While at PAX Prime 2013, PlayStation LifeStyle’s Dan Oravasaari in association RPGamer had the honor of sitting down with Naoki Yoshida, the Producer and Director behind the highly debated Square Enix MMORPG reboot, Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn.
[Please note: All communication was handled through a translator]
Opening Statement by Naoki Yoshida:
As you all know, this is the second launch of Final Fantasy 14, Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn. We are the first MMORPG in the industry to ever take a game that failed once and to rebuild it. We want to thank the western fans and the western media for all of the support you have given us for the past two and a half years.
So, three years ago we had the very rocky launch and we lost a lot of trust of the fans and the media, but over the past three years, those same fans and members of the media had an open mind and followed this crazy challenge that we’ve attempted and given us this second chance, and for giving us a second chance and keeping an open mind, we are very very grateful and we would love to thank the fans and the media.
To tell you the truth, because again we had such a rocky launch with 1.0, we weren’t expecting the type of response that we got at launch. We thought that things would be smoother, we thought that things would be a bit slower, more gradual, that players would wait until they heard the feedback and found out that people really liked the game before coming in. Because of this, it had exceeded our expectations when so many players came in at launch, and because of this, that was the reason behind the server issues. It went well beyond our expectations and our server teams have been working around the clock to get new servers ready alleviate the issues that we have had with server load, and redistributing the server load to ease that load. So that, next week, on Wednesday [Sept 11th] for our server maintenance we can allow more players in and welcome them.
For the past three years we have been talking about rebuilding this game on three different pillars, having the greatest story in the industry, having the greatest graphics for an MMORPG and having a great game experience, and on top of that, having this great community to support it. We already have this great community, that has supported us through thick and thin from 1.0, but now we have a new community as well. We have all these new players to create a stronger community, on top of this foundation we hope to build more off of this and continue on for five to ten and many years into the future. Thank you.
RPGamer: There have been many, many changes to the game, but of all of the changes what are you most personally proud of?
Well, we are really proud of the game experience that we can provide. I think the biggest thing that we are proud of is the fact that we have a story that feels like a real Final Fantasy. For so long in the original version, it just didn’t feel like a Final Fantasy. But, now we have a story that feels like it, and we have been getting a lot of feedback from the players saying that FF is back and that is just really exciting for us to hear that. Even though we have this game that is an MMORPG, and they aren’t known for their deep story, we have a story that is so deep that it can be along side those great FF stories.
Dan O: With the previous Final Fantasy 14 not performing as well as expected, and with so many other MMOs having similar issues, but making a transition to F2P, why did you decide to keep a subscription model instead of also switching over to F2P?
So, there is a reason why a lot of MMORPGs go to F2P, even though when they were designed, they were designed to go to the subscription model. It comes down to what players want, what players want from an MMORPG is that they want updates, they want content, they want something to do and to provide this type of content at a regular pace, high quality content at a regular pace, we need a stable development team system – and to have a stable development team system, you need stable income. Subscription based models give us that stable income.
Unlike a lot of other game companies, Square Enix as well as Blizzard, both are making their own games with their own money, they don’t use investors and by not using investors, they don’t have anyone to pay back immediately. So, a lot of companies that make a large game, if they don’t get that money back immediately, their investors are like ‘where’s our money?’ And so, they have to switch to a way to get a quick amount of money and that’s a lot of the time, switching to F2P.
By switching to F2P, you don’t have that steady income, you don’t know if you are going to have a lot of money or not enough money, and because you don’t have a steady income you can’t have a steady development team – developers won’t know if they are going to have a job next month. But, if you do have a steady income, then you have a steady development team, then you have steady content, and if you have a steady flow of content, then your players are going to know that next month we are going to get new content and they will stick with you. Even if we don’t make our money back right away, we can sit it out, wait until that cycle begins and then once the money starts coming in, things will stabilize and so for us the subscription model has always been the way to go.
RG: Two-part question: The first part – Why was it decided to remake the game instead of starting over completely?
As you know, the Final Fantasy series is in its 26th year, has a long history and has fans all over the world and when FF14 was released in that state three years ago, it sent shock waves in that community. That a lot of people were saying FF is done, as a series it is over, we can’t believe in Square Enix anymore. They expect a great product, and they didn’t get a great product. We lost the trust of a lot of people, and so we thought, if we just give up on 14 and just move directly onto 15 after all of these people trusted us and all of these people pull all of this money into buying high-spec PCs so they could play 14 and us just giving up on it, that’s just no way to get the trust of the fans back.
