Final Fantasy 14 Dawntrail: Naoki Yoshida talks to us about narrative, Job identity and design

Final Fantasy 14 Dawntrail: Naoki Yoshida talks to us about narrative Job identity and design

Final Fantasy 14 Dawntrail: Naoki Yoshida talks to us about narrative Job identity and design

We interviewed Naoki Yoshida on the occasion of Dawntrail: the director of Final Fantasy 14 spoke about the plot, the Jobs and the philosophy of his MMORPG.

Having closed the parenthesis of the sixteenth chapter of the series, Naoki Yoshida has returned home, alongside his Creative Business Unit III busy working on what not only represents his favorite son, but above all that of Square Enix, capable as it was to tow the company to a safe haven through the tumultuous waters of recent times. Ten years after the debut of the A Realm Reborn re-release, Final Fantasy 14 has gathered over 30 million users and still brings a constant flow of earnings into the company’s coffers. These data, however, are material for analysts: his MMORPG, in fact, hit the headlines thanks to an immense community that played, laughed and cried together with the group of Scions along the landscapes of Eorzea, letting themselves go to thunderous applause as the curtain fell on the latest expansion Endwalker.

And now? How can you repeat a success like that of the ten-year saga of Hydaelyn and Zodiark? How can you respond to a gigantic community of enthusiasts, each with different needs? What, in essence, is the director’s vision for the future of his greatest masterpiece, the recipe for guaranteeing it a long life? On the occasion of the media tour dedicated to the Dawntrail expansion of Final Fantasy 14 we interviewed Naoki Yoshida who, after having first of all thanked all of you who supported the project and who are now reading this article, revealed tons of details in a river speech . The identity of the Jobs? The narrative of Dawntrail? The needs of the public? No matter what the question was: Yoshida provided an answer.

Dawntrail and the future of Final Fantasy XIV storytelling

How are you? How do you feel about the dawn of Dawntrail compared to past expansions?

At this time, on a media tour, we technically haven’t finished development on an expansion yet. When I return to Japan I will have to do my classic round of checks and then give everything a green light. So I’m not in a position yet where I can share how I feel much. On the other hand, it is the first opportunity for the press and content creators to interact with Dawntrail, so I try to study the expression on everyone’s faces and try to understand how things are going, if they like something, in short I try to read the emotions .

Final Fantasy 14 Dawntrail: Naoki Yoshida talks to us about narrative Job identity and design

Final Fantasy XIV: Dawntrail – “Dungeon Crawl” Trailer

Since Endwalker was a great finale, they don’t usually ask me in interviews, “How are you,” but they immediately ask me if I feel pressure about this new expansion. Honestly speaking, I don’t feel much pressure . The reason is that it’s nothing compared to the 1.0 period and everything we went through to get to the launch of A Realm Reborn. There’s not nearly the same level of pressure, so I don’t think about it as much. As for Endwalker, it was the first and only time in my career that I made the decision to postpone a game – the reason was simply that I wasn’t satisfied with the quality level, so postponing was the only option. So last time I felt a bit of pressure, but in the case of Dawntrail I’m more excited because it’s about facing new challenges.

Final Fantasy 14 Dawntrail: Naoki Yoshida talks to us about narrative Job identity and design
Naoki Yoshida cosplaying as Reaper for the launch of Endwalker

Endwalker was like the end of a great cult television series that lasted ten years, a bit like Game of Thrones, with the difference that everything ended for the better. How do you fill that void? Do you internally consider Dawntrail as a new season, a new series, or perhaps as a spin-off, an interlude episode?

Making comparisons is very difficult, but as you said Endwalker was a bit like the final season of a great drama series that was very loved, and it was just the kind of ending I wanted to make so I’m very happy to know that it was perceived this way. As for the new story we are presenting in Dawntrail, the Final Fantasy XIV universe is an entity that continues autonomously, so the ending of Endwalker absolutely does not mark a total closure. There are many mysteries around the world that we still know nothing about, and it’s not like everyone loses their memory from one day to the next: there will still be the Scions for example, so it’s a continuation of the experience that we have achieved so far.

Regarding the story of Dawntrail and the path to a new grand finale, first of all it is obviously necessary to go through a process of narrative construction . Honestly speaking, I still don’t know if events will unfold the way I imagined them, and the reason is that we have no original novel to follow, no books to model. The creative process resembles that of manga that are published in Shonen Jump . There will be a story-building process in Dawntrail, but the future will depend above all on the reactions we receive from players.

Final Fantasy 14 Dawntrail: Naoki Yoshida talks to us about narrative Job identity and design

Final Fantasy 14 Dawntrail: Naoki Yoshida talks to us about narrative Job identity and design
Dawntrail’s task is to reopen a new narrative saga almost from scratch

There are several things I’ve incorporated into the story since patch 7.0, but their fate will depend on how much weight players give them, what they think, whether they’re excited or not, what theories they come up with after playing the Main Scenario. Quest. In short, depending on the public’s response, we will see which of the foundations we have laid we will have to pay more attention to: if users are excited we will move forward, otherwise we have other directions in mind. At this moment I can say that I have not yet decided how long this new story could last, whether four expansions or five expansions .

