Square Enix is about to bring Final Fantasy into the next generation. On April 13, an open beta of Final Fantasy 14 is set to land on PS5, introducing a suite a upgraded features such as improved frame rates, faster load times, 4K resolution support and more. The PS5 version of the game will let you play through all of the expansions through to 2019's Shadowbringers – the perfect opportunity to get caught up ahead of Final Fantasy 14: Endwalker release in Autumn 2021.
Endwalker is the latest expansion to Final Fantasy 14, bringing the Hydaelyn and Zodiark storylines to a close. Ahead of the launch of Endwalker, Official PlayStation Magazine spoke to the game's director and producer Naoki Yoshida about the new expansion, the challenge of bringing the long-running MMO to PS5, and his work on the highly anticipated Final Fantasy 16.
This Naoki Yoshida interview first ran as part of OPM's sweeping Final Fantasy special. Be sure to check out the magazine for a further deep-dive into the Final Fantasy series' past, present, and future. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
OPM: Last time an expansion was announced, I was watching from a huge crowd in Las Vegas. For obvious reasons, this wasn't possible this time around. How did you find the change in pace with the Endwalker announcement?
Naoki Yoshida: So actually, to be honest, you may be aware actually, but we actually hired out a cinema for this announcement. And, at the time, we really did want the fans to be there. We wanted the fans to actually come and participate in the announcements. But as you might already know, the state of emergency was announced in Tokyo, and that unfortunately put a spanner in the works. That really wasn't good for our plans. So, we knew that there was this risk involved. And it was kind of unfortunate that did have an impact on the way that we were able to make the announcement.
You know, all of the fans were sending their responses and being so vocal in their support. That was really huge for us. We could really feel the response from the fans. I think the fans were really there to help us in this situation.
When we look at how we would do it usually – at a keynote in the Fan Fest, with all of the reaction that we get from the players – in a way, it was actually the same thing that we experienced on our digital channels, on the three streaming channels that we had. All the responses that we really got from our players really seemed the same. I personally feel it was a very positive response. Having said that, though, it is true that I went a bit over the time, and we did go over the schedule! But, I think it was a great response, yeah.
In a way, actually having this reaction over the digital channels was helpful in some aspects. For example, if you're actually there in the event, and you just hear people clapping, and you know, they're shouting and expressing that emotion, that's good – but I don't really get a clear view into what specifically they're really thinking. Like: what points they want to know more about, or what points that they are really happy about? So actually, by having them communicate with me directly, I can actually see what they're writing and really what points they're particularly vocal about.
OPM: Endwalker is bringing the story arc started in A Realm Reborn to a close. Why was now the time to do it?
NY: To put a conclusion to this ongoing saga in Final Fantasy 14, the Hydaelyn/Zodiark saga, was actually something that we decided actually quite a while ago. To put it simply, if we take an example of a TV drama, if we're just dragging out the story and people don't want to watch it, then, of course, that's not going to do us any good. Maybe for example, we get up to the fourth season. But then, okay, we decide to continue the fun until the sixth season or the eighth season maybe, and people would be really sick of it, you know? They really wouldn't be able to stand it anymore. So, there was kind of a sense that we shouldn't really drag this on for no reason at all. Because it really would be too much for the viewers to take.
But of course, on the other end of the spectrum, we actually need Final Fantasy 14 to be a success to continue. So, you know, if Final Fantasy 14 isn't a successful title, then actually the company will tell us that we have to stop working on this game. So it is important to ensure the future of the title. So it's very similar, again, to a TV drama. If the first season of the TV drama is not successful, then you won't have the second season or the third season. So in the same way, actually, we needed to make sure that Final Fantasy 14 had a stable basis for success. In terms of the timing, for us, it was around Stormblood when we actually felt "ah, yeah, now we have a sense that, you know, Final Fantasy 14's success is going to prosper in the long run." It was really around that time that actually we were thinking that we should cleanly finish off the Hydaelyn/Zodiark saga maybe in [Patch] 6.0 or 7.0. But it was around that time that we were thinking about this.
It was actually for that reason -- you might know, as well -- but in the 2018 Fan Fest I actually asked the players where they wanted to go and some players said the moon! And I said half jokingly, "ah, maybe in 7.0". But, this is actually the reason for that. We did actually have that already in mind, back then.
But if you actually ask then: "why 6.0 instead of 7.0?" That was actually due to the impact of Shadowbringers. So, of course, all of the fans really enjoyed Shadowbringers [5.0] so much. Seeing their response, we wanted to keep the momentum going. So, I actually decided that it would be better that we actually round off the Hydaelyn/Zodiark story in 6.0, because we can keep that momentum and we can have the players even more excited. But still, in terms of the volume, there was enough volume to actually incorporate that into 6.0. So that was really the direction we went in.
OPM: Are you hoping that with the Hydaelyn/Zodiark arc concluding it'll provide an opportunity for new players to jump in?
