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Final Fantasy XIV: Naoki Yoshida reflects on the success of Shadowbringers

It’s been nearly six months since the gates were thrown wide to the world of the Shadowbringers expansion. Sitting down with Producer and Director Naoki Yoshida we discussed the games critical and commercial success, how it was achieved, and working with Yoko-Taro on the cross-over even with NieR: Automata.

DAILY STAR – Looking at the critical and commercial success of Shadowbringers, how has the development team reacted to that?

Naoki Yoshida – In all honesty, everyone just felt so happy, everything just comes back to how grateful we are for the praise that we received. Even though you create and put time and effort in, if you get recognition from everyone, then you will have this sense of enjoyment. Because it’s an MMO and a live service, just after having a two-week break, the development team have to get back to work. 5.1 was waiting and some of the team right need to work on 6.0 and some of the parts need my approval.

What was the approach to developing Shadowbringers and was anything done differently compared to other expansions that could be attributed to its success?

Yoshida There hasn’t been any particular approach that we took just for the sake of Shadowbringers, so the approach hasn’t changed at all for Shadowbringers. What’s important is to aim for better, aim higher, have even greater confidence to make the best story. Each developer has the same mindset that they want to aim higher, and that hasn’t changed and won’t ever change. I’ve been working on this project for more than six years, and even I have improved significantly. This is the same for everyone in the development team. The team have been able to express themselves in this expansion. So that was the main factor that could be attributed to the success of Shadowbringers.

The distinctive concept that the development team took on board was to explore the essence of stand-alone RPG, while still being FFXIV and an MMORPG and play with many people.

Still, there is an essence of stand-alone elements, and we built that system on the storyline, and we found that interesting and unique point in comparison to other expansions.

For Shadowbringers, we think of it in reference as the fifth season in a TV drama, with A Realm Reborn being the second season. This fifth season I told the development team is that we shouldn’t really just continue just for the sake of ‘viewership’. Not just for the purpose of generating money; what I told the development team is that we shouldn’t hold back on anything.

Talking of the story, what was your personal favourite while going through the expansion?

Yoshida That’s a tough question, being in the development team, I’m involved with lots of adjustment and tweaking during creations, so I see all the cut-scenes and while in development I give feedback on if a cut-scene should be bringing up the tension in certain parts. I had to play Shadowbringers four times, so it’s hard to have one favourite part.

If I needed to pick one, there is a scene after you complete a dungeon in a cave where you see the murals that is the dream that the ancients saw which is about the war between Hydaelyn and Zodiark. Emet-Selch takes the whole party to the cave and talks about the war and Y’sthola, and other NPCs were surprised by his revelation about what had happened. This struck really hard to me.

This scene is really underlining the story of Shadowbringers. Everyone is in a different position, the view of winners will be different to those that have lost, and the truth that they may tell will also be different. There is not really any point in arguing who is right or wrong but what is really important is to understand that there are so many views, and we need to accept it; how can we move forward by us understanding each other.

That was more just for Shadowbringers, but it’s also a common theme through Eorzea and FFXIV. What Emet-Selch was expressing is his view that ‘this is my opinion not requiring approval from anyone because this is what I believe’. He doesn’t even reject what Haydelin is saying, he just accepts it. What he expressed in that scene was ‘how great ancients are and the deep understanding they have with people who have different opinions to themselves.

Emet-Selch in particular, he has become an absolute fan favourite villain, not just within FFXIV but stacked up against any other Final Fantasy. What makes them different compared to previous villains?

Yoshida There are several points that I’d like to make, but by saying some of them, I may let some people down and their interpretation of the Emet-Selch character. They’re a unique character. They were a tool to tell some of the mysteries that FFXIV has had, like what is an Ascian? What kind of people are they? Even though he was a villain, he is a part of the party at certain parts of the storyline, which allowed players to become more connected and feel his emotions. He was an integral character, but if I go into any more detail, I may let people down.

To tell the story of XIV, this is necessary for players to understand the Ascians and who they are otherwise it will affect narrative development and for those players to enjoy the story going forward. Not just the character design but the narrative designer and the modelling, so there was a lot of effort to bring out the true character of Emet-Selch. This doesn’t mean that he’s the only character that has this kind of attention, other characters also have this level of detail, other characters go through the same level of development.

There are several phenomenal characters in FFXIV like the Crystal Exarch and Ardbert. The thing they have in common is that they are all watching you, the main character, sharing your emotions, have love towards you, sometimes jealous, but they have their own opinion.

How was working with Yoko Taro to create the first part of the Alliance Raid?

Yoshida This came about by telling Yoko-San that he was able to create whatever he wanted to while still making sure that this was within the boundaries of the world of FFXIV. Things like not being able to have cut-scenes in the middle of a battle because certainly players will want to watch it and others will want to skip it after watching it for the first time. That could not work fully, so there are different regulations that he had to understand, but then the rest is up to him.

Next is for Yoko-San to write all the plot for this raid, the development team will then go on to create the battle and fix the location for the raid. The team then approached Platinum games for the assets for the team to use and tweak to work in the world of FFXIV. All the boss fights are created by the FFXIV team, so that’s then submitted to Yoko-San for approval. It was a mutual work between Yoko-san, Platinum and the FFXIV team.

All the teams work together for test plays, and Yoko-san wanted final direction for the content, like once players hit a certain point in the raid that this music plays or a change of lighting. This was the basic flow for the first wing, and we’re now working on the next stages.

I’ve enjoyed running the raid and as a fan of both Final Fantasy XIV and NieR. Happy to do so again and again, mainly because I haven’t got the Pod Minion yet.

(Laughs) I haven’t got the outfit crate yet, so I’m still running as well. I lost a 96 roll to someone else. I don’t have any expectations, I’ll just keep hitting the button until I get 99!

Could you not make your own button that gives you 99?

Yoshida If I do that, my character would be banned; so I best not cheat!

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