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The Final Fantasy XIV director talks business, gameplay, and doing away with the Final Fantasy logo (interview)

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Since the troubled launched of Final Fantasy XIV in late 2010, Square Enix president Yoichi Wada publicly apologized to the company’s fans and committed to relaunching the game as A Realm Reborn. As A Realm Reborn nears its Aug. 27 release on the PC, PlayStation 3, and eventually the PlayStation 4, GamesBeat sought out an in-depth interview with project director Naoki Yoshida to discuss the business aspects behind the decision as well as what both new and old players can expect from the game itself.

After all, it’s not every day a major game company — especially a Japanese one — publicly apologizes for releasing a subpar product. But it’s even less common for that company to then spend millions more rebuilding that years-old title for a second shot at success.

Note: Yoshida spoke through a translator who somewhat paraphrased the lengthier answers.

GamesBeat: What sort of reciprocity will there be for players who paid for the original version?

YoshidaNaokiJune12Yoshida: The first big thing about that is, if you purchased the original game, you’ll be able to have a free upgrade to A Realm Reborn. That’s the first thing. The second thing is that we’ll have a two-week “welcome back” campaign, where you’ll be able to play for free for two weeks. That’s what we want players to try, so we can show them that it’s a completely different game now. We’ll give them the two weeks to see that.

GamesBeat: Are there any sorts of in-game items that might be exclusive to founders?

Yoshida: We have two different types of players. We have players that purchased the game and didn’t like it and then quit, and then we had the players who kept playing the game. We call those our legacy players, the ones who played through all of the updates. Those legacy players will be getting a lot of stuff. They’ll be getting a reduced price on the subscription for A Realm Reborn for the lifetime that they played. They’ll also be getting an in-game Chocobo. They’ll get a lot of extra items. We’ve announced this all in the past. For players that didn’t stick around, but did purchase the original game, they’ll be getting the free upgrade and the two-week period to play for free, but there won’t be any extra in-game items, other than the ones that came with the original game. When you purchased the original game, depending on the version, there were in-game items that you got, and players will be able to transfer those over. All of that data will be transferred.

GamesBeat: As a longtime Final Fantasy XI player, I’m used to calling races “Mithra” and “Tarutaru” and things like that. What was the thinking behind having the same races as Final Fantasy XI but naming them something different?

Yoshida: Because I wasn’t on the team when that decision was made, I’m going to guess why, from what I’ve heard. What I believe is that, back then, they probably thought that a lot of the Final Fantasy XI users would move to Final Fantasy XIV when it was released. But because what they were making was a new game in Final Fantasy XIV, they didn’t want to make them exactly the same. Then it would just be Final Fantasy XI-2, and they didn’t want to make a Final Fantasy XI-2. But they wanted to make it easier for those people who had been playing Final Fantasy XI for such a long time to take a step into this new world by creating things that were similar, but different and unique to the Final Fantasy XIV world. Again, that’s just my guess.

But then again, that lets us see one of the biggest things that was wrong with the original release of Final Fantasy XIV. If they wanted to make it—they should have taken it and made it into Final Fantasy XI-2. Take Final Fantasy XI and make a sequel with new types of systems and new graphics, but build it off of that foundation. Instead of doing that, they decided they wanted to do something new, but still use some of the things from XI. Again, instead of taking one thing and taking it to the next level, they just kept everything kind of in the middle. Nothing was exceptional. That’s why you get this quagmire that was the original release of Final Fantasy XIV. There were a lot of great things that came out of XI, a lot of revolutionary things, like the level sync system. But the fact is, when they made the original Final Fantasy XIV, they made it with a server system that wouldn’t allow level sync. You have this great system you developed. Why not have your new game also use that?

GamesBeat: Do you feel some of those things you were just talking about, like the naming system of the races … has building A Realm Reborn on top of that kind of imperfect foundation held back what you were able to do with this new version?

Yoshida: If I wanted to destroy everything that was in the original XIV, I wouldn’t have taken on the position of rebuilding XIV. I would have gone on to Final Fantasy XVI and made that instead. The fact that I took up XIV is because I realized that, again, even though it had the rocky launch, there were still a lot of people out there who loved the game. You had this new generation of players who didn’t play XI and started their MMO experience with Final Fantasy XIV. For them, they don’t know about Tarutaru. They don’t know about Mithra. For them, they know about the Lalafell and the Mi’qote. To take that and destroy that would be destroying those people’s image of what they got into the game for. There’s tens of thousands of people that, for them, that was the first thing. As a hardcore MMO player myself, I know how important characters are to player. They’re your alter egos. Going in and destroying that and starting over with something absolutely new would crush those people. So keeping that was one of the things I decided we were going to do when we set out to rebuild XIV. Keeping those basic things that people had become used to with Final Fantasy XIV.

GamesBeat: I’ve noticed in almost all of the promotional materials, including the box shot and the giant image on the wall behind us, that “A Realm Reborn” is larger, literally larger, than the “Final Fantasy” title. Do you feel like just the title, Final Fantasy XIV, has a negative stigma following it around that you want to push aside?

Yoshida: Two main reasons. The first reason being – and this is kind of simple – is that we were just kind of tired of this logo, of this Final Fantasy logo. All Final Fantasys, from Final Fantasy I, have been a white background, this black font, this type. You’re getting to a point now that there are so many Final Fantasys that when you look at it, you don’t know which Final Fantasy it is. Is it the newest one? Is it a game from a couple of years ago? The font always looks the same. We wanted something that was new, something that was refreshing, to show that the game is going in a new direction. It’s not just this game. If you look at Lightning Returns, they’ve used a different logo now as well. It’s something that our company is doing as a whole. The series has to evolve if we’re going to evolve as well. So we’re taking that into a new direction. That’s one of the reasons.

