We've interviewed Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn's producer and director Naoki Yoshida a lot. One glance at our Final Fantasy XIV page reveals numerous interviews with him, as well as a couple with Hiromichi Tanaka, his predecessor before the game's ill-fated original launch. After years of rebuilding, patching and repairing, Yoshida is finally now unleashing the public upon his changed vision for the big-budget MMO in open beta - and release is looming.
We caught up with Yoshida out at Japan Expo in Paris, and spent our time having a good old catch up about what it feels like to be in the final sprint, the ongoing possibility of an Xbox version, PVP play and those interesting Final Fantasy XIII cross-overs that were just announced. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn launches for PC and PS3 this August, and will arrive on PS4 in 2014.
RPG Site: So... we're hitting the final stretch on A Realm Reborn - how are you feeling?
Naoki Yoshida: I'm a bit concerned that I'm not with the dev team at the moment; that I'm being kept away! I'm not keeping an eye on them... especially because at the moment we're in the beta phase - today is the start of another beta weekend, and we just introduced the contents finder - the duty finder.
Even during the interviews, I'm getting updates constantly to make sure everything's going smoothly... and yes, it sounds like it's going smoothly - so that's good news!
Yoshida: To answer your first question, well, that's actually what we expected - getting two huge opposite reactions! [laughs]
Final Fantasy XIV is very unique. A Realm Reborn hasn't been released yet, but the 1.0 version of the game has - so we have a lot of hardcore fans who played the 1.0 version. When we decided to make this announcement here at Japan Expo, this is a very special event where the people here love Japanese subculture, and they want to find out new information, and try out different Japanese culture things, basically.
So explaining in detail - if we start talking about all the details on stage towards that type of audience - like this is the type of detail in the design, this is how she's going to get into the world - the majority of that audience would wonder 'Well, what is he talking about?' because they haven't played FF14 yet.
We thought it would be more suitable if we focused on how we're going to make it catchy to that audience instead. We've made a straightforward announcement - Lightning is going to be in FF14 - here is the costume you can wear. That's very straightforward, and to the Japan Expo audience we felt that this was the suitable way to explain it.
...But, yes, we do understand that 1.0 hardcore players will wonder 'Well, what's going on? How is she going to fit in the world?' and so we definitely expected that reaction.
Once I'm back in Japan I will probably write a long forum post again to explain in more detail to the fans. Myself, I am one of those who really wants to make sure that the FF14 world is kept safely in a FF14 way - so I don't want to destroy the lore. There's going to be plenty of cutscenes and explanation of the reasons in the storylines of why Lightning can appear in FF14.
Please be rest assured that there is a reason, and I'm going to make sure that it's natural she's in this world. Is she going to stay here? What's going to happen to her..? All that is also going to be mentioned in the storyline - it's going to become a natural part of the history of Eorzea.
So for the 1.0 players wondering what exactly is happening - please rest assured that I'm going to make sure we answer all your concerns.
RPG Site: Well, my next question is natural, then - I feel this is quite, quite different to having a weapon, or the Warrior of Light costume - having an actual character appear opens up more doors, doesn't it? How long before we see Sephiroth as a raid boss, [Yoshida laughs] or Yuna and Tidus showing up to promote FF10 HD Remaster? Does this open that door?
Yoshida: [laughs] Well... first of all, I will leave it to the players to imagine if there's going to be Sephiroth in the game, or maybe Cloud is going to appear on his motorbike... Please enjoy sort of thinking about what could be happening in the game!
However, between the dev teams and also within the company, we also really want to work close together and have a strong relationship with each other and sort of push FF as a whole.
It's not like that we want to just get more attention from players or get more money by using the elements from previous FF games - it's nothing like that. As a company and as a group, we wanted to make sure that the FF projects have a strong relationship between the dev teams of the numbered titles. We're not necessarily planning to bring back all the characters.
RPG Site: The PS4 version -- were you concerned at all that in announcing that you could gut sales of the PS3 version by causing people to wait?
Yoshida: Because we're going with a subscription model, what really matters to us is the number of subscribers - so if the player prefers to wait for the PlayStation 4 version to come out, that's fine; I don't really mind.