NY: Actually, that's something that's been asked by quite a lot of media outlets. But, I don't personally think that [with] ending the Hydaelyn/Zodiark story [...] our goal in mind is getting new players in. That's actually not an aim here.
So again, you can actually think of it as a TV drama. Of course, as the TV drama gets more seasons in there, you're still going to have the same cast. So I think that people, if anything -- I want people to see it from the start. Basically, they can actually have a look at this, maybe 6.0, and they can think about it: "oh, wow, Final Fantasy 14 is such an amazing game, I really want to experience this, and it would be great to experience that from the start."
Of course, it really wouldn't make much sense if they just enter halfway through and you've got all of these characters who, of course, they don't really know. So, if anything, it would be great that they actually see the appeal of Final Fantasy 14. And I think that it's appealing to new players in the respect that, you know, they would think: "oh, yeah, I really want to get stuck in and get started from the beginning" – to really experience the whole great story that we have to offer. So yeah, if anything, it would be great that new players join and start playing from the start to really experience the great story.
There is actually an interesting example of this. There's actually a trend for people to be pulling away from the TV. So, they're actually becoming more interested in personal things which they find appealing. And they're actually getting more engaged into those activities. You can take an example of, in Japan, there's a really popular franchise now called Demon Slayer. You might be aware. It was a huge hit in Japan, and now it's also spreading across the globe. So, actually, the interesting thing about that was that it was a manga. And an anime, as well, was adapted from that. But, it was actually interesting that it only became a hit after the [manga] had been completed. So then people got into it after the completion of the story, and then they could actually see the appeal of it. I think it's a similar thing for Final Fantasy 14.
So you know, the 6.0 story, people aren't really going to be interested about joining just to experience that, but because it will be so interesting we really hope that people will actually join in and actually experience the story right from the start. So, even in the case of Demon Slayer, I personally actually heard about it [when] it was becoming a very big trend and people were saying "oh yeah, you've got to watch it." But, I actually started watching the anime and then I could see: "Ah, yeah, this is awesome. This is great!" So I think it's just perfect. It parallels the situation that we have here in Final Fantasy 14. Really, it would be great that people get stuck into the game then actually really experience it from the start.
OPM: The PS5 beta is coming very soon, perhaps sooner than expected. Was it important to have that version ready as soon as possible?
NY: I'm just providing you an honest answer as a producer's point of view: When the new hardware is out, there's not many launch titles available. In the market when new hardware is there, there's not much to play, right?
It's also the case for the industry in general. Other companies [are seeing] "what could be the benchmark? What could be the quality that the players will want? And, what will be the loading speed, how will [that] be optimised with the new hardware?"
When the new hardware is launched, it will also attract new people in to play the games that are available. For example, we will be releasing [the PS5 version] as open beta, and the PS4/PS5 version free trial is available now, where players can play up until level 60 and there's so many things on offer in the game. So, because there are not many games available for the new hardware, why don't [you] just try out the PS5 version of Final Fantasy 14, get the hang of it, just to see what this game offers in the free trial? Then [you] can just wait until the triple AAA big blockbuster titles come up in the market and then [you] can try those new ones. So, you know, we just wanted to keep the momentum from the start. Actually "the start" is a good chance for us to attract new people to get them on the trial for Final Fantasy 14 before everyone comes in with the PS5 edition of their games.
OPM: As an MMO developer, what's excited you the most about working with the PS5 hardware?
NY: So really, as an MMO developer, the two big things that really appeal from this hardware is first of all the memory size – there's a huge increase in the memory size, so that's very helpful for us in developing the title -- and also there's much faster loading speeds. Those two things really, I think they're also things that the players can really imagine would make an impact on their gameplay experience.
OPM: You're in a unique position with Final Fantasy 14 having even been on PS3. How does spanning hardware generations affect how you approach iteration?
NY: So first, it really goes back to the design stage. As you know, with the original Final Fantasy 14, unfortunately, it was a failure. And we actually had to overhaul that, really rework [it] from the ground up for A Realm Reborn. But when we were actually doing the design work for A Realm Reborn, we were working on the engine, and one of our goals was that it would actually run on low spec PCs across the world. But at the same time, we also had a goal in mind that we wanted to ensure that there was no loss in the graphical quality, which people expect from a Final Fantasy title. Really, it was making sure that both of those things go hand in hand and actually work together. So, those were actually the two points that we were really working on when we were approaching the design work for the engine.
But with the Final Fantasy 14 engine, we actually designed it so that it would be scalable. So, based on the hardware that's used you might be able to increase the number of characters on the screen or decrease the characters, or actually increase the rendering area or decrease the rendering area. In that respect, we had a scalable engine in place we had prepared. But unfortunately, we were actually at a bit of a disadvantage with the PlayStation 3 architecture, because the PS3 architecture was quite unique.