You may not believe me, but I assure you that when we developed A Realm Reborn, Heavensward and Stormblood, I had no idea that they would become pieces of one great saga . Obviously we tried to make the story interesting, we incorporated and completed narrative puzzles, but it wasn’t until we got to the plot of Shadowbringers that we realized it would be possible to connect all the dots and join them into one single story. From then on we went with the flow. For now it’s impossible to know if the same thing will happen, but we approach the issue in a similar way, and this applies to the entire development team.

Final Fantasy 14 Dawntrail: Naoki Yoshida talks to us about narrative Job identity and design
The Warrior of Light and his companions depart for the continent of Tural, leaving 10 years of plot behind them

You know, I’ve often said that we develop Final Fantasy 14 together with our users : this is absolutely not a lie. This time I’m looking forward to seeing players’ reactions and feedback, and based on those reactions we’ll figure out how to build the narrative to excite them again. So to answer the initial question… for us it’s like the beginning of the second season of a great TV series. We’ve incorporated something very big into the narrative of Dawntrail and 7.0 , and I can’t wait to discuss it with you more when you know what I’m talking about.

Balancing, job identity and player requests

In the last Letter from the Producer we talked about Job identity and the desire to address the issue in patch 8.0, while the homogenization of classes is a much discussed problem within the community. How do the new Viper Jobs and the Pictomancer fit into this discussion?

Final Fantasy 14 Dawntrail: Naoki Yoshida talks to us about narrative Job identity and design

Final Fantasy 14 Dawntrail: Naoki Yoshida talks to us about narrative Job identity and design
The new Job Pictomancer as embodied by Krile

I’ll start from the end: the new Jobs implemented in version 7.0 were designed in light of the same balancing system adopted for all the others, because our goal is that all Jobs can be appreciated in the same way. We did not take into consideration in their design what our plans and projects for the near future regarding Jobs are. What I can say is that, obviously, when we release new Jobs together with an expansion they are developed by a team that each time carries out that job with more experience, so it happens more and more often that the newer classes seem more and more “complete ” compared to legacy ones . There is a big difference, you notice immediately, often the younger Jobs have a lot happening on the gameplay front.

Speaking of the general mechanics of the Jobs and my desire to strengthen the identity of the Jobs, it is still early to cover the issue in detail but there are two specific topics that I would like to discuss. When developing the contents of Final Fantasy 14 there are two strongly interrelated elements that must always be taken into account: one is the “Battle Content”, or the design of the battles and fights, while the other is the game mechanics of the Jobs.

Final Fantasy 14 Dawntrail: Naoki Yoshida talks to us about narrative Job identity and design
The Dragoon is part of the Jobs that received a rework for Dawntrail

Regarding Battle Content, we’ve received a lot of player feedback in the past and I’ve talked about it often. Let’s say that in general we have directed development towards reducing player stress , and as a result we have made certain decisions. One example was growing the size of the bosses’ “target” circle, increasing the distance from which you could attack them, to the point that it eventually became too large. Likewise, when it comes to specific mechanics, we received feedback from some players that they didn’t like certain mechanics, as a result we decided to no longer implement them. In short, in general from this perspective I would say that we reacted in a defensive manner.

But I believe that as a team we have to face new challenges : looking at the example of mechanics, I am convinced that instead of stopping implementing the less popular ones we should ask ourselves first of all what was wrong with them, how we could fix or expand them. Similarly, as regards the target circle of the bosses, if on the one hand making it larger brings an advantage for the players – because it allows them to attack practically always – on the other hand it makes it much more difficult to express the ability and the talent of the individual player.

Our goal obviously shouldn’t be to stress players for the sake of it, but at the same time we must take into account the degree of satisfaction they feel when completing content. I mean that there must be a right and appropriate amount of stress so that the satisfaction at the moment of completion also increases. And this is something we are already working on in Dawntrail and in the 7.x patches , we absolutely don’t want to wait until 8.0 but we intend to tackle this challenge immediately.

Final Fantasy 14 Dawntrail: Naoki Yoshida talks to us about narrative Job identity and design
The Viper is Dawntrail’s new Melee DPS

Let’s now move on to the mechanics of Jobs . We very often get feedback like, “This Job has a gap closer skill and mine doesn’t.” The most obvious solution is to implement similar skills for each Job, but doing so runs the risk of ending up in a situation where all Jobs become too similar to each other . Our desire is to create a situation in which each Job is equipped with its own skills, manages to shine in its own unique way, and there is also a sort of pride in playing a particular Job. By strongly differentiating the Jobs, we will be able to reach the goal we have set ourselves. This is why we would like to take a step back and put things back to how they were before.

