Final Fantasy XIV interview: Naoki Yoshida on working from home and passing the torch to others
*Spoilers for Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers to follow*
A lot was riding on Patch 5.3 for Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers. Reflections In Crystal, as it's better known, had to conclude what many consider to be the best storyline in series history. Shouldering sky-high expectations is part of the job for Final Fantasy XIV's development team, but this time they had to endure the extra weight of a global pandemic.
"We indeed faced many difficulties during the development of Patch 5.3 due to [COVID-19]," Naoki Yoshida, game director for Final Fantasy XIV, explains to me over email. "The entire development staff worked proactively in quickly setting up the equipment and infrastructure required to arrange an at-home development environment."
Given the universal reverence for Shadowbringers' narrative, Yoshida thought it wise to prioritize tasks around staff working on the main scenario during this transition.
"Our scenario team solidified many points of the plot and story production while waiting for development itself to restart," Yoshida states. "They were able to maintain a positive mindset by leveraging this tough situation and doing everything in their power under the circumstances."
Their determination paid off, as Reflections In Crystal was a hit - even earning a nomination at this year's Golden Joystick awards for best expansion.
"We've received a lot of positive feedback—it's a relief," Yoshida explains. "Overwhelming support from our players during development motivated everyone. That bond between our players and teams contributed significantly to this patch's success."
The tragic tale of Elidibus, Reflections In Crystal's big bad, played a significant part in that warm reception.
"When we developed A Realm Reborn, we chose only the Ascians' fundamental setting," Yoshida states. "When it came to things like the intent and mission of each Ascian, the scenario and lore teams sculpted those aspects through further discussion and deliberation as time went on."
Elidibus makes sporadic appearances throughout Final Fantasy XIV's overarching narrative, typically only revealing himself when fellow Ascians need a good scolding. For years, fans had no idea what his greater purpose was. During Reflections In Crystal, though, his destiny was laid bare.
"Even among the original Ascians, Elidibus' role was always to be the emissary to maintain balance within the world," Yoshida explains. "[Elidibus] never saw stability in this role through his interactions with the Warrior of Light. As a result, the principles behind his actions may have been difficult for players to understand fully."
Yoshida believes this storyline struck such a chord because Elidibus' story unfolded much differently than Emet-Selch, the previous antagonist.
"Players might've understood Elidibus on a deeper level had they the chance to travel with him, as they did with Emet-Selch, but we did not want to repeat this pattern with this chapter of the story," Yoshida clarifies. "Instead, we tried to make Elidibus easier to understand as a character by projecting him onto a particular someone who supports the Warrior of Light. I'll leave it up to everyone's imagination as to who we projected Elidibus on, though."
Final Fantasy XIV's scenario team took ages deciding the fate of Elidibus, only finalizing the storyline just before Shadowbringers came out. Yoshida gave them free rein to take the story wherever, barring one critical condition.
"I only had one directive regarding this," Yoshida clarifies. "It's clear that Elidibus has a distinct concept of justice, so let us ensure that we preserve that in the story and not worry whether players will end up liking him or hating him."
On the opposite side of the moral spectrum was G'raha Tia (A.k.a Crystal Exarch), the fan-favorite good-boy that spent most of Reflections In Crystal on the precipice of death. His fate, however, was a much more contentious topic for the scenario team.
"The scenario team and I discussed multiple times at length deliberating the fate of the Crystal Exarch," Yoshida explains. "We came up with several different potential outcomes, and we were in discussions on a few shortlisted ideas up until the very last minute."
But G'raha Tia probably wasn't ever going to eat dirt.
"We did make it a point to take a direction that avoided having the Crystal Exarch's body crystalize and shatter," Yoshida clarifies. "[Reflections In Crystal] theme was a succession of the soul, so our discussions were more on how his soul would be pass on. The Crystal Exarch will be starting his new life now following the events of the patch, and to speak of it any further at this point feels a bit insensitive, so let's keep it a secret."
Throughout Shadowbringers, from its interweaving plotlines right down to the song Tomorrow and Tomorrow, there's an inherent message of trusting those that come after you. During the finale of Reflections In Crystal, the player must exchange farewells with their friends and allies before leaving for Eorzea. I was curious if this was a torch pass from the Warrior of Light (player) to the people of Norvrandt.
"The Shadowbringers storyline has always carried an underlying theme since the beginning: inheriting or succession of the soul," Yoshida explains. "We hinted at this in the title of Patch 3.4, Soul Surrender, but in Shadowbringers the Warrior of Light brings with him the ideas, thoughts, and hopes that have continued since then and passes it on."
Every farewell in Reflections In Crystal carries this theme.
"Through their experiences with the Warrior of Light, watching them fight with such passion, Ryne and the people of Norvrandt go on to carry that torch," Yoshida muses. "I feel this can be said about us and the current global situation. The effects brought about by COVID-19 are not subtle, and we see vigorous debate occurring on things like morals, values, and race. The world is currently in a time of revolution, and while this is something that may not be solved within our generation, I think we can pass on our torch—our thoughts and feelings—to the next."
During Reflections In Crystal's curtain call, G'raha Tia hints at a fast approaching grand finale. Some have taken this as an end to Final Fantasy XIV itself, but Yoshida is quick to squash those fears.
"We've certainly come closer to the finale of the Hydaelyn and Zodiark story arc with Shadowbringers, with the key themes of that being Ascians, Hydaelyn, and Zodiark," Yoshida elaborates. "Well, I'll refrain from saying anything further. To be clear, though, Final Fantasy XIV won't be coming to an end or anything, so nobody needs to worry about that."