Someone who played 14 and thought it was terrible, and we make 15 and say, ‘hey, play this, it’s great,’ who’s going to believe us? No one is going to believe us, and so by not giving up on 14 and by admitting our mistakes, facing our mistakes and overcoming them and remaking the game and showing them we are committed to this project, and we are committed to our fans is the way we wanted to get that trust back. We hope that by doing this launch, we can get some of that trust back.
RG: The second part – But, it has created a deep challenge now because you are going to have the old legacy players along with the new players, and with FF11, the big problem was that the Japanese players got to start before the American players and created a rift, and we are going to have the same rift here, were any of these challenges between these two communities ever considered when deciding to restart everything?
The FF analogy is a very strange example, we think it actually kind of different from 14, just because it touches upon how Japanese players are a very closed community and also that they are the worst in the world at English. Because of that, there is that type of rift and that was the reason behind that rift. From what we have seen, from the past few weeks and especially here, we see people, legacy player and new players getting together. Even in that room over there [across from interview room], you have legacy players bringing in their friends that have never played and getting them to play Titan and listen to the music and getting them into the game. We see that in the game as well, we see the legacy players bonding with all of these new players, because we feel that both side have something in common, and that something in common is that they all love Final Fantasy and have a place where they all can love FF together. So, currently, we don’t think its that big of a problem.
D: Obviously, you plan on supporting Final Fantasy 14 for a long time, what are some of your plans for the future and how to take the franchise forward?
As for the future, we already have a lot of stuff planned. We have the next three patches 2.1, 2.2 and 2.3 figured out and the development team is ready to start working on the content for those three patches. Before I left, I finished the plot for the next expansion, so for 3.0, that is all done and submitted to the team to get their feedback on it. We have this very long schedule for 2.1, we have PvP, the wolf’s den, we have the housing system, a very detailed housing system, we have new dungeons, we have a lot of new end content, we have the primal battles Garuda, Titan and Ifrit. We have an even harder mode, because we have a hard mode now, we are going to have a hyper mode. We are also going to be reintroducing the Good King Moggle Mog battle that was around in 1.0, that’s going to come back and we are going to have even more content. So that the players that stuck with us in 1.0 and saw the size of those patches, they are going to be even more amazed, because we patches that even larger than those for 2.0.
RG: That actually rolls into my next question, so what is the focus of the new content going to be? Is more for the casual player or will it be more towards the legacy players?
We would like to say that you mentioned both casual and legacy players, and that some legacy players, just because they are legacy doesn’t mean they are hardcore. Some legacy player will maybe be lighter, where as some casual players might be hardcore but they might be new. We don’t really look at it in that sense, but, what we do want to do is that we have to create content for all of our players, being that there is all sorts of players. We know that there is only some players that only want to come in and do a couple hours a day, while we do know that there are players that there are those hardcore players that want to use their MMORPG and gaming skills to use those tactics and get really into the battles and have those difficult battles.
So, with each patch, we want to provide content for everyone, we want to have the daily quests that the casual players can come in and do a couple hours and be out of the game, while still learning more about the story. We also know that there’s going to be the content for hardcore players that want to get together with their parties and have these challenging battles. So, we are having battles created for those people as well. As well, as we know that there is types of players that don’t want to do any type of battle, they want that non-battle content, housing related things, crafting, gathering, fishing, things like that. Having quests that will pretty much meet all the types of players that we have. Whether they are core players, hardcore player or casual players.
D: Final Fantasy 14 has already seen a release on consoles, how did that take part in development? Also, will there be any features that work better for any system due to specific features, such as the PS4’s touch pad?
Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn is a cross platform game, with PC players, and PS3 players all on the same servers playing together. We want all players to have the same global standard MMO experience on both systems. We don’t want to create a gap between those by having a different type of experience than the other, we want everyone to have the same type of experience and be on the same playing level. So, while developing, we didn’t think of giving this console something different, because if we did that, it wouldn’t be fair to the PC.
However, as you know, there is a big difference between the console and PC, being keyboard and mouse versus the controller. So, to create a similar gaming experience where there wouldn’t be a gap, we had to go in and we designed a completely different and unique control UI system for the PS3, for the consoles and that is the cross hotbar. So, that players can play on the PS3, but not be at a disadvantage for the players that are playing with the keyboard and mouse. I believe that we did a very good job with this and that it is probably the only game in the MMORPG industry that has done this, at least this well.
With the PS4, you have these features like the remote play features, as well as the touch pad, so using these for example, using the touchpad like a mouse, using the remote play, we hope to have the game compatible so you can play it on your Vita. But, also play it on a high-spec machine that is less expensive than a high end PC, but has the same kind of graphical quality that is something the PS4 can allow and so we have an announcement coming out really soon about what’s going to be going on with the PlayStation 4 version, so we ask that you wait a little bit longer.