And then we want to show is that… We have Final Fantasy XIV, and it’s online. You have this line here that represents the world, the world of Hydaelyn, the world of Final Fantasy XIV. Final Fantasy XIV encompasses this world. But this here, A Realm Reborn, is the game that you’ll be playing. We plan on changing this with every expansion, to show that while it’s Final Fantasy XIV every single time, you’re going to be getting a new game, a new experience, with each expansion. One of my ideas is that once Final Fantasy XV is released, we’ll maybe even remove the XIV from this and just make it Final Fantasy. What’s going to happen is, from a player’s perspective – someone who maybe doesn’t know about Final Fantasy XIV – if you see Final Fantasy XV, you think, “Well, XV is out. Why do I want to play XIV? That’s the old game.” By removing that and making this our title, that sets it apart.

FINALFANTASY_XIV_ARR_PC_ALPHA_CHARAMAKE_03

GamesBeat: Given Square’s recent financial troubles, do you think that the company would have greenlit such a massive and costly undertaking as A Realm Reborn if Final Fantasy XIV had launched, say, last month? If Final Fantasy XIV had launched a month ago and it turned out that it wasn’t well received, would A Realm Reborn still be happening?

Yoshida: That’s a difficult question. It’s hard to say, given the economic state of the company. The thing is, when the original Final Fantasy XIV was released, a lot of people around the world had loved this story and this series, the Final Fantasy series. There’s a lot of love for Final Fantasy, so many fans of Final Fantasy. There were so many fans of Final Fantasy XI. They’d come to expect a great experience. When a company that, up until now, has made them great games gives them a game that’s not so great, a lot of people felt betrayed. It wasn’t just a small thing, either. It was a huge betrayal. People felt like, “We believed in you, and you did this to us.” We lost a lot of trust. And so doing something like—if it was released last month and we said, “OK, the release was a failure. XV has just been announced,” I don’t think we would say, “OK, we’re going to cancel XIV. Please buy XV.” We’d still have people feeling like they don’t trust us anymore, because of the recent failure on XIV. So I think we would probably do the same thing. We would try to get back the trust of our users, and getting back the trust of our users would mean saying, “Yes, we made this mistake,” and trying to fix that mistake. Cancelling the game would not be a way to bring that trust back.

GamesBeat: In Final Fantasy XI, I tried all the classes and advanced classes, but I ended up with a ranger with ninja as my subjob for my main character. I was wondering what in A Realm Reborn would mirror that type of gameplay if I wanted to try it.

Yoshida: System-wise, or role-wise in the party?

GamesBeat: Role-wise. The same kind of abilities and playstyle. I saw that there’s an archer. Do you have a subjob system?

Yoshida: The system that we have is similar, but different, in the sense that what we have is called the armory system. You have your one character. The one character can basically be any of the classes that are available. By changing your weapon, you change your class. And so you can have everything be your main class, because when you change your weapon, you instantly change to that class. We have the seven main battle classes, and once you get them up high enough, you can unlock the jobs that are connected to those classes and branch off from the classes.

There are nine of those jobs that will be available at release. What you can also do is, while you’re playing as one of the classes, you’ll be able to combine weapons skills and actions that you learned from other classes. Say you’re playing as the gladiator, which is the main sword class, like a warrior. You can combine to become a pugilist, the fighter type of class, a melee class, and mix those weapon skills. But you can only do that when you’re playing as one of those battle classes. If you switch to a job, which is one of the specialized versions of the classes, then you must use the skills of that job and the class that it’s connected to. You’re pretty much tied into that.

So it allows for two different play styles. If you’re playing as a class, you can mix and match different skills to create your own type. You can do a lot of different things, but you’ll be a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none. If you decide to go with the job role, then basically you’re put into one role. If you choose the paladin, you’ll be the tank. You’ll be specialized to play as the tank in your party. Depending on what type of game content you’re playing—if you’re playing end content where you’ll need a party and use tactics to defeat a certain enemy, you’ll need certain roles to be able to do that. You’ll want to be able to play as a job – talk it over with the people you’re working with, figure out how you’re going to do it, and fight that end boss. If you’ll be off by yourself and maybe want to do something a little more casual and you want more freedom in how you play, then you’ll want to choose the classes and mix and match those types of things. We’re allowing for different play styles.

FINALFANTASY_XIV_ARR_PUB_0901_01

GamesBeat: Final Fantasy XI is actually a very punishing game. If you die, you can loss levels. If anything goes wrong, if one mistake is made, your whole team can die. But I put up with it because I enjoyed the world and the characters and the gameplay. The thing that eventually made me leave, though, was actually the lack of variety in enemies. In the starting area, you face a Yellow Crawler, a level 3 crawler. Then, in the level 40 or 70 areas, you face a level 40 or 70 Yellow Crawler. It’s like that across all its regions. Is that something that you’ve addressed in A Realm Reborn — the variety of content?

Yoshida: The original launch pretty much had the same problem. You’d go to one area and see the same [monster] as you did in the high-level areas. We wanted to fix that. We’ve been adding a lot of new monsters. We have a lot of original Final Fantasy XIV monsters, but we’ve been taking monsters from other games in the series, like the monsters that you see in Final Fantasy XII. We’ve taken some of those, rearranged their models, and brought them into Final Fantasy XIV. We’ve also taken some of the monsters from Final Fantasy XI and brought them in. Again, we’re continuing to make even more new monsters. Our monster team, our graphics team, our assets team are making new assets and we plan on releasing even more new monsters. We realize that was one big problem, and we want to make sure that doesn’t happen in A Realm Reborn.


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