I think it was a bigger concern that someone might buy the PS3 version and then find out that the PS4 version was coming out right after they bought it; that would be more shocking as it might upset players. I thought it would be better to let players know up front that the PS4 version is coming out, but in the meantime you can start out playing the PS3 version if you want, as we have squeezed the maximum quality from that platform. Start with that platform if you wish and enjoy the game experience; all the character data you gain with the PS3 version can then be converted to the PS4 version.
I thought that message would be more straightforward and less confusing to players; that's the reason why we decided to make the announcement now. It's really up to the players - if they want to wait for the PS4 version, that's fine.
RPG Site: That announcement and other things at E3 - FF15, Kingdom Hearts - makes FF14 the odd one out, missing from Microsoft consoles. Your predecessor, Tanaka-san, said that FF14 was skipping Xbox due to Microsoft's Xbox Live policies forbidding cross-platform play and servers, and you later told me you were working to get the game on as many platforms as possible. Where does that stand now - have you signed an exclusivity deal with Sony, or is it still just down to Microsoft's non-movement on their policies?
Yoshida: To answer your question straightforward: The policy has not changed on Microsoft's side.
The main reason from our side is that I don't want the community to be divided; to be split into two or more. For example, one player might be on the PC version, another might be on the PS4 version, and I'm playing the Xbox version - but we're not able to join the same game servers. That is just... I just don't like the idea. I disagree with it.
I really want the community to stick together and not be split into two or be divided because of that reason. That's one of the reasons that means that unless the policy chances, Xbox just doesn't make sense to us.
RPG Site: This sounds like a real point of frustration.
Yoshida: To be frankly honest with you, there are now so many mobile devices, smart phones, everything -- why would you ever just stick to one platform from the hardware aspect? Just -- make it open to everyone? That's my opinion.
RPG Site: So if they adjusted their position, you'd like to do FF14 for Xbox platforms?
Yoshida: I would love for as many players as possible to enjoy the game worldwide, so from a business point of view it could make sense to have it on the Xbox platforms. But as I mentioned earlier, that would bring about the tragedy that somebody might have to give up their existing character.
Then players might get frustrated, and then they ask us - 'Square Enix, can't you do something?' and then... yeah. Unless that happens, we can't really do anything.
RPG Site: We currently know so little about PVP play - can you spill some beans on how it'll be?
Yoshida: First of all, we are going to introduce one part of the PVP we're planning to make, Coliseum. This is going to be 4 vs. 4 or 8 vs. 8. With this next beta phase, 4, we're going to test that out - so you'll be able to find out what happens when different classes or jobs fight against each other within FF14.
This Coliseum will be introduced with patch 2.0, straight away after launch. Six months after launch, we're planning to also introduce another PVP called Frontline. This is more like a RvR - Realm versus Realm. This uses whole zones - it's a large-scale PVP.
If you want to focus on PVE, that's absolutely fine, but if you do get a chance to try out PVP, please do so - you'll get to think about what kind of skills you want to use, what kind of gear you want to use - make sure you have good enough gear to stand up in PVP.
There's lots of excitement in the PVP - it's not just about hitting each other and things like that. If you haven't done PVP before, just give it a try and I hope you enjoy it. If you don't like the idea of hitting another player, then don't worry - you can concentrate on the PVE and try to become the Warrior of Light.
That being said, if you want to meet me in game, you have to come into the Coliseum or the Frontline - that's where I'll be! [laughs] That's my thing.
RPG Site: E3 featured a particularly strong showing for the FF brand in general. Did you feel a post E3 surge in interest for FF14 as a result?
Yoshida: I think the biggest thing we're feeling is that the players that are playing the beta are spreading the word that you should definitely try this out via twitter and facebook. Not only the presence at the shows, but I think the players are actually playing a large part in that.
One thing that we're having a headache with at the moment is that players are enjoying the beta so much that they're not logging out of the game! [laughs] We'd love to distribute more beta keys, but we can't - because their data can't be wiped because they're still playing! The servers are at capacity at the moment!