also a day for everyone to try at making jokes that may not land. (This includes my own work for Massively Overpowered on the day itself; if you don’t like our annual gag, the blame for it probably falls at my feet, and that’s definitely true this year.) But this one isn’t a joke!

This is honestly a pretty big deal. It’s also less of a deal than some people may expect and more of a deal than other people might expect. In short, it’s the sort of thing where there’s the potential for a lot of bad takes and misunderstanding. So while we don’t yet know much about this mystery project, well, we do know enough to talk about it in brief.

git gudder

We don’t know that this is a new Final Fantasy (but odds seem favorable)

The first thing to make note of here is that we do not at this point have any reason to say that this is clearly Final Fantasy XVI. There’s no evidence to support that theory except for speculation that lines up nicely. Heck, there’s not yet even evidence to say that Naoki Yoshida will be directing the project, which remains ambiguous; that would actually kneecap a fair amount of the speculation because the division that Yoshida oversees does not mean that he personally works on every single title contained therein.

That having been said… yeah, this speculation does make sense because Naoki Yoshida is easily the face of successful titles in this series over the past two decades.

After Final Fantasy X, a different person has been the force behind each of the major franchise releases: Hiromichi Tanaka for Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XIV v1.0, Yasumi Matsuno for Final Fantasy XII, Tetsuya Nomura for Final Fantasy XIII, Yoshida for Final Fantasy XIV v2.0, and Hajime Tabata for Final Fantasy XV. Of those five men, three of them are no longer with Square and arguably are on the outs. Tanaka still has a black eye from FFXIV‘s initial launch, Matsuno left partway through FFXII‘s development, and while we can’t be sure it definitely seems like Tabata’s overall handling of FFXV left some bad blood there. How much of that came down to him overselling things and how much was the company expecting too much requires a knowledge of internal politics I don’t have.

Nomura is still at Square, of course. But he seems to generally be done with the franchise, and you can’t blame him when he’s been working on it in some capacity since Final Fantasy VI. That means that of the people left to be an obvious beloved creator on the next installment of a flagship franchise… yeah, Yoshida’s the one.

It certainly doesn’t hurt that Yoshida has a reputation, both among fans and on the corporate side, as being a miracle worker. This seems like the sort of thing that the company may very well want on this franchise… as explained by my next point.

oliphant

We don’t know that this is an online game (but it wouldn’t be shocking)

What is the face of the future for Final Fantasy as a franchise? Because from a corporate standpoint, over the past 20 years we’ve had two standout wins in the franchise, and both of them are online games.

Fine, 18 years. The point stands.

When Final Fantasy XI came out, it was seen as far from a sure thing. But it was a pretty solid success for the company, and more to the point, it had a smooth production and a solid reception. That’s something that hasn’t happened for any subsequent production in Square-Enix’s flagship franchise. FFXII, FFXIII, and FFXV all had legendarily flailing productions, and while FFXIV was developed and released with a solid pipeline it was released in a state that prompted a complete overhaul of the game to desperately regain goodwill.

Moreover, you can look at the quartet of titles after FFXI as something of a litmus test for various game formats. FFXII was a traditional single-player game in the vein of its predecessors, and it was a success, but it also garnered some negative reviews along the way and definitely didn’t return the kind of long-term investment as FFXI. FFXIII was a troubled production and a very different take on the formula that wound up with two additional sequels just to make use of its assets, and it had an exceedingly divisive reaction for an assortment of reasons too broad to go into here.

And FFXV? Well, that one released to good numbers… for the game. But it also faced a lot of backlash over its storytelling, something that still isn’t fully fixed, it faced controversy over its general “boy’s trip” attitude, and it didn’t really take off into the self-sustaining game-as-a-service multimedia franchise that it seemed to want to be. Far from launching an endless series of spinoffs and sequels, it seems like people just want to be done with FFXV.

So let’s look back at FFXIV. That game came out to terrible reviews… but a lot of that comes down to who was in charge. Yoshida hasn’t just made the game into a success, but a growth story. Even FFXI has flourished with him in charge of the decision.