Unfortunately, that forced us to undergo various tuning costs. That was a bit of extra work on our side to accommodate. But things actually improved with the PlayStation 4. As you know, Sony actually incorporated architecture which is based around the PC configuration. So actually, that makes our job much easier. Using our scalable engine, we can optimise the title on the PS4 which was a much easier process compared to PS3. Now that we have this kind of framework in place when we have new hardware introduced it's actually relatively easy for us to actually expand the title and actually deliver the title on that hardware.
OPM: No other MMO feels as dedicated to console parity as FF14. Why has it been so important to keep at that approach?
NY: Very simply put that is because this is Final Fantasy. As you know, spanning over 30 years, maybe 35 years, this franchise has been on consoles. Really, the home of Final Fantasy is on console. Because of that, it's really our duty to ensure that people who are playing on a console really have an experience which is by no means inferior to those playing on PC. So really, we need to make sure that people really do get the best experience on console as well.
But actually, you might already know, but personally I'm quite a big MMO fanboy. I really do like my MMOs. Traditionally, there's been this view that MMOs are a very niche genre, and you know, really hardcore gamers are playing MMOs. I actually wanted to change that outlook, I really wanted to change that perception of MMOs. I wanted to make MMOs more accessible to general gamers. So, in a way, I wanted to make the genre itself more popular. And as a means to that end, obviously providing the title on the consoles was also part of that. People would usually think "oh, if I want to play an MMO I have to play it on PC." I wanted to change that kind of outlook about it. So actually delivering this on console as well, it played a part in changing the perception of MMOs. But that was actually more a personal kind of goal of mine.
OPM: As game development gets bigger and more complicated, the gaps between numbered Final Fantasy games get wider. But, FF14 always remains ongoing with updates. Does that create more pressure and responsibility, considering it’s a very visible part of the series?
NY: With respect to the Final Fantasy franchise, I don't actually feel any responsibility. Really, when I think about it from the player's perspective, there is kind of like a pressure for us to deliver a new experience with the new patches and with the new expansions. So in that respect, yeah, there is a responsibility that we have to really deliver the best experience for the players. But with respect to the Final Fantasy franchise in general, I don't truly feel responsible for that because Final Fantasy 14is just a title in itself. So, I don't really feel responsible for the franchise. But, of course, it is important that we deliver the best experience for people who are playing Final Fantasy 14.
But, of course, I am the producer of Final Fantasy 16. So with respect to that title, of course, I really do want to be able to deliver that title quickly to the Final Fantasy fans, so they do have a new title to play. But even [when] we release Final Fantasy 16 that's not going to be the end of 14. We're still going to be developing, working on 14 and trying to deliver new experiences for our player base on 14. We really do want those great experiences to continue on this title. We really will be putting in all of our best efforts to make sure that 14 continues and people will be able to have a great time playing the title.
But as you actually touched upon, because we're constantly updating FF14, even after FF16 is released, we'll be releasing more content updates on FF14. In that respect FF14 is, in a sense, the latest Final Fantasy. So, we will continue work on delivering those content updates because FF14 does have that standing in the franchise, we will be continuing our best efforts on this title.
Until, you know, the number will seem old. Then, you know, we could change the number maybe? How about Final Fantasy 20? That would have a good ring to it! For a while at least, that will keep us ahead of the game.
OPM: You're also involved in Final Fantasy 16, and it seems like a lot of Final Fantasy fans were pleased to hear your involvement. You and the team have built a lot of trust with players, and you even said at the reveal event you're committed to Final Fantasy 14 as your "life's work". Do you think that open communication with the fans is a part of the FF14 success story?
NY: Yeah. And so actually, in a sense, having people that need you, that actually is important, I feel. It might be the company, you know, they say: "oh, man, without you, we cannot make this game, we really need you to be there for us." And in the same way that actually applies to the fans as well. If there are fans there, and they say "we really want you to be working on this title," that is really assuring and really comforting. In a way that serves as a motivation for me to aim for higher places, you know, to really aim for better things, [provide] better experiences. So, in that sense, yes, having someone there that actually wants your support and wants you to be working on this, that actually helps me to get my motivation and to to deliver something really special and to continue working on this franchise. In that sense, that is important, yeah.
But really in the case of an MMO – it doesn't really have to be an MMO, for any title that you're actually having on as a live service over a long time span -- it's not really a peachy experience to support that title for such a long time. You know, you need engineers working on it, and you need to be constantly providing new updates for it. So in that sense, it is a tough experience to be constantly working on it. But, since the fans are there, and you know, I've been able to cultivate this relationship with the fans, and we do have a sense of trust with our fans over these 10 years, that really does play a big part. That really is motivating for us to continue working on this title. Of course, it would be a different story if they don't want to continue on this ride together. But as long as the fans really continue to express their support that's really assuring, and we can leverage our trust with the fans and continue providing an amazing experience by working on this title.
Eager for more info? Here's what you need to know about FF14: Endwalker, alongside every new detail on FF14's PS5 version.