RG: This is geared more toward end game content, people want to know, what is end game at this point? Are their any exploration into super-bosses? And what about a level-cap increase?
So, lets start with the end game content, and what kind of end game content is in A Realm Reborn right now. Actually, we have a lot of it, like you mentioned those hyper bosses and those hard bosses, we have three versions of the primal battles, Ifrit, Titan and Garuda, we have hardmodes of all of those for end content. We also have level 50 instance dungeons as well, that are for level 50 players, that can only be accessed by level 50 players. We also have the relic quest, that are long quests to get the relic weapons and once you have done all of those things, we have The Binding Coil of Bahamut, which is another super hard instance dungeon, which is separated into five different blocks, we call turns. So far, only 16 people in the world have been to the first turn, and only one group from the Order of the Blue Gartr has finished that first turn, but there is still four more turns left. So, there’s still a lot of stuff for end game content in the game.
In 2.1, we have even more high-end content prepared, we have an even harder version of those three primal battles I mentioned, we will have the hyper modes, then we will also be adding The Good King Moggle Mog battle, which is also a very hard boss battle and of course we have the Crystal Tower which is coming, and that will be high-end content as well.
While we understand that all those players that have been playing for the last three years, and that some have been at level 50 for about three years and want to move on, we also want them to understand that we have a lot of new players as well and if we were to raise the cap immediately, those new players would have even further to go to be able to catch up with the legacy players. We will give these new players some time to catch up with the legacy players, also, as you know, we completely changed the battle system. So even though a lot of players are at level 50, those legacy players still have a lot to learn, they have to learn a whole new system. We want to give all players time to learn this new system and once they have gotten used to the new system, and everyone is pretty much up and around the same level, then from there we can raise the level cap.
D: With the release of Final Fantasy: Lightning Returns, FF: A Realm Reborn and the upcoming Final Fantasy 15, do you think that the FF IP will be reaching a point of saturation where it will start competing with itself?
Well, as we are an MMORPG and we are going to be going for 5 to 10 years, we are always going to hit something that the company is releasing. FF13, while it is coming soon, it is still a ways off and FF15 is even further off, so in that sense we are not too worried about reaching a saturation period where everything is overlapped and instead we want to look at it as a way that we can that when one does overlap us, we can make a tag-team with it and use each other’s good points, bring them together and have those collaborations and work it off that way. To turn it into two positives, rather than two negatives.
RG: Was there something you or your team wanted to bring into A Realm Reborn, but didn’t make it into the launch. Also, if at all possible are you reviewing this for an expansion and is there anything from 1.0, like the Goobbue mounts that you will be bringing into A Realm Reborn.
Ok, one of the biggest things that we had planned for 2.0 or A Realm Reborn release but weren’t able to get it in was, what we mentioned before, the Crystal Tower and the 24 man alliance raid that we have planned for that. When we had it almost complete, and when we were testing it, we found that it was very very difficult, almost as difficult as the super difficult Binding Coil of Bahamut and realized that by having these two sets of high-end content, something that only the hardest of hardcore players could play, not enough people could access that, so we decided right at the end to take it out and readjust it to make it more accessible. With the 24 man raid, you want to have fun with at least 24 people and we want something regular players can get in and have fun with this. So we decided to move it to 2.1 after adjusting it. That was one of the things that, while we wanted to have it in at the release, we decided it was better if we adjusted it and released it in 2.1.
So, going onto something that was in 1.0, that we didn’t get into the game, but that we wanted to get into the game was the battle with The Good King Moggle Mog and that Moogle battle we had in 1.0. But, we realized that writing the main scenario and the main story for ARR, that it didn’t fit the story and we didn’t have a way to get it to fit in and so we decided to push it, rather than forcing it into the story and have it be unnatural – we decided we are just going to put it off. But, now we are working it into the story and we have a way to get it in the story, so we will be releasing it in 2.1.
As for the Goobbue mount, that was a present for those fans that stuck with us through the hard times and its for them, we don’t want the meaning of that to get watered down by bringing it back for everyone. We want it to be that thank you from us, for sticking with us through those hard times.
However, we understand that we have a lot of players would like to see their characters ride on a Goobbue and so maybe bringing in some type of Goobbue for those fans that weren’t with us in legacy, is something we might consider.
We would like to thank Yoshida-san for taking the time to speak with us, and we would also like to thank everyone at Square Enix who helped translate and set up this interview.