If I’m an executive in Square-Enix, what do I think about all of this? I have a pretty clear picture of how long an MMO has in terms of its public life cycle. I know that FFXIV is releasing its third expansion and probably has another six years or so before it goes into maintenance mode. And I know that if I gear up another one now for about three more years of development, it’ll be launching as we’re on the down slope for FFXIV… which, you know, is the way that the franchise has been successful in the past several years.

This does actually look like a pretty good strategy to me, in the long run. Especially if I’m letting the guy who salvaged the last one design the new one from the ground up.

Look out, Radioactive Man!

So when will we know more? And should we dread this?

We have no idea. What we know now is that the game has been in development for a couple of years to lay down the foundation. I would totally believe hearing the broad details about it at this year’s E3; heck, I’d even believe the company saying “we’re working on FFXVI and expect it to be out in two or three years.”

Of course, I would also believe not hearing anything more or finding out that this is a totally unrelated project, making all of this speculation nothing more than wild speculation that has no actual relation to objective reality. The thing about this point in the development cycle is that pretty much everyone is in the dark. There’s a lot that could change even with a couple years of pre-production. It could be an unrelated project that gets rebranded into the Final Fantasy franchise, for that matter. It could be an offline single-player game. It could be a new franchise!

Based on the very limited evidence we have? There’s reasons to make some vague guesses and possibly assemble some hopes.

I’ve seen some speculation that this means Yoshida is going to leave behind FFXIV and it’ll destroy the game, but that seems ultimately to be more about fearmongering than anything. Nothing the man has said or done indicates that he wants to be done with FFXIV, especially with Shadowbringers right around the corner. I could see him transitioning to a more active role with the new game over the next few years… but whoever takes over his role with FFXIV would likely be someone he picked, and he’ll still be the oversight for the project.

If anything, this makes me hopeful. Yeah, it’s way too early for me to start betting on Final Fantasy XVI in 2022 with producer and director Naoki Yoshida… but gosh, it’d be a pretty great thing to have. And it’s at least a plausible hope, even if it’s far from certain.

The Nymian civilization hosted an immense amount of knowledge and learning, but so much of it has been lost to the people of Eorzea. That doesn’t stop Eliot Lefebvre from scrutinizing Final Fantasy XIV each week in Wisdom of Nym, hosting guides, discussion, and opinions without so much as a trace of rancor.
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Eamil

Of course we can’t know this for sure in any way and this is just my two cents, but with regards to Tabata, my understanding is that he took over fairly late in 15’s development hell and turned it around enough to give us what we got, and I’ve seen speculation that as a result of that (along with its own lack of experienced internal leads as people have left over the years) Squeenix wanted to saddle him with the future of the FF franchise, basically try to make him the Yoshi P of single player FF, and he wasn’t interested in that because he wanted to work on other projects and ideas, so he walked.

Again not something I have any real evidence to support, but it makes a lot of sense to me.

I agree with the article’s take on the new project. It just seems like it’s probably going to be a FF MMO. I can’t see them describing anything else their online division might make as a “core title.” I disagree that they’re prepping for XIV’s eventual maintenance mode – expansions will probably continue for a good long while, if this new game is different enough not to make everyone jump ship. But that’s where some wishful thinking on my part kicks in.

In the way that Pantheon wants to make a more refined and modernized Everquest, I think (and hope) this game will aim at being a more refined and modernized FFXI. Yoshida has experience as an EQ player, he has an eye for what the competition is doing, and he has the sense not to cannibalize the player base of an already successful and popular game. Enough people want something different from FFXIV’s WoW-like gameplay – and enough people continue to play FFXI – to demonstrate that there is demand that such a game could fulfill.

But, again, that’s not something I have any evidence for beyond my own hopes and a feeling that it would make sense. I do hope I’m right, though. It would be almost poetic for a Brad McQuaid-developed game and a new Final Fantasy MMO to be at the forefront of a new generation of MMOs.

Nephele
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Nephele

I’m interested to see what the project is. I’d actually be willing to seriously take a look at another online SE title after playing both XI and XIV. Whether you like or don’t like either game, they have generally done a better job than many other publishers have of supporting, maintaining, and adding content to the games over the years.