Another fundamental issue concerns synergies: we chose to align the buff windows within a window lasting 120 seconds, because otherwise it would have been impossible to align the rotations of the different Jobs. But, even in this case, the result was to make the Job rotations extremely similar, and I don’t think that’s a good thing . So why not act now? The Battle Content and the Job mechanics are strongly interconnected, so we set ourselves the challenge of refining the Battle Content and the battle mechanics first, and then dedicating ourselves to the Jobs only afterwards.

Final Fantasy 14 Dawntrail: Naoki Yoshida talks to us about narrative Job identity and design
Final Fantasy XIV Fan Fests have now become huge events

If we were to rework everything at the same time it would be extremely chaotic for the players, and that’s why in the Live Letter I wanted to explain to the players that we will first fix the battle mechanics and give the audience time to get used to it, then only then can we work to make Jobs more exciting. I meant this in the Live Letter, it’s the reason the Job work is coming later in the future.

The relationship with a community of 30 million players

How has the relationship with the gaming community changed over the years?

Over the years our relationship with the community has not changed, and I am convinced that it should never change. At the core I believe it is essential to communicate openly, the community should always provide its honest feedback in order to allow us to reflect and develop again starting from those bases. That said, ten years ago we had a small community made up of very passionate players who offered us all their support, then over time that group grew to gigantic proportions, so much so that now in Final Fantasy 14 there are players linked at completely different scales of values, a lot of diversity has been created in the public.

Final Fantasy 14 Dawntrail: Naoki Yoshida talks to us about narrative Job identity and design
Futures Rewritten is the new Ultimate raid of Final Fantasy XIV

There are players who want casual content to approach the experience in a relaxed way, then there are the more hardcore ones who want more hardcore content, going so far as to tell us that the game is becoming too casual and they won’t feel like continuing if we will insist on this path. For my part, I firmly believe that both of their opinions are correct. Oh, and then there are also players who don’t particularly care about the casual/hardcore thing and just want to enjoy the game in peace with their friends.

In our studio, we get feedback mostly from both ends of this spectrum : It happens that at the same time we get messages from hardcore players clamoring for more Ultimate content, while others from more relaxed players say, “We just didn’t feel the need for it.” new Ultimate content”. Then maybe we implement more casual content and get messages like: “Who cares about this content, we just wanted another Ultimate!”. Then you know, the Final Fantasy 14 community is very friendly, so there are also people who say: “Yoshida, you don’t have to listen to their opinions, you just have to do what you want.” (Laughs) For me it’s even more complicated! The truth is that in a way I’m happy about this problem : the game has grown and now we have so many players that this situation is happening.

I think the key thing is to clearly communicate production timelines to players: for example, if we know that some players want new content of a certain type, we need to clearly say when we can actually work on that content to implement it. We should offer an overview to the players , a look at the roadmap or something that can balance the two sides in the game to bring about a state of mutual understanding, so that everyone knows what we are doing and the time window in which we plan to do it. I think this is something we will definitely have to work on during this phase of Final Fantasy 14.

Final Fantasy 14 Dawntrail: Naoki Yoshida talks to us about narrative Job identity and design
The Arkadion is the new Raid series in Normal and Savage modes

Earlier you talked about the division between casual and hardcore players: but isn’t a casual player simply a hardcore player who hasn’t tried content like Savage and Ultimate yet? Isn’t there a way to convince the audience to give all content a chance?

I believe that every player should play the way they want, no one should be forced out of their path. Having said that, those who complete an Ultimate content feel a great sense of satisfaction, and they feel it precisely because of all the difficulties they went through to reach that goal, having fun together with the people around them. Before starting, however, I’m sure that you too were thinking: “Wow, Savage is already so difficult… what will Ultimate be like? What if I put a spoke in the wheels of my teammates? What if we can’t all find each other online to play?”.

But then once you have completed the contents you can share your experience with other people, perhaps indirectly encouraging them to try it. If you drag someone by the arm, they will put up a lot of resistance. It’s about luck and the possibility of having that certain content available at the right time, so what we can do is continue to develop it – obviously I’m not just referring to the Ultimate content, but also the lifestyle elements – until at some point the players will not have the opportunity to try them, perhaps in a favorable period for them.

Final Fantasy 14 Dawntrail: Naoki Yoshida talks to us about narrative Job identity and design
In the background you can see what is clearly a buried Star Wars Star Destroyer

Is there anything specific from the Final Fantasy saga that you haven’t covered yet that you would like to implement in Final Fantasy XIV?

There are still so many things from the Final Fantasy saga that I would like to incorporate into our game, let’s say I can’t talk about it in detail… what I can say is that if you are a big fan of the Final Fantasy franchise you absolutely must experience 7.0. In Dawntrail there are so many references to the saga that I’m sure you’ll love. I can’t say anything else because these are important things and it would ruin the experience.

Before we say goodbye, we noticed that there is an uncanny resemblance between the structure on the promotional image of Endwalker (above) and a Star Destroyer from Star Wars. Aliens? Spaceships?

Oh yes, absolutely, a Star Wars Star Destroyer! (Laughs) How can you not think about it? At the end of the Main Scenario Quest he will take off right into the sky… I’m joking, if that were the case I would never be able to tell, right?

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