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!
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.
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.
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.