In terms of what might be fun to play, I’d love to see some kind of a hybrid between XI and XIV. Open-world gameplay like XI, and a slower pace with more emphasis on socializing, but some of the really strong storytelling we’ve seen in XIV (though, without gating gameplay features behind the story this time please). I think if you were to mix both games, as well as take inspiration from some non-SE titles, you could probably make a really strong MMORPG experience *and* a really strong Final Fantasy experience.

That said, I’d be ok with a different Square IP too – it’s not like they don’t have plenty of other settings they could draw upon. I’m confident in their ability to build a compelling world and tell a good story – it’s the gameplay that will be the question.

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Eamil

XI actually structures its storytelling in a very similar way to XIV, I think – it just has issues that are more a function of the limits they had to work with at the time.

Nephele
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Nephele

You might be right. I didn’t experience FFXI until years after its launch, and so I went through the story in a somewhat fragmented way. But now that I think about it, the narrative structure both games use is pretty similar.

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cursedseishi

Nomura is still at Square, of course. But he seems to generally be done with the franchise

Ehh… maybe. I get the feeling its less Nomura is done with the Final Fantasy series… and more Square is done having him serve as director. Remember he was originally the main director for the Nova Crystali… Crystal Novali… the 13 series on top of Kingdom Hearts 3. And Final Fantasy 13, Final Fantasy 13 Versus (aka FF 15) and Kingdom Hearts 3 ALL had some delays… to increasing amounts. And Final Fantasy 7’s remake was announced in 2015.

Every one of his current titles have had massive delays and setbacks… To the point where people have even had to step in (Hajime Tabata and FF15 for instance) or things had to be changed around… Such as a new co-director being announced for the FF7 remake.

And speaking of Tabata, I feel like the shakeup was less on him than it was Square’s expectations. As long as that game’s development cycle was, I feel as though Square Enix was pushing heavy on it. Tabata, for his credit, inherited the game from Nomura and it had to undergo a LOT of work midway through… similar to another game we know of… But while that game was guaranteed a consistent flow of cash if it went well? 15 did not have that. No subscriptions, no cash shops for fancy mounts and Dragon Ball Z power ups…
It had its media. And eventually its DLC. And I don’t think people wanted to be done with 15 either… As awkward a duck as that game could be? I LOVED it. When you stop and look at the mainline series? A numerical Final Fantasy game never really played quite like the rest. Whether it was the Draw mechanics, learning skills via equipment, to straight up dropping levels in favor of having to beat yourself up just to gain HP? None of them could be argued that their mechanics were exactly stale…

And I’ll admit, yeah it sucks that the characters for the party were limited in 15… How much of that was due to the game being restarted and having to be pushed out though? And how much of that was intentional? Who knows. Personally? I bristled at Cindy some because of the obvious cheesecake… wasn’t quite the fan of Lunafreya as the ubiquitous ‘damsel in distress’ (despite how the game twists it some), but… dear lord did I love Aranea.
And I loved Prompto’s plucky attitude, and how the Prompto we see now is the poor guy pushing himself forward… Or how Ignis is just… well, I hope to god I can be that nimble and capable a chef and knife thrower while blind someday. And well… I have friends that are definitely appreciative of Gladios and his disdain for upper body wear…

Which is why it sucks, to me, that Tabata quit. The guy had an obvious passion for the game. Every DLC had some flair to it, it added something new to every character that was brought back into the main game mechanically and visually that made them feel distinct when you took control of them. And you know what? I hate that Square chickened out on the DLC for Noctis, because I’d love to see what unique twist would be introduced for him. I hate that Lunafreya wasn’t given chance to be her own character more, other than what little we see during the Leviathan bit. And dear lord do I HATE losing out on more Aranea! I want my techno-dragoon jump lady, and I want more of her crazy hops damage!

And honestly? I just want to see what Tabata could have done given a fresh start for his own project, with Square’s finances, backing, and talent…

Just like I’m always wanting to see a bit more of Massively’s April Fools japes. So you keep doing you Eliot, and I’ll… I’ll just keep staring at my copy of Front Mission 3 and 4…

semugh
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semugh

chrono trigger mmo.

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David Blair

Vagrant Story MMO.

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Polychromantium